It was Personal Finance that drew me into the blogosphere. I have read about other people’s budgets and debt reduction and financial plans for a couple of years now, without becoming a PF blogger myself. I like being a “spectator” to other people’s money plans, struggles and successes. I know I’m not alone in this – witness the success of TV shows like Til Debt Do Us Part, and books like The Wealthy Barber Returns. I’m a Fan Girl!
The reason I don’t blog about my own budget and spending is that my money situation is so outside the norm, I don’t think anyone would relate to it. But I’ll tell you about it anyway, just this once, because it gives some context to the monthly goals progress reports that I post.
I lived at home while earning two university degrees, mostly on scholarship and fellowship, with some top-ups by my parents. So, I graduated without debt. I had numerous part-time jobs to cover spending money and incidentals. I accepted my first professional job 2700 miles from home, with my spendthrift partner in tow. In one year, we/he accumulated a debt equal to 15% of my annual salary. After an unpleasant breakup (which was, at least, a clean break), I was left with the debt and I only had the means to make minimum payments for the next year. It was no fun paying for a divorce lawyer at age 24! I downgraded my apartment twice and buckled down to work.
Hard work brought rewards and I received 2 promotions in 3 years. Feeling very resilient, I embarked upon a new relationship, and expected to enjoy the benefits of being part of a 2-career couple. This partnership involved a house purchase, marriage, child, and 2 long-distance moves to follow his career. However, something was clearly amiss. My partner earned much more than I did. He withheld information, and made decisions without my input. I always felt like I was in the dark about our complete financial picture. The pieces came together and it turns out he had a significant substance abuse problem which affected every aspect of our lives, including finances. Realizing this, I got my career back on track after a brief childcare leave, found a full time professional job, and knew I would have to support myself and child going forward.
We separated and I decided to align my finances with my own goals and values. I was very pleased that I qualified to buy a house based on my own salary! I negotiated a reduced child support amount because I was already living comfortably. However, this was the worst era of my life because I had to deal with the dad’s substance abuse, his visitation rights, long hours of work and childcare, and being (now) 700 miles from family support. Then something startling happened…my ex died, and we (my child and I) became the recipients of a life insurance policy.
Without going into the emotional aspects of things, I’d never had to make so many financial decisions in my life. I was unable to find a fee-based financial advisor, so I did it solo, spending tons of time on research and trying not to get ripped off by financial products and fees. I decided to stay put, in my job and in my town, so that my child could continue with the same childcare, school and friends while all these decisions were made. The process took almost 3 years, including settling the estate.
The results were:
- I left my job and we moved back to my home town
- I took 18 months off to get my child and myself settled in a new home (rented house), school, and routines; living on our life insurance proceeds
- I waited for a professional job in my field and went back to work, vowing never to be financially dependent on anyone ever again
- Once we were sure we were on the right track, I bought a house and car. I paid for them outright. Given that I had a “windfall” to finance this, I am very grateful that I didn’t take out a mortgage and then invest our money, trying to outperform the mortgage rate. I would have lost that game! Plus, home prices in this area have remained stable and not crashed.
- Being mortgage-free (and also being a family of just 2) allowed us a super quality of life on one salary, and I committed to putting my child through university – the first degree, anyway!
- And, 10 years since the move, here I still am! (Child has grown up and gone off to university)
In the meanwhile, my life took an interesting turn – after more than 10 years as a single parent, a transatlantic romance evolved, and I have now been remarried for 3 years. My spouse gave up his job, home and country to move to Canada and join us. He got settled and employed within 6 months and our life now feels amazingly cozy and abundant.
Rom and I do have unusual financial arrangements, though. Basically, we keep our finances separate. I had already saved for Link’s education so that is not part of our “couple’s budget.” I already owned a house and we decided (actively and not just by default) that Rom would move in and we would become a new family in the same house, rather than starting over in a new one. We each pay for half of the household expenses, and we each keep the rest of the money we make. We choose to pool it together for certain things we agree on in advance, but they are well-defined.
Right now, Rom has more spending money than I do – my personal spending allowance is very low because of college costs. He sometimes treats me to concerts or dinners out. But when Link’s schooling is done, my financial life will feel like clear sailing, and I will be in a position to do the same.
Since we’ve been together, we seem to have come to a similar worldview – frugal, somewhat anti-consumer and definitely anti-waste – and it feels very sustainable for the years ahead.
You won’t see me reporting on my own budget or my “no-spend days” or my financial goals, even though I do track those things privately. My life is quite privileged and I know I will meet my targets. But I’ll always be a fan of personal finance blogs and books and TV shows, because I love to cheer on those who have struggled and come out the other side!
Photo credit: http://www.couriermail.com.au