Anyone who hangs around me for a little bit will quickly learn that my husband and I are on a pretty strict budget. Somewhat by default, but also because we have big plans for improving our lives quickly.
After undergrad my husband and I moved 3 hours from home, I started a new job, he quit working all together due to graduate school, and we combined finances. Oh, and we were planning a wedding that we were paying for 1/3 of, not to mention a honeymoon, my student loans were coming due, AND he didn’t qualify for loans to cover all of his tuition. It. Was. SCARY. I literally cried multiple times the first few months looking at numbers and thinking “This will never add up”.
Fast forward to less than two years later: our wedding and honeymoon were paid for in cash (also a huge thanks to our wonderful parents for playing a large role in this), we have an anniversary trip booked and cash saved to pay for it, and we are on track to pay out of pocket for his last semester of graduate school. At a private university.
Now, I don’t tell our story to brag. I tell our story in the hopes that other people in seemingly impossible situations can realize there is a way out without going into more debt. But I will not lie, it takes lots and lots of time, teamwork, and discipline to get there.
We started with the most basic tool: a zero-based budget. Ours was a little tricky because I was on orientation and my numbers fluctuate slightly as an hourly worker. But that first year all I could think was “Every extra cent goes in the wedding fund”. I quickly learned we had to cut back a LOT.
Alone, I had spent up to $125 a week in college on groceries. We cut that down to $75 a week for 2 people. Eating out, entertainment, and pocket money didn’t exist much that first 18 months. If there was something one of us really wanted, we saved for that specific item. We went to a $10/month gym, we shopped at Aldi, and we only bought the necessities as far as clothes, toiletries, etc.
We also used the envelope system the first year and a half. This helped a lot because if you only took cash somewhere, there was no way you could leave the store with more than you could afford. I even took a sticky note and wrote “for xxx” and paper clipped it to my debit card so I had to really think before using it because I had to make a production of unwrapping the card at a register.
And then something amazing happened:
It just became normal.
I stopped going to Target and blowing $40 on who knows what. I stopped buying all the “extra” stuff at the grocery store that was off my weekly menu or on the “need” list. We stopped spending $45-50 on dinners out except for special occasions. And, magically, all of this cash appeared out of nowhere that I didn’t realize we had before.
And then something else happened:
We appreciated those splurges even more.
Now, we are at a point where we are working on paying down debt and don’t have the deadline of a wedding hanging over our head. Keaton’s money for school is set aside, and the bills are pretty much paid before we even have time to think about it. There is less pressure, but now we are internally driven to just GET IT OVER WITH in terms of paying down our debt. We look at how much we pay towards debt/school bills each month (about 32% of our monthly income) and dream about how awesome our lives will be when we can toss that money around more freely (or more likely, save for retirement and retire at a decent age. Yay practicality). We have been able to find more balance in the last 9 months between making great leaps towards getting out of debt while still enjoying life and social events.
I really think our success with this process has been in holding each other accountable, communicating, and cheering on our progress together. We have a progress board I update when I get my weekly checks:
We also keep a running total of how much we have saved/paid towards debt this year:
Like I said, we are also treating ourselves to a vacation. It’s all about creating BALANCE, working your budget to fit you, and figuring out what works to motivate you. If you have a partner, communication is key. We also use Google Sheets to communicate budget changes when I am traveling out of town for work.
Budgeting can be tricky at first, and for someone who uses credit regularly, cutting down to a cash only budget can be very intimidating, but IT CAN BE DONE. It just takes time, tweaking, and giving yourself grace in terms of slip ups.