We were out for Sunday lunch with friends, but as the waitress handed me the menu I felt my stomach lurch. Shooting my husband a glare, I wanted to round-up the children and make a run for it.
All the food was so expensive that I knew that paying for myself, my husband and our three children would swallow up all of our spending money for the rest of the month.
But before I knew it my husband and the children had ordered food so we had no choice but to watch them eat their roast dinners as I sipped my tap water. Afterwards, we paid the extortionate bill and I got into the car and burst into tears. How much longer could we keep this up?
My husband and I went to state schools and both did well, going on to university and getting good jobs – him in education and myself in social care. Neither of our jobs pay particularly well, though, so when we had our three children there was no question about whether or not we could afford to send them to private school – we couldn’t!
However, my husband’s parents stepped in. His father had recently sold his business running a garage, and with no mortgage they wanted to pay for our children to go to a little prep school nearby. Instantly, I had concerns – what if his parents ran out of money, or changed their mind and stopped paying? How would that impact the children if we had to take them out of school?
But any fears I had dissolved when we looked around the gorgeous school with its tiny classes, beautiful grounds and attentive staff. My husband and I were both in agreement that the children would thrive here.
Our eldest started in reception first, followed two years later by the second, and then a year later by our third child.
They all settled in well and did brilliantly academically. They made friends too, good ones. And soon we made friends with their parents and our social life – which had been practically non-existent since having them – was suddenly reinvigorated.
We started going for walks and picnics together at weekends, with kids and dogs in tow, and were then being invited to their houses for dinners, BBQs and out for meals together.
It was great fun, but there was one big difference between us and all of them – money. Whereas their friends’ parents are bankers, landowners and digital entrepreneurs with extremely healthy incomes, we are not. Earning less than £100,000 between us, we simply can’t afford to keep up with the lunches together at £100 a head, the expensive bottles of wine when we are out for meals, and the lavish parties they throw for their children.
Of course our children have noticed the huge disparity between our lifestyles, too – the fact that most of them have acres of land, swimming pools, nannies and cleaners. My husband thinks that I’m overthinking it, but I don’t want our children to feel like the poor relatives in comparison to their friends and the stress of trying to keep up with it all is driving me to breaking point.
None of our friends have to worry about money, so I know it wouldn’t have even occurred to them that we do. I feel like I’m trapped, living a lie. I lay in bed at night wondering how much longer we can continue to keep up with our friend’s lavish lifestyles. We’ve spent all our savings and our credit cards are completely maxed out, so what next?