Full Metal Parenting #10: Money

Full Metal Parenting

A lot of metal fans will tell you that the genre has taken them on journeys to dark, unexpected, and wholly beautiful places, leading them to question nature, reality, and the meaning of existence. Well, welcome to parenthood! It’s pretty much the same, and often twice as loud. Parenting is livin’ after midnight by default at lot of the time, and two die-hard metal fans and parents, Craig Hayes and Matt Hinch, are here with Full Metal Parenting — a series devoted to sharing tales from parenthood’s trenches, with lessons torn straight from metal’s scriptures.

Craig Hayes

My financial history would be best described as a fucking disaster. Mental health problems and plenty of drug and alcohol troubles meant that I had a pretty reckless attitude for many years. Fiscal responsibility definitely wasn’t on my mind at that time. I have become a little more considered with my financial dealings since I became a parent. At least, I’m smart enough to make sure that I’m not the one who holds the purse strings at home. But, honestly, whether it’s been feast or famine, money and I have always had a very fraught relationship.

I know lots of people do sensible things like discuss when to have kids, and then make plans to reach some financial goals before they do so. But I’m more of a “What the fuck have I done?” kind of guy. I’m always stumbling into calamitous situations. Generally they’re entirely of my own making too… which is essentially how I ended up having a son.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that kid more than anything in this world. And although he was a big surprise, he definitely wasn’t any kind of mistake. However, I was a 33-year-old university student when I found out my son’s mum was pregnant with him. I was unemployed, living in a one-bedroom shack, and trying to put my life back together after the bad years. And I’m sure you can understand that adding a baby into that mix was definitely not part of the plan.

Of course, babies don’t care if you’re emotionally or financially ready to be a parent. So my son duly arrived. And as much as I’ve tried to be more sensible over the last decade of parenting, I haven’t quite managed to curtail all (or any) of my monetary mishandling. In fact, I’d say my current financial attitude rests somewhere between a wanton squanderer and a total Scrooge.

P1040577Here’s a good example of how messed-up my financial wherewithal is: every week I spend most of the money I have on LPs. But I don’t actually have a stereo to play any of those LPs on because it died months ago. Now, I could make long-term plans and save my money to buy another stereo. But every week I just keep spending all my money on LPs instead.

It’s ridiculous. I have piles of vinyl, and nothing to play any of it on. All because there’s a piece of my brain that’s misfiring and needs an immediate thrill.

Trying to get me to do something responsible, like pay an actual bill, is like trying to get blood out of stone. And, to make matters worse, I also have a habit of rejecting writing gigs that would pay me money because I am a fucking pig-headed idiot. I just refuse to make compromises in life, and sometimes (basically, all of the time), that leads me to say no to jobs that others would see as a golden opportunity. That means I earn crumbs, and contribute very little to our household.

I know that’s bad. So take that as a lesson on what not to do. But the idea that you really can’t be a good parent if you’re not happy within yourself is true. And the amount of money in your pocket clearly doesn’t define your parenting abilities.

I know what it’s like to have no money. I’ve been homeless. I know what utter desperation feels like. But I would also say that money isn’t the be all and end all in life. I’d never be so foolhardy to say that money doesn’t matter. And there’s no question that financial security is a huge stress for parents, for good reason. However, there’s also something to be said for putting that stress aside, and living in the moment: making the best of what you have, and celebrating the time you spend with your kids instead of fretting about money matters.

Yes, it is tough finding that balance between happiness and worrying about your financial obligations. But a lot of the time that boils down to expectations.

My partner and I both agree that if we have a roof over our heads, and the bills are paid, then everything else is gravy. Sure, it’s important to plan ahead and try to put a little aside for emergencies. But we’re both committed to the idea that there’s no point scrambling to earn a few more pennies if it means that we can’t even enjoy our life today.

Life is short, and while more money might mean you can afford to buy more stuff, more stuff doesn’t make you a great parent. The time you spend with your family makes you a great parent. And often, that’s not even going to cost you a single penny.

My son has been learning about money’s complex role in our lives for some time now. Every school holiday his grandma takes him to the local homeless shelter to help pack food parcels. Because of that, he knows that some people have no money and are in dire situations in life. He never complains when we say we can’t afford to buy or do something. He knows how fortunate he is to have things like an iPad or a Playstation. He knows that being loved and safe is priceless.

Weirdly, my son has also developed the polar opposite attitude to money than his dear old dad. He’s a compulsive saver. And he’s currently squirrelling away every penny he earns from doing his chores to save for his first computer. Honestly, that kid has more money than me. It’s almost embarrassing how switched on he is about money compared to me. Actually, scratch the “almost”—it is embarrassing.

One of the most important adjustments you have to make when you become a parent is learning to be less selfish when it comes to money. You have to learn to share. Unfortunately, I have nothing to share most of the time, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t lie awake at night and worry about how that affects my family’s financial security. It’s my partner who bears the responsibility of keeping our family afloat. But here’s the thing: my partner is not my son’s birth mother.

When I met my partner, my son was three (he’s now 11), and I was living in a rundown and crime-ridden apartment block. When we all moved in together, we moved somewhere nicer. But then I un-tethered myself from full-time work to pursue music journalism, and I haven’t had much spare cash for years.

