How Budgeting Set Me Free

We were drowning. I thought we must be the only family who was struggling to keep up. The overwhelming stress had become normal. Paydays came and went, but there was never anything to show for it. Our seemingly perfect life was crumbling all around us. Our lives were flying by so fast that it felt like we were stuck on a never ending treadmill. There was never enough money to get ahead.

When I thought about the first 7 years of our adult lives and how we had spent our money, all I saw was debt. Credit cards, medical bills, delinquent taxes, 3 pieces of real estate, a $900 a month truck payment, bad credit scores, and no savings…that’s what we had to show for 7 years of hard work. That’s it.

I thought family life would be easier than this. I thought my husband having a great job with an above-average income would guarantee us a great life. We spent our dating years dreaming about our future. We’d live in a gorgeous house, we’d have a few kids, he’d work, I’d stay home, and we’d live the American dream. And here we were living it, but it felt more like a nightmare than a dream. What were we doing wrong? Why couldn’t we get our act together?  

We were drowning. I thought we must be the only family who was struggling to keep up. The overwhelming stress had become normal. Paydays came and went, but there was never anything to show for it. Our seemingly perfect life was crumbling all around us. Our lives were flying by so fast that it felt like we were stuck on a never ending treadmill. There was never enough money to get ahead.

When I thought about the first 7 years of our adult lives and how we had spent our money, all I saw was debt. Credit cards, medical bills, delinquent taxes, 3 pieces of real estate, a $900 a month truck payment, bad credit scores, and no savings…that’s what we had to show for 7 years of hard work. That’s it.

I thought family life would be easier than this. I thought my husband having a great job with an above-average income would guarantee us a great life. We spent our dating years dreaming about our future. We’d live in a gorgeous house, we’d have a few kids, he’d work, I’d stay home, and we’d live the American dream. And here we were living it, but it felt more like a nightmare than a dream. What were we doing wrong? Why couldn’t we get our act together?  

I grabbed my computer and logged on to our online banking. Overdraft fees, $5 here, $10 there, charges for things I didn’t even remember buying. Everything was so disorganized. Guessing how much we had left for groceries, never knowing what was still pending, or what would be taken out next. I had avoided digging in deeper for long enough.

I needed to know where our money had really been going. I went back through the last 3 months of our spending. I cried when I saw all our financial mistakes written on that notebook paper. I grouped up the purchases into categories – gas, groceries, restaurants, etc. This brought our areas of overspending out into the light and helped me know where I needed to cut back.

We almost completely stopped going out to eat, we started packing our snacks while we ran errands, we opted for family game nights instead of nights out, we stayed home more, and basically just learned how to slow down our life. We found a light of hope.

After the first month, I realized that there was power in knowing. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is worse than the reality of the truth. Once I shed some light on how out of control our money really was…I actually felt better. I still wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but I had at least decided to stop playing the victim. I stepped up and took responsibility for our situation. We got ourselves into this mess…and we’d get ourselves out! I had struck motivation!  

We were shocked at how easy setting up and following a budget really was, and over the next few months we got better and better at telling our money where to go. We set up a plan for paying off our $490,000 worth of debt. We got serious about our new lifestyle. We kept our heads low and minded our own business for awhile. We ditched our living-for-the-weekend mentality and started working with some real goals in mind.

We sat down as a couple and wrote down our dreams on a goals sheet. We boldly wrote down our debt-free goal date. Then several items we’d love to buy one day in cash. This felt silly at first, like two big kids writing a letter to Santa Claus, but it ended up being one our biggest sources of motivation and a great way for us to stay connected as a couple.

We kept pushing through our mountain of debt. We had a third baby and found a whole new level of motivation. Our family was complete, and we were now going on the motivation of giving our family a bright future.

We felt free. We felt in control. We were off the treadmill. Our life was quiet, calm, and full of hope.