On Money Matters

Talking about money can be awkward. But I think it’s important too, so I’m just going to dive right into it: Jordan and I are poor. He’s a graduate student with a meager stipend, and I work for a non-profit.

In the last few months, we’ve had a huge shift in how we think about our finances. We’ve always been fairly careful with our money–we don’t purchase gadgets or fancy furniture. We don’t have expensive hobbies. And we have always tried to limit our spending by using a budget.

Our prior spending habits made us feel like we were behind bars.

But even with those measures, somehow the amount we spent was still out of control. The little things would add up–the gas station coffees, the apps that charged monthly fees, the dinners and lunches and lazy late night snacks.

That is, until my sister-in-law, Semira got ahold of me last November. See, Semira is incredibly financially savvy, and also has the daring and creativity to look at the status quo in our country and decide there must be an alternate path.

There is–and some really smart people have taken the time to beat the thorns back for the rest of us. People like J.L. Collins, who wrote “The Simple Path to Wealth,” the Frugalwoods, who man their blog while tending to a brand new homestead, and famous finance blogger, Mr. Money Mustache (among many others).

Semira directed me toward all of these websites, and before long I’d gotten a full education in personal finance.

All of these resources recommend living well below your means, cutting away any excesses in your spending, finding higher paying jobs, paying off all of your debt immediately, and then putting all of the extra money you’ve saved into low-fee index funds. Doing so, they claim, will eventually put you in the position where you don’t have to work, because you’ll be able to live off of the interest of your investments.

At first I was skeptical: What about enjoying your life while you’re living it? It seemed to me like if all you did was pinch and save and worry you’d end up rich, but have wasted your life thinking about money. And what use is that?

Apparently frugality can make you feel like Chara in a cold lake. Aka, exhilarated.

I’ve never planned to be rich, and I’ve never been someone who is very money motivated–I don’t think I could do a job I wasn’t passionate about, and I’m quite content taking low-paying positions in order to do the things I love.

But there were other aspects of frugality that really resonated with me. I liked the idea that by streamlining our finances, I’ll be better able to afford having lower paying, non-profit positions. Being able to live off of very little gives Jordan and I the flexibility to pursue degrees and work in lower paying, but really cool fields.

Further, we were spending money on things that didn’t make us any happier. Our grocery bills were bloated, and Jordan and I still never felt like we had food in the house. We took the privilege of going out to eat for granted–we’d eat quickly, go to places we didn’t really enjoy, and use restaurants as a crutch for when we were too tired to cook. We drove to work each day–which costs a pretty penny in gas–and came home stiff from a day of sitting.

Walks like these are a nice, free part of our life.

By asking ourselves what actually made us happy, we were able to look at our lives and more clearly decide what we wanted to spend our time and money on. And even in just our first few months of frugality, we have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

We’re still working on how to elegantly live out these new lives. Jordan and I don’t always agree on what is necessary for happiness, and sometimes that leads to arguments about how we should prioritize our spending (he generally requires more going out and more booze to be happy, I require less).

But other things have made us way happier–I walk Jordan into work most mornings, and we have time to talk and connect. We cook all of our meals in, and by simply changing our routine (making a big batch meal for lunches each Sunday, baking our own bread, and planning out dinner for each night), we now have food in the house that we really enjoy eating, and we spend about half what we used to on groceries. I’m working on biking into work, so I’ll get exercise, time to disconnect, and we’ll save on gas. And I’ve started a garden, which hopefully will offset some of our produce costs this spring, summer, and fall.

He needs a lot of beer to fuel his beard.

Living frugally doesn’t mean cutting out all of the things we enjoy but don’t need. Jordan still gets his beer, I get a box of wine each month, and we make a point to have green tea and coffee in the house at all times. We sometimes splurge on meals in, and have a planned fancy meal out once a month.

Life is simpler, and a lot more joyful, when you know what makes you happy and you funnel your money and time into it.

One important note before I wrap this post up, is that we’re really fortunate to be in the positions we are. Not everyone has the means, support network, or time to pursue this kind of lifestyle. Our lives are simple: we don’t have kids. We have only small amounts of debt (thanks to the generous family members who funded my education, and the scholarships that funded Jordan’s). We are able to work, and have been lucky in finding employment.

There are a lot of factors that go into Jordan and I being so privileged, including our race and family backgrounds. Sadly–disgustingly–our country still doesn’t give every person an equal opportunity. So while we can thank luck and our own abilities for some of our success, it also feels important to acknowledge all the other factors that have enabled us to pursue the kind of life we want.

What do you spend money on? Why?

Chara highly recommends eating roadkill for an extreme frugality approach.

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