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.

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[…] 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 And, because I love to hear from you guys… Do you have a financial success […]

I’ve loved reading all these posts about financial freedom. God is at work in our lives and thankfully due to blessings from obedience we are going to be A LOT closer to being debt free because of our adoption tax credit (whenever the IRS get’s it’s act together that is!!) Anyway, reading your posts encourages me and it’s like I can feel your joy and honesty as I read your words. Thanks for sharing sweet girl. I do miss you. Love you. Praying for you as you invest in others at B & L this week.

I love Lisa S’s question!! :) I would like to know, too!

Nancy, I first heard of Dave and his system a few years ago and thought it sounded so easy and obvious that I may as well give it a shot. But the first time I went grocery shopping I did a poor job of adding up what was in the cart and had to put something back when I saw the final total. The cashier gave me this worried look and when I tried to explain the system, blushing and stammering from embarrassment, she just said, “I feel really bad for you.” I seriously almost DIED right there in the grocery store. And I admit that I gave up on the system. But reading through your story has been so inspiring and encouraging that my husband and I are going to give it another try. Thank you for your honesty and generosity in sharing all of this.

Love this post! I can totally relate to consumerism, you have really encouraged me to think about what really mattes. Paul and I are planning to sit down and work through a budget. We have lots of debt with his chiropractic education and a home, but I believe we can tackle it!

I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts on contentment. In fact, I think a spirit of contentment is the number one reason John and I have been fairly successful at saving and pursuing our financial goals. A sense of gratitude in all things and contentment with what you have makes all of this so much easier!

Nancy, I am really enjoying these finance posts (hint: keep writing them please!). And (goodness, this sounds horrible), but thank you for your honesty re: self deprivation hardship. When you’re being good with your pennies, it can be so easy to look around you and think “but everyone else has X, Y and Z, why shouldn’t I have it too!” But then I do remember “but I’m not in (bad) debt” (only my home – and thankfully that’s under control). It’s very reassuring to know I’m not the only one to have those moments.

When I think of many of my friends, I sometimes think that debt is easy(ish???) to hide – it’s not a flashing siren on top of your head! They appear to be living the high life, and so you think they have everything “stuff” related, and not a care in the financial world to boot too! I guess most of the time, the key word is “appear”.

I certainly agree with Lisa S – you always look so fashionable! (I follow your instagram too). Well done (and share tips!).

Once again, lovely posts (and a treat to have one a day!) x

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

THANK YOU FOR SHARING NANCY! Your honestly and love for God is such an inspiration. I told my husband about ya’lls achievement and he said theirs no way we don’t make that much and I said well i’m not saying we have to do exactly they way they did but HEY we can do it someway!! We are going to work on a budget in the very new future and start this process!! again thank you for sharing and getting us all motivated to be better Christ followers and leaders! xoxo Brittany

Inspring, Nancy. Your honesty is so appreciated because it’s reality. You and I grew up very much the same while Jonathan grew up very much like Will. And I have to admit that I am totally guilty of princess moments. I’m so proud of you, and I’m so grateful you are now sharing your story with all of us so we might learn.

Thanks so much for sharing this Nancy. During our marriage classes with our pastor, he had us make out a budget. I threw something together really quick just to get through our little “homework” and never thought about it again after the class was over. After reading your story, I realize how important it is! I immediately started looking up more about Dave’s system and downloaded his podcast, etc. Dustin and I now have a new goal once we’re married. :)

Here I was thinking you all just had it so easy this whole time. Constantly struggling in my business to feel like I can stand on my own two feet it my fault. If I can’t sacrifice today, then what will I except for tomorrow. Thank you SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO much for sharing all of this. I have purchased both books, and written down all 3 of our debts. This week my husband and I are sitting down with our numbers, all thanks to your inspiration and push. I can’t wait until we accomplish our goals together, but yet from your example, I now know I can : )
Thank you Nancy, for these 3 posts, and all of your posts!

Nancy- Thanks so much for your honesty 😉 My question to you is… you dress so cute and fashionable. How do you do that with such a small budget??? I don’t have to have name brand things, but clothes are expensive. Especially the trendy ones.

I know exactly what you mean about consumerism. When I first moved here, I loved malls and clothes (so much cheaper!). Ten years later, a mall is the last place I would want to be. I try and buy locally made apparel when needed, and this year am going to attempt to try and shop second hand/used. The things I did buy used last year I have worn so much! We aim to value experiences more than stuff – that’s an ongoing battle :)

But actually Nancy, what I wanted to say was, one of the things I first read on your website was your FAQ for photographers. In it, you talked about building your business with cash and that is advice I have followed this past year. Used camera body, two lenses (one really nice, one entry level) and one editing platform. I think about it all the time when I see nice gear and know that one day I will get there – but with my marriage and sanity and finances in tact :)

Wow, you are so inspiring. I have been slowly but surely trying to follow Dave’s system, but unfortunately, I use my credit cards for fall back occasionally. I am officially no longer doing that. Thank you for sharing your story, you have no idea how much I needed this.

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