When I was working, certain things were easier – to explain at least. When I received a paycheck, the amount I brought to our family financially was right there in black and white. I don’t mean to imply that all things were easier when I was working. You see I am not a skilled multi-tasker. I’m not even an unskilled one.
I recently heard about a study which found that only a tiny proportion of people, something like 4-6%, are true multi-taskers. This small minority actually improved on the task at hand while doing something else simultaneously. To me these people are like superheroes, or at least similar to the bionic mentors of 1970’s TV.
However, this same research also found another group, much larger than the first. These folks believe themselves to be competent, even skilled multi-taskers, when in fact their true multi-tasking abilities are nowhere near this level. But hey, we all use a little self-deception now and again to get us through. I’m not one to judge, I’m just repeating the research findings.
Finally there is the group to which I belong, the uni-taskers. We know our performance doesn’t improve as more is added to our plates. And frankly we don’t even pretend to enjoy keeping track of many tasks at once. (Actually this third group was not mentioned in the study I heard about, but being a part of it myself, I felt I couldn’t leave it out.)
Once I became a parent my multi-tasking disability made my job outside the home much less rewarding. This is the positive aspect of my not working for income right now. I’m content to have far fewer daily items on my list. But the focus of this post is actually on the opposite side of this coin.
Now that I’m no longer drawing a paycheck, it’s much harder to see what I’m contributing to our family financially. And in these challenging economic times I want to help ease the financial burden for our family of five. I feel like I’m helping out, but whenever someone asks me how, I don’t have a clear answer.
As I’ve thought more about this I realize part of the reason is that what I “do” for our family now is more invisible than when I worked, and it’s difficult to describe what you can’t see. Daniel Pink writes about looking for the “negative spaces” within the big picture. “Peer past what’s prominent and examine what’s between, beyond, and around it.” He says when we become aware of these negative spaces, the positive spaces will “snap into clearer focus.”
Along these lines, one of the main ways I currently support our family financially is by creating situations where we don’t spend money. For example, when my sons wanted to learn more soccer skills than Todd or I could teach them, I arranged to babysit the daughter of our semi-professional soccer player neighbor in exchange for some private soccer lessons. But looking back on this situation, it’s consistently difficult for me to conjure up that negative space – in this case the money we didn’t spend on soccer camp.
Another invisible boost I give to our family is in the area of gift giving. In the past few years we’ve had a larger than usual number of weddings, anniversaries, births, and big birthdays (those ending in zeroes) for which we’ve wanted to give gifts. Because I’ve been painting a lot recently, I’ve created most of these presents. But again, it’s hard to respond to the question of what I bring in financially when the answer is, “The work I put in allows us not to spend money.” This response isn’t easily converted to an exact dollar amount.
When I consider the areas our family would spend money on anyway, such as buying clothing or athletic equipment (bikes, balls, cleats) for our kids, this leads me to additional negative spaces in which I work. I’ve utilized the ever-helpful parent network to find sports or even pet care items with which others are finished. (And of course there are a number of families to whom we give the usable items we’ve outgrown.) Finally, I have one incredibly generous friend who hands down nearly all her daughter’s gently worn clothes to Annie.
Much of the rest of what my kids need I buy during our three-month yard sale season. Some people adore “yard-saling”. For me it’s more like work than a fun diversion, but I continue this undertaking because it meets so many of our family’s material needs. (And I appreciate being able to recycle and reuse resources too.)
But again when someone asks, “What do you bring to your family financially?” or more realistically when I ask myself this question, I’m still initially speechless. It would be enlightening to quantify in dollars every needed thing one attained without buying. And wouldn’t this number technically be the same as what one earned?
So, I guess I could take a stab at tallying the prices of all I haven’t bought. But with the effort I’m already putting into this invisible family savings plan, this extra job would come a little too close to multi-tasking for this uni-tasker.
What are the invisible family economics at your house? Leave a comment below!