As every parent knows, raising kids can be costly, even if you stick to a tight budget like we do. But my partner has never complained about paying a cent as a step-parent. She’s just embraced her role wholeheartedly—emotionally and financially—and that’s a measure of her love for our little family. I cannot ever repay her for that.

Ultimately, my family won’t be taking any expensive vacations or buying a house in the near future. But we can still afford to buy a few luxuries now and then. We might live paycheque to paycheque, but we also don’t own a car, or have any credit cards, so we’re not burdened by debts. That is an incredibly fortunate place to be.

It would be nice to have more money in the bank. But we’re a low-maintenance family with realistic expectations. We’re not going to work ourselves into an early grave if we’ve got the basics covered and we can still find time to be together as a family. Less stress, and more fun. That’s parenting 101, I reckon.

Matt Hinch

Money really is the root of all evil. And stress. Which is evil. I’m almost 37 years old and buried under a mountain of debt. I make really good money, but years of mismanagement have done nothing to right the wrongs I started adulthood with. I’m staring down the barrel of another 25 years of work just hoping to come out alive at the other end with my house paid off.

And do you know what started me down this path of financial struggle? METAL. Yup, it’s all metal’s fault. Okay, not exactly, but it was my obsession with metal that led to a disregard for financial responsibility.

Thanks to getting out of a nowhere town (which I moved back to) and discovering other people who like metal and “big city” record stores, I was opened up to an endless supply of music to spend my student loans on. From ages 19 to 23 I spent recklessly, padding my CD collection, often spending my record store paycheck before I even left the mall, and travelling from Guelph to Toronto for shows. I wasn’t making enough money to support that and do things like eat as well. But they gave out credit cards like candy on campus.

I racked those babies up! New CD? Credit. Cool show in T.O.? Credit. Pizza (x1000)? Credit. Life was grand and I was naive. I finished school burdened by not only ~$30,000 in school debt but a wallet full of maxed out credit cards and a job that paid $8.30/hr (at a record store, naturally).

Fast forward a few years and not much has changed. Except more debt: House, cars, line of credit, et cetera. And three mouths to feed, clothe, entertain.

My wife and I both make more money than we did back then, but we’ve gone from a one-bedroom apartment and bus passes to a big house in the country, two cars, three kids, three dogs, two cats and all the expenses that go along with them.

So what suffers? Not the kids, I’ll tell you that. No, what suffers is how much daddy gets to spend on music and concerts and band shirts. It’s a sacrifice I make willingly because obviously my kids are most important.

P1040569For a few years I will admit I downloaded virtually all my music. This was the age of Napster and Soulseek and torrents and before the glory of Bandcamp. I’d only buy a handful of CDs a year. File sharing was so bloody easy and could still get my fix. Feed the beast. I didn’t go to concerts for years, and band shirts fell apart.

As we kinda figured our shit out and made more money, certain delights crept back in. I found out Kingston hosted cheap concerts with kickass bands. Score! The band shirts there were cheaper too. But I still wasn’t beating down the doors to the record stores. File sharing (let’s face it, stealing) was still my main method of acquiring music. Streaming wasn’t really an option back then before unlimited data plans (Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice?) and smart phones (too much to do to sit in front of a computer). I tried to assuage my guilt with thoughts such as “Well, they wouldn’t be getting my money anyway. At least I can listen to it.” Then I started writing about the music in hopes that I could at least convince other people to spend their money on it. And I was still providing for my family before loading up the CD cabinet, especially with my wife on maternity leave or underemployed/underpaid. Spending money on my collection took a back seat. In my mind at least, I was trying to give back to the music I love so much with my little blog.

In stepped my FMP partner in crime, Mr. Hayes. Craig took me under his wing and showed me how the system actually worked: PR, promos and all that. Huzzah! Here’s my way to satiate my metal hunger, feed my kids and NOT be a lowdown, thieving pirate! (Although I got kicked off certain file sharing sites because I never shared.) I still don’t buy a ton of CDs/records because I still haven’t figured out this money management thing totally, but now I can make an actual impression on fans through the various sites I write for and hopefully influence them.

It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s better than just downloading album after album and leaving it at that. Plus with Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud and all kinds of full album streams it’s much easier to hear music I’d be missing out on otherwise.

emiWriting about music has given me an outlet to make “literary transactions” instead of monetary ones. Instead of working extra hours to get that limited edition vinyl package (that I couldn’t really afford anyway), I work through my breaks at work turning sounds into words. Instead of amassing shelf upon shelf of CDs, I pay for insurance, so should something happen to me, the house, or the car, the family is taken care of. Instead of going all the way to Toronto for a show, I’ll just stay local and spend a fraction of what I would and still be up with the kids in the morning.

It’ll be a long time before I can fully indulge in my metal passion, and by then physical media might not even exist. My shirts are getting threadbare again, and that vinyl collection looks awfully stagnant. But my kids want for nothing. Well, they still want plenty, but they have everything they need. Same for me. As much as I want to fill that patch jacket, or get the deluxe this or that, or go see some big name on a big stage, all I need are my family and their happiness. Maybe someday metal will make them happy too. But I doubt it.

In the meantime I’ll keep writing like a motherfucker to keep the literary transactions flowing!

Illustration by Ali Hinch (http://www.alisonhinch.com)

Additional images inspired and borrowed from “The Day The Music….Came Alive!” – a post at By Stargoose and Hanglands

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.

Keep up with all Matt's exploits on Twitter @Kingdomofnoise!