Monday, August 6, 2012

Living Uncomfortably

I have to explain - this is not my house. It belongs to my in-laws. This is where I am currently living with my daughter to save money while my husband is in training. It's a lovely home, and they are lovely people. However, things can get a little cramped with three adults and a baby.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about people who live beyond their means. I will take the time to brag here, because my husband and I have worked very hard to not end up in that situation.
In college, I fell into the credit card trap. My bank offered me a credit card. I don't even remember the terms and conditions but I'm pretty sure a free t-shirt and slice of pizza were part of the negotiation. I started using it right away and paid it off at the end of the month. I wanted to build credit, and I had a few thousand dollars saved from my high school part-time job, so it wasn't hard to keep that up. Until I had to pay for textbooks. And rent. And cable. And new clothes. And then school started and I couldn't get another job, but I could continue to make payments with my financial aid, even if I didn't pay off the whole card. I paid every month on time, so they kept increasing my line of available credit. And I lived that way for four years until I had a $5000 balance on my $7500 credit card. It took years to pay that off, and for what? Most of the things I purchased with that card stayed in Gainesville after I graduated and yet I was essentially still paying for the $20 pots and pans set I got at Wal-Mart my freshman year.
Before we got married, my husband and I made it a goal to be completely out of credit card debt before our wedding. And we did it! We moved in with his parents, which took a lot of pride-swallowing since we had both been on our own for years before that. We worked three jobs. (How? The economy has been so bad!) How is that we weren't above asking for work wherever we went. We both ended up getting hired as banquet servers at a local country club because we asked if they were hiring when we stopped by their booth at a wedding expo. We went to previous employers to see if they needed any extra help. We looked for opportunities everywhere we could instead of sitting around assuming there were no jobs available.
We also had to train ourselves (OK, I had to train myself; my husband's brain has always worked this way) to make choices before we made purchases. If we went shopping, which happened rarely, we may have seen things that we wanted but before making a commitment to purchase, two questions had to be answered:
1. Can I afford it?
2. If the answer is yes, could I spend this money in a better way?
The answer to the first question was often NO. Occasionally, there were things we could afford and that was tough because we had to decide if it was something we really needed. It usually wasn't. (Truly, how many things does one need?) If we had decided that we could afford to spend $30, was it appropriate to spend it on a new pair of shoes? Or should it go toward our debt? Or does another purchase need to be made? And I had to ask myself these questions EVERY time I went to the store. That helped us pay down $5000 in debt in a little over a year. That and those rare and mysterious jobs we were able to find when "nobody was hiring."
It's not fun eating the same thing (in the same dining room) every night or wearing the same clothes week after week. And goodness knows, it's not much fun living at home after you've been out on your own for years. But think about it this way:
How much fun is it going to be avoiding bill collectors? Having your car repossessed? Filing bankruptcy? Explaining to your children that you can't afford to send them to college? I may sound like a bully here, but I feel like our generation has to finally grow up. We are adults! We are married with children! It's time to start making responsible choices with our money. If you can't afford your iPhone or high speed internet or 200 HD channels, you can live without it. Basic cable still exists, and believe it or not so do pay phones and public libraries. Because my husband and I sacrificed early on (and are continuing to do so) we now have great credit, our own home, and the titles to both of our vehicles.

What can you live without? Do you think you could cancel your cable subscription? Skip the movies? Eat at home instead of a sit-down restaurant? How uncomfortable are you willing to be now so you can have a more secure future?

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