In our married life I’ve worked a total of one year. No… let me rephrase that. I’ve had an earned income for one year. After that year of teaching fourth grade, which I really enjoyed, I became a full-time mom and housekeeper. I must say that I felt pretty comfortable in my role as mom. I didn’t love my role as housekeeper so much, but I managed. In my role as a helper with the finances, I failed.
When we first got married we were under the impression that only one person really needed to handle the bills. As we faced entering the military, Matt trained me on how to handle everything. The six months before he left for CHOBC I handled all the bills with him at my side. By the time he left, we were both confident in my ability and he was much less stressed out. For the first six years of our marriage we had been forcing the free spirit to do all the budgeting work because that’s just how our parents had done it.
That wasn’t such a great idea, it turned out. While he was the only one doing the bills, Matt remained stressed to the max and neither of us had very much financial sense. It wasn’t that we were out buying the nicest gadgets out there. We used our college TVs until we moved here (I think we are still using one of them in the boys’ room). We never went on extravagant vacations on our own dime, though my parents took us on a few unforgettable trips to Utah, Vermont, and Canada. (I miss the motey-coach.)
We nickel and dimed ourselves into a ton of debt during those years of just living beyond our means. With Matt making such a small income, I should have been working much harder at cooking at home from scratch. I should have been using coupons to shrink our grocery bills. I should have kept off the roads so much and spent less on gas. We should have eaten out almost never. Instead, I am embarrassed to say it was probably more like 5-6 times a week.
We should have had a budget. I look back and think, ‘HOW DID YOU NOT HAVE A BUDGET?!?” I can answer that one. My definition of budget at the time was this: a piece of paper that explains where all your money went the previous month. Seriously. I actually thought a budget’s purpose was to tell me what we did with our money the month prior.
That is NOT a very useful definition of the word.
After taking FPU I learned that budgeting is, and I quote, “sitting down together, before the month begins, on paper, on purpose, telling your money what to do.”
WHAT?!?! I never knew!
So now, I actually do that before each paycheck. I literally sit down and allot money toward each thing we need, including car repairs, the boys’ commissions, vacationing (AMSTERDAM IS COMING UP!!), birthday parties, as well as the obvious: gas and food.
Here we are almost 13 years into our marriage and I have yet to bring in an income for our family, aside from that one year. (I cannot not count the year I tried to sell Tupperware… while I love all the product I gained as a result of that year, I was $500 in the hole on a cute Disney Credit Card at the end of that venture.) But I believe I’ve become a much better handler of our money and, what is important, I believe ANYONE can do that. I really love seeing so many of my friends here in Wiesbaden go through FPU. They are struggling through these first few weeks while they are being confronted with new ideas and new ways of looking at money, one of the most sensitive topics to discuss. They’re not liking it every single minute, but I do pray they stick with it because I know what it’s like on this side of the mountain. The title of the class, Financial Peace University is so fitting. Before, “financial” and “peace” had no business being in the same sentence. I’m excited to share this newfound freedom with all my friends!
You may be wondering what sparked my rant about the fact that I don’t have an earned income and all the dumb things I did to make things worse for my family.
Last night I couldn’t sleep so I took all my 2011 Commissary receipts out of my coupon folder. I had been saving them for this exact moment. I totaled all the savings from the entire year and I was VERY pleased with my total!
That may sound like a small number to those who coupon in the states but let me tell you why I think it’s pretty awesome:
- I can’t use store-specific coupons: Target, Walgreens, etc.
- I don’t use coupons for many items if there is a less expensive alternative. (For example, my laundry detergent: I could have purchased Tide all year and bumped up my “coupon savings” but then I would have spent more money overall since Tide, even with a coupon, is more expensive than Xtra. Couponers have to remember that coupons are really advertisements. They’re not really meant to save people money… that’s just the hook. I watch to make sure I’m making a smart purchase rather than blindly buying what I have a coupon for.)
- I don’t “coupon” with shopping on my mind. I shop with coupons on my mind. By that I mean that I make my meal list for the month, then I make my grocery list, then I go through and pull coupons for the items already on my list. (This ties into the previous bullet point and it greatly affects my coupon savings total.)
- I can’t use milk or meat coupons.
- My selection is very slim. I have one store to choose from and if they don’t carry a brand that I have a coupon for, I have to purchase another brand without a coupon.
- I never get to double my coupons.
So, with all that said, my earned income over the years hasn’t gone up at all. I still bring in NOTHING.
But considering that I’ve become a better manager of our money, I get exited about coupon savings. (The poor baggers are probably tired of hearing me say, “Ohhhh.. I saved $35 on groceries!! Except for the fact that I tip better on days I save a lot, so I guess they come out better for my success!)