My husband, Ephraim, and I began our married life in a small apartment in Richmond, Virginia. He was in medical school, and we were living very simply, struggling to balance his student loans with our monthly expenses while I was in graduate school for experimental psychology. We had our first child during this period.
We had to figure out how to pay rent, which was $320 a month, and have enough left to cover car insurance, food and diapers.
By the time the eldest of our (now eight) children was nearly six years old, we were $100,000 in debt, mostly because of student loans. We had moved several times for Ephraim’s internship, residency and fellowship. We went from apartment to apartment, each one unbearably cramped.
There was a time when Ephraim was doing his fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Yale, earning a tiny stipend, which barely covered our food expenses. I couldn’t go out to work because we had four children under the age of six, and I was expecting our fifth. But I tried to help by selling Tupperware and babysitting at home, and I also did some secretarial work, answering the phones for a busy company from my kitchen.
Still, we managed, scraping by from day to day. If tuna was on sale, I had to make a decision about whether to purchase extra cans of tuna or a couple of cucumbers and tomatoes; it was one or the other. We bought sturdy, classic secondhand toys for the kids, shopped at consignment stores for clothing, bought used furniture, and in general, struggled to keep our home afloat financially.