Long post warning! I often aim to keep my posts no more than 500 words. This breaks all my rules.
I’ve come across a few articles that address living below your means. Usually the message is if you try a bit harder, stop spending on unnecessary things and stop being lazy you can get out of debt. The author’s message is generally that living well on a budget is not as hard as some think and those who can’t are lacking discipline.
I have a slight problem with this line of reasoning. My problem is that we all have different stories, different levels of acceptable behaviour. My solutions may not work for you and that doesn’t reflect a moral failing on your part.
I really hope that when reading this blog you never feel judged.
Here’s my story, and why this view rubs me the wrong way:
Less than 10 years ago I was in a job that didn’t pay well and I worked 60 hours per week. I was only able to save because I lived at home and in lieu of rent my parents asked me to pay for groceries. Unlike many of my colleagues, I managed to remain debt free at this time only because I had a strong support network and almost no expenses. Could my colleagues have expanded energy finding good deals, eating well and not spend money on gadgets? Sure but I remember the exhaustion I felt on those weekends. I could barely function.
That company’s values didn’t align with mine and frankly the job was making me and everyone around me miserable. Since I did have a sizable savings I quit the job and began looking for work. Within a month I found another job that seemed to pay me a tonne of money and I worked an average of 45 hours a week. To put my new found wealth into perspective, it was less than half of what I’m making now.
I experienced a lot of big life changes while in that job. I purchased a car, got married, rented an apartment with ML, furnished the apartment, bought a house, began furnishing the house. During that entire period I struggled with my budget. I was always a bit over and by a bit I mean $100-200 over budget. Every month!
Could we have done better? Oh yes! My excuse is that it was our first time living on our own so we had a lot of one time set up costs. We didn’t want to feel poor, we were happy to not purchase too many extras but sleeping on the floor was not something we were willing to do.
I recently found a budget from the tail end of that period and to be honest my spending wasn’t completely out of control. When I look back at that time I often have allowed myself to believe that I was irresponsible, that I didn’t care enough or search enough for good deals. All those things that the writers I have a bone to pick believe.
Arguably, I could have done better using the knowledge I now have but I suspect my overspending would have continued. I was always one emergency away from having to start over. One of my lessons is that as you get more ‘settled’ you tend to spend less. I no longer purchase items for the home often because we have everything we need. I rarely purchase clothing now as I have all I need and the space to store items so I can refresh my wardrobe on an almost monthly basis without spending a dime.
The other bit that has a huge impact on my quality of life is I now work 35 hours a week and make significantly more. This means I have resources that were missing previously. I have the time to seek and acquire good deals, I’m not battling exhaustion, I have the funds to indulge in worthy sales and to save for multiple goals concurrently.
This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have done a better job and that I don’t have a responsibility for some of the debt I accrued. When I got my current job my excuses, for the most part, went out the window. With my new found riches I indulged in the life of those around me: eating out too often, drinking, purchasing wardrobe items for a change rather than because of need. Then we decided we wanted to start our family. I began saving but in a desire to save my future self money I purchased loads of fun kiddie things. Once kids were no longer on the life agenda I went a bit spend crazy.
Currently the view that if I tightened my belt I would be out of debt and could probably stay out is accurate. Six years ago it was insulting because I didn’t have the financial or emotional resources to do so.
I don’t know why you’re in debt (if you are). I don’t know what tools will work for you.
I do know that my climb out of debt has had a lot to do with securing a better paying job that gives me more time to focus on getting out of debt. I’m also in a space emotionally and mentally to tackle my debt and pursue my financial dreams.
I want you to feel safe and comfortable when you visit this blog. If my words ever hurt you please tell me.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net