Friday, 8 May 2015

A Full Life on a Tight Budget

Brandon and I got married young, I mean 20 years young. In a time when people are delaying adulthood, driving after careers, and travelling the world, it is no surprise that a lot of jaws drop when I tell people how old young I was when I got married. And that is okay. Marriage as a young twenty-something is certainly not for everyone.

And of course, we never like to do things the easy way, so we decided to get married smack dab in the middle of university. We like to keep things fun and exciting.

So not only were we broke university students, we were married broke university students. We had to learn very fast what part money would play in our lives and how much importance we wanted to give it. Would money control our decisions about school and careers? Would money be put on a throne demanding our emotions, arguments, time, and effort?  

No, it wouldn’t. And it still doesn’t... although it tries to.

Now, money is certainly an important thing. We need money to be able to eat, have shelter, and do many of the things we enjoy. But it seems that too often our money controls us and we do not control our money.

In our first two years of marriage, Brandon and I often talked about our financial situation being a blessing. We were in a place where we certainly worked hard for the little we had (both of us working three jobs at any given time) but also in a place where we truly had to trust God to come through. If the car broke down, we prayed about it. If the tuition seemed too steep we sought out wisdom. If the savings account was taking a beating, we prayed for guidance.

And through it all, by some miracle, we came out of school debt free.

But it wasn’t until we took a leap of faith that our trust in God with our finances was truly tested. And honestly, it has been tested every day since our feet left the ground.

Last year we began a position as pastors at a low income and I started my master's degree. Our salary is fundraised (along with the rest of the church budget) and therefore is not of the highest priority for us... we want to make sure the money goes to the right places. As such, I work part time to help supplement this income and to give us the ability to put a bit of money away each month.

We would certainly be framed in the ‘low income’ lines of life... and yet, we live an extremely full life. I have often said that despite our income we have never gone without... a true blessing. But at the same time we certainly need to be smart with our money in every way. It is something we have thought about a lot. 

So, I thought I would share a few key elements that I have learned over the past three years about living a full life on a very small income... because it can be done!

1// Budget, Budget, BUDGET!

I was once asked by a friend how Brandon and I possibly keep track of our money and the answer is simple... we budget everything. We have a budget line for savings, gas, groceries, entertainment... you name it, it is in our budget. The hardest part about budgeting is actually sticking to it. This is something that we continually learn on a month to month basis. It is wonderful to have lines on a spreadsheet but if you are not recording your spending, you are certainly going to lose track and likely overspend.

The other element of budgeting is being realistic. We have had to adjust our budget over the years as our lifestyle has changed. For example, our grocery budget dropped this year since we are finding ourselves on the road more and needing a bit more cash to grab a bite on the way. You will have to do a bit of trial and error from month-to-month to see what works for you!

2// Figure out what is important.

This is a big one. People spend money mindlessly all the time! Once you start recording how much you are spending, you will certainly have a better idea about things that you may be able to cut out. Did you really need to pick up that coffee and muffin or could you have made it at home? Did I need to drive that much this week or could I have done some walking or biking? These are the questions Brandon and I ask ourselves a lot... especially because our budget is so tight. Maybe yours might be asking if you needed to get the appetizer and drink when you were out for dinner last week... it just depends on your lifestyle and income.

This is where a lot of give and take comes in. For example, Brandon just got me a gym membership, which is wonderful. I have been trying to get healthy for a couple of months. But since we don’t have room for the extra cash in our budget as it stands we cancelled our Netflix account. We realized that working out needs to be a higher priority than Netflix and so we adjusted our budget to show that.

3// Have a savings account.

This one is key. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, make sure you are putting some of it away. Yes, Brandon and I would like to be homeowners someday but there is no way we will ever be able to get enough together for a down payment if we are just barely breaking even each month. It may mean sacrificing some things now (certainly less shopping trips for me!) but I know that the reward will be greater in the long run.

This is also important for unexpected costs. This past winter as I was driving under an overpass on the highway some ice from above fell onto my car creating a ton of cracks throughout the windshield. This obviously had to be replaced pretty quickly. Since we have money in a savings account we didn’t have to go into debt over a new windshield.

4// Don’t take on bad debt.

This one is tricky because many people are already in debt but if you are starting out fresh I would recommend trying to stay out of it. Now, I believe that there can be good debt, like buying a house but most of the time people head straight into bad debt. Brandon really wants a new bike but there is no way we can afford it. Yes, we could buy one and put it on our credit card but that would put us into a place we don’t want to be so we are saving up instead. This is extremely difficult in a world that says have whatever you want whenever you want it... the idea that we deserve stuff. Try to resist. Try not to overspend.

5// Find a system that works for you.

There are a million out there, but make sure you find one that works for you! Maybe it is cash in envelopes and once the cash is gone, so is the money for that month! Maybe you work off of your debit card and only have a certain amount of money in your chequing account each week. Brandon and I use credit cards for everything... but we always pay it off in full at the end of the month. The best thing you can do is find a system and stick to it.

6// Trust God.

This is huge for us. If you are in a position where you have been blessed with a lot of money then there are certain things that you can use your money for without worrying. And so you should! But it is a privileged position to be in a place where you get to see God work in amazing ways, through amazing people because you have to depend on him. Over this past year we have been the recipients of some amazing gifts financially. People have been extremely generous to us in so many ways. God truly takes care of you in even the smallest things when you trust him. One morning Brandon had mentioned that he didn’t know how we were going to fill our car with gas this week since we had driven more than anticipated. A couple hours later my grandma came down with $50 that my great aunt had felt she needed to give us that day. That $50 filled our car.

Our finances are not our own, nor are they something that should be bogging us down and holding us back. If you are struggling with debt, a low income, or even just unwise spending take it to God. If you can be obedient with your finances, he will certainly give you even greater opportunities.

So, there you have it! Brandon and I are certainly not experts but we are firm believers in putting our best foot forward and being good stewards with our money. And on that note, I need to go to work! Have a great Friday everyone :) 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emma, I love your blogs! You are such a good writer, and I so enjoy them. I especially enjoy this topic because it is something that 1). I am very passionate about and 2). I am still learning so much on! Don't ever stop writing!!