My Financial Education

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Money isn’t everything, but it can become everything if you don’t respect it. As a child, the dollars I received as gifts became clothes, toys, or electric devices (no electronics then). From high school on, I always had a job – cleaning a neighbor’s house, babysitting, working in the office of a meatpacking plant, phone sales for magazines, and errand girl for an insurance company. I don’t remember what those paychecks were used for. When I got my first adult job with a decent pay, I remember telling people “I don’t mind working and I love the allowance they give me.” Allowance? That word alone says how financially immature I was. Money is a green monster that cannot be ignored, and that’s the good news.

It’s good news because when you are not handling money sensibly, you are forced to deal with it and, therein, lies an opportunity to change. At age twenty-three, I lived from paycheck to paycheck, I had never balanced my checking account, and I had no savings. I had to confess to my new husband that I had $5 in my wallet, when we left on our honeymoon (he wasn’t surprised – he knew who he was marrying). I was very happy to turn over the whole checkbook management and financial decision making to him. I was proud of one financial fact about myself at this stage, I couldn’t manage money but at least I knew it.

Financial Education – Phase I: Observing. My husband, Bill, set up a savings plan and insisted we do our best to live off one income, as we planned to have children someday. We stuck to the budget he worked out for three years, and I saw that money planning did work. I was happy, in an ignorant sort of way, seeing my finances managed better. Shortly thereafter, a new equation disrupted my complacency. A new house + one wage earner = a tighter budget. I entered most of the entries in our checkbook because I paid bills and did the shopping. Bill tried balancing the thing, but this practice invariably ruined part of a day. Apparently, I couldn’t add or subtract accurately. Bill didn’t enjoy fixing my mess and tossed checkbook management to me. It was a brave move. He hoped to eliminate the monthly marital discord not attached to my feminine cycle. I was forced to face my nemesis.

Financial Education – Phase II: Managing a checkbook. I hated it but I also hated the frustrating balancing sessions every month, so I persevered. I became personal friends with a lady at the bank and visited her several times until I got it. She explained the process in a more female-friendly way. I brought my files down to her and she patiently went over what I was doing and offered suggestions on how to make it easier. After about four or five months, I achieved success. I wouldn’t let a two-cent discrepancy go unresolved; I became a fanatic. I felt empowered! However, knowing how much money you have is not the same as knowing the best way to use the money you have.

Financial Education – Phase III: Budget planning. Two kids and increasing expenses, still on one income, made me realize that I had to change my spending, or I was never going to get a new couch or save for our girls’ education. A financial workbook became my new bible. I recorded every single penny we spent for one month. Once I knew where the money was going, I could see where changes needed to be made. The workbook factored in maintenance on our home and vehicles, and even saving for vacations. I’ll never forget one story the author shared. He was counseling a couple through their financial crisis when he told them they had to put $100 away every month for their family vacations. Both husband and wife were aghast at that amount and declared they couldn’t afford it. The counselor told them they were correct, they couldn’t afford it, but they charged that amount on their credit card for a vacation every year. I would plan ahead where I could. One of the most fun tools was making menus. I grocery shopped every two weeks (without my girls) and couldn’t believe the amount of money I saved. My twenty-something self would not have recognized the new me.

Financial Education – Phase IV: Paying my fair share. When a former spendaholic becomes a budget-planning fiend, it’s easy to be concerned about every penny spent, but this can make a person a bit selfish, and it’s never good to be selfish. If you’ve ever ordered an inexpensive meal and then been forced to split the bill with people who had a meal, a dessert, and a cocktail, you know what I’m talking about. I had to learn that my newly-found frugality should not cost others. Money management is complicated and it’s not just about the numbers. True financial joy and peace requires balance and proper perspective, which brings me very nicely to the next lesson.

Financial Education – Phase V: Investing in people. My husband is a frugal person, but money is not the most important thing to him. The guy that won’t pay $4 for a beer with lunch, donates to charities easily. I knew that helping others was the right thing to do, but I had to learn to give more. People in need are a very good investment.  In our early days of raising children, family vacations were an expense I would have preferred to avoid, but Bill insisted we take three or four small trips every year. Priceless memories are a very good investment.  Bill put off basic perks while paying for meandering educations, including my own. He had no problem dedicating finances to our oldest daughter when she applied to an out-of-state graduate school, or to our youngest, when she changed to a private college because it was a better fit. Knowledge is a very good investment!  Bill fully supported our girls’ wedding dreams. Opposite of the couple in the movie, Father of the Bride, I paid for expenses begrudgingly. On the day of both events, I felt extremely grateful we could give family and friends some good food, good drink, and good music. Those celebrations were a very good investment.

Maybe money IS everything, because the way you spend it does say a lot about your core, your heart. I’m grateful for my husband’s patience over the years and his heart has taught me much. There will be a Phase VI, Bill is leaving his full-time job to pursue part-time work next month. I hope this phase is fun and doesn’t send me to financial planning sessions just to get the free meal.

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6 Responses to “My Financial Education”

  1. Andy

    great post sue! very inspiring.

  2. emilee

    Wonderful post! You and Bill both have amazingly kind and generous hearts and I feel blessed to be able to read about your adventures as a couple and learn from them as well. Love to you both!

  3. Emily

    Forgot to tell you that this post inspired my husband to ask me if I’d like to be the financial manager of the house! Oh my…

  4. sue

    You can do it, Emily!

  5. Megan

    Well done, and well said. What a wonderful and not so frightening perspective on a rather intimidating subject. Hugs to you!

  6. sue

    Thanks, Megan. Hugs to you too.


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