A couple years ago I doubled my salary. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time that will ever happen in my life, so it’s a thrill worth reliving.
I’ve always had money problems as long as I can remember. I think I just lack the part of my brain that gets satisfaction from having money that isn’t spent. Nothing about my financial history is unique. I got a bunch of credit cards in college, took out some student loans in college, took out a lot of student loans in grad school, filled up credit cards in grad school… During grad school I made a sub-poverty level “salary” that was technically called a stipend so that I wouldn’t have to work at a real job while I did my research. That was nice and everything, but seriously, that was not enough money for me to manage my debt AND eat. So I got really good at paying minimum payments and dodging phone calls during the hard months to just barely make it. By the end of grad school, I had more debt than I ever thought would be possible without owning property.
Then I got a job. Literally one day I was a grad student in a shitty cubicle making nothing – the next day I was faculty in a questionable office making plenty (plenty to me). The first six months after grad school were fantastic. With no student loan payments during the grace period, honestly I didn’t know what to do with that money. Then the student loan payments started. They’re crazy, seriously. Then we decided to get a second car. Then we decided to upgrade some of our electronics. Suddenly the monthly paychecks didn’t seem so big anymore.
This year J and I bought our first house. We haven’t closed yet, but we’ve done everything up to that point. People had always told me that buying a house is so much smarter than renting because at least your money is staying with you, not the landlord. That is true and I’m really psyched about that. But there’s a lot more things that I have never had to even consider that suddenly come into play as a homeowner, making life assuredly more complicated – a water heater, washer/dryer, hardcore landscaping, etc. Thank god the house is already fully renovated.
A few months ago Jason and I made a list of all the things we’d want/need to buy after we moved in. It was incredibly scary for me to look at all of that cost. We broke them up into a timeline over the next couple years so we don’t have to decide what to buy right away. Still, the money’s not going to come out of nowhere, so learning to save money has become essential.
By some miracle, we’ve been saving money for the last few months and it feels so good. Granted none of my credit balances have gone down during this saving crusade, but I’ll get to it. I am starting to feel comfort in having a pile of money that hasn’t been spent, and that’s an achievement in and of itself. It’s been pretty boring not spending money for months, but I know that if I just keep doing it, the free balance will only get bigger. Then when we move we can get those things we need and pay credit cards in big chunks instead of these meaningless monthly payments. I swear if we can get out of credit card debt, we could afford a second house.
I’m not sure there’s really an end to this story. I’m pretty sure I won’t get out of credit card debt for 10 years or so, but it’s going to happen. I’m definitely becoming a bigger and more responsible person through this. My hope is that we can continue to find the balance between living life enough (which costs money, let’s be honest) and building up some kind of financial freedom. Maybe then the dream of a debt-free existence is actually possible.