Halfway through my first year teaching, we got married. As if being a new teacher wasn’t hard enough, my 2nd year about the same time we had our first baby. I had made a commitment early on to be an at home mom, so even though it was much sooner than we expected, I suspended my teaching career at the end of my 2nd year.
My mom was a professional homemaker, so the idea of thrift and economy wasn’t new to me. I penny-pinched and DIY’d myself to homemaker bliss and also brought in small amounts of income on the side: a little babysitting here, some music lessons there, a garage sale a few times a year, some custom sewing and craft sales….you get the idea. It was never a great deal of money at once. I put it in an envelope in my lingerie drawer and let it accumulate.**
If I got birthday money or had leftover in a budget category some month, it all went in there. I didn’t tell anyone about it. To be honest, I rarely thought about it myself. It’s what the farm wives of old used to call their “egg money” or “cookie jar money.”
One day my husband came home as low spirited as a man could get. His job had been suddenly terminated. He made a mistake and was terminated for cause so we were not eligable for unemployment. We had a small emergency fund, so we weren’t eligible for food stamps or medicaid either. I called every agency I could think of, and we fell through the cracks for all of them.* By the time we qualified for help, we would be homeless.
My husband sat on the sofa with his face in his hands thinking about his dismal job options when there was a termination for cause on his employment record. He had 8 mouths to feed and our small savings would last us 5 months IF we just paid for power, gasoline, mortgage and $200 a month for food and all other household needs. We immediately canceled everything extra including music lessons. Cobra insurance would have wiped us out completely in just a couple of months, so we had to let our health insurance go too. It wasn’t safe or recommended, but we were desperate.
Then I remembered my secret stash. I had been hoping to use it for a family vacation or a home update project. Instead, I grabbed the fat, worn envelope out of it’s lacy nest and brought it to my despondent husband. His eyes opened wide at this unexpected gift. We counted it together and it was enough to buy us an extra month of job hunting time.
It was a blessing at the time, but we have mixed opinions about the wisdom of a secret stash. My husband believes all income should be reported to the family and properly budgeted for, even if it is to go in the emergency fund. While I can see his side of things, I loved being able to surprise him with more than he hoped for, and having a little “mad money” that I could decide for alone. He agrees mad money is a great thing, but wants to budget for it.
What do you think? Do you have a secret stash?
*I have since learned about 20+ Harvester food drop locations in driving distance from my home. Most of them do not require enrollment or proof of need, which would have been a blessing to me at the time.
**There’s also the law that even small amounts of cash income are supposed to be reported to the government, excluding gifts and garage sales where items are sold at a loss. I didn’t know it at the time, but thankfully the largest bulk of my stash was from garage sales and birthday gifts.