Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Money stress

I read somewhere once that people, no matter their income level, will generally feel that they wish they made about 20% more money. Whether they make $25,000 a year or $250,000 a year, they tend to answer the same - you ask how much money they would prefer to be making, and it is usually around 20% more than what they have.

I am so guilty of this.

My husband started a new job at the beginning of this year. He makes more money than he did at his old job, and yet we still feel like we have no extra money. Ever. Part of it makes perfect sense. We are finally putting away for retirement, we bought a life insurance policy and the much longer commute eats up a significant portion of his extra earnings. Late last year it seemed as if we were about to emerge from our financial tight spot and finally make some headway. We'd have all this extra money! What would we do? We'd have money for vacations and extras and birthdays and Christmas without running up more debt! It was going to be great!

Fast forward nearly 9 months and that hasn't been the case. We are still left feeling like we wish we made just "this" much more. We've had some necessary increases in our expenses (retirement and life insurance) and some inevitable ones (commuting). So our day to day, week to week, month to month finances are left pretty much where they were before.

Granted, we are not struggling in the sense that we can't pay our bills or put food on the table. So that is GREAT. But I have some serious concerns about the economic stability of our country and if things keep getting worse for the economy, I don't know what we're going to do. We're squeaking by right now, but what if gas goes up to $10 a gallon or the price of food keeps rising like it has in the last 5 years? I don't see much to indicate that things are getting better (or cheaper) and I wish we were in a better position to weather such a storm.

The problem with us is that we don't really want to change our decisions or our behavior. Not really. Every month we say we're going to do better, we're going to stick to our budget, we're going to stop overspending. But a week or so into the month, I haven't kept track well, my husband doesn't think about the budget ever, and I have gotten so tired of the role of bad-news-wifey that I ignore the problem and don't say anything when we're bumping into our budget threshold and he wants to go grab pizza.

I'm honestly not sure what to do to change things. I guess I know what needs to change - we need to spend less money. I'm just not sure how to do it. That sounds so dumb - just spend less, right? I wish it were so easy. We have never, ever in the history of our relationship been good at sticking to a budget and spending money well. We spent years as a double-income-no-kids couple and although we did buy a house during that time (and had the housing market not tanked so badly, we would have made quite a bit of equity in that house and now our current one), but other than that, we blew through a TON of money. Sure, some of it was awesome and not regrettable in the least. We went on some cool trips and did some cool stuff that I wouldn't take back. But we entered the job market in the midst of the dot-com boom and both had decent jobs that paid pretty well right off the bat. We got spoiled and it seemed like the money train was just going to keep going up, up, up.

Now we're a (mostly) single income family of five and that is a totally different thing. We spend more on food, gas, clothes, utilities, everything. We're in a totally different ballgame and our spending hasn't changed with the changes in our family.

Part of the problem too is looking at how much money my husband makes now and feeling like, "This should be amazing. This should be SO much money. WHERE IS IT?" He's making a very good living, or it seems like it should be. Why can't we be perfectly comfortable with what we have?

Because neither of us really wants to change anything. We want to have the things we have, go to the store and grab whatever, whenever. Neither of us really wants to have to reconcile where our money is going or have to pay attention to every little bit we spend. We should have been doing just that from the beginning, but it has always proved to be so frustrating, time consuming and ultimately, neither of us really stick to it or alter our decisions based on whether or not we've gone over budget.

We could live more comfortably if we cut out some things. Sure, we'd miss them. But wouldn't the freedom of getting out of debt and having the money to spend on things like birthday parties and family vacations make it all worth it? I say that in theory, but when I look at our spending line by line, I'm not sure where to start.

This has been an ongoing issue for us since basically forever. We're smart people - we ought to be able to manage our money better than this. But so far, we're not so great at it. I'm not sure what the practical solution really is, but I'm determined to find it.


Anonymous said...

I can so relate to this! There have been two things that have helped us:
1) When I was a SAHM and not contributing financially, I told myself that it was my "job" to save money. And so I would cook from scratch, clip coupons, not waste, anything to help that cause.
2) There have been seasons that we have put ourselves on a cash budget. We will pay only gas and groceries with our credit card (b/c we get points) and then everything else comes out of our weekly cash allowance. It's a lot harder to part with that cash than to just hand over the credit card.

Good luck!!!

Claire said...

Thanks for the ideas! :)

Helle M. | Life and Business Mentor said...

Love to hear your story, it's motivating and inspires everyone to handle money wisely and avoid getting into big debt. By doing these, we can avoid money-related stress.