Growing up, I was taught how to save money, spend wisely, and live simply. Growing up, we only went clothes shopping when school was about to start - everything else came from garage sales, birthdays, and Christmas. I rarely had spending money in high school, and I always had fun. I don't remember feeling poor or unable to have a social life without cash to spend. In fact, somehow I lived on $400 a month in college for an entire year... now I think back on that and think 'How did I eat and have fun?! Why do I look back on those times as fun?! That should have been miserable!'
But it wasn't. I took out a college loan my senior year in order to actually enjoy school for one year, and so that I could do my full-internship without having to work another job as well. And $400 a month was all I allotted myself. And I did it easily! I don't remember how. I hung out with friends, ate what I wanted, and felt free. I didn't feel bound by the $400 limit at all!
Now $400 doesn't even cover my grocery and gas costs each month (well, for my family of 3). And honestly, if I had more money, I could easily spend over $500-$600 at the grocery store!
I was hired for my first teaching job in April of 2005, but my job didn't start until August. To get familiar with the school, I substituted every once in a while before I graduated. One day I was walking through the cafeteria and I saw a man in a tie bend down to tie the shoe of Pre-K student. He seemed nice, so I asked him where I could find the playground, because I had recess duty. He politely said he would walk me there. In a few seconds, I learned that he was the superintendent (which made me feel stupid and in more awe of his kindness all in the same moment). As we walked down the hall, he learned that I was the new 5th grade teacher for the next school year. He welcomed me to the "family", and then he said something to me that has always stuck with me. He said, "Keisha, right now you live on nothing and have dreams of changing the world. But soon you will be making money, and you'll feel rich for about 5 minutes. Soon you'll realize that you aren't getting paid anything compared to your amount of effort, and then you'll learn that you aren't changing much of the world at all. And you'll be tempted to leave. And if you do, I'll hunt ya down!" We both laughed. I knew he meant what he was saying, even though he was joking. He was letting me know that even though I was going to work my butt off, what I was going to get back in return was going to be MINIMAL! And in a funny way, he also let me know that he wanted me to stay and keep working my butt off anyway. I liked him instantly, and he was a great boss!
But he was wrong about feeling rich for only 5 minutes! Are you kidding?! I was making more than 4 times the amount I had been living on during college, and I had a roommate to help with expenses... I was rolling in the money!!! I was shopping, buying gifts, painting my house, bought a new car... and I was loving it!
I learned quickly that if I felt sad, buying a new outfit made me feel much better! Buying anything new, really, made a bad day instantly great!
I found out that I am a shopper. I didn't know that before, because I had never had money. And even though I was taught to, I never saved money. I always spent all my money, until I had $100 left. For some reason, I always broke out into an instant sweat as soon as my checking account hit $99. Some months, I got down to $99 a lot faster than others!
So one day on my way to work, I hit a curb and blew my two passenger tires. So that credit card that I had ONLY for emergencies got used. That was an unexpected expense, so it didn't break my rules for using it. The entire time the tire guy was ringing up my total, and I was signing the receipt... I was sweating about using a credit card for the first time.
But the next time I pulled it out, I was surprised how the sweat never came. The third time I used it, and the fourth, and anytime after that, it was a cinch - and I even found myself smiling about each purchase. No more buyer's guilt for me!
Until I maxed that card out. I panicked. And felt bad about myself. And opened another credit card with a lower interest rate. My plan was to pay off the first one with the second one and start trying to pay it off.
But somehow I never got around to it, and before I knew it, I had several hundred dollars charged on the second card as well. How did that happen? I didn't really have a whole lot to show for it. New tires, new clothes, lots of eating out, birthday parties and gifts for friends... it didn't feel elaborate! It wasn't like I took extravagant trips or bought huge luxurious items... I just spent money like water. I would pay $100 on each card at the beginning of the month, and then charge another $100 two weeks later. A viscous, endless cycle.
My anti-debt father was very kind to me. He knew that now I was only able to make minimum payments and wasn't able to get ahead on the cards at all. He paid off the first credit card and allowed me to make payments to him instead without the interest rate, which helped me greatly!
