Living within your means is a journey, not a destination. When we began our living within our means journey, we thought that “living within our means” was something we would be able to reach – like nirvana, or something – and never look back.
But that’s just not the case.
I want to dispel a few myths about living without your means, and while everyone’s version of living within their means might be different, I think knowing that everyone struggles is half the battle in being ok with where you’re at financially.
You Will Fight – Sometimes A Lot
In most relationships, ours in particular, one spouse handles the money more so than the other. And that’s fine, except that it causes fights, especially with regard to large purchases.
Case in point: The $2,300 bike.
The hubs is big into road cycling. He does at least a race a month, rides a couple times a week with friends, and he rides a $2,300 bike that we got for $500 off of Craigslist. Very cool…. But one morning, on his way down to drill (with the National Guard) he didn’t strap the bike down correctly and it disappeared. No pieces on the side of the road….nothing.
I was livid.
Sure, he didn’t mean to lose the bike, but replacing it would cost us a cool $2,300. We scoured Craigslist for another deal, but since the hubs is so tall, he needs a bike that is bigger than we could find. The bike he had before had been a once a year find, apparently. But since he had a 100-mile race coming up that we had already paid the $75 entrance fee for, and that he had been training for, we pulled money out of savings and bought him a $900 base-model Trek, planning to upgrade the extras one at a time, as we had the money.
A week later, he tells me he’s not doing the race.
And I was livid all over again.
I’ll spare you the details, but the fight lasted a couple of weeks and was not pretty. If I’m being honest, I’m still not happy about it. I’ve just become resigned.
All of this is to say that the $900 bike was within our means, and yet it still caused a fight.
But it would have caused a bigger fight had it been outside of our means.
One Spouse Has To Say “No”
Because I handle the day-to-day PF stuff, when the hubs needs money for something other than a budgeted expense, he has to run it past me. It’s not ideal, because it means that if we cannot afford it, I have to say “no.” And that makes me feel like his mom. Now of course, I show him our bank accounts and budget so he realizes why we cannot afford said expense, but that doesn’t always make it go away. See, when he gets this idea in his head, he can be like a dog with a bone. And a girl can only say no so many times. Sometimes, I give in. And when I don’t, I feel lousy, and much like his mother, rather than his wife.
The Budget Is Fluid
Just when you think your budget is set, something changes. We forget budget lines, we forget to save monthly for big upcoming expenses, and even when we remember them all then something unexpected arises Our budget is a constant source of frustration, but we keep persevering because we know that without it we will be in a world of financial hurt. Some budget categories stay pretty steady, like utilities and our mortgage. Others, like gas and groceries, can be incredibly fluid and a source of frustration. I love to shop, and I make no secret of it. But we’ve been adhering to strict budget for so long that sometimes I just feel like I can’t say “no” to myself any more. It happens a couple of times a year, and while the hubs never gets mad at me, I get mad at myself. And then I take it out on him, which isn’t fair. Our budget is fluid, and sometimes it sucks, but it keeps us living within our means.
It’s Not A Habit
You would think after 2 years of adhering to a $300/month grocery budget and a $300/month gas budget would be old hat by now. It’s not. We struggle every single month to control our spending. Sometimes, we succeed. More often than not, we fail. But what we’re learning, no matter whether we win or lose at this budgeting thing, is how to communicate with each other. How to compromise and still stay on budget, and how to avoid fighting about money. We both get upset with each other and our budget, but every day we try to make overspending a thing of the past.
Honestly, Living Within Our Means Is…
Checking our bank account every day, like it or not.
Finding creative ways to make dinner when we’ve maxed out our grocery budget.
Skipping trips to the gym because the gas budget is getting close.
Returning a pair of workout pants to Target 5 days later after realizing I really didn’t need them.
And saying “no” to eating out with friends after church. Every. Single. Sunday.
There Are Good Things Too, Like…
Paying off $12,000 in 6 months – and the enjoying a budgeted-for celebratory dinner out.
Watching your bank account grow.
Getting a full month ahead on your bills.
Deciding together to increase your entertainment budget to allow for monthly dates.
High fiving each other after making a big deposit into an investment account.
Honestly, living with our means isn’t easy. It makes me crazy most days.
But for us, living within our means is kind of like having a kiddo. We love her so much, but the day in, day out can be tough. She makes messes, cries, gets frustrated, and makes me want to drink an entire bottle of wine one sitting. But in the middle of those long, hard days, there always something bright.
Whether it’s the way she greets me in the morning with a “Good Morning Momma! I love you!” watching her face as she watches a polar bear at the zoo, or those sweet hugs you never saw coming, every day has a bright spot that make the whole frustrating day seem like a win.
Living within our means is the same way. It’s hard, frustrating, annoying, and then something awesome happens.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Oh, I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I listen to and read about people who are super frugal and LOVE it. I think they are incredible and hope to continually be more like them, but I’m not naturally frugal. I struggle too, and the struggle is real. Thanks for the great post and your honesty.
I’m not naturally frugal either, Christian :-( 100% feel your pain!
