I’ve wanted to do some kind of money talk on here for a while. I’ve said a few things here and there, but I want to get specific. I feel like it’s important to talk about money. Things that work, things that don’t, and what realistic expectations really look like.
There’s a lot of people who wait and talk about money when they’ve found the opportunity to actually change their financial situation and well, I’m one of them. I haven’t felt like I have a voice on financial responsibility and stability until recently because I really haven’t been extremely financially responsible until now.
Before I dive into our future and plans for our finances, I wanted to share a bit of our history. Our mindsets and general incomes throughout the last four years. I want to be able to relate back to our history when looking at our future because it’s important to remember what it’s like to live with less. It’s really important to remember that we made it through the tough times with food on our plates and a roof over our head to keep things in perspective as we move forward.
So I’ll start with the first year of our relationship and go from there.
OUR FINANCES THROUGH THE YEARS
The first year, we were doing pretty good actually. We just had no idea how to manage it. We were making over 30K a year, but we didn’t quite get our taxes figured out so we wound up owing a good amount at the end of the year.
Ian had a job at a church as the sound engineer while I worked at a coffee shop. We lived in an apartment well outside of our means because we hadn’t learned budgeting yet. We were living paycheck to paycheck, though I can guarantee that we didn’t need to.
We went into our relationship with about 40K in debt. Student loans, of course. Maybe a couple hundred here and there in credit card debt, but mostly student loans. It’s been our biggest struggle. Initially we deferred them again and again. We’ve put them off as much as possible cause guys, the monthly payments are almost enough to pay rent. And until recently, we honestly haven’t been able to afford the minimums on top of everything else people have to pay for in a month.
YEAR TWO + THREE
These two years were fairly similar to each other. We wound up getting new jobs. Mine have always been in the service industry. Mostly coffee, sometimes tacos. Ian has jumped around looking for a job that he could turn into a career. Starting with sound engineering, moving to the more industrial install aspects of the AV industry, and then to delivering food. (You’d be surprised that this is the one he’s turned into a career! You really never know what’s out there until you look.) So for these two years, we really weren’t making much at all.
We moved twice which we paid for with credit because we have (yes still have) no real savings, bringing our debt up a couple thousand. We continued living paycheck to paycheck, and while our less than 30K income warranted that, I still believe we could’ve found a way to have an extra $50-$100 a month, which in reality is not that much but could’ve made a real difference.
These two years especially were tough. We were both working opposite schedules. Year two, Ian had a job where he was over worked and under paid which left both of us emotionally exhausted. It’s true that people who say “money can’t buy happiness” already have money. Financial stability is a key pillar in a healthy marriage, and we’ve learned that first hand.
As the years have gone on, our loans came out of deferral one by one, each time putting more strain on our finances and relationship. I still to this day don’t know how we made it every month. We learned our lesson from the first year and have since made the choice to live in places we can truly afford, which definitely helped. We’ve very slowly implemented more meals at home into our routine which has also helped. But still, I have no idea how we made it those last 2 years.
This was our turning point. This is when we started figuring stuff out. I think having a baby helped. Having to be responsible for someone besides ourselves definitely made us put our heads on straight and fight to find a way to grow.
That’s probably been our biggest fear all along: an inability to grow financially. Neither of us have degrees (though we did try, hence the student debt), but we’ve been doing our best to set ourselves up for some kind of growth. We’ve moved locations at least once a year since getting together (which has been a big part of our debt rising about 10k more). We’ve changed jobs to try and find something that can give us some amount of stability. I’ve pretty much always worked in coffee, but it can be a place that offers growth if you really put yourself out there. Ian has jumped all around from service jobs to skilled jobs to corporate jobs. I’ll tell ya, corporate may be the best bet so far.
So here we are, coming up on the end of our fourth year and we’re finally getting it.
Ian has found an amazing company that has given us the opportunity to find a little stability while also giving me the chance to stay home and have and care for a bunch of babies. We have reached the point of maintaining the lifestyle we’ve always dreamed of. It’s truly incredible and I really never thought this would happen for us.
