I never got the “birds and the bees talk” when I was a child. I’m not sure if I’m happy about that because I avoided unforeseen amounts of awkwardness, or a little disappointed I didn’t get to hear my parents take on what a 12 year old needed to know about sex. (I’m guessing I should be relieved, but I’ll wait for comments on what my readers’ experiences were.) Developing attraction and desire for the opposite sex is all a part of growing up. Teens are beginning to make choices with potentially life-long consequences in middle school. Sure, we had sex ed class and I learned way more about STDs than I had ever hoped to (consider me deterred, Mrs. B). But to be honest, there just wasn’t enough accurate conversation about it: from my peers full of myths and out of control sexual references everywhere in the media to no conversation in my house and abstinence-only preached in church. You eventually figure things out and the world continues to procreate, so obviously we’re all doing something right…Then I remembered another area where I wasn’t taught enough at home or in school. It’s much more difficult to understand, impacts us deeply, and we all struggle with it on a continual basis. Finances. (That’s right. I lured you in with sex, and now we’re talking about your money…or lack of it. I should have been a marketer…) Most people hate talking about their money because it’s “too personal” (nothing too personal for me, my friends!). But I believe it’s a missing “birds and the bees”-like talk we need to address.
Last week, I saw a billboard for a bank that encouraged taking a personal loan out to pay for your wedding. They used a photo of a dad/daughter dance, with both smiling and looking so happy. What a horrible thing to encourage! And about as good advice as Nelly’s hit “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” (Which I will sing with if it comes
on the radio, ‘cause it’s catchy. But never follow his recommendations – an important point to note, and potentially share with a child you will soon be having “the birds and the bees” talk with…) Yes, your wedding day is memorable and it only happens once in a lifetime (hopefully). But oh, what J and I could have done with the cash we spent on a reception hall and buffet… like start our marriage on solid financial footing by putting more on our house down payment – and not paying for mortgage insurance (a horrible thing you learn about when you have less than 20% in cash). Post-wedding day, we were fairly money-wise, or so we thought. Flash forward to the TV & truck topper incidents of February 2012.
We had an old box TV that was an eye sore, on top of a chintzy stand. We wanted to upgrade to a large flat screen with a flashy new stand. And with two incomes filtering into one bank account, we thought we were rolling in the dough. Next thing we know, we’re at Best Buy spending $1,500 on a TV, blu-ray player, and new stand. But we had the cash, right? Well, that same month, the back glass window of J’s truck shattered and we had to
fork over $700 to buy a new one (soccer team stuff was being toted around and needed to get locked up). Then we forgot about the annual life insurance payments due that month, as well as J’s annual vehicle registration. And suddenly we were freaked. Did we really have enough cash to make it all work? We didn’t have to eat ramen that month, but it came darn close. We learned our lesson that having a cushion of cash helps us to avoid early hair-graying (baby O, on the other hand, adds to my grays).
Our “come to Jesus” month became the launching point for taking control of our finances – and avoiding conflict (money disagreements continue to be a major source of relationship ruin for many couples). J is an avid follower of financial guru Dave Ramsey. And he offers a Financial Peace University video course at churches across the country that, among many things, recommends an envelope system as part of monthly budgeting. You essentially identify categories of spending and how much you anticipate spending that month (within your income needs, of course), then pull that dollar amount out of the bank and put it in an envelope. Once the envelope is empty, you can’t spend any more in that category. We thought: Brilliant! Bring. It. On.
We had a variety of envelopes with cash inside, including retail. J and I liked to spend time together while shopping – for clothes at a mall, or the holy grail of stores that I refer to as “I need to buy everything in here to make my home perfect,” but you likely know better as Target. Keeping that retail envelope full was difficult, to say the least. I didn’t think I had a spending problem (and I really don’t; we only allotted $200 per month for that category-which includes toilet paper and soap), but I was seriously shocked when I couldn’t buy that adorable top that was on clearance. (Um, it’s a deal that won’t be around next month, so I’m really saving us money by buying it now. Please can we use the credit card, since the cash envelope is empty?!) It was…painful, to say the least, for the first year. I actually remember saying to J on several occasions, “I’m ‘jonesing’ for a new pair of shoes.” I was having my own version of withdrawal of no new clothes. (The struggle was real, y’all.) We sat down as a couple at the end of every month to review how we spent our money (PTL for online banking that categorizes your purchases for you). It took us like 3 hours per meeting for the first months to really understand where our money was going and identify our long-term goals for how we wanted our money to work for us. There were tears, yelling – you name it. It was really, really hard. But we didn’t give up.
Our habits became more steady over time (I’m talking 2 years) and now, we rarely feel the urge to “just go shopping.” We only have a few envelopes, and retail is not one – because we’ve just become that disciplined. We only go clothes shopping a few times a year, and stock up on needed supplies (toiletries, diapers, etc.) every other month. The “eat out” envelope is likely one we’ll have forever (another way we enjoy spending time together) because we have little self-control when it comes to food (I mean, who does?). We’ve become frugal. We don’t pay for cable or Netflix. (Did you know you can get the slowest Internet possible for $15 a month in our community, and it’s actually pretty fast? But when you had dial-up as a high school student, anything is fast put in that perspective.) And we still have nice things – like iPhones (granted, old iPhones, but still). We continue to have our sit down “budget meeting” every month, but now it’s a quick 30 minutes as we revisit how we spent our funds the past and see our progress on goals.
It’s been a game changer. Because we are now getting new siding! And paying in cash. (People just don’t do that, y’all. It’s like the price of a nice used car. I think. I haven’t bought a car in 10 years, so I don’t really know.) The old fiber cement board is gone, and now there is new insulation, three new windows, steel siding, soffit and fascia, and gutters. And after J updates our deck this summer, we’ll start the cash saving process all over again to buy a new HVAC system and start a new vehicle fund. But how did we get to this point? It certainly wasn’t a result of taking out a personal loan to pay for our honeymoon.
And it certainly wasn’t by ourselves. I remember being pregnant (two years into our envelope budgeting) and feeling angst over how we would tithe and pay for daycare. I asked a group of older couples in a class at church how they were faithful in giving finances to God. I don’t remember the answers, but I remember feeling supported (and emotional – I WAS pregnant). So we kept our giving up. And now, we have extra money every month AFTER paying for childcare. God takes care of you when you seek him in all areas of your life – and are faithful to his commands.
So what’s my advice to you? Don’t avoid the tough “birds and bees” conversation. Seek out some logical advice (Dave Ramsey has recommended financial consultants throughout the country) to get your finances in order. Then pray about these decisions. And revisit them often – I’m talking monthly at a minimum. And always, always keep God in the midst of what you spend – whether that is tithing to your church or supporting a ministry/missionary. Don’t ignore the importance of a conversation about finances with yourself, your friends, your family. Money is hard to talk about. But it can’t be worse than telling a kid about the birds and the bees. But just for your own preparation, or awkwardness, or whatever…this video shows parents explaining sex to their little ones for the first time. You’re welcome.