About this time in my life, I also started dating the man who is now my husband. He usually paid for dates and going out, so I was spending less. I was getting better about paying off more debt.
But then we planned a wedding. And, of course, I went over budget. I also married a seminary student. Who had 2 previous student loans. And in order to go to school, he could only work part-time. And that usual theory of "2 people's salaries make it easier when you are married than when you were single" was a complete, total lie in my experience. Don't get me wrong, I love my husband, and I wanted him to be able to go to seminary. We are happily married, and I wouldn't have traded him for money ever! But I had been single and spending for so long, that I had established so many bad habits! I did stop buying clothes, but I didn't know how to live on a budget for groceries, gas, etc.
Kyle, my husband, and I learned very quickly that we were both okay with spending money on convenience. Now, having the same spending habits means we rarely fight about money - honestly, can't think of a time we have had an actual fight about money. But there aren't enough fingers in the world to count how many times we have found ourselves staring at a balance that was a lot lower than we thought or a fee for overspending our checking account or pulling out the credit card when an unexpected bill came our way, having no savings to cover it. And we have both talked it out, written up a new budget, and we tell ourselves we will do better. But like resolutions usually go... old habits don't die!
And to be fair, we really have become so much better! I learned that I could go to the Lord when I have a bad day and keep the money in our checking account. I learned that I could feel confident in clothes I had worn a million times, instead of having to have something new! I learned that if you plan out meals ahead of time and make recipes that use similar ingredients, food isn't wasted! We had all our medical expenses for our daughter's birth paid off within 3 months - and that was with having a C-section! Then this past year the Lord provided a way for us to pay off over $13,000 of debt, including student loans and the only credit card we have! And this was the first Christmas that we had 90% of the Christmas budget in cash before we ever purchased anything! And we have started doing an envelope/cash system for a few months, which seems to be going okay! I have been super proud of us!!!
But there is so much more learning and growing to do... and our first goal is to do a financial fast. Have you ever heard of this? I hadn't, and honestly it had never crossed my mind before. I have been following some money-saving blogs for several months now, and one of them suggested that families take a financial fast once a year. I was immediately intrigued by the idea.
Basically, you just take a whole month where you try not to spend any money except what you absolutely have to pay for. You try to live off of the food you have in your deep freezer, cabinets, etc. You pay bills and then put the rest in your savings account. You only pull it out if you absolutely cannot live without whatever the expense is.
Since we are hoping to downsize our income and maximize my time with our kids by this summer/fall, I thought a financial fast would be a good first test. I am curious if we can be self-disciplined in our spending like we are in other areas. I hope we can do it, and do it well! We try so hard to glorify the Lord with our lives, but in the area of money, we just like to be comfortable and for things to be convenient. I know with more planning and a little more effort, we can live on less and still enjoy our lives. I want to see how little we actually NEED and how much of our lives, spending, and budget all this time have been based on our wants.
And I am excited how when our hearts are discontented with circumstances, we realize that true fulfillment comes from the Lord alone! I have tried filling up on new clothes and fun outings with friends so many times, and the next morning I need filling up all over again.
I am curious to see how much my husband and I can learn on relying on the Lord and each other more for fulfillment. I am excited to see how much we are going to learn about ourselves and about the goodness of our God. He truly is the Great Provider, and we want to be better stewards of what He has put us in charge of! I am also aware the process of learning might be painful. But in my experience, and so many others I have talked to, difficult times bring us closer to our Creator and to our loved ones so much more than the easy times.
And I am glad that we chose February for our financial fast, because it has the fewest days :) heeheehee!
Yes, I can feel it coming up. All the excitement and fears. I am planning and anticipating as much as I can... soon it will be Financial Fast February! Yikes! Yay!
If you would, please keep us in your prayers, as I know this has potential to be the most stretching time of our marriage and individual growth... as well as a huge opportunity to give in and quit whenever it gets tough.
Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.
Living on less... Ready... set... (GO - on February 1st)!