Ten Money Questions for Rita Arens

In this week’s Ten Money Questions, we speak with Rita Arens. Rita is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer for Mommy & Family and maintains a personal blog at Surrender, Dorothy. Below, she gets candid about motherhood, marriage, working, writing and how this all relates to money. Enjoy!

1. I understand that you and your husband bought a house in foreclosure. How did you find it? Did the previous owners have a horror story that substantiates the subprime debacle?
My husband is a financial representative, and our neighbor across the street was one of my husband’s clients and told my husband about the house before it had a “for sale” sign in the yard. He knew we were wanting to buy a bigger house in the area and were on a tight budget.

The neighbors painted it as a sad tale of divorce. I think the family split up and the husband sort of abandoned the house. It sat empty for eight months before it officially went into foreclosure and the bank put it up for sale. It was unfortunate, but if it had sat empty much longer, it would’ve started falling into even worse disrepair. As it was, we had to replace some shingles and do some work to keep it from becoming unstable.

The neighbors were very happy someone was living in it again. Its got great bones and the price was right for a beautiful, established neighborhood in such a good school district. School districts are an issue in Kansas City, Missouri, which is where we lived before.

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
I have a freaky relationship with money. I’m very anxious about it. My family moved back to my father’s hometown in Iowa to farm when I was first born. We went through the eighties farm crisis, and my father had to work as a mechanical engineer his whole life instead. I remember being very afraid he would be laid off, because I thought that meant we would immediately be desolate. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Money was tight until about fourth grade, but I never forgot what it was like to be that worried.

3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Driving myself and my husband crazy worrying about them. I’m very conservative, and it drives me nuts when we can’t pay off credit cards every month. We’re far from being able to do that after the big move. We thought we would be able to get more for our old house, but this is the worst housing market in like six years – we made very little on the sale after six years in the house. It was frustrating and that set me back a little emotionally.

4. As a working mother of a young child, how important is affordable child care? What about health care?
We spend between $800-$1000 a month on childcare, which for Kansas City is a lot. We choose our current childcare over cheaper alternatives because we want the preschool setting my daughter is in. Someone once told me that finding reliable childcare is the hardest part of parenting and I totally agree with that. It makes me sick that our capitalistic society does not subsidize childcare for the working parents of America. We are making the workforce too hard to enter for those close to the poverty line.

I also believe we should provide universal healthcare. Too many people are unnecessarily suffering and dying because they don’t have access to good healthcare. I have health insurance through my job that I think is good, but then again, I don’t have a terminal disease, so I don’t really know how good it is yet. Two things I will give up anything else for are health insurance and quality childcare, though. Next to housing and food, these are most important to me.

5. Did you ever wonder if motherhood might curb your professional opportunities? How has a “dependent” altered your life?
I have chosen to accept lesser positions than I am capable of in order to have adequate time for my daughter. I don’t think the company made this decision for me. I made it for myself.

I would’ve climbed higher professionally by now if I didn’t have my daughter. I don’t care. I have chosen to focus my ambition in forums I can attend to at night after she is in bed, such as blogging and other writing projects. It’s nice to get some recognition for your work, and I just can’t put in the hours necessary to get a lot of that in my day.

6. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be? How would your husband answer the same question?
A trundle bed for my daughter. I was recently blogging about this just the other day. Ha! My husband would buy a Wii. He is a big kid. He always wants toys.

7. In your post, What Do You Expect From Your Baby Daddy, we learn that you earn more than your husband. Do you think people assume roles in relationships based more on earnings or gender?
I don’t know how other people do it, so I’ll just speak to my own situation. My parents were very defined by gender roles. Mom took care of us, scheduled all the doctor appointments, did all the housework, the shopping, cooked all the meals, etc. Dad earned the money and mowed the lawn. There was a “let your father unwind with his newspaper” period when he came home, then Mom served him dinner and cleaned up. I remember thinking that was sort of a raw deal for her, but then again, I didn’t realize the benefits of not having the job stress, either, at the time. My husband and I share housework and childcare, though he mows the lawn and installs the fixtures – mostly to keep me from seriously hurting myself, as I am a clutz. I have higher standards for keeping the toilets clean, so I tend to do more the cleaning. Early in our marriage we had to have a discussion about the housework, though, and so we both decided what we liked least, and the other person does that. My husband, for instance, is very into ironing. He does all that. He is an ironing savant.

My husband is building a business right now, and I fully expect he will outearn me in a few years. Then it will be my turn to explore my own dreams. We look at our careers in ten-year cycles, and he’s in his growth cycle right now. I’m holding down the fort. We have to juggle who will work late if it’s necessary, but we are pretty respectful of each other’s careers and each other’s need for help if there was a stressful day at work. I think it is good for our marriage, because we both can identify with the stresses of the working world and the stresses of parenting a diva. I try to be patient with the growth cycle, but that’s the one thing I like least about myself – how hard it is for me to be patient.

8. Would you ever consider making adjustments to shift to one income?
Yes, although I don’t think either of us would ever not make some money. I see him being the breadwinner in the future and me working on my writing career while spending more time in the parenting role. I would love to be home when my daughter get home from school, if that is ever possible. We have made a lot of adjustments for him to start his business, so even though we are both working full-time, it doesn’t really translate into that, as anyone who’s ever started a business knows.

I think going through this exercise has taught us that we can live on one income, though, and that’s been a valuable lesson. We are trying to reach for our professional and personal dreams by looking for alternative ways to get there, hence the bank foreclosure in the nice neighborhood rather than the really stressful executive job to be able to afford it the normal way.

9. What is the most important lesson you hope to teach your daughter about money someday?
My parents taught me in high school how credit card companies make their money. I was one fo the few who graduated college with no credit card debt. I’ll be explaining how the world works to my daughter, too.

10. I read that you have a new work motto: WWDD? What does this mean?
It means “What Would Dwight Do?” It’s Dwight Shrute, from “The Office.” It’s really easy in my environment to take work too seriously. We are in a really tightly scheduled field. When tensions are high, I like to picture Dwight entering the meeting and commenting on what’s going on. It reminds me that it’s not that big of a deal – this, too, shall pass. I have a reputation for making in appropriate jokes, though.

More about Rita Arens
She notes on her blog, “I’m a writer with a small child and no other creative outlets.” Learn more at Surrender, Dorothy.

Read other interviews in Nina’s Ten Money Questions series at Queercents where today she speaks with Lisa Sherman from Logo, the LGBT cable network.


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