Shirria @ GDTH says
This article was very transparent, in my opinion. However, I needed to read this. Often times, while reading the “big time” finance bloggers I tend to think that you guys have everything figured out, you’ve mastered budgeting, and saved huge amounts of money. It’s reassuring to see that that is not actually the case and that It is in fact, a journey, not a destination!
Ha, I don’t have NEARLY everything figured out, Shirria. Oh gosh, no…….
[email protected] says
This post really resonated with me because I too am the day-to-day manager of our money. My hubs is definitely the spender and I’m the saver. It can be so hard to say no to him so many times. He understands why we can’t buy everything we want, but it’s still very hard sometimes. Then on the other hand, I’m usually the one who wants to order take out so we don’t have to coo so much.
Oh my gosh, I feel you! After a long day, I usually don’t feel like cooking, and when the hubs offers to bring food home, it’s so unbelievably hard to say no!
In our marriage I’m the frugal one, with the budgets and so on, while hubs is not that into this. We do earn well, but the spending does get out of control sometimes. I do try not to get into fights, since most of the times he does buy stuff for the household, but it’s annoying to see him so relaxed :D
Soo, feel you on this, Ramona!
Kate @ Cashville Skyline says
“Living within our means is … checking our bank account every day, like it or not.”
Yup, it’s not fun. But that’s what it takes for me, too! My boyfriend and I are complete opposites when it comes to frugal living. It’s an ongoing journey. No one’s perfect. Hopefully, we all keep getting just a little bit better.
Totally not fun, at least until payday rolls around, haha!
Reelika @Financially Wise on Heels says
I can definitely relate! But I think how you put things in perspective and keeping your eyes on the goal, it’s the way to go! And I always think that it’s wiser to aim for saving more and for a smaller budget, because even if something comes up, you have a little cushion.
Keep it up– you are an inspiration!
Thanks Reelika! The hubs and I have both been feeling like we need a bigger “cushion” in savings :-)
DP @ Someday Extraordinary says
It’s tough! But I think once you conquer it – even just taking little steps at a time – it can be extremely empowering. You realize there is no ceiling to what you can accomplish and it seems like opportunities start to drop out of the sky! It’s like dieting. Once you decisively say ‘no’ to that chocolate cake and actually walk away, you feel so much better in the long run. Short term pain = long term gain! Good write up!
That’s a difficult story about the bike, but I hope you don’t let it continue to simmmer. Maybe it would be helpful to focus a bit on the positive–your husband loves cycling, it keeps him in shape, and is less costly than the recreations many choose. Maybe there might even be a way he could use his cycling passion to make a bit of cash–part-time gig at a bike shop?
Steve @ Think Save Retire says
After reading this article and many of the comments, I suppose that I should feel lucky that both my wife and I are savers, so the ability to save money actually comes quite easy. It’s not natural, but it has become easy. Meaning, I haven’t always been frugal. Frugality is all in the mind, and we’ve both come to grips with perhaps one of the most devastatingly effective words in the financial industry: “enough”.
We’ve determined that we just don’t need all that much to feel happy. We buy maybe one or two articles of clothing a YEAR. We don’t eat out but two or three times a month, max. We don’t upgrade our phones or pay for expensive television service. We don’t “reward” ourselves because we’ve recognized that to just be an excuse to spend money on crap.
Once we realized that we just don’t NEED a lot to live, the whole business of becoming frugal instantly got much, much easier. Almost automatic.
Living below our means has become as natural as breathing. We aren’t perfect – after all, nobody is. But, we’re honest with each other about the stuff that we spend money on, and we’re both so motivated to retire early and achieve financial independence that neither of us are all that keen on letting “stuff” get in the way of that.
After 23 yrs of marriage / 27 of being together, I can tell you there will always be “moments” of you spent HOW MUCH???
I’m the budgeter and have been accused of more than frugality, lol. She hates budgets but does watch what she spends. We decided a couple of years back that she should take her check and put it in a separate acct. I take care of the majority of expenses, she takes care of incidentals. It has worked out for us but is not for everyone.
Also, if its more than $300 we consult each other and typically sleep on it, or at least 99% of the time. That’s when the HOW MUCH gets used. Rare, but it happens.
Living within ones means; It is give and take, you have to live within a budget, sometimes you have to spend a little more. Just be honest with each other, hide nothing and work together towards whatever goals you have.
I really like the honesty you show. It’s not always easy to tell yourself no. It’s nice to know we aren’t the only couple out there that want to do bodily harm over trying to stay afloat. Money can be a huge issue, great post!
Preach it, sister! When I was up for a promotion (but hadn’t been offered it yet, and yes it came with a substantial raise), Hubs wanted to get something off his dream list. Something in the realm of $1700. Yes, we had the money. Yes, we could afford it with no future worries. BUT I did not feel comfortable saying yes (though I did say Yes) when I didn’t know if/when the promotion would be confirmed. Everything turned out alright, but at the time, I knew if I said No, I wouldn’t be his partner at that point. I’d be his mom discussing an allowance.