I mentioned in Part 1 of our story that Will and I grew up very differently regarding money. I'm going to be honest - this played out in a not-so-glamourous way on my end. It was a struggle, friends. A really hard struggle at times. I hate to admit that I acted so childish, but my heart in sharing all of this with you is to be real and honest. That's why we are sharing our numbers (very personal and not at all normal in today's culture), and that's why I'm sharing my struggles with you today.
In the beginning, I was the most motivated gazelle you've ever seen. I was ready to conquer. In the name of our marriage, I would sit through the budget meetings and learn, I would communicate, and by golly I would stick to the budget.
And then I would see a cute dress at Target, and I wouldn't have the money.
And then a friend would ask me to lunch, and $20 later I would be so frustrated that I agreed to go.
And then I would be standing in line at the grocery store, asking the clerk to please take back these groceries (and yes, un-scan them all while there is a person waiting behind me) because I miscalculated the money left in our envelope.
We did not have an "eating out" envelope.
We didn't have an "entertainment" envelope.
Will and I each had $40/month for our own spending money or "blow" money, which included everything from shopping to coffee shops to eating out.
Enter "Princess Nancy." My emotions, little by little, would build inside of me. And then, I would have a full-out cryfest / tantrum / meltdown every once in a while. (Poor Will.) I felt that if I stuck to the budget, I was entitled to some sort of reward. I felt that if I did the hard thing, if I said no to the dress or the vanilla latte, there would be some sort of instant pat on the back or gratification. And there was none.
My biggest battle was with "stuff." IE: materialism. Why I felt like I always had to have the latest style and outfit and accessory, I don't know; I guess it's our culture, but it's also a spiritual battle of contentment. I was stuck in a cycle of consumerism, and I loved to shop. There were months where I literally would not let myself go into stores (Target, Old Navy) because I would just get sad, looking at everything I could not by. (Newsflash, Nancy! Happiness cannot be bought!) It was the enemy trying to bring me down, stealing my contentment every chance he could.
It was so hard for me, especially having grown up with the ability to get what I wanted, when I wanted it. And now, for the first time in my life, I was learning to tell myself "no" on a regular basis. This required a complete shift in thinking, and I'll admit - even 4 years into budgeting and marriage, I would still break down occasionally. "Shouldn't I be reaping the rewards of this by now?!" Will was a patient and loving husband through all of my crazy shenanigans. Granted, he didn't struggle with this as I did (he would rather eat grass than go shopping), but he was a rock for me, bringing me back to the "why" of it all, not putting up with my princess fits. And as hard as it was, this experience has changed me from the inside out.
I sat on the couch last week, looked Will in the eyes and said, "Even if we lost everything we've worked so hard for right now, I wouldn't change our journey for the world. It has taught me so much."
The truth is - there is no tangible reward along the way, but there are incredibly valuable lessons learned in self-denial. There is sacrifice and self-discipline. There is the molding of your character (which in the long run is the greatest reward), and there is the satisfaction of knowing you are being a good steward. But the tangible reward that I longed for was a long-term reward. Living on less than you make is difficult on a daily and monthly basis, but you have to keep that long-term goal in the forefront of your mind.
And that, dear friends, is why I cried so hard when we screamed "We're debt free."
It was the moment we had sacrificed for, waited for, fought for. All of those material possessions I "could have had" didn't even compare to the beauty and wealth of that moment. There is nothing sweeter than linking arms with your husband, fighting for a common goal together, and finally seeing it come to pass.
All in all, this journey was a battle for my contentment. When my eyes focused on all that I already had - health, a loving husband, a roof over my head, food to eat, cars to drive, a great education, creative make-your-own-pizza date nights at home - I was content and so grateful. When my eyes focused on all that I didn't have - a new outfit, a big food budget, restaurants, and a social life - my contentment would be robbed.
1 Timothy 6:6 "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
This verse rings so true in my spirit today. There is no greater gain than the powerful combination of Godliness + contentment. And you know what the funny thing is? My relationship with "stuff" has changed completely. After years of telling myself no, I am happy to bypass things in stores without a thought. I don't need a restaurant to have a great time. I don't need a new outfit to look cute. (After all, Audrey says that happy girls are the prettiest girls.) I long for godliness and contentment, not the cycle of consumerism I was once caught in.
I promise, the reward is so much sweeter.