Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wrestling with our Social Consciences.

At this point I'd say it's safe to assume that everyone is feeling the effects of the ongoing financial crisis. If not in tangible terms through a reduced income, lost job, or home foreclosure, then in the intangible terms of fear and anxiety over what may lie ahead.

I don't spend every day in angst over the state of the world's finances, and about unknown factors that could directly, or indirectly affect our family. I can't worry about things that I am powerless to control, (took me a while to get here, huh?). I do however have a heightened awareness as most of you do, that things are rocky and it seems prudent to take stock, pull our horns in and make wise choices that will improve our personal financial foundation.

As the holder of the purse strings, it falls to me to manage our household finances and I have recently taken steps to reduce our spending. My biggest success so far has been in reducing our grocery expenditure and our phone bill. I am couponing and learning from these wonderful sites and from local friends whom I've adopted as coupon mentors (they don't seem to mind!). I am enjoying pretty impressive savings, and get a real buzz in the process. We have also switched our phone service from a traditional phone company, to a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) provider and are saving around 75% on our phone bill, which is great considering the transatlantic phone calls we make.

My main reason for doing this was so that we can finish paying off my car and crank up our savings. In January our plans took a set back with the announcement from my husband's employer that all employees were subject to a pay cut. This was not entirely unforeseen since it's been clear that business is way down these days, but hard to take all the same.

After a day or so of figuring out what this pay cut would mean, and an overall assessment that we are lucky that my husband's job is secure (for now), we are grateful for what we have and for the fact that our frugal measures would stand to us with a reduced income.

While counting our blessings, we are acutely aware that so many people are not so lucky. As each day brings more stories of homeless families, desperate people taking drastic and desperate measures, some with devastating results my conscience is pricked ever more, what should I be doing, what can I do?

I have written about this kind of thing before, and have received great encouragement from others, especially from Jen at One Plus Two - but of course, excuses come up, busy life with my two kids, and focusing on what we need first... After an initial flurry of determination - beyond small financial contributions, my efforts to help are not what they could be.

I hear news stories about food banks running low on donations, about thrift stores seeing increased numbers of customers, and simultaneously receiving less in terms of donated merchandise.

And, I struggle. I feel like we're doing what we can to protect our family - and yet, knowing that we have so much more than other families, I feel selfish for taking measures that effectively leave me less to give. I feel guilty that this is what is happening in many homes across the country and is what is causing the shortages in the food banks etc.

My coupon clipping of late has opened up an opportunity for me to continue to save money, and still donate to the food banks - and this is great, but is not without some conscience wrestling on my part. The thing is - many of the products that go on sale at the grocery store, and for which there are multiple coupons each week, are for prepackaged soups, mac n cheese, canned meals etc. If I combine these coupons with what's on sale, I can get these items for pennies on the dollar oftentimes, and can donate them. I wouldn't feed these items to my family - and so I ask myself if I consider them not as good as the from scratch meals I cook myself, why do I palm them off as 'good enough' for a struggling family? I don't have the answer to this - I feel like a food snob, but I have to assume that some food is better than none for a hungry family. I can't shake the feeling though - maybe I'm over thinking it?

Meanwhile, I have a four year old whom is becoming increasingly inquisitive about life, and how she fits in the grand scheme of things. At Mass she sees the Poor Box, and the little Lenten rice bowls like the one we have in our kitchen, and she understands that these are there to collect money for those less fortunate. As much as a four year old can, she gets it that she's in a better position than some. Aware that she's of an age where I can start shaping in her a solid social conscience I try to encourage her to think of others, and I involve her in sorting through her outgrown clothes and toys and with a little persuasion, she will willingly give them away so another little girl can enjoy them as much as she did.

On Sunday, Miss E put the grocery bags in the wagon outside our church and expressed concern that we were giving away our food. What followed was a conversation that started off simple enough, 'these are extra things that Mommy bought so I could give them away for families that don't have enough to eat'... and ended up with me worrying that I was loading her up with too much information that might feed her rather active imagination and cause her fear.

So, I work on balancing that fine line of giving my child an appreciation of all the good things she enjoys that some don't without scaring her or rocking her securities. We have little chats now and then as the opportunity arises where I can reinforce the concept that we need to take care of ourselves, and those in our community.

Then I wonder, when I seem to think and talk about these issues way more than I act, I have to ask, 'how solid is my own social conscience?' 'What more could I be doing?'

I understand that children learn best from what they see - I know that my husband and I need to be the example for Miss E and her brother. Once again I find myself taking small steps to contribute in a more tangible and meaningful way. Recently, I participated in a small way in a local event that involved painting the exterior of a house for an elderly woman in town. While I didn't have Miss E with me, I did tell her all about it and her response was 'I wish I could come and paint and help someone' - she knows that I felt good having done it - and I'll certainly consider taking her to the next event. I'm encouraged that she's starting to form her social conscience, which is great considering that most four year olds are still pretty ego centric.

Our collective social conscience remains a work in progress - and I am all ears to any suggestions on how to more actively contribute with my time, particularly any suggestions that involve the kids.

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Stay At Home Mom said...

These are indeed hard times. I totally understand how you are feeling, but with the help that you are doing, I know that it will really go a long way. Amidst the financial crisis, I am proud of you for continuing to share your blessings. You are an inspiration. During these times when finances are difficult, the more we should think about others who have less. Thank you for reminding me that.

imperfect housewife said...

As someone who used the food pantry for the first time this past winter I can tell you that the people receiving the food are very grateful for it. That said, the food was not what I would have chosen to feed my family. I even joked with my husband that the government was trying to kill off the poor by handing out salt laden, fat laden, zero fiber foodstuffs. In a real pinch though you will make do and I did. I am thankful now that I don't have to go there but it changed my view as well and I am donating better quality items myself.

lady macleod said...

Wonderful, and yes you are "overthinking it" I believe on the food donations. It's wonderful that you are aware of the global situation and I think you are setting a wonderful example for your children. Well done. I keep how lucky I am in my mind every day.

cookiesandmilk said...

I also use coupons to donate food to the food pantry. If I can get something free or nearly free to add to our donation I will because I figure something is better than letting someone else starve. I completely understand the guilt that comes with donating stuff my family wouldn't eat, but at the same I was able to give something.