In Praise of Money: My Family Finance Story

I never thought I’d be a person who had money, and I accepted that. “Scraping by” was what my family did growing up, and when I got married and had kids, my own new family became well-versed in scraping. My husband has always been a blue-collar worker. We’ve used food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC. We’ve eaten ramen two nights in a row. On a few memorable occasions, I took rolls of toilet paper from public restrooms home in my purse in order to make it to payday.

Expecting financial comfort was not part of my upbringing or worldview, and I was at peace with it.

Now, suddenly and without even really meaning to, after completing graduate school and changing fields, I’m employed full-time in a professional field and we are a comfortable dual-income-earning family. We have some money. I’m not talking about Disney-World-every-year kind of money. But suddenly, I can meet an unexpected expense–like a copay from the children’s dentist–without trying to find a way to put it off until next payday. I can pay bills without dreading hitting the “equal” button on the calculator app. I don’t have to steal toilet paper!

Time out to check my privilege right here. First, I’m not a single parent. And yes, while my husband and I have worked hard, we’ve also just been lucky. Systemic racism has not placed built-in barriers between us and success. We also have a safety net in our families; while never financially supported by them in adulthood, we have operated under the knowledge that they provided a safety net from complete destitution, should it come to that. Not everyone has that comfort.

That privilege firmly and consciously acknowledged, I’m going to press on through the deep discomfort–even taboo–surrounding the topic of money and be frank with you here about my newfound respect for money.

I can’t believe how much easier life is when you have money.

Y’all, having money is AWESOME. I don’t think I really understood that until now. It takes SO MUCH mental energy to scrape by financially. You’re in a near-constant state of stress and anxiety, constantly making and revising mental calculations and bargains. A lot of brain power is freed up when you’re not struggling to make $2.76 last three more days.

In Praise of Money: My Family Finance Story

I even think I know, a little bit, how those greedy types of megarich Scrooges got how they are: now that I have money, I want to keep it. It feels good to have money. When I had no money, it was like, whatever. If I know this amount is not going to last till next payday no matter what I do, might as well have some fun while we can and go out to eat!

Debt Reduction

Now that I have some money, what I think about most is eradicating my debt. Of course, the best way to eradicate debt is not to amass any in the first place: I’m really proud of the fact that we have no credit card debt at all, for instance, and we’ve avoided a car payment through our great good fortune in receiving a hand-me-down car from my mother-in-law.

Our biggest debt (and biggest monthly expense), predictably, is housing. We bought our first home, a former rental property that was in disrepair, in 2018. We pay $1027 a month on our 30-year mortgage, but are currently in the process of refinancing to a 15-year mortgage. Our monthly payments will only go up by $268, but our interest rate will go down and we’ll save over $60,000 in interest over the life of the loan!

In Praise of Money: My Family Finance Story

I owe about $25,000 in student loans from graduate school. My B.A. was paid for with income-based Pell grants and academic scholarships, so I’m fortunate to have escaped greater student loan debt. Because I work in a public service field, my student loans can be forgiven after I make 120 payments on them. However, over 99% of those who are accepted into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program are then rejected when they’ve actually made the qualifying payments and file to have their loans forgiven. I struggle to decide whether to work to pay these loans off myself sooner, or to wait and hope they’ll be forgiven.

Vehicle Savings

Our main car is a fifteen-year-old SUV with 233,000 miles on it. The “door ajar” chime goes off randomly, the radio/clock display doesn’t show up unless you pound on it with your fist, and the frame occasionally jerks to the right while you’re accelerating, but it runs great! My husband drives to work in an old Camry that he bought for $1500 with part of our tax refund one year. So far we have $9,538 saved up to replace our car fund and are hoping to amass at least $10,000 to spend on a new ride. Currently, we save $400 a month toward this goal by having the savings automatically moved from our checking account each payday, so we never see the money and don’t miss it.

In Praise of Money: My Family Finance Story

Cash Budget

I also make a cash budget every payday; for me, that means I subtract all our bills (which all get automatically withdrawn) from our total balance, then withdraw whatever is left in cash (minus a small cushion for mistakes). I find that I spend less when I have a finite amount of cash in my wallet and can actually see it depleting in real time–using a bank card doesn’t feel real enough to me. I also withdraw it in large bills, because I will forgo a small purchase, like a treat from the gourmet grocery store next to my work, that I didn’t really need, rather than break a $100 bill.

Inspiration

For personal finance inspiration, I like the blogs DebtKickinMom, The Frugalwoods, books by Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, and this one called Millennial Money Makeover by Conor Richardson. I’ve never followed any one guru’s plan to the letter (good for you if you can!), but I’ve definitely grown my knowledge base by reading what the experts say has worked for them.

I also follow the Instagram hashtags #frugalliving, #debtfreejourney, and #debtfreecommunity. Scrolling these posts helps when my spending feels out of control. We buy almost everything secondhand, shop exclusively at Aldi, and generally pride ourselves on being non-acquisitive and minimalist, but we do like to go on road trips, participate in activities and events, and I’m a little too tempted by the convenience of eating lunch out during the workday.

What are your spending struggles and personal finance dreams?


 

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Anne is a kinda crunchy, kinda unapologetically corner-cutting mom who has lived in Iowa City since 2004. She is a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa and works in the Children's Services department at the Iowa City Public Library. Before going back to school, she was a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters for several years, and took her children to the library multiple times a week. Basically, she has lived at the library for about a decade. Which is fine, because her biggest passion in life is books. When not reading, Anne also enjoys hiking, low-budget road-tripping, and drinking craft beer on a patio.

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