Three years ago my husband and I said “I do” in our 1960s Hikes Point brick ranch. I’d been married before; ten years prior my ex-husband and I did the big church wedding and upscale reception, and I learned through my experience that a lavish affair, which would ultimately sink us further into debt, didn’t align with my goals or priorities. Experience really is the best teacher. Thankfully, my fiancé and now-husband Scott felt the same way. Surrounded by our immediate families, the focus of that cold and windy April day was on the two of us, instead of on the guests or the wedding party. We were beginning our new life together in the presence of those who matter most. Rather than spending money, we didn’t have, we got married the way WE wanted to. The way that was special to us. It was an affordable and low-stress, yet happy, day.
The countercultural approach to our wedding set the tone for our early marriage. Since 2014 Scott and I have been living on a budget – something that had been completely foreign to me before we discovered Dave Ramsey. A co-worker with whom I rode the TARC told me about Dave Ramsey one day on our commute home from the office, and I was intrigued. I devoured “The Total Money Makeover” in two days.
It didn’t take any convincing to get Scott on board because of his risk-averse nature; debt is something he has always shied away from. He chose not to go to college for that very reason. He didn’t have any scholarships or assistance and so he chose to forego taking on student loans. He is a skilled mechanic and was making good money right out of high school. He still makes a good living. You don’t have to bring home a huge salary to create a happy life. But you do have to learn to live below your means – something that living on a budget has taught us.
In 2014 upon discovering Dave Ramsey, we were determined to pay our house off in five years. Here we are three years later are we are just five months away from sending in our last house payment! I am so proud of how much we have accomplished. But I am also ashamed of how little gratitude I have felt in my heart over the course of these last three years.
Scott and I didn’t take a honeymoon after we got married. We haven’t given each other Christmas or birthday gifts in three years. We have not purchased a new car. We have not updated our bathrooms or kitchen like we dream about. We have not spent a Saturday shopping at the outlets or at the mall treating ourselves to new clothes or shoes or handbags. We have not upgraded our TV, which is now covered in dead pixels. We have been living on a budget and sacrificing our wants in the short-term for our ultimate dream of lifelong financial freedom. To say it’s been fun or easy would be a lie.
Before we got married we pretty much lived it up. I was working on my second Masters degree, an MBA from Bellarmine, and I was working full-time making a good salary. Scott was a manager and worked long hours, but made decent money too. We felt we deserved to have the things we wanted. Granted, we didn’t put things on a credit card (I’d learned the hard way about credit cards before I met Scott), but we still spent most of the money we had leftover after paying our bills. We went to brunch, I frequently re-decorated the house, buying new pillows, lamps, and throw rugs at Target. I bought expensive makeup from the M.A.C. counter. I got my nails done professionally. One time I dropped $400 on a beautiful pair of Frye boots, and Starbucks was a daily treat. I collected tattoos, which are awesome, but also pricey. It was a fun time, but I still I always found myself wanting for more.
Getting on a budget has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. It wasn’t until I stopped spending all of my time pursuing material things that I truly saw the amount of “stuff” we already owned. It’s very easy – and very dangerous – in our day-and-age to compare ourselves to others. In her book “Love Your Life Not Theirs” Rachel Cruze talks about a fascinating phenomenon happening on social media today. There is a tiny word being thrown around on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that conjures up intense feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. That word is #blessed.
Here are some examples of this word used in a sentence.
“Just booked our 10th anniversary trip to Bora Bora! #blessed”
“Look at this gorgeous new Coach purse my husband gave me for my birthday! #blessed”
Comparison living is rampant in our society. We walk around with tiny little computers in our purses and pockets and it only takes the touch of a finger to tune into what everyone else is doing, where everyone else is going, what everyone else is driving, where everyone else is living, and what everyone else looks like. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like a victim because of our human nature. Our minds twist things and we can easily turn something happy into something sad. We take things personally when things are just not personal. Other people are simply living out their dreams. But in American culture, most people do not share the dream of being debt-free, including their homes. Scott and I are officially “weird.”
Getting on a budget and aggressively paying down our debt hasn’t allowed for much wiggle room in terms of buying the things we want. We have sacrificed a ton in order to crush our debt quickly, and lately, I’ve found myself falling prey to comparison living through social media channels. I’ve felt jealous of friends who got to take a trip to some gorgeous beach destination or who just moved into a completely updated house or who just got a better job than the one I have now. I’ve been feeling negative, deprived, and unhappy as hell.
The other night I decided to try on all of my clothes. I am almost nine months post-partum now and have been diligently working out and eating healthy, and so I am only a few pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. So, I thought I’d try on all of my clothes to see what fits me now. I literally tried on everything in my closet and, suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of abundance. I was reminded of how many clothes I have and I felt this wave of gratitude wash over me.
I also felt ashamed of comparing myself to others. I was reminded of how fortunate I am vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Not only do I live in the greatest country in the world, I am also healthy, educated, employed, able-bodied, and have access to healthcare that my family can afford (although it is still very expensive). Our social structure – combined with my own hard work and perseverance – has enabled me to have one of the best lives on Earth, and there I was feeling deprived because of what others were sharing on social media (which is only the highlight reel anyway).
It wasn’t rational. It was emotional. And, when we let our emotions drive our behavior, we can make mistakes with our money. BIG mistakes. Emotions can lead us to lease a new vehicle, or buy a designer handbag, or a $400 pair of boots when we can’t really afford these things. My advice is to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses because the Joneses are BROKE! Someone will always have more than you. Someone will always be smarter, better looking, more successful, more accomplished, more liked at work, fitter, faster, smaller, bigger, taller, you name it! But you can’t compare yourself or your journey to anyone else’s. If you start feeling this way, take a break from checking Facebook and Instagram. Go on a social media hiatus. Your mental well-being – and your wallet – will thank you!
Living on a budget has taught me to be grateful for the things I already have instead of pursuing more stuff. Possessions don’t make us happy or fulfilled. We might feel happy when we buy something new, but that feeling is fleeting. Happiness comes from looking around you and seeing the abundance that is your life, and knowing that you truly are blessed – and by that, I don’t mean #blessed. Screw humble bragging! I am so glad that living on a budget and being on this debt-free journey has taught me gratitude on a whole new level. I don’t think I will ever be the same.