Excitement! A challenging budget!!
I have been so excited about the weirdest thing the past few days: a budget.
My husband and I are both very cheap conservative spenders. We both came from situations where we’d seen the ill effects of reckless, live-for-the-moment spending, and before we even became a couple and got married, we had individually come to decisions that we were going to be careful adults, not accrue debt, save money, etc. In other words, our financial habits were (and are) very, very similar. In short, we just don’t spend a lot of money, and when we do, it’s almost always going to be on clearance, used, with a coupon, etc. My husband even asks for special discounts for the heck of it on large purchases. He just smiles and asks, and the clerk will give him 10% or 15% off. We regularly purchase from Craigslist and eBay, and I get e-mails from Freecycle to both give away and pick up free stuff that we may need (just got a HUGE box of 3-6 month winter baby girl clothes… so much that I was able to take what I needed, and give away a bunch to two other mothers, too!!). The only furniture in our entire house that we bought new is my oldest son’s mattress, and three barstools, all from Ikea. Everything else is from hand-me-downs, estate sales, yard sales, Craigslist, etc.
Something, though, on which we did not agree was in giving. Martin is a mega-tither and giver. He looks for ways to be generous to others. Not me. Or, at least, not naturally. I had to learn the benefits of that from him, because before we married (and even after, for a many years), I was an obedient giver, but not a joyful one. I was begrudging, almost, rather giving with my teeth gritted. Martin tithes excessively. Off the gross. And, off any tax refund. Tithing twice off the same money!! Whoever heard of that before? Not me. I was in shock. Plus, yearly, he gives away multiple thousands of dollars, above the tithe. Many times, especially in our early years, I’d try to talk him into more “sensible” giving. He wouldn’t hear it. Wouldn’t change. In fact, it escalated. Every pay increase became an opportunity to have more money to give away. Literally. I’d think, “Oooh, a raise! Now we can get…” Martin thinks, “Oooh, a raise! All the more money to give away!”
I will admit, there are still times when I mind that he gives away all our money. I’d really like a new (used!) entertainment center. I’d like to have money for my oldest son’s new curriculum. I’d like to have patio furniture, even used. We need a new mattress. My youngest son needs a new dresser. I’d like — just once! — to go on a wardrobe-making shopping spree. And so on.
But, then I think about the many times that the money we’ve given has been a miracle of provision for the receiver — too many times to count, and mostly too personal to relate here — and giving becomes a no-brainer. So many times, I’ve thought, “No… no… we can’t afford that. Let’s keep that money! Just once. Oh, I don’t want to give it away…” But, then I have seen the blessing that comes from giving, both for us, and for the receivers, and it has changed my mind. Martin’s giving has become our giving. Well, almost, anyways. It’s still his idea, 98% of the time, but now I always say, with no hesitation, “Yes, let’s.” Not just because I’m dutifully submitting to him and to God, but because he and God have won me over.
All my years of marriage — 14 of them — I have never seen God desert us. We’re always provided for. Always. We are blessed abundantly.
However, times are really tight. Really tight.
For the last year, we have found ourselves “x” number of dollars short, every month. When things just didn’t iron themselves out, and when we didn’t catch up just by “regular” economizing and cutting back, Martin whipped out the budgetary scalpel.
Honestly, because of our naturally miserly ways, we’ve never needed an exact budget. We just know our income and adjust our expenses accordingly. But, with our ongoing monthly shortfall in the last 12+ months, we’ve decided to change that.
For a moment, we both thought, “OK, we’re short x dollars. Let’s just stop giving here, and that’ll cover it.” No lifestyle change; we’ll just stop giving there. You know, we’ll still be tithing! That’s so much more than many people do. And we’ll give away some extra, just not very much.
We talked about it at some length. In short, we both felt like it was just not right to give less than we have in the past. We felt like, of all the things to get cut, giving shouldn’t be one of them. We want to give.
So, instead, we’ve been mapping out expenses, peering with a microscope at our spending habits, and seeing where we can shave $$ off.
We’ve come up with a plan that not only accounts for the money we’ve been short, but will allow us to even save money for both short term expenses (like that curriculum), and rebuild our longer term “don’t touch” savings which, um, has been touched. As in, it’s gone.
And, I’m excited about the budget. It’s like a challenge. A game, even. “Oooh, we’ve budgeted that amount for toiletries? I bet I can even go under that.” And, “We spend that much money eating out? Let’s cut that down by half. Or more. We can do it.”
There have been a few tense moments in our discussions, but only a few. Mostly, we’ve developed this sense of hunkering down together, tackling the problem together, coming up with the solution together, working together. Money troubles may be the #1 source of dissention between married couples, but we’re finding that it can also actually bring a greater sense of intimacy, if we make it like Team Martin and Karen vs. Team Budgetary Shortage, instead of Martin vs. Karen, each of us fighting for our own pet expenditures.
I’m excited about this new phase of our marriage, excited to work towards a tangible goal with my husband, and especially excited that we’ll be able to work the problem out without decreasing our giving. 🙂