Financially Together as Two Single People – Part 2

“For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.  Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  …  We are continuously asking ourselves how can we live more deliberately? “(From Week One.)

Week Two: Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

Let me get this off my chest first and then get on to what’s really important.  It’s a good thing Ramsey spoke about men and women the second session because I might have over reacted asking for my money back.

SOAP BOX:

What a bunch of superficial generalizations and stereotypes about men and women and how we relate to one another!  It’s irresponsible and dangerous actually.  And it is no wonder that we don’t understand one another when a man or woman stands up on a stage, using their God-given authority and spews out a bunch of crazy old-fashioned ideas about how men are this way and women are that, with no research to back it up, except some equally ancient thinking from the likes of Gary Smalley and Dennis Rainey.   Or John Gray suggests one that I particularly loathe:  “A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results. A woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.”

We are all uniquely different but I don’t think that these differences are broken down by gender.  And he spent too much time “being funny” about these very unhelpful generalizations.  I suppose I could have just said that without the soap box.

He did stress that the number one conflict in marriage is over money and I have seen this played out in many of my friends and relatives.  He want on to say some things that made sense.

  1. You must BOTH agree to the details of a budget and work on it or you will fail.  If you both have a say it is more likely that you both stick by it.  That’s very democratic or egalitarian.  I thought it made sense.
  2. If we look at the flow of money in our lives we will see what our values are and what is important to us.  We have found this to be true for us.
  3. For many of us, how we handle our money represents failure to us and the result is low self-esteem. Oh so true:  Money comes to equal stress, bad emotions, and so we avoid dealing with it.
  4. Dangers for falling off your budget:  time poverty and fatigue, thinking you “deserve” something, making impulse purchases, and for singles loneliness spending.
  5. You need a written plan.  This will give empowerment, control and accountability.  And something I never thought about but if you are single you have no-one to be accountable to so he suggested finding someone.  Good advice.
  6. It is the job or a parent to teach  their kids how to handle money.  (He referenced Proverbs 22.6&7.)  Ramsey has a whole theory/program for teaching kids about money.  I thought the emphasis he made on the connection between money and work made particular sense.  The value of hard work.  The result (usually) being money.

Here’s where it got personal.

Ramsey went on a bit too long about the Geek vs. Free Spirit in marriages, saying there is one of each in a marriage.  As he talked Tom and I were having trouble relating.  We struggled to find more than a one or two characteristics that related to us and neither of us were all Geek or all Free Spirit, based on Ramsey’s characterizations.

What we finally concluded is that we are living our financial lives together as two single people. We’ve been together almost fifteen years and for the most part we don’t do this money stuff as partners. Yeah, weird!!!!!  Totally!  At first we laughed! We found ourselves joking with our friends also attending the seminar that we need to “get married” financially.  But then it didn’t feel as funny.  Quite often I do my thing and he does his.  We make impulse purchases, splurges, choices and rarely face the other one because we have always had the unspoken motto: “live and let live.”  He has his musical ‘slush fund’ that he manages and I mange the day-to-day family expenses.  And luckily (or not depending on how you look at it) we’ve had enough income to stumble through. A few important choices over the last few years we made together are investing a good percentage into retirement and insurance.  We are paying off our debt “as fast as we can.”  We refinanced our home so that it’ll be paid off in fifteen years.  Debt in the next two or three.

This realization of our separate financial lives has led us to deeper discussions.

That led to an equally important discussion about how we spend our time as individuals and where we focus our energy as parents.

We are not what I would call bad parents.  We provide for physical needs.  We love and encourage.  We listen and guide.  We set limits.  We pray for our kids.  We have intentionally provided good influences.  Some would say:  good enough.

Well, I’ve felt more alone in parenting that I have wanted to admit.  Tom is a good father for all the above reasons.  But when it came to our free time I have told myself that he “deserves” to have his time free to pursue his own interests — his music — because he’s the breadwinner and I don’t work outside of the home.

