Lynnae at BeingFrugal.net has been reviewing the book, (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents. Her posts have caused some reflection on the early years of my own marriage when my wife and I struggled to keep up with others, to our financial detriment. We had some church friends that were in much better positions than we were, financially, and we wanted to match their lifestyles. The couples were a few years older than us, had been married longer than us, and in all but one instance had no kids. This allowed them some serious wealth-building time with two incomes without the costs associated with raising children.
photo by Jas & Suz
Apples and Oranges
Our situation, however, was much different. Our first child was born nearly two years into our marriage. That first year and a half our incomes were extremely low. I had just started working for a bank in a customer service call center, and my wife had trouble finding work after relocating to marry me. I think our first year of marriage we earned about $20,000 combined. The second year wasn’t much better as my wife’s pregnancy made it difficult for her to maintain employment and she came home about six months into her pregnancy. This loss in income affected us more than we realized at the time, and we failed to properly adjust to living on one income.
Who are You Trying to Impress?
Our friends had nice homes, drove nice cars and often bought the latest toys and gadgets you would expect the average DINKs (Double Income No Kids) to own. We were admittedly jealous of their situation and tried to keep up by leasing a new SUV, buying new clothes and falling for many of the same technology gadgets. I was still trying to impress my wife, and her family, and trying to prove I was a worthy provider. In fact, I was doing a pretty lousy job. I should have been spending more time living frugally, saving money and investing some of my income in retirement accounts to build for our future, and the future or our newborn daughter.
After we finally came to the realization that something had to change, the damage was done. I had accumulated some student loan debt in my first two years away at school, and even more school debt after returning to college in the evenings and online to continue my education. Looking back, I should have saved and paid cash for school rather than financing the majority of tuition and books on a Visa card, but at the time I was anxious to get finished and move up in my career and move on with my life. The college expenses, and the decision for my wife to remain a stay home mom, meant we would tread water, financially, for the majority of our twenties. The good news was we didn’t add much new debt, and as we both approached thirty we began to realize the lessons learned from living on one income had made us more frugal, more financially savvy, than we would have been otherwise. Who knows – without this wakeup call we may still be trying to keep up with those same friends.