When my husband and I were first married, money was tight in our home. We both had college degrees, and he had worked a few years at a decent job, however my income was pretty insignificant. To get through college I had taken on quite a few student loans, and as a young married couple our finances were just limited.
So, at twenty years old (I thought he was an old man at the age of twenty-four), we very unconsciously decided to live frugally. Neither of us enjoyed spending beyond our means, so being frugal came pretty naturally to us. That didn’t mean however that it didn’t hurt.
We bought our first house just one year into our marriage with a 10% down payment thanks to some serious savings on our part, but it wasn’t easy! My husband and I renovated two homes early in our marriage, and spent many sleepless hours re-painting thirty-year-old particle board cabinets to make them look “cute” with loads of white paint. (It took six coats of paint to transform just one set of cabinets!)
I remember bringing our oldest child home from the hospital a few years later and thinking that I needed to figure out how to nurse my son as there was simply no way we could afford formula. (I had given up my low-paying job as a Youth Director at our local church to stay home with him, but just couldn’t see how we were going to make it on one income.) As he got a little older, I tried to come up with inexpensive homemade snacks so that we wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store between pay checks (which was when I found that homemade bread made a great snack!) I got very creative on how I could stretch cleaning products and household items further than they normally would go, and even calculated exactly how many miles I could drive each week to go to “town” to help pinch an extra penny. (We lived about ten miles from the closest grocery, and I figured every penny I could save was a blessing!)
My son got a little older, and spent hours helping me tear wallpaper off the walls from the mid 70′s . . . it was kind of retro and metallic, so he could see himself in the wallpaper as he worked. (Which was pretty cool for a three-year-old!) Meanwhile, the minute my daughter was old enough to sit up in her exersaucer, I turned on music and let her play while I re-painted any solid surface I could find.
It wasn’t easy. Thumbing through magazines and seeing things that I loved but we really couldn’t afford was tough. Driving cars that no one else would even consider driving was no fun at all. (We even had a car that was actually two car ends glued together . . . my father-in-law convinced me it was a deal because the front end had 60,000 miles on it, but the back end only had around 40,000 . . . we figured we could always drive it backwards as it got older, right?) When we finally moved up in the world and decided to get cable, the cable company offered us their best deal on a Spanish-speaking plan, so each Christmas we received cards from the cable company in Spanish (and occasionally they’d call us and speak Spanish as well!)
BUT, I can tell you it was all worth it. Every. single. bit. Fifteen years later, my husband and I live in a nice home (not amazing, but certainly more than we need!) with no debt besides our house. We’re able to travel on some fantastic vacations, give our children opportunities I never even dreamed of as a child, and help others outside our family as we’re able. It’s an amazing feeling to not be strapped financially, and all the years of choosing to live frugally have definitely paid off. There are still things that I would still love to have (granite countertops would make me really happy one of these days!) But I don’t need them, and seeing others in need has changed the way I consider my own wants compared to my needs. (EEK!)
I wouldn’t trade the way we started out for anything . . . I look back at those days when my husband and I spent Friday nights competing to see who could change a hinge out faster (he’d use a manual screwdriver, I’d use an electric, and he’d still win.) I’ll never forget what it felt like each time our sweat equity paid a bigger down payment on a larger home, and I wouldn’t trade the lessons we learned through living frugally for anything.
If you’re in the midst of financial struggles right now, don’t lose heart. There are blessings to be found right where you are that you’ll not learn any other way, and when you look back you’ll be amazed at how God’s hand (along with a little determination . . . ) will bring you to a new place in life. So, don’t give up, and don’t sacrifice what you really want for what you want right now.