Marriage & Money Madness

9:10 PM

I suppose I could call this post, "why I don't mind being cheap." Remember me talking about that less-than-$10 date last weekend? Did you wonder why in the world I would be excited about such things? Well, here goes alot of rambling about budgeting, finances and being cheap. 

Packing lunches, because it's the cheap thing to do!
February 2013

We made a budget before getting married. We talked about money. We talked about the different ways that our families lived, how we grew up, what we spend our money on, why we do it, whether or not we balance the checkbook (I did; Brandon didn't), how often we check our account balance via online banking (me? never. Brandon? ALL the time) and how much we could/should/had to spend on the wedding. We talked about the value of work, how much money we were making, what we would do as Brandon searched for a job in Pennsylvania and couldn't find one.
Bottom Line: One of our relational strengths is communication, and communicating about finances was no exception. 

The Catalyst
It was only maybe two or three months after our wedding that we had a lightbulb moment. Maybe it was the heating bill that made us jump. You know heating oil is expensive, right? Like CRAZY expensive. We were keeping warm in our cozy little house, but that and a few other things were wreaking all kinds of havoc on our checking account. Our budget needed serious "tweaking." We were living in the fuzzy-glorious-amazing-honeymoon process (and still are), but still spending like we were dating. We needed to pull in the reins and *plan* for the future. We saw the financial state of affairs, and with college in the future (a year after marriage) and jobs and babies and all that to be planned for... we were all like, WHOOOOOAAAA. WE NEED A CHANGE. 

The Plan
In the middle of that, without any real intention or plan or anything, I went to the library and got a few books for Brandon. I was busy working on photography stuff in the evenings, and Brandon was spending his time reading. One of the books I happened to get was The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Brandon read, he thought, and he made Excel spreadsheets. My husband is the king of Excel. Seriously, our budget is color-coded, charted and has like the five year plan almost down to the penny. To say that it's impressive is an understatement. It took a few weeks of thinking, tweaking and lots of talking. Then, we had a PLAN. Not just a budget that flexed with our feelings. We had a real-live-honest-to-goodness budget, and we started cutting costs. Getting rid of bills, cutting down the grocery budget, stopping the eating out (and reining in the coffee stops), switching insurance. We were adjusting big stuff and little stuff. We were making our money work for us, and planning where it would go, instead of letting it rule our lives and always being at the mercy of circumstances. 

It was fast. Some things changed instantly. It was gradual. I didn't give up my iphone Verizon data plan until February 2012 (Walmart's straight-talk for the win!). It was difficult. It was surprisingly easy. We made a choice. A big choice. To live in the unpopular kind of frugal lifestyle for the purpose of paying off debt and planning for the future. Not gonna lie, it was a little uncomfortable and continues to be so... when a friend wants to do something, and 'it's not in the budget'... when everyone else is getting new stuff, new cars, new houses, new everything, and we're just holdin' steady.Then again, it's much, much easier than we thought.

The Result
In the first 18 months of our marriage, we paid off BOATLOADS of money. Not giving amounts, because it ain't your business. ;) However, it's enough to shock me every time we look at the numbers. 

We have no car loans, no credit cards, no consumer debt and no business debt. We're paying tuition for one of the most expensive public colleges in the nation... without getting more loans. And without parental help. That little tidbit is for informational purposes, not to suppose that we deserve any money from our parents for tuition. Entitlement is a myth. Life ain't a free ride, and your parents birthed ya, fed ya and clothed ya for eighteen years. They don't owe you anything. Justsayin'. We're both supremely grateful to our parents for the time and energy they spent raising us, and we certainly don't expect any money from them. {retreats from entitlement rabbit trail}. In the interest of other honest information, we both work full-time (though neither one of us make much money at all), don't have kids (yet) and I do some wedding photography on the side. 

This isn't a debt-free post, because we're not debt-free (yet). However, we are working hard, spending wisely and honoring God with our money. And learning common sense in the process. 

Common-sense stuff like...

If you can't afford it, don't buy it.

Stop comparing yourself to other people, including what other people have. You don't know if they bought it on 24.99% interest. 

Live on less than you make.

Save for stuff that usually happens to everyone. Like flat tires and water leaks and shoes with holes in them. 

Christmas is not a surprise. It happens every year. Budget for it. 

Stay home on date-night.

Your parents had fifty years on this earth to accomplish their financial state. You don't deserve a flat-screen TV and shiny new car just because they have one. Maybe you should wait fifty years... until you can actually afford it. 

A credit card is not an emergency fund. 

There's a difference between a "need" and a "want." Smartphones are not a need. You will not die without it. 

Pay cash whenever possible. You actually spend less. It's proven. You feel pain when giving up cash, but less pain when paying on credit. We pay for our gas, groceries and spending money in cash, so we cannot go over without feeling a little pain. 

Many (as in, most) millionaires shop at Walmart (check out the book called, The Millionaire Next Door). There is no shame in it.

Tell yourself the truth. Like "buying this will not 'help me feel better,'" "make me look younger/hotter/stronger/etc." or make today awesome. :P

Money is not a requirement for a happy, contented, fulfilled, rich life. 

Cheap people don't have to look cheap. Put some work into your appearance. Iron your clothes (yourself), repair the buttons falling off and don't be "sloppy." Humans judge by appearance and rightfully so. Don't give them reason to look down on you. 

Use what you have. Wear what you have. Eat what you have. Even if you don't feel like it. 

Watch less TV. You will spend less money. It's a fact!

Poor is not more spiritual than rich. Just work hard and don't be jealous of rich folks. 

Rich is not more spiritual than poor. Just work hard, be generous and don't look down on poor folks. 

And as astonishing as it is to our celebrity-obsessed culture, if you live in America, you're rich. Even if you think you're poor (have you ever been to a third world country? EXACTLY). #stopyerwhining 

Lots of people talk about what they would do if they were rich, and it's just a pipe dream. Few actually plan to become so. 

Just say "no" to yourself a little more often. It does wonders for your sense of gratitude. :)

If I could sum up, because I do like to sum up, I would say that I have learned more about self-control than money. It takes self-control to not buy something when you want it, when you really really REALLY want it, and you feel like buying it. It takes self-control to go to the grocery store and keep track of the amount of money you're spending so you don't go over budget. It takes self-control to put a sweater on instead of turning the thermostat up. It takes self-control to cook the meal on my meal list instead of ordering in. It takes self-control to be happy with the clothes in my closet instead of going crazy buying new stuff on the internet.

We have certainly not attained mastery in this subject. We're not experts and we're not a success story, but I am ever more grateful that we are learning this lesson early in our marriage. Learning to work with one another. Learning to always be on each other's team. Learning to have a goal and work toward it together. Learning to say no to self, for the good of each other and our future family. Learning to love practically. Learning to have self-control and not live for the approval of others, by buying things to make them assume that we are successful. Our success is not determined by how showy our 'stuff' is or is not. 

Strangely enough, as we have focused on finances for the last 18 months of our marriage, the biggest thing we have learned is how UNimportant money is to our life. 
We don't need money to be happy. 
We don't need it to be fulfilled. 
We don't need it to be successful. 

Yet, it's also strange to note that as we learn more about Christ, we learn how to handle money (HIS money) with more wisdom and restraint than ever before. Christianity is an amazingly practical thing. 

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