Set the Right Financial Foundation for Your Marriage
- 2009 3 Apr
Holly Ordway is a thirty-year-old technical writer in San Diego who lives on less than $35,000 a year. With a husband. And a cat. Collectively, they make a six-figure income (except for the cat) but choose to live beneath their means, stay debt-free, and save.
She was labeled an "extreme saver" by CNN, who profiled her story. Ordway had about $10,000 in school loans that she paid off in one year. She and her husband opt to rent instead of pay a mortgage so they can move about the country at will.
She has no tricks, gimmicks, or trendy ways of generating cash. She simply spends as little as possible and saves the rest. But theirs is not a miserly existence. She’s an avid fencer who competes on a national level. The couple’s apartment sports a home theater system with a large-screen television and surround sound to accompany their two hundred-plus DVD collection. Sound frivolous? Ordway reviews DVDs for an online website that sends her the movies for free. What she doesn’t review she picks up with her $25 worth of points she earns each month paying her expenses on an Amazon.com Visa card (which the couple pays off each month). They have only one car and choose to live near one partner’s workplace for a driveless commute.
Ordway says there’s no formula or secret method to living beneath your means. "It’s all about having the right principles and putting them into action on a day-to-day basis," she told CNN. "It’s like losing weight: there’s no real quick-fix diet that works in the long run. You might shed a few pounds with the fad diet du jour, but to keep the weight off, the only method that works reliably is no secret: a healthy, varied diet with minimal processed foods and plenty of exercise."
She admits that’s a bitter pill for many people to swallow. "We all want quick fixes, and it can be hard to face up to the fact that if we want to change for the better, it’s a long-term process." That long-term process doesn’t have to be painful. "I don’t think most people quite realize the payoff that you get from living below your means," she continues. "Because of my good spending habits, I can afford to pay for the things I really enjoy, and I don’t have to feel guilty or anxious about it. It’s not about suffering ... not at all! But that idea runs so much in counter to mainstream ideas about saving and spending (as captured in the phrase ‘scrimping and saving’) that it seems like I must have a ‘secret.’"
Ordway writes about spending, saving, investing, and living simply on her website/blog, Spending Wisely (www.spendingwisely.com). She regularly reviews books on finance and writes articles full of tips on living beneath your means. As you go from your dream wedding to setting up your household, here are some ways she purports you can change your lifestyle and actually enjoy the benefits money can bring.
It’s not having what you want, but wanting what you have. Regularly take inventory of your possessions. Clean out your closets and sell or donate anything you don’t use on a regular basis or won’t need in case of an emergency. If you registered for items you don’t need, take them back before you use them. Use the cash or store credit on something you do need.
Don’t compare yourselves to others, as the Bible wisely instructs. Expensive and new stuff does not make happy couples, no matter what your neighbors or friends look like. The ideal American couple with a newer model car, gas-guzzling SUV, three-bedroom home, two kids, and a vacation timeshare in Orlando is probably up to their ears in debt. Be content with what you have and don’t let the pressure of marketers tell you you’re living less than the abundant life God promises you.
Think before you buy. Living beneath your means simply means knowing the difference between your wants and needs and spending accordingly. Before you buy, ask yourself these questions:
Is it necessary?
Can I afford it?
What’s this new thing really costing me?
You can apply this principle all the way down to the coffee you buy each day at the gas station on the way to work. Why not invest in a nice coffeemaker and have it brewing when you wake up each morning? Pennies on coffee beat a buck and change each day over the duration of a year.
When it comes to buying bigger items, splurge on what you truly want and will use instead of the latest item featured in the Pottery Barn catalog. Remember you can often find great deals at flea markets, garage sales, discount stores, and consignment shops.
The Bible says to let your moderation be known (Phil. 4:5). So while you pursue a simple lifestyle, don’t go overboard. Try implementing one step at a time. Clean out your closets one month. Start trimming your grocery and eating-out costs the next. Bargain hunt for that new sofa you need. Don’t rush into a decision.
With anything, you can go nuts and create an unrealistic, legalistic set of rules to live by. You’ll crash and burn in no time. The point is to think about how you spend your money and to prioritize what’s important in your new life together as a married couple. Talk to each other regularly about your spending, your new lifestyle, and your dreams. Put away money to fund those dreams and don’t let the little daily expenses rob you of them.
I have subscribed to a number of my favorite stores or companies’ mailing lists to receive notices of sales and deals and to take advantage of mailing list coupons. This works out great most of the time. The only problem is I get weekly emails from the companies, and each seems to have a deal of the season every week. I’ve got to use my head. If I know I’m going to need some new threads, I’ll check out that newsletter. If the deal is sweet enough, I’ll think about it. If I don’t need any house ware items, I’m not even going to open it.
It’s easy to get addicted to finding deals and bargains. Anyone who’s shopped on eBay knows this. I could look at stuff on eBay for hours and not even get up to go to the bathroom. Similarly, deals found online may seem like ones you need to jump on immediately before they pass, but chances are you’ll find deals like that every day if you check. There will always be another airfare sale, end-of-the season bonanza, or limited-time combination deal.
The key is to keep a list (mental or physical) of items you need and only hunt for those. Limit the time you search for these to your lunch hour or the time you’re waiting on your spouse to come home from work. Time is money, too, so the time you waste scouring the web for stuff you don’t need is time away from setting up your new life together. It’s not worth it.
Originally posted in March of 2006.
Adapted from Cheap Ways to Tie the Knot by Cara Davis. Used by permission of [RelevantBooks], copyright 2006 Cara Davis. All rights to this material are reserved.
Cara Davis, 27, is the editor of Radiant magazine and editorial director of Relevant Media Group. She planned her dream wedding in seven months for less than $5,000 in November 2003. Visit her website at cheapwaysto.com.