It is fair to say that it has taken me a long time to get to grips with money. When I was a student I would say a little prayer every time I visited the cash machine because I was never confident that there would actually be enough money in the account left over from my student loan to cover my expenses. This continued into my adult life even once we were married. It seemed as though we never had enough money and even though I was permanently afraid to check the bank balance, I convinced myself that it was all fine, even though I really knew that it wasn’t.
We had been married for 9 years before we emigrated and combined our finances. For a long time, therefore, both of us did our own thing with money and there was no accountability. We divided up the bills and ‘took turns’ paying for the groceries, buying clothes for the children, servicing the car etc. I thought having joint bank accounts was outdated and old-fashioned but our lack of unity left us out of cash, struggling and secretly afraid.
I was basically overdrawn for 11 years and never managed to remain in the black by the end of the month. I thought I was winning if I had not maxed out my overdraft by the end of the month, not comprehending that I was never getting anywhere, so we were never getting anywhere.
Those were the years when we had small children and were on lower salaries that we are today but that was not really why we were struggling. We were struggling because we had no accountability to each other, we had no idea what we were doing and had no financial goals at all. If we wanted something we simply bought it. Luckily, having been conditioned at an early age to believe that debt was bad, we didn’t take out personal loans to buy stuff (with the exception of a sofa!) and we didn’t have credit cards, but for some reason I didn’t associate my graduate overdraft facility with debt. It seemed normal to be overdrawn. The bank had given me the ‘gift’ of an overdraft as soon as I had graduated and so I associated my overdraft with being a grown up. It seemed unrealistic that I would ever be able to actually have money left over in the account once everything had been paid and so I didn’t even try.
Looking back, I see now that we wasted- I wasted – so much in those years. I let myself be seduced into thinking that I would be happier if I bought x, y, or z. I got into negative habits that little by little leached away the money I was earning. I was so sad that I had to go to work when our babies were little that I would treat myself to try and feel better and treat them to make me feel better for spending so much time apart. If only I had actually grown up a bit quicker, I think I would have found that with careful management of what we had, it could have been possible to not work so much. If we had worked together sooner and actually looked at the bigger picture, things could have been a lot different.
There are several different definitions of simplicity but the one that gets closest to towards my own understanding is the idea of a ‘freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts.’ For a long time our money was divided into parts and there was a confusing and complex web of payments, bills, accounts and obligations – so our approach to money was anything but simple. We went through a very difficult and complicated time financially during the recession when my husband’s business had to close and I remember that feeling of fear around money vividly well.
When we moved to New Zealand, we finally joined our finances together. Having sold most of our stuff to finance the move and relocate, we pooled everything we had together and finally started to embrace a simple approach to money. I had resisted advice to do this for a long time but it was incredibly liberating to finally see the ‘big picture’ and start to take control.
Since that time, I have essentially been the family book-keeper. I do the banking every week online, I know what is coming in and what is coming out and we have managed to transform our financial habits for the better. Everything is much simpler now there are no awkward conversations or lingering resentments about who is due to pay what. Now we have regular conversations about money and it has become something that unites us as a family instead of something that divides us – mine and yours has become ours.
I am on a mission to live the full breadth of my life, not just the length of it and intention and purpose are central to this mission. Over the past few years I have learned that being intentional and purposeful with money is central to a peaceful and happy life.
There is no longer any drama around our finances. We never have to worry that there will be nothing left in our account at the end of the month, because we have a plan and we stick to it. There are no surprises and when something expensive and unexpected comes up, we have the money put aside to deal with it. We know that there are no limits to what we can achieve if we set a plan and then start working towards it with focus and intensity.
If you are reading this and believe that you will never be able to achieve peace and stability in your finances, I want to help you to understand that you are mistaken. The key is to set an intention and follow through. You can get where you want to be- one step at a time and I want to help you avoid some of the mistakes that we have made and adopt a more purposeful approach to money right now.
You can read about some of the Simple Financial Principles we follow here and for the next five weeks, I will be sharing something each week that we have learned on our journey to financial simplicity. I am calling it my Simple Money Project. Honestly, it feels a bit uncomfortable to share personal financial stuff with the wider world – weirdly perhaps even more uncomfortable that writing about my struggles with depression was to start with-but if honestly sharing what we have learned helps just one person and one family feel more positive about their money and less afraid and out of control, it is worth it!