The worst conversation about money is the one you never have.
Now, they tell us that couples will always argue about money. It’s understandable, too. We need it to survive, and it often has roots in the way that we were raised- the same fears, habits, and attitudes. We were all taught in different ways by our parents and, as we grow families of our own, the task then becomes ours to manage the household.
So, a little bit of background on my own family. Both my husband and I had very little experience when it came to finances- and even though both of us had good mathematical backgrounds, we didn’t have any practice using money itself. For the first few years of our marriage, we had two incomes and not a lot of common sense.
You can see where this is going.
Our eldest son was born almost five years after we were married. He was our bundle of joy alright and we adored him – and like almost every first-time parent, we proceeded to go overboard with stuff. We bought things he needed, and a lot that he didn’t, and then we were terrified into buying others after reading in a baby magazine that every responsible parent would surely have one.
Looking back, I can only blame inexperience. By the third time around I had buying stuff down to an art. However by this time we also had to deal with a career that was killing my husband and a mountain of debt that was starting to scare us horribly. We were trapped by our own lifestyle – and miserable – and it took us a while to make the turnaround.
The change came for us when we realised that our spending was a deeper problem than just what we used our money for. It had become a habit to buy what we needed immediately – it was a habit to be indulgent. It was a habit that we didn’t talk about money because often we didn’t agree and it was a highly emotional issue.
We had both grown up in struggling families and were terrified that it would one day happen to our own. The fear of it was controlling us and, while we had an outwardly calm marriage, not talking about this highly volatile issue was placing enormous strain on our relationship.
What turned the balance was realising that our children would soon be old enough to watch what we were doing with our finances. We wanted the next generation to be smarter than we were and wanted to be able to set an example for them that we frankly didn’t have.
I’d love to say that the problem was fixed quickly but it wasn’t. We had to work hard for many years to pay off the debt and there were times it was precarious. There were times we were badly frustrated, with ourselves and each other, and we needed to learn how to say no and to delay our gratification. We had to get past the sulking when we couldn’t get our way (come on now, we’ve all been there), and we needed to learn to be humble. I remember how it felt to see others updating things and wishing that we could do better – and yet it was a hard road that ultimately led to our financial freedom.
I’d also love to say that we have never worried about money again. With a growing family, of course, there are always needs to be met. However, my husband is now completing his last two years at university for a degree in Financial Planning and Accounting and is happy in a career that he adores. His passion is to see others not go through what we did and, if they do, then we share the resources we found to help us break the cycle.
The subject is too immense for me to tackle fully in a blog. However, I’d like to share with you a few of the strategies we have found helpful over the years.
- Money going out should not be greater than money coming in.
- This one is just basic maths – we prevent debt from growing by making sure that we earn more than we spend. It may sound simplistic but it is these basic truths that we can be very good at ignoring.
- Budget is not a scary word!
- A budget isn’t there to judge us – it’s merely a way for us to keep ourselves accountable to our own goals. Many people fear budgets for the same reason we fear food diaries – we don’t want them to control us, and sometimes we have to record things that we would rather not see. However, since our money will be spent no matter what we do, it’s smarter for us to pay attention to what we are actually spending it on. For example, if we are spending $100 a month on hair products for the family, it’s sensible to include that as a part of our budget.
- Minimalise. What can you do without?
- When I go through my cupboards, I am constantly amazed by the things I haven’t used in years. (Remind me why I have two punch bowls and a jug too fragile to hold liquid?) There is something magical about clearing away what isn’t needed. A cleaner house and less clutter is a win for everyone. When it is the time to buy something, make sure to research to avoid buyer’s remorse. Will this item do what you need it to do? Can I make do without it for now? Should I buy a better product that will last longer?
- Research, research, research.
- We are so lucky to live in the information age – if there’s a question, someone’s put it on the internet. So learning tips to save money has never been easier. Books such as Feeding a family on $100 a week are popular for a reason – and there are people all over the world wanting to share their ideas.
- And speaking of that…. Don’t keep doing the same thing if it hasn’t worked before.
- The definition of insanity is that we do the same things over and over, and expect a different result. To change the outcome, we need to learn to do things differently from the way we have always done them.
- Keep talking.
- Even if it’s uncomfortable, our relationships are worth the effort of getting onto the same page. Money is dangerous when it becomes a tabooed subject. When we are able to discuss it openly, money becomes what itshould be – a tool, not a force for evil in our lives!
- Ask for help.
- Just as we might fear to go to the doctor if we are sick, we can be so terrified of money problems that we remain silent, or paralysed. Talk to a financial planner, your banking institution or one of the charitable organisations who have contacts to groups who can assist. Christians Against Poverty is one of the most well-known; they assist with debt management and counselling, and help work out liveable budgets and repayment plans. Like any other debt reduction organisation, they aren’t a quick fix, but their heart is to lift the burden of managing debt off people’s lives by advocating for their clients. For more information, go to www.capaust.org.
- And lastly, have faith.
- Change is always possible- and it’s worth the fight to make it happen. If any of this has spoken to you, please know that you’re not alone. We all want the best for our families – and yet, for many people, a fear of failure keeps them from seeking help. Talk to people you trust. Start researching strategies that will benefit your family. Trust yourself. For every MOPS mum out there, you are raising tiny humans! You are already a tremendous overcomer – you’ve totally got this.
P.S. This blog has been constructed at my kitchen table, less than a metre from my beloved accountant-husband. He has been reading over my shoulder and correcting my information for the past hour or so- so he deserves partial credit here too.
Love, Clifford and Cate ;).