I felt like a house was pressing down on my shoulders.
I was sitting across from my soon-to-be fiancée, staring at a stale turkey burger and overcooked hot wings. The cuisine at TGIFriday’s would have been questionable under ideal circumstances, but tonight something else had taken my appetite.
It was spring 2016, and my future wife and I had just had our first detailed Budget Talk. Yikes. During an eight hour marathon session, we had reviewed our respective budgeting, spending and saving habits and started projecting what merging those would look like. We pored over bank statements, Excel spreadsheets and ran more numbers than a liberal arts student (this is what you study in college when you hate math) should ever be expected to compute.
We also talked about debt. Sigh.
Before we met, my wife and I had different perspectives and experiences on spending. We both grew up in middle class homes and my parents, both educators, regularly spoke with my brother and I about the importance of staying debt free. While my parents had a mortgage, their overall philosophy was to never buy anything they didn’t have the money for. “Debt”, we were told, “is never worth what it buys”, and I kept that philosophy through college, graduate school and nearly a decade in journalism. Working for daily publications and online magazines meant I made just enough money to keep myself alive and occasionally go to the movies, but I never went into the red. (Excuse me while I just… bend my arm to… pat… myself… on the… back… Okay. Good. There it is.)
My wife originally had a different philosophy on spending: if she needed or wanted something she bought it, few questions asked. This meant by the time we met she had roughly $20,000 in credit card debt, a $40,000 home improvement loan that she had taken on to waterproof her basement, and student loans that had helped pay for college and graduate school. Her spending habits were no longer what they had been, but now we had to dig ourselves out of a hole. And I wasn’t sure where to start.
This is probably a good spot to mention that, despite my best intentions, I have control issues. (You guessed that already, didn’t you?) Specifically, when a problem arises, I will fixate on it until I have found a solution for it. While this can occasionally come in handy (car keys never stay lost for long… Hey-o!) …it can also drive loved ones crazy. And in hindsight, knowing exactly how long it would take to pay off what we owed, with such clear and irrevocable foresight that we could mark it down on the calendar, miiiiiiiight have been expecting too much that spring evening.
So what did the saver and the spender do as they prepared to share their lives and merge their bank accounts?
THE BIG, AWKWARD MERGER
We prayed, brother! We reminded ourselves and each other of the truth that God was for us (so who could be against us?) and that He had the authority to stamp out what had preceded us. That was essential in defeating the lie of “This feels impossible.”
We also started working almost immediately to find ways to cut spending from the budget. “Do we really need this?” is a question we started asking early, and since then we’ve been living without Spotify Premium, Netflix, home Wi-Fi and other non-essentials (did you know that home Wi-Fi is a nonessential!? Who knew?!). The savings from those cuts enabled us to start tackling debt aggressively, and by December of 2016 (four months into our marriage) the credit card debt was gone. Wow. Massive relief, huge sense of accomplishment. Peace increase! My wife, now a devoted Dave Ramsey convert, loved seeing our debt-killing snowball grow, and proceeded to find and sell items throughout the house we weren’t using. Per Dave’s instructions, she made it clear everything in our house was for sale, possibly including me.
(She was kidding. I think.)
Periodically, as we update and track our budget each month, we have to address and reconcile our differing saving and spending habits. I’m eyeing the savings and retirement accounts, wondering if there’s enough there and perpetually looking for ways to set aside just a little bit more for our golden years or in case of emergency. My wife, who echoes the importance of our emergency fund, also wants to make sure we’re enjoying and thriving in our current time as a married couple. That means occasionally finding extra money in our budget for date nights and vacations, while also finding ways bless others outside of our regular tithe. It’s a dance… aren’t we glad God gives us a partner who’s NOT like us, to balance us out? I sure am.
Reconciling our viewpoints isn’t always easy, and we sometimes have to stop and remember we’re on the same side. Long term, we both want our family to be a debt-free example of what stewardship can look like. We want to be an Abrahamic household! And of course, details on how to arrive there look different for every household.
A constant, helpful reminder is how we’ve seen God bless our journey. In less than two years of marriage, God has enabled us to pay off more than $60,000, including all of the credit card debt and the home improvement loan. Yahoo!!! That was made possible despite a job loss (mine), and the slow, expensive death of two pets (hers).
Had you told me during that dinner at Friday’s it was possible to pay off $60,000 in less than two years, I’d have thought you were crazy. Then again, God often transcends what I think to be logical. God has prepared for us, many times, the very thing that we can’t conceive of presently. And that gives me hope for what He has in store for our family’s financial future.