I like to spend money. There, I said it.
Spending problems have long been an issue in my marriage. It didn’t matter whether I was buying a household appliance, a new pair of shoes or gifts for friends. There’s just something about leaving a store with a bag of goodies that makes me warm and giddy inside.
The issue intensified because my husband, Jared, also enjoys shopping … and stores don’t require actual money. The banks eventually come for the money, but it’s easy to get lines of credit with a few strokes of an electronic pen.
Jared and I spent our first months of marriage expensively — pun intended. Weekends were treated as splurge holidays. Neither of us cooked well, so we’d eat out between trips to the mall and the movies. We weren’t extravagant spenders — always buying name-brands or high-ticket items — but repeated shopping trips stack up, even if you’re hunting for “screaming deals.”
About a year into marriage, we took stock of our condition and discovered the large gaping hole we’d spent ourselves into. We were barely making minimum payments on our many credit cards. We lived paycheck to paycheck. But the worst part was that our unhealthy relationship with money felt normal. We viewed it as a commodity to use, not a resource to steward. As a result, our earn-spend cycle never ended because (surprise) we always found something new to buy. Thankfully, once we realized this lifestyle was limiting our long-term goals, we started building healthy financial habits:
We attacked our spending problem together
Financial stress can often lead to deep problems in a marriage. A lack of funds, poor spending, different financial goals or fights about these issues can cause stress. Talking about these issues is important so you can avoid the stresses associated with spending problems. Jared and I planned our budget together and talked regularly about financial dreams and decisions. We recognized our unhealthy habits, took ownership of our contributions to the problem and worked toward a solution as a team.
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We set a strategic objective with a fun long-term reward
By the time we recognized we had a spending problem, we were dealing with school loans and car payments. It would not be easy to change, so we paced ourselves and took one step at a time — baby steps — to get our spending under control. But we also recognized that a strict budget wouldn’t last without a fun reward to aim for.
Jared and I developed a budget that would allow us to live below our means, pay off some debt and save enough to spend a month in Europe. After two years of intentional planning and financial discipline, we finally reached our goal.
We found inexpensive (or free) ways to keep our eyes on the prize
Digging out of debt takes awhile. But while you’re digging, don’t forget to enjoy your life. Jared and I used this season to build our creative muscles by planning free or inexpensive date nights and outings:
- Attending free activities through community centers or neighborhood events
- Spending nights in with friends instead of nights out
- Scouring travel books at local libraries or bookstores
- Streaming movies shot in our dream locales
- Celebrating small wins — like paying off a credit card
We also budgeted funds for special occasions to commemorate birthdays and anniversaries without abandoning our goals.
We made purchases that contributed to our reward
We had a great time shopping for the things we’d need on our European vacation. We started a list of helpful travel items — backpacks, travel clothes, a camera and museum passes. Then, we’d search for the best deals. When we finally bought an item, it was because we had planned and budgeted to contribute toward our final reward experience instead of gathering random items bought on a whim.
We exchanged the thrill of spending for the thrill of saving
While I didn’t realize it, the “thrill of the hunt” caused much of my spending problem. I wanted to find the perfect item at the best price, claim a victory and then enjoy all the warm fuzzies in my brain.
Now that I’m focused on my budget, I love the thrill of finding creative ways to save. I’ve created a “secret stash” envelope and anytime I don’t use our full allotted budget in a category, I’ll move the leftover money into our secret stash file and celebrate the achievement.
We embraced a healthier view of money
I started this article confessing that I enjoyed spending money, and that’s still true. But through this season I’ve learned to clarify that statement. I like to spend money well, so that means I also like to steward money. And while I’ve shared advice about practical ways to spend and save, I also need to share that my family’s journey started with understanding why we wanted to handle our money better.
Jared and I wanted a financial cushion for rainy days and funds to create family memories. We didn’t want to stress when larger bills came due or feel the pressures of a wallet bulging with maxed-out credit cards. We wanted enough money in savings to pursue our dreams and to invest in our children’s futures. So, to make it all happen, we had to treat money as a resource to steward in the long term and not just something to spend in the short term.
This new perspective also helped us adjust our lifestyle. As a married couple in our 20s, we’d lived far beyond our means. Now we look at the long game and live simply so that we can live comfortably later. This choice made it easier to save for our European reward, as we simplified travel expectations from hotels to hostels and fancy restaurants to top-reviewed neighborhood hangouts.
While I wish I could tell you these few steps were all it took to break our unhealthy spending problems, the truth is that this is just the start. I can also tell you that:
- We’ve never regretted the long-term financial habits we’ve developed. Our marriage is better for it.
- Shredding paid-off credit cards freed me from a weight I didn’t know I carried.
- Earning our backpacking trip through Europe made those memories even sweeter.
Whether your sights are set on a vacation, family goal or a plastic-free wallet, remember: You can do it. My husband and I enjoyed spending money. We still do. But now, instead of a spending problem, we have a spending plan. And we know that the plan makes a big difference.