A Texas Money Diarist On Being A Teen Mom & Her Family's Breadwinner

by Louisa Cannell.
In October, we published the Money Diary of a 36-year-old nurse consultant living with her wife and 18-year-old son in Cedar Park, TX. In it, the OP wrote about switching jobs for a better work-life balance, being her family's sole provider while her wife attends school in pursuit of her dream career (in the OP's words, "three people, two dogs, one income"), and saving up to send her son to college.
Commenters were especially moved by the OP's commitment to her family and strong work ethic (and many hopped into the comments to ask if they could be IRL friends with her) — the general consensus being, "Can we please have a follow-up interview?"
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Ahead, we talked to the OP about her money philosophy, young motherhood, and how she and her wife are getting ready to become empty-nesters.
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It feels like a gift to be able to work while my wife pursues her dream.

You wrote in your diary that you are the sole income provider in your household right now while your wife is in school. Has that put a financial strain on your family, and what kind of budget cuts and saving methods have you implemented as a result?

"I track all of our spending in a spreadsheet so that I can get a handle on our spending trends, where we’ve wasted money, what everything looks like month-to-month, and what we can cut out. As a result, I feel like we have learned how to structure our lives so that we can still have fun. Our friends are all over the place on the money spectrum, so we've told them: 'We love y’all, and we wanna see you as much as we can, but we can’t spend too much money to do it.'

"So usually what that looks like now is going to friends’ houses, since most of them don’t have kids, or they come to our house, but sometimes my son’s like, 'You old people are too loud!'

"I think it’s just about being up front with your friends. Everybody understands that at some point in your life you’ve got to save money. They all know that we’re working towards goals, so people have been really cool about that. And if they want to have their clubbing nights out or whatever, it’s just not gonna be with us! Aside from that, we don’t really spend money on too much that isn’t essential. Groceries are essential and gas is essential, but anything else — we don’t have to have it right now.

"It’s a little bit stressful, but for most of our relationship, we haven’t had two incomes at the same time, so we’re used to this. And it’s going to be incredible when my wife finishes her program in a year in a half. It feels like a gift to be able to work while my wife pursues her dream. I mean, research shows spending money on other people makes you happier than spending the same amount on yourself would, right? So for me, the fact that I can give her her dream come true, it’s an amazing feeling. It means more to be a nurse because I know that her working two jobs while I was in school is a big part of what got me to this point. So the fact that we’ve been able to each lift each other up is a bonding experience that brings us closer."
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Some teen pregnancy stories don’t turn out like mine did — and I recognize that.

How did becoming a mother at such a young age shape your career path?

"I was a senior in high school when I found out I was pregnant. I’m very pro-choice, which I always like to add, because sometimes people assume if you continue with your pregnancy that you must be against abortion. I’m very pro-choice, but I decided I wanted to do it. I joke with my friends now — many of whom are in same-sex couples and are deciding whether or not to have kids — that I was sort of too dumb at the time to really know what I was getting myself into. In a way, I’m glad that I didn’t have to know what I was signing up for. I was still in high school living in my parents house, and I didn’t know about all of the freedom that you can have as a young adult if you don't have kids. It has been amazing — I mean, having my son is the greatest thing I have ever done. I did have a lot of support from my parents, so that was pretty important. Some teen pregnancy stories don’t turn out like mine did — and I recognize that. I definitely had a lot of privilege in having a family who was invested in seeing me and my son succeed.

"My son was born the September after I graduated from high school. I had already started classes at a local community college. The school building was kind of an old-timey '60s type with those little individual desks, and I was actually too big to fit in them. The teacher had to put a special table in front of the class where I could sit.

I had my son, and then was back at it, taking those early Gen Ed college classes. I was able to bring him to classes sometimes when I needed to, and I also did a lot of online classes so that I wouldn't have to spend money on childcare and so I could breastfeed.

"I wanted to be a social worker and work with pregnant teens sharing some of my experience, in the hopes that it could motivate other people. I actually got a social work degree the first time around. And then about four years ago, I went back to school and got my nursing degree. At the time, my wife was working two full-time jobs to support us — she would just work straight through with a short 30-minute break in between to get from one to the other."
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There were times when I would work 12-hour shifts for seven days in a row.

You recently switched jobs because your previous role was, as you said, "dominating [your] life and taking a toll on [your] health." Can you talk a bit about what motivated this switch and how you feel about it now?

"Previously, I was working in a hospital. The thing with being a nurse at a hospital is that there’s no shortage of work whatsoever. On my days off, I was getting texts asking if I could come in or cover a shift for a bonus or even a double bonus if no one picked it up the first time. I always said yes because I wanted to be able to have more money for my family.

I had two jobs — one that didn’t give me benefits and paid $38/hour, and one that did, and paid $30/hour. Ideally, you’re just supposed to work three 12-hour shifts a week. But there were times when I would work 12-hour shifts for seven days in a row. And I knew that being on my feet all the time and working those long shifts wasn’t sustainable. When I’m 60 years old, I’m not going to be able to do that.

"So I was just kind of playing around on the internet when I saw the job I have now come up. I applied for it, they called me the next day, and it just kind of went from there. I knew that benefits when you work for the government are good, and I met the people I’d be working with and thought, Okay, let’s do this. Thus far it’s been really good — I have a much better work-life balance now."
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Who thought I’d be in a legal gay marriage in Texas? I didn’t!

What’s next for you and your family?

"Next up for the family is getting the baby to college! I know we’ll still be supporting him financially, but he is on track to get scholarships, so hopefully it won’t be too much of a blow. It’s crazy how much room and board costs! I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it, because I never lived on campus like that. But I want him to. I have this idea in my head of what it looks like, and I want him to have that.

As for me and my wife, I’ve left the question of more babies up to her. I’m probably good with just this one, because I mean, he’s such an awesome kid. But I want her to be able to have a kid if she wants to do that. We’ve been together for seven years and married for almost three — after the Supreme Court ruling made it legal, we got engaged that year and then married the following spring. Which is cool — who thought I’d be in a legal gay marriage in Texas? I didn’t!

Do you have any takeaways from writing a Money Diary and seeing it published?

"It was definitely nerve-wracking, but people were so nice! It made my heart happy to read comments where people said they had absolutely nothing in common with me but that they connected anyway. I like knowing that there’s open-mindedness and curiosity that exists out there. I learned that I need to keep doing what I’m doing, keep the faith, and stay positive.

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