And as for me, well, I had to accept it when he told me that I’ve become a bit of a slacker.  It was hard to hear and even more painful to admit but I’ve been called out and I confess that I have abused the freedom of being at home.   I suppose over the ten years the pendulum swung from being an overachiever always thinking about work and how to improve.  I was always pursuing how to do the job better and directing others toward those goals.  Applying that grit to being a homemaker?  Not so much.  I excuse myself saying I’m not that good at it.  But the crystal clear truth is that I am not that inspired by it.  So I do a truly half-ass job of homemaking.

When I left InterVarsity, I basically agreed that I was going to carry most of the load for the house and he agreed to “bring home the bacon.”  He’s been keeping up his end of the deal and I have kind of pursued a lot of other interests, many of them virtuous, but the harsh truth is that I get to the house cleaning and laundry eventually, on a good week.  Why does this matter?

  • Firstly, I have broken a commitment I made.  It was sort of an erosion of my commitment.  Those are the hardest to face but it is true.  Gotta face it.  Turn about and change.   And, financially where this connects is that I could save us a lot of money by applying my brains to careful spending.  Another thing I was going to do when I quit work.   This will require planning ahead, having a schedule that ensures that the yucky stuff gets done every week.  That’s the plain facts!
  • And Tom, well, he totally stepped up to his disappearing act.
  • And together have committed that we’re in it together so let’s do it — together.

The only way that we could see and face the crazy cycle we’ve been on was by stopping to analyse our patterns for spending money.  By backing up and looking at how we spend our time. Tom has a theory that usually a person is doing what they want, no matter how much they belly ache about something else. Except in the case of abusive relationships I agree with him.

But here’s a startling truth.  “What I want” and “what makes me happy” is not always the Godly way.  It is not naturally and easily what Jesus might have done.  It is not always based on your values.  Or convictions.  Or much of anything but old comforts.

What patterns and cycles we have seen!

It is important to say right here that there’s a spiritual dimension to all this that cannot be overlooked.  I think as we face the sickness of careless greed in ourselves we should forgive ourselves and pray:

“Give us, Lord, the same kind of faith with respect to thy ability and willingness to heal our souls.

Give us to desire the pardon of sin more than any earthly blessing or life itself.

Enable us to believe thy power to forgive sins; then will our souls cheerfully arise and go where thou pleasest.”

— Mathhew Henry’s Concise Commentary

Then and only then (Tom took the lead on this) could I be forced to say what really I want with my life.  But that I think is for another day.

Blessings friends!

Things I Gave Up For the Recession (Updated)

One one of my current favorite websites, The Huffington Post, has a new section, Blogging the Meltdown.  Here’s my entry for how the recession has impacted me.  It’s updated from something I wrote a month ago.

Ten (or so) things I gave up because of the recession:

Not in order of importance.

1. Coffee shops. Though I still drink good strong (usually fair trade) coffee at home, I no longer stop for it when I am out and about.  (Sorry Starbucks.)  And I’ve vowed to use up all the tea I have at home.  Somehow I like buying tea (they come in beautiful boxes) but don’t seem to drink much of it.  That’s changed.

2. Books. My husband swears I could read for two years or longer on the books I currently own, but I have given up purchasing books.  That’s a compulsion that is hard to change but important way to save big dollars.  I will visit my local library which means I have to be much more organized and less spontaneous about my reading preferences.  (Goodbye Borders.)

3. Neighborhood grocery store.
I love the beautiful atmosphere including classical music, but I’ve given it up for the prices at Trader Joe’s and a warehouse store like Woodmans.  Again, I must be more organized.  Frankly, I don’t miss seeing wine on every corner associated with all the good food I like, since I gave up drinking in July.  (That’s saving us a bundle.)

4. Shopping for entertainment.  Okay, don’t judge.  It is something that I enjoy(ed.)  But we’re not shopping at all.  Only what’s absolutely needed and in the budget.

5.  Eating out. We just don’t do it. And we used to eat out three or four times a week, sometimes as a family of five, sometimes at lunch from work.  It was a way to stave off boredom, an antidote for laziness, and somehow a ‘reward.’  Again, planning ahead is required to eat every meal at home.  Tom just got eight cans of Progresso Soup for $10.  Now that’s a deal!

