Josh and I started out our married life at 25 years old with much love in our hearts and little money in the bank accounts. He was a youth pastor, I was a volunteer with my sister’s new clothing business. He made $28,000 per year, I made $0. We paid for our wedding ourselves. We bought a used car.
One year into our marriage we wondered why we never seemed to get ahead of the bills. I had taken on part-time work, and we had cut back drastically on our expenses. Our financial advisor friend asked us to collect all the information for our loans and credit cards, and bring them with us for an appointment with him. After rounding up all the numbers, we watched the smoke clear on $22,000 in student loans between the two of us, $10,000 in credit card debt, and $6,500 in a car loan. That’s right – a grand total of $38,500! Wow, we had some changes to make!
We consolidated all our bills into one place, and set our sights on a debt-free life. We had many “conversations” about how to spend our money, and we found some common ground in learning to spend less. But we were 26 and we didn’t plan too far into the future. We were a couple who enjoyed living in the moments, and we found ourselves pregnant with Baby #1 less than two years after we were married. As parenthood drew nearer we made many more changes – we began to think about saving more and opened up a small RRSP account, we started to look for our first home, and we found a new job for Josh since I would be home with the baby very soon. We even had $5,000 in the savings account, and the debts were decreasing in wonderful ways.
The new job in the new city was not what we had hoped, but parenthood brought us more joy than we could imagine. Who needed to spend money on anything? We had this beautiful baby boy to fill our days with new life, constant entertainment, and fresh purpose. Houses were much more expensive in our new neighbourhood, so we continued to rent an apartment for the time being. We took another step into saving more for the future and opened an RESP for our first child. Then Baby #2 appeared on the pregnancy test, and more changes soon followed.
The next year of our lives was less than stellar (to put it mildly) in just about all areas – including finances. Baby #2 was stillborn at almost 37 weeks (read about that in my 1st book Discovering Hope), our savings were depleted from living in a more expensive city, Josh was let go from his new job due to budget constraints, and after many interviews both near and far there was no new job on the horizon. But we still had each other and Baby #1. And our debts had continued to decrease to $22,500 – down $16,000 in just over 2 years!
At the close of 2003, four years after we were married, we felt like we were starting fresh. We found a new city to live in, followed by a new job, and a few months later we purchased our first home. A better-suited job for Josh, once again a pastor in the church, soon followed and Baby #3 was on the way as well. Things were definitely looking up!
From a financial point of view, debts were even higher than before from the years of loss and unemployment. And we needed a newer vehicle, so we took out a car loan again (the biggest one we’ve ever carried!). We were now at $40,000 in loans and credit, with another $70,000 in mortgage/closing costs/RRSP withdrawal for down payment. The good news was we were on the right track – we bought the most run-down house on a very nice street for $67,000. We knew we could fix it up when time and money allowed. And it was a duplex, so we lived mortgage-free for the first four years of home ownership!
We still live in that house, we spent 3 years and $80,000 tearing it apart and putting it back together into a single-family dwelling, and we are raising two wonderful boys. I have worked off and on through the years, but mostly stayed home with the children and volunteered with our church and the public school my boys attend. We have always aimed to live on one income, and consider anything else as “gravy”. I have gone on to finally finish my undergraduate degree, and Josh has completed a graduate degree. We have been able to take our boys on a couple of bigger vacations to Disney and an all-inclusive to Dominican Republic. Most of the time we hang out with family or go camping during our time off work.
An opportunity came our way a couple of years ago to become landlords once again, and we use that income for the extras like home repair and used vehicles when necessary. We are also able to give away a good sum every year to those who need it most around the world. And my love for writing has grown and developed into self-publishing and freelance work.
Our net worth has grown in amazing ways during the past decade, and we have been able to put away education savings for both our boys. This should give them a head start at a life that is debt-free. We have taught them what we know about personal finance and they seem to grasp the basics very well.
I can’t believe all the amazing things we’ve learned about finances during our 15 years of marriage. It has been an often-uphill battle, but we just keep fighting the good fight. Our focus is constantly on debt-free living and maintaining a simple life. Our strategies always include spending less, saving more, and paying it forward.