If you talk to anyone in our age range it seems that a lot of us had parents who were secretive about money. How to use it, how to budget, what the house was worth, the motivation of money in your family. Before the internet, it was easy to keep things like home values quiet but now everyone knows how good your school district is and how much you can sell your house for. To this day I don’t know anything about my parents’ finances but I can tell you based on my experience now that we struggled for a lot of my childhood.
I’ve mentioned before that I was the oldest of three kids with a stay-at-home mum. Clothes were worn until they were falling off us, extras like fancy shoes and fashionable items were a no-no and my mum sewed a lot of wearables. Each time my dad got a new job the house got slightly bigger and as we grew up and left home the money for my parents was a little less tight. When I left for college, we were living in a house in a Californian middle-class suburb. I had a beater Pontiac Grand Am which served me well until 140,000 miles when everything decided to squeal or the horn decided to just go off for no apparent reason. Things were about the same for my sister, four years my junior, but it wasn’t until my parents moved to New Jersey for yet another job (taking my 14 year old brother with them) that things got out of control. I visited their new house that first Christmas and it was insane: a massive house on top of Washington Monument with a view of Manhattan and New Jersey. A brand new Expedition in the garage. And a lot of unhappiness.
It made me uneasy: all that money should make you happy, right? Not having to worry about paying bills, you can buy things whenever you want to, go on fancy vacations. But it became apparent to me over time that those things couldn’t fix happiness if you were in a bad marriage or had no purpose. Over the next few years the houses got bigger and my parents were often in different parts of the house, avoiding each other like the plague. At one home when I came to visit they put a bell around my neck and told me to ring it just in case I got lost. Feel free to realize EVERYTHING that is wrong with that sentence.
So when Husband came on the scene he saw my parents house and bemoaned the fact that he wasn’t making a six figure salary so he could instantly give me that. To which I said, “I wasn’t raised in that environment and nor do I want to live in one.” It took a bit of convincing and being around my parents to see that it wasn’t a good goal to have.
And so, like any young couple does, we pooled our resources and had a blast for a year before we got married. We lived off credit cards so we could go to Seattle for a weekend and party with friends. We went to Coachella. We threw house parties where we supplied the booze and food (WHY!?) for our friends. And immediately after our wedding, when I instantly became pregnant we had to stop spending money. Because no one had taught us to save and we were going to be responsible for looking after ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. Because there aren’t classes for money management in high school. There bloody well should be – who thinks that making a casserole in Home Economics is more important than learning WHY you should contribute to a 401K and how compound interest works? Add in the reticent parents on both sides who never talked money and we were in a hopeless situation.
Ruby came and we were instantly in love but we knew that daycare was around the corner to a tune of $1,000 a month. Luckily Husband had bought his house for $68,000 (everyone in California feel free to lose your shit) and our mortgage was $526 a month. Less than my half of the two bedroom apartment I’d lived in in California which was $1,570 a month at the time (and I know that’s laughably cheap in 2019). We were on borrowed time though because the schools by us were absolute crap. We got into a house in a great school district when Ruby had just turned 1 and then started planning for baby #2. On the same salary, with a higher mortgage, adding another $1,000 a month to our daycare bill! At seven months pregnant with Oli, looking and feeling like a Mack Truck, I started to do some research because we were in debt up to our eyeballs and I honestly didn’t know how the fuck we were going to do it. I came across Budgetsaresexy.com and read seven years of posts from start to finish (when you’re pregnant you can’t do a lot of fun stuff like drink alcohol, go out to bars, go longer than five minutes without peeing, so I did a lot of laying on the couch and reading because that’s what beached whales do). The realization I’d come to is we’d been doing it all wrong. We had no savings, barely anything in our 401Ks and because we were having a boy, I had no clothes for him. You better believe I had that boy in either pink or just a diaper and nothing else before my maternity leave was up (it was August in Atlanta so I wasn’t being neglectful – it was fucking hot). Of course the debt climbed but we now had a plan thanks to this website. I created a budget where I started to track our spending every week per month and all of the bills that would be owed in each week. I listed our credit card debt on that same page so that it would be in our face, challenging us to pay it down instead of mindlessly increasing it. The budget forced me to see what we were spending money on when we didn’t need to, like a $180 cable bill when we didn’t have time to watch TV. We now have a Netflix account and a Hulu account. That’s a whopping total of $23 a month. We have Kia Souls which took us five years to pay off and now we’re intending to run them into the ground while not owing $800 a month on car payments.
It’s all about baby steps because Kiddos, this shit is scary and daunting. You can’t quick fix your way out of it and it could take years to get yourself out of the mess you made. BUT. BUT. There’s hope. There’s a way to live responsibly where you can retire earlier than planned. Nobody gives a fuck what SUV you drive because they’re too busy caring about themselves to notice you. Is it really necessary to live in a seven bedroom, 6,000 sq ft. house if there’s only four of you living in it? At the end of the day you’re probably not laying in bed in Louis Vuitton pajamas (not sure if that’s a thing but Jesus Christ, we’re on the wrong path if it is), you’re in your comfiest sweats you most likely got from Target. And, if you’re lucky like me, you get to be next to your best friend who doesn’t give a fuck what you wear, or what purse you’re carrying or whether the kids are in designer clothing. Tagging on to Husband’s post earlier this week, we’ve been trained through Social Media and entertainment over the past decade to think we deserve the lifestyle of the Kardashians, that Pinterest-level birthday parties for four year olds should exist otherwise EVERYTHING IS RUINED, that we should be in the spa five days a week. Don’t forget, these celebrities are paid to have a camera follow them around and create drama because that makes entertaining television.
Also, your kids are watching EVERYTHING you do. The way you live, the way you handle money and they’ll repeat your actions, even if you think they’re not paying attention. We owe it to the next generation to not keep up with the Joneses, to “fuck the establishment” that keeps us in debt so we’re pawns in this experiment they call the American way of life, to show them that money, while a necessity, isn’t needed for happiness because the people around you, and yourself, should be able to provide that. There’s going to be more on this moving forward because Husband and I have $50,000 of debt to pay off and if our example can help just one person out there then The Ghost Generation is doing its job. And go and check out Budgetsaresexy.com because this dude is like me and you – has three kids, a wife he loves and he’s just trying to live the American Dream while retiring early.
It’s all any of us want, right?