6. Cambodia. I had planned a trip there to take a photography course, but this is postponed indefinitely.

7. Our Dishwasher. It broke, burning out in a blaze of glory after probably 30+ years and it won’t be replaced for a while.  Things we don’t need, won’t be repaired or replaced.  We wash our dishes by hand which has caused me to use more hand lotion.  But funnily enough, I have quite a bit.

8. Furniture in our Living Room. Our cat George has issues (related to peeing) and we’ve lost furniture, rugs, pillows, etc. all because of it, I mean him.  They won’t be replaced for a very long time.  He may get the boot!  Though that is under debate.

9. Gourmet cheeses (and things like it.) Yummmmm.  The older the better.  Stick to grocery store brand Sharp Cheddar.  Oddly difficult for me.

10. We’ll be canceling all of our magazine subscriptions (except PASTE magazine, which is awesome! And you get a CD of cool new music each month.  (By the way, no more CD purchases!)

On the short list for what’s next: Piano tuning won’t happen this this winter or vacations & travel of any kind.  We’re considering cutting Cable, although we’ve had an ongoing family debate over this.  The Persian rug in our den will not be cleaned.

We’re still investing in retirement, the kids are still in soccer and music lessons, we eat well, we are in no manner suffering. The biggest sacrifice has been what we perceived as financial “freedom.”

It is interesting how our priorities change as we deal with the fact that we must bring down our debt and increase our savings.  The recession was basically a wake up call for my husband and I who have been living as if we can buy and do whatever we want whenever we desire.  If we can’t afford it this month but we really want to do it, we put it on credit.

We now live on a budget and track each category (almost) daily.  What we thought was freedom was bondage, and now, we are free. It will take us four years on this restricted budget to be completely out of debt.  It is ironic, but by the time Mr. Obama is running again, we will be in a place to afford vacations, send our kids to college, and have a little more real freedom.

The recession is a blessing disguised as a burden.

For us, that is.  For many people it is much more dire.  Just spend a few minutes on the Huffington Meltdown site reading the stories of the homeless, uninsured, jobless, … yes, in my America.  Your America.

It makes my little list of “sacrifices” seem so silly.

Ten Things I Gave Up Because of the Recession

Ten things I gave up because of the Recession  … Not in order of importance.

  1. Coffee shops. Though I still drink good coffee at home, I no longer get that when I am out and about.
  2. Book Stores. My husband swears I could read for about two years (or longer) on the books I currently own, but I have given up purchasing books.  That’s a compulsion that is hard to change but important.
  3. Sentry grocery store. I love the beautiful atmosphere including classical music, but I’ve given it up for the prices at Woodmans and Trader Joes.  And frankly, I don’t miss seeing wine on every corner associated with all the good food I like.
  4. Shopping. I no longer shop for ‘entertainment.’  Okay, don’t judge.  It is something that I enjoy(ed.)
  5. Eating out. We just don’t do it.  Before it was a way to stave off boredom, an anecdote for laziness, and somehow a ‘reward.’
  6. Cambodia. Enough said.
  7. Our Dishwasher. It broke, burning out in a blaze of glory and it won’t be replaced for a while.
  8. Furniture in our Living Room. Our cat George has issues related to peeing and we’ve lost furniture, rugs, pillows all because of it.  They won’t be replaced for a very long time.
  9. Gourmet cheeses. Yummmmm.  The older the better.  Stick to grocer Sharp Cheddar.  Oddly difficult for me.
  10. Canceling magazine subscriptions that we don’t read, except PASTE magazine, which is awesome and you get a CD of cool new music each month.  (By the way, no more CD purchases, dearest Tom.  We have to stop!)

On the short list for what’s next: Piano tuning. It hasn’t been tuned for three years and it won’t be this winter. Vacations & travel of any kind.  We’re considering cutting Cable although we’ve had ongoing family debates.  The faux Persian rug in our den will not be cleaned.  I’ve been thinking of giving up red meat anyway, because my bad cholesteral is high, but it’s also pricey!

What have you given up if anything?  It doesn’t have to be a neat TEN.  It is interesting how our priorities change as we deal with the prices at the grochery store and the pump.