For the majority of our marriage, my husband and I have moved to three cities, traveled internationally, and delivered a resounding “yes!” to most social invitations. We have thoroughly enjoyed the perks of sharing a checking account, most notably the enhanced numbers every time we peeked at our balance.
Our finances were never of grave concern for us; we had the cash to pay rent every month, avoided excessive purchases, and had no plans to buy a house. Life was good, and so was the Thai take-out we enjoyed multiple times a week. And the trips to Vegas. Those were good, real good.
Then things got tricky: My husband attended business school on loans while I floated us with my single (but well-paying) income. Then I became a stay-at-home mom while my husband floated us with his single (but well-paying) income. Our truncated cash flow and the new addition to our family put our financial health at the forefront: we needed to save for our daughter’s education and manage our debt, but for real this time. In short, our financial awakening was less “ah-ha!” and more “uh-oh.”
Here are some of the lessons I learned to help get my family on track:
Those Who Don’t Earn, Save
Since I wasn’t working, I forced myself to become a much more cost-conscious consumer. I started clipping coupons, traveling a bit further for cheaper gas, cooking my own baby food and wagging my finger at pleads for expensive take-out. In other words, I turned into my mother. These small cuts were things that I didn’t have the time nor the brainpower to consider when I was working full-time because… who cares, $8 lattes it is!
Lifestyles Change and That’s Okay
Our transition from DINKS to a single-income family of three was obviously significant on an emotional level. However, it took us a little longer (probably too long) to recognize the financial implications of this major life shift. Buying a third seat on an airplane and apartment-hunting for 2-bedrooms were more sobering than pregnancy. We started having to say “no” to events that we would have been first in line for years ago. This was a tough road for me, not so much because I missed the “good” stuff, but because I was afraid it would turn me into a different person. Luckily, people aren’t defined by things, so life goes on merrily. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Does the coffee taste terrible? Absolutely.
Say Yes to Mint
Opening a Mint account is like getting a gym membership: it’s the right thing to do, but if you don’t use it, things get flabby, bloated, and, well, hard to look at. I had definitely let myself go when it came to my Mint account. Why make a deep dive into this month’s incurred finance charges when it was so much easier to just delete the email? I would ignore notifications and once “forgot” to let Mint know when I switched banks. Accepting Mint as a friend and an advisor was a crucial step in taking advantage of what the service has to offer.
I’ve always been a fan of being able to customize my expense categories in Mint, but it became an invaluable tool once we had a baby. Babies incur expenses that turn over as rapidly as their clothing size: the amount we spend on formula dwindles the more she eats real food…she’ll grow out of diapers, and school costs replace pre-existing childcare expenses. Having the ability to categorize our child’s expenses based on her phase of life keeps us on our toes – we know that “Food for Baby” costs will go up or down depending on her current demands, and that “Activities for Baby” will become more dominant as she grows older. It also helps us plan for the next phase, and have a firmer grasp on realistic expenses for a second child.
I admit I’m still learning to use it at its fullest capacity, but having Mint as a friendly presence in my life makes me feel more confident about the financial choices I make moving forward. If only it made coffee, too.
Julia Bensfield is a comedian and writer based in Washington, DC. She writes about motherhood and life on her humor blog Your Mom Dot Com.