Still, this past year was a transition into that as Ian worked very hard to make his way into a position that gave us this chance. I worked for the first while of this year as we patiently waited for opportunities to present themselves but I have to give my husband lots of props. He started with his current company from the bottom and he has worked harder than anyone I’ve known to move forward one step at a time. He’s stayed humble and hard working every step of the way and you know, that is a really key part in finding your footing in the working world.
So now we are making enough to pay ALL of the student loan minimums (because they are all out of deferral at this point) and credit card minimums. Once all of our loans came out of deferral, we lost the couple hundred each month that was suppose to help us put extra money into different things. But we’re moving again for a new position that will officially put us in the financial position we need to actually tackle our debt, create savings, and set ourselves and our kids up to actually have a little stability in our lives and eventually give back where we can.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR
IT’S REALLY HARD WHEN YOU DON’T MAKE ENOUGH
That is probably the hardest part when you’re starting out. You feel so irresponsible when your bank account balance hits $2 a week before your next paycheck. Yes, we did some irresponsible spending here and there and we weren’t the best with budgeting, but we tried very hard to use our money wisely. We just simply didn’t make enough.
You can’t argue numbers and when your income is as much (if not a little less at times) than your mandatory expenses, it’s hard to feel like you’ll be able to do anything besides work and struggle your whole life. And I know, if I were reading this somewhere else, I may be thinking, “well you didn’t have to go to school and get loans.” But you know the world we live in. You know the expectations that are put on us from day one about education. You know the promises made. And you know what it feels like to be in school, one that you took out a hefty loan for, and see people around you failing because a degree doesn’t necessarily get you as far as people say it will. Luckily, we stopped before our debt grew even more.
The point is, if you simply don’t make a lot and you’re not sure how to make more, I feel your pain.
I can honestly say that it may be impossible to feel growth when you’re not making as much as you need. I don’t have a lot of advice for that situation. I wish I did. I wish we found a way to make it work from the beginning, but honestly, even making slightly more than our mandatory expenses each month doesn’t add a lot of room for saving and paying off debt.
The best advice I have is to set realistic goals and make drastic changes in small increments.
Want to save for an emergency fund on a tight budget or need to pay down a little debt? Eat rice and beans for a month. Turn off your lights more. See if you can make a small batch of something to sell, like cookies at a farmers market. Sometimes, when finances are tight, it’s better to think in a very short term mindset with small goals to at least give yourself the ease of knowing you’re doing something.
EVALUATE AND REEVALUATE
I have an app that I use called Mint (but they also have a website). It has been a game changer for our budget. Basically, you link all your accounts from loans to cards to accounts to bills, what have you. Then, it tracks everything. You have different spending categories, you can set budgets, you can create goals. It’s an amazing tool for anyone trying to grow financially no matter what stage you’re in. It’s how I learned that we spent $700 on food last month (WHAT???) and now I can definitely trim that back because we’re only two and half people here.
Along with having months of sacrificing some basic first world “necessities” to meet goals, having a very good visual of where your money is going is important. Keeping track of spending and budgets while constantly evaluating where your money really needs to be going is one of the best ways to keep your mind on the right track.
JUST DO WHAT YOU CAN
I’m sure a financial advisor would shoot me in the foot for saying this, but you know what? People in the red need to hear this:
It’s okay to have priorities and put payments on the back burner sometimes.
Now, if it’s between paying a bill or buying a new car… I mean, come on. BUT if it’s between groceries and a student loan, the loan can wait. If you get an unexpected doctor bill but you have electricity and rent and gas to pay for, the doctor can wait.
You shouldn’t starve yourself or live without running water or electricity just to save your credit score. You’ll get to it when you get to it and if right now is impossible for you, don’t let it stress you. I know it’s hard, but just remember it’s okay to do what you can when you can. Just make sure you keep track of what you’ve put off and maybe pull a rice and beans month next month to catch up.
WHERE WE’RE HEADED
Okay, so we’ve reached the point of making enough to start tackling our debt and create a real savings safety net. I can’t tell you how much a relief it is to have made it here. I can truly say I never thought we would. We never imagined we’d feel capable of climbing our debt mountain.
So here is what money talk is all about: It’s about our finances and how we manage them. It’s about learning from our past to conquer our future and set ourselves up to find peace and security in our bank accounts.
Money may not be able to buy happiness, but responsible budgeting and living wages can certainly give you the opportunity to find it.