Food Stamps To Manicures: A Widow On Money Matters


Back in the ’60s, when I was a young girl, my friends and I used to rock and roll to the Beatles. One of my favorite tunes just happened to be “Can’t Buy Me Love.” 

I think the significance of that song lies in the fact that to actually be in love there must be a heartfelt connection between a man and a woman. That connection is an intangible one-of-a-kind gift sent directly from God. It cannot be purchased or sold, so I guess you could say that money is very conveniently left out of the equation. 

My mom and dad are living proof that love and marriage can go together without a great deal of money. They fell in love in their early 20s, married and had babies shortly afterward. For most of my childhood they were hard-working blue-collar workers. 

My parents never owned a credit card or had a store charge account. If they wanted something they couldn’t afford they either did without or picked up a second job. Fun was not something they purchased with money, but it was something that required imagination and creativity.

Mom was an aspiring artist who taught us how to use colored chalk and construction paper to make homemade Christmas cards. She also taught me how to create Christmas wreaths out of scraps left over from the tree lots. Under her guidance, I learned to sew with leftover cloth from the fabric store. 

Gifts were usually homemade and rather interesting. Like the time I sewed my aunt a handkerchief for her birthday and embroidered a large “N” so she would know where to place her nose when she needed to blow it. My brothers topped my idea by using their woodcarving set to make her a small detailed wooden block with light bulbs that spelled out “You are a bright aunt!” when plugged in.

My mom loved my father with a passion and sang love songs on a daily basis as she did her housework, pausing just long enough to tell us how much she loved my father and how very handsome he looked in his police uniform. 

Having a creative mom, I became one of those dreamy girls who walked around with her head in the clouds most of the time contemplating how I would fall in love, marry a handsome man and live happily ever after with him and our six children in a white colonial home with a picket fence. Yes indeed, my plan was to grow money on trees to support the three boys and three girls I would give birth to (ala Brady Bunch style).

In my daydreams I was a stay-at-home mom who made delicious meals, kept an immaculate house, volunteered at the kids’ schools, hosted dinner parties for my husband’s associates and was a respected member of my church community.


A teenaged bride

Everything changed drastically for me when I met the boy of my dreams in high school and married him when I was 19 and he was 21. We were young, wildly in love and crazy for each other. We dropped out of college and had three babies within four and a half years. 

I was 25-years-old and the mother of three small children under the age of five when my husband came home one day to break the news that he had been laid off from his factory job. This was during the recession of the ’80s. There were no full-time jobs available and certainly no benefits such as health insurance. That was when I truly learned the meaning of the word frugal.

We lived in a little house which faced an alley and lived on a grocery budget of a little over $20 a week for five people. My husband, Steven, and I were able to pick up two or three part-time jobs apiece during the recession. But that wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

At our lowest point, we were forced to go on food stamps and to give our little house on the alley back to the bank since houses weren’t selling at the time. We sold our only car and purchased an old station wagon that couldn’t shift into reverse, which required some creative parking.  

For the most part I got to my jobs by riding an old bicycle across town. Life was certainly tough and very scary for us financially.

Eventually we landed on our feet in a new town and purchased a furniture refinishing business. I enrolled in college at night and worked a full-time job during the day.  Unfortunately, we were unable to shed the credit card and doctor bills that we acquired during the recession and we had to face bankruptcy. 

It was a humbling time in our marriage. Steven and I were stressed to the limit and barely holding on when I finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Gradually life improved for us, but the remnants of our financial situation dogged us since the bankruptcy remained on our credit report for 10 years.


The upside

As bad as things looked during the dark financial period of our lives, two good things came out of the situation.

The first was that our children learned by example to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They put themselves through college and became quite successful men, husbands, and fathers.

The second thing that came out of this situation was that my husband and I learned adversity only made the bond between us stronger. The phrase “the two shall become one” truly defined our relationship as man and wife.

Since that dark financial period in my life, I have walked through even darker times as I lost both my husband and eldest son to death a few years ago. 

God truly carried me through the tough times for many years and fortunately today I am a respected professional in my line of work and I have a stable financial picture.   

In 2010 I met and fell in love with a truly gentle man who also had joined CatholicMatch after losing his spouse. He is my soul mate and my better half.   

Last year I went to see a spiritual counselor to talk about the twists and turns my life has taken and to get his input on my relationship with Mr. Right, who is also widowed but unlike myself, still raising a family on his own. So while Mr. Right is out buying bread and milk for the table, paying tuition, and checking homework, I am spending the evenings reading novels, exercising, volunteering, and spending my extra cash on manicures and nice clothing.

Meanwhile my learned spiritual counselor impressed one important point on me that I want to share with you here: Even though a couple may have different financial lifestyles, nothing is impossible with God. So if you are fortunate enough to recognize that He has blessed you with a truly deep and loving relationship with your soul mate, then money becomes a secondary issue.

The counselor urged me to consider whether I would be able to give up some of my goodies for the true and lasting love God has put before me. He asked whether I could become a motherly-type figure again, spending my paychecks on family needs rather than manicures.

In a heartbeat, I replied, “Money can’t buy me love.” I’ll choose love every time.    

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my dear Mr. Right!





Editor’s note

CatholicMatch publishes Barb Tess’ original reflections on life, love and loss on the first Sunday of each month. Read her past essays here.


1 Comment »

  1. Anna-671172 February 9, 2012 Reply

    Beautiful and wise words. God bless you and Mr. Right 😉

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