Growing up I always thought I was pretty good with my money. As soon as it was legal, I had a job so I could afford the things I wanted. My family wasn’t poor by any means but we weren’t wealthy. We lived in an affluent area and during the winter, most of my friends would get season ski passes while I hoped to get one trip to the slopes. In the summer, they’d visit nearby lakes for boating trips while I was content sunbathing in my backyard. I always wished I had more money to do the things they were doing or buy the things they bought on their frequent trips to the mall. I enjoyed going along for the ride though — to live vicariously through them. I eventually became settled with the idea of being the “poor” friend even though I had plenty; this helped me be frugal with what I had. I only shopped the clearance racks, huge sales or even second-hand stores. I ate at home or packed a lunch. I walked when I could to save on gas. By the time I was in college, I felt like I was sitting pretty as a thrifty single girl. I met my husband through college and church. When we started dating, I could tell he was cautious about spending money. He didn’t like to eat out and preferred to make dinner in his apartment. We went to the $0.50 cent movies or picked one out at Blockbuster. We did all the free activities we could find in our college town.
I felt it was a perfect fit…until we got married.
My husband’s backstory: he is the oldest of nine siblings. His family was poor, like legit poor. He grew up with very little. He rarely got things he wanted because they just didn’t have enough money. Any money he earned growing up was to be saved for his church mission and college. And if he spent it, it’d have to be something worth it or something he really wanted.
Fast forward to getting married…
I thought we had talked thoroughly about finances when we dated and I thought I knew what he meant by “not spending any money.” But after we got married, I realized what he meant. When he said “not spend any money,” he meant “not spend any money.” What I thought were necessities were wants in his eyes. This was the main cause of arguments in our marriage the first few years. It wasn’t like he locked our bank accounts and allowed me no money; quite the opposite. He would express his worry and frustration about our finances, then I would ignore him as I spent money we didn’t have.
It wasn’t until we finished dental school and were doing a one-year residency, that it finally clicked. He got a measly stipend which we lived off of. By that point, I was pregnant with my third child. We were renting our first home, instead of an apartment, and as we were going through our finances and adding up our expenses, I realized every penny was going to very necessary things. It covered rent, bills, insurance, gas, and food. That was it. There was no room for “fluff” or “fun” or “toys” or “clothes.” It was bare bones living for the year. There were no student loans to fall back on.
This was REAL LIFE and it kind of scared me.
I remember sitting on the floor in my room, largely pregnant, overwhelmed and crying (that was my most emotional pregnancy). My husband found me, picked me up and told me we were going to be fine. We sat down together and planned our first budget, or at least the first one that I strictly followed. I also read Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace book which gave me the extra motivation to kick my bad habits like strolling Hobby Lobby looking for random things to buy. It wasn’t an easy feat. We were surrounded by friends who were in the same situation as us but were more flexible with their wallets. It was easy to compare or be jealous of those who seemed to enjoy the easy life of eating out, going on trips or building their dream home. But we pushed through it. And once we finished that year, and found a job, we kept going. We had an end goal of paying off our student loans as soon as possible.
Some things I learned from that year:
- Creativity flows from having nothing. You look for other ways to get things, whether it is by learning how to make something or taking something cheap and redoing it into something amazing.
- Garage sales are amazing. The thrill of what you can find at them is addicting. Someone’s trash is your treasure.
- Teamwork is so worth it. My relationship with my husband grew stronger because we were on the same page, working together to get through this hard time. We were less stressed, calmer and happier.
- Money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s totally cliché but it’s true. If anything, happiness comes from relationships we have with those we love.
- Debt is too common. Be uncommon! Get out of debt NOW.
- Sacrifice. Sacrifice today so you can live your dream tomorrow.
That life-changing year was eight years ago. Life has still thrown us curve balls. We’ve moved five times since then due to jobs, more school and then more jobs. We’ve had 2 more kids. You can call my husband a penny pincher or frugal, a tightwad or thrifty. I call him my provider who I can count on; marrying him was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I didn’t quite get it until I understood where he came from and going through life together. Money isn’t infinite. It comes from somewhere — from someone who has worked hard for it. Most of my life, it came from my Dad and I got used to that, taking it for granted.