We were fresh newlyweds, still sporting the honeymoon glow. Bowls of Bluebell in hand, we settled in to watch a few episodes of Lost on “our” couch. It wasn’t technically ours, as we were living in the game room of a generous family we had met at church. Our bed was the lower level of a three tiered bunk loft situation, our bathroom was shared with the garage entrance and our kitchen consisted of a small fridge and a plug in burner.
We spent most of our savings on the honeymoon, owed the IRS, made no more than 30,000 dollars take-home pay, and had over 60,000 dollars in school debt. That night though, before the first episode began, our marriage changed forever.
The scissors came out and we cut up our credit cards.
Just 22 months later, we were completely debt free with money in the bank, but the road traveled those months was not without its struggles and painfully hilarious stories.
On a frigidly icy day in December, as we were driving to a friend’s house for a weekly Sunday night dinner, we struck up a conversation regarding our finances. Simply because money talk made me uncomfortable, and any word about my spending habits felt like an attack on my insecure self worth and story, I began to cry. I cried so long and so hard that my husband pulled the car over to the side of the road, broke off icicles from a street sign, and placed them on the now puffy bags under my eyes for recovery. I laughed so hard I cried some more, but deep down, I was embarrassed. Money-talk made me cringe.
I cried a lot those first few months of paying off debt, and struggled to communicate in general. Early on, we had a line item for everything in our budget. Groceries, cleaning products, parking fees. If it wasn’t planned at the beginning of the month, it wasn’t getting paid for. And believe me when I say we were living on beans and rice.
Our date budget for the month was five dollars – enough to split a Frosty a week and watch planes land at Dallas Love Field. All expenses were scrutinized, and the overall rule in those first few months was JUST DON’T SPEND MONEY.
(Preface this story by knowing that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, and mine, although atop a fairly confident woman, has been the source of beauty insecurity since junior high). From his previous bachelor life, my husband brought an economy sized 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, body wash monstrosity into our shower, so he never had any need for personal products. I pride myself (stupidly) on being low maintenance, and I happen to be the one in our relationship that rarely says “no” to purchases or experiences, so in this phase of debt snowballing, I hesitated to ask for anything because I didn’t want to make him the “no” guy. This caused me to begrudgingly and silently use his bargain 3-in-1 slurry for four months, until my wet seaweed-on-a-rock hairstyle finally brought me to tears. I asked for the extra line item for shampoo and conditioner and realized I might have a problem…
Finances teach us something about ourselves (and our partner!). Our spending habits tell the story of our upbringing. Our attention to bank account balances, or lack thereof, speaks to the way in which we choose to navigate our world, with open hand or tightly clinched fist, in chaos or rigidity. I don’t write this reflection to urge you to handle your money in any certain way necessarily.
I do, however, encourage you to take a look at what your financial habits say about your heart.
For me, they said that comfort was king, and if anything ruled my life it was my perceived freedom to control my own comfort. Paying off debt was one of the more miserable gifts I have ever had the privilege of unwrapping, and I am thankful certain parts of my heart were conquered alongside my husband early on in marriage.