I haven’t been sleeping good lately. In fact, as I write this post it is 4:22 AM and I am wide awake sitting in my living room. Some of it is because I have a terrible head cold and being pregnant, I can’t take anything for it. Not being able to breathe really puts a cramp on your sleeping patterns, among other things. But I’ll be honest, most of the reason I haven’t been able to sleep lately has been money.
Let me start all this off by saying that Chris and I have 2 solid, good paying jobs. We bought a house this year that, thankfully, we can afford (not many people can say that these days). We have 2 cars, but only 1 car payment. Our dogs get new bones every week. We’re doing okay by any one’s standards. So this is not an attempt to cry poor. But, like everyone else lately, we are starting to feel the strain. In fact, the bigger my belly grows the more of a strain we are feeling. My belly is the constant reminder that our financial world is about to be rocked.
When Chris was in graduate school, we lived on my one income and we lived pretty good. We stayed within our means, but we also prioritized things like traveling, big dinners, and weekends away. We could do this because we didn’t have too many financial commitments. On the flip side of all that spending, we were also able to put a lot of money into savings. That was a big priority for us. And we gave monthly to my favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. In short, there wasn’t much we weren’t able to do.
And then Chris graduated and got a job that paid just about as much as mine did, doubling our income. Knowing that the smartest thing to do with this newfound paycheck was to invest it, we bought our first house. A nice house. A house that most people our age wouldn’t have been able to afford. We were thankful to the Lord for this blessing, and we happily committed ourselves to a mortgage payment.
The problem was that we didn’t adjust our spending to make room for this enormous new responsibility. We were still enjoying traveling whenever we wanted, weekend trips to New York, and we started spending on new things to fill this house. Top of the line electronics, computers, sound systems, the Man Cave. Even the dog’s kibble was upgraded. And still we were able to afford this to some extent. True, we weren’t saving as much as we used to, but we were still living within our paychecks. The only difference was that now we were truly living paycheck to paycheck. And while we had been once again blessed to have great jobs, our lifestyle was rapidly deteriorating the size of our paychecks.
Enter the Bean.
When I got pregnant, things didn’t change so much financially for us. Sure, I was eating a lot more, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost all that much to be pregnant. But the bigger my belly got, the more acutely aware we became that one day – soon – this Bean would be a Baby. And he would need diapers and food and clothes and daycare. He would be the most expensive 2 foot tall investment we’d made yet. Also about this time, the 6 month grace period on our student loans expired and we began to receive these ugly bills every month. Ugly to the tune of about $600 a month. Very, very ugly.
Now, neither of these things is a negative or a negotiable. Baby Michael is not in any way a burden to us. His daycare payment, however, will be a bit of a pain the butt. We are looking at paying around $250 a WEEK for daycare. That’s an extra $1,000 a month. And our student loans paid for 2 masters degrees – one from Yale University. Neither of us would have the nice paychecks we enjoy without these student loans, and so its always a little bittersweet to write that enormous check every month. Nevertheless, these 2 things were drastic wake up calls for us. When you are already living paycheck to paycheck and suddenly you are forced to add in an additional $1,600 a month in expenses, you realize very, very quickly that something is going to have to change. Something would have to give in order to accommodate these 2 new costs.
In the grand scheme of things, we are lucky because at least we have decent salaries to budget within. But in truth, it doesn’t matter how big your paychecks are every month. Cutting back – on whatever scale you live on – is never easy. And that’s where we are right now. We are having to cut back on an enormous scale. I have spent the past month staring at our checking account, really examining where we are spending our money and I’ve learned that scaling back for us is not going to be all that difficult, in theory. We eat out a lot, I don’t pack my lunch, we go to concerts and sporting events and Broadway shows, we buy things for the house, we don’t car pool, we take our dogs to the groomers, and we continue to travel. If you add all these things up, we more than recoup the costs we need for daycare and student loans each month. But the trouble I was having was how to make these cuts. How do we get disciplined enough when we have been living like kings for the past 4 years?
And that’s when I remembered my parents and my Aunt and Uncle suggesting a book that they had all read. Its a financial philosophy based on the Bible and its called “Financial Peace.” Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who believes that the US in general is living above their means. They are considering extra expenses to be necessities. They are trying to keep up with the Jones. And in the process, they are losing their homes, their retirement, and, in many cases, their marriages. His theory is that 50 years ago, people lived happier lives because they lived more meager lives. They had no debt. They paid outright for major purchases (including their homes). They found extravagance in the little things. Essentially, Dave Ramsey believes we need to return to the basics. And he bases this all on Scripture.
This was exactly what I needed. I needed some peace of mind. I needed some patience and goodwill. I needed some blessings. And I needed to know what the crap to do with my checking account. And I found answers to all of this in Dave Ramsey’s book. I picked up the book only this week, but already I can feel the weight lifting off my shoulders a little bit. True, I’m still waking up at 4:00 AM thinking about daycare and diapers, but at least now I have some sense of peace and I know that I can get this situation under control. That doesn’t make it any easier. That doesn’t mean that Chris and I are always going to agree on what things can be sacrifices and what things can’t. That doesn’t mean its not going to suck when I have to climb my pregnant booty into the shower to wash my own dogs instead of taking them to the groomers. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to hate every turkey sandwich I pack for lunch everyday. But blessings are rarely easy to receive. The Lord has provided a door, and now we have to be responsible enough to walk through it.
I’m not writing all of this to influence someone or motivate someone and certainly not to set an example. I’m writing this because this is my journal, and the way I think through situations is to get them on paper (er…computer screen). I thought about just writing it for myself and not posting it for all the world to judge and know. But then I realized that we probably (and hopefully!) are not alone. Maybe the mistakes we have been making are common mistakes for young, married couples. And maybe there is someone else out there is awake at 4:00 AM thinking about money, and they’ll read this and know that at the very least, they aren’t alone.
So, I’ll continue to chronicle this new financial path we are blazing for ourselves. Not daily, or weekly, or even monthly. But whenever we hit a speed bump or experience a small victory, I’ll share that with you.
Because, you know, we’re, like, friends.
For more information on Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace,” check out his website daveramsey.com or his book on Amazon, The Financial Peace Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring Your Financial Health.