STARTING A NEW LIFE
My husband and I started our marriage as many newly wed couples often do– poor. We were both going to school, working part time jobs. We got ourselves a run down little apartment by the college, accepted any furniture people were willing to part with for free, and had date nights at the Wendy’s up the street. Money wasn’t really an issue because we didn’t have any. We are both naturally frugal, and we were saving every little penny to buy a house. Without home repairs and kids in the mix, money and life was really very simple.
Fast forward a year, we bought our very first place– a little town home. I was expecting our first child, along with trying to finish college. I got sick–very sick, and the cost of owning a home and medical bills started to put the heat on our money situation.
It was belt-tightening time
We began doing every little money saving thing we could to keep it together and to keep ourselves out of any unnecessary debt (because we both decided early on we didn’t want that noose around our neck). It took skipping snacks, missing out on movies, the husband walking when possible, and crossing fingers when bill time rolled around.
It wasn’t easy, but we managed to pay our bills and got into a good stride. Then Justin got a raise at work (yay!), and we had a little more financial freedom. We put a little aside to someday buy another home, we paid our bills, and kept things tight for a while.
Fast forward again another four years and another very expensive pregnancy, and we were buying our current home; our dream home. (You can read more about our dream home here.) We decided to hang onto our town home as a rental property, we got a management company to take over (a big mistake on our part), and we settled into our new life. Only, we didn’t get a tenant for our rental property for a few months.
This stretch hurt a lot
We watched our savings start dwindling down, wondering what we were going to do each month that we went without a tenant. Two house payments is a lot for anyone, let alone a young family. It was scary. Then, 3 months later we got a call from our management company telling us they found a tenant.
It was a breath of relief… or so we thought
As it turns out, the new tenant couldn’t afford the payment (which should have come up during the screening process) and only paid partial payments for 3 months, meaning we were still shouldering almost half the mortgage. Long story short, the company said they’d get the rent– they didn’t, we ordered the tenant out based on the contract, they dragged their feet– so we fired them and took over the town home. Let’s just say we had to keep our heads, but there were times we were genuinely scared another shoe would drop.
In our new home, we were avoiding debt as much as we could, but we were living on the edge at this point with what we could afford. It wasn’t until we got our own tenant in that we felt a little more comfortable. After a few months of solid rent payments, we started feeling the heat die down a little.
The Heat Reduces to a Simmer…
You know, once that heat was down to a simmer, we started loosening up on sacrifices we had been making. We were both excited about our new home and wanted it to look amazing. We bought furniture and paintings, paint so on to spruce it up… coupling that with more groceries for our growing family, paying off hospital bills and new baby clothes– let’s just say we forgot about heat and weren’t paying attention to what was happening to our bottom line. We figured we were doing better than most kids our age, so we were fine; but yeah, that was a bold-faced lie.
It was pretty sobering when we paid off the credit card one month and realized there wasn’t much left in checking. We realized one ruthless money challenge would sink us, and we weren’t naive enough to believe it wouldn’t happen.
My husband suggested we should start keeping track of our money. And although I knew it would be good for us, I agreed– all the while dreading the arguments I thought would certainly come around.
Our Budget Meeting
To my surprise, following that ‘budget meeting’, arguments didn’t ensue. In fact, the first thing we did was figure out what we really wanted for ourselves financially. We set goals together of how much we wanted to save monthly, and had already established together that we wanted to stay out of debt, but we had never allowed ourselves to dream beyond the basic buy food, pay mortgage, pay bills, repeat.
Turned out we DID have dreams, a LOT of dreams! That first meeting was illuminating and exciting! We both want so much from life!
We want to purchase more rental properties (by now we had taken over management of our first place, and things were running much more smoothly. Something I will go into more detail on later), and we want to travel. We also want to give back and help others. The dreaming process really helped kick it all off in a good direction because when we went over our finances with a fine tooth comb and talked about cut backs, we were both on board.
Making it happen
The first month, my husband put his Excel whiz skills to work and made a basic budget sheet. He said it took some discipline (he actually tried Mint at first, but found it wasn’t letting him work the budget as we wanted). We looked at different ways to save until we hit our stride.
As the first few months of tracking our budget grew into years of tracking our budget, the budget sheet got more sophisticated to meet our needs. Not every month has been a success, and we have dipped below the line here and there, but we are always able to bring ourselves back– we had goals, we had our ‘why’. We also finalized a way that worked for us (check out our new way of budgeting) a few years ago. The focus was to pick how much we wanted to save each month, and then work backward from there.
By the way, our super awesome budget tracker is on this site, click here. It’s on sale!
Having a ‘Why’
Communicating every week about what we spend wasn’t just good for our finances, it’s actually opened up other lines of communication between us. There’s something about complete honesty on something so vulnerable that has really opened up our marriage. We have found ourselves coming together more and more on everything. It’s been a positive snowball effect. We both have room for improvement, and we try not to judge each other on that, but we can see our dreams coming true; and we are building it together.
I know that our experience may not work for everybody; but the one thing I would recommend is to take some time to dream together and figure out the ‘why’ of it all, as in, WHY is it important. Once you know why you want to do something and what you’re working towards, the how becomes worth it and keeps things in focus, even when the heat is on.