|"Oh goodness, whoops, oh dear. Well, oh my. Well, I think this is going to leave a bruise."|
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My husband is a very principled person. I wouldn't say Matt is any more disciplined or focused than the average person, but he is certainly more loyal and committed, and these two factors keep him strong when he goes into battle. He has much more objective/right vs. wrong view of the world than my post-modern subjective/relative world view that does not embolden one to hold to their principles, but makes one more compassionate and empathetic. While I think too much of either would be terrible, Matt's principled influence has kept a lot of stability in our otherwise turbulent lifestyle.
We made the decision as a couple that we wanted a family more than we wanted money or a career. And we wanted our family to be raised by a stay-at-home parent. And we decided that we wanted to be debt-free. We've made other little decisions, of course, but these are a few of the big ones I wanted to talk about today.
And while there are many different ways to go about fulfilling these desires, we're doing ours this way because of hard work, luck, trial and error, and habit.
I thought once we finally stopped moving, Matt had the same job now that he'll have next Christmas, and we had employer-provided insurance, that finances would stop being an issue. But the truth is that we're still talking about money every few weeks! Matt and I are both on the Dave-Ramsey-Pay-Off-All-Our-Debt-As-Fast-As-Possible plan, so we do weird hippie frugal things, like only have one car, give really inexpensive gifts for Christmas, and ask for practical things for birthdays. It's the same things we did in law school, but we make more money now, so I thought the pressure would be off. But just as quickly as the money comes in, the responsibilities appear. Instead of paying lump sums of $3000-$5000 for Abigail's specialists' appointments, we pay monthly social security tax and insurance premiums. Food and gas in Michigan are (significantly) cheaper than in Chicago, but now Abigail eats more, we drive more, and car insurance is more expensive. Matt's student status expired (something we could still utilize during his fellowship in Chicago), which means we don't get student discounts on our Internet bill or for online purchases and now we have to pay bar dues. All these pressures I expected to disappear once we entered "the real world" are still present, just with different names.
There are a lot of occasions when I feel really indignant. I feel like we've paid our dues in law school: we skimped, worked our asses off, struggled, and now I want some release. I want to go out to eat once a week and buy new heels for a special event. I want to buy little $15 gifts for people's birthdays and new makeup when I go grocery shopping just because. And Matt wants to give me these things, but his loyalty and commitment to our goals keep him in check. It's teaching me this new, un-American concept: making due.
Since Matt and I are doing the no-debt thing, if a month arrives with an unexpected bill, we don't shuffle the expense to a credit card. We trim other budgets: make last month's razor blade last another four weeks, use personal spending money instead of food budget money to buy a pizza on a Friday night, bail on a girls' dinner out. It's really difficult sometimes, but most of the time, I realize that I didn't need whatever it was I thought I did.
It hurts, but it feels good too: like the burn you get from working out. I feel like I'm singeing out the remaining spendthrift habits I still have. Sometimes it really sucks, like when I get to the end of a grocery trip and I have to put something back because I've got more in my cart than Matt and I budgeted. My pride stings badly as it crumbles in aisle 2. But usually when I get home and recount the experience to Matt, his comforting, "You did the right thing, I'm proud of you" makes me feel better and when we sit down to figure out the next month's budget and we are that much closer to our goal, all the pain becomes worth it.
One of the hardest things for us (the one with the worst sting/reward ratio) is eating out. Matt and I are both suckers for squeezing an A&W burger out of the car repair budget. This is definitely the category we fail the most at, in part because having the same weakness makes us more likely to succumb to one another's pleas.
One of the easiest things for me is actually buying Abigail less toys. You see, her overstimulation with food carries over to just about everything. If she has a toy on every shelf, every single one of those toys is going to end up chucked across the room. My obsessive desire to have a clean house at least once a day means I'm picking up 50 little wooden blocks three times a day. It got old fast. I found that suppressing the urge to buy her something every time she had to get bloodwork done or had a rough doctor's appointment was heavily rewarded with a clean house. Instead we go out of ice cream (if I've got enough personal spending money), cuddle up together and watch Blues Clues, or read books.
Chugging away each month in real life is like the stretch between the excitement of the new semester and the flurry of finals. It's boring, but the little steps add up. They're hard to see at the time, but when I look back every few months and see how much more law school debt we've paid off, it makes the reward worth the pain.