Updated on 09.17.14

Making All The Right Moves, Yet Still Unhappy

Trent Hamm

After my recent article about personal finance and happiness, I received the following email from a reader named “Constance”:

I’ve always been pretty responsible with my money and lived a frugal life, especially over the last few years with my husband in school full-time. But what would you say to someone like me who doesn’t find joy when saving money, but rather, I feel like I can never save enough? Mone y is still a constant source of worry.

We only have about a month’s worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and it’s been hard to keep it up. We have a house to maintain, tuition, books, etc. When things like the brakes go, I tend to put it on the credit card because I’m afraid a real emergency will come and we’ll need the meager emergency fund.

I feel like we have cut back on everything possible – trying to get the most of our cars, no cable TV, very limited eating out, clipping coupons, shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals, walking instead of driving where possible, only getting each other token gifts at Christmas and birthdays — you get the idea.

Money is always on my mind, probably to the point of obsession and it’s frustrating to know we’re doing everything in our power and it’s not enough. I feel like we’re just barely keeping our heads above water. While I’ve tried keeping our credit card debt to a minimum, it still hovers around $1500 with the unforeseen expenses like new brakes.

Any advice or insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

First of all, it’s easy to tell by this story that the financial difficulty is a relatively short term thing. Your husband is in school right now full time, which means that rather than being an income provider, he is currently being an income drag in order to put himself in a position to earn much more later (or to at least be much more fulfilled at work). This situation will pass and in a few years, you’ll look back at right now and realize the sacrifices were worth it.

The problem is getting through the now, though, and here’s my advice.

Tips for Getting Through Tough Times

1. Be creative

For example, you mention “only getting each other token gifts at Christmas and birthdays.” If this weren’t important to you, I would suspect you would cut this out as well, but why not get each other a gift like a ten pack of CFLs? My wife and I have given each other similar gifts over the last year – it gives us a chance to open gifts, and we both understand the sentiment of both love (we’re in this boat together) and true utility behind it. Most people wouldn’t think of CFLs as a nice gift, but in your situation (and in our recently-escaped situation), gifts like these that truly speak to your situation and the boat you both share can be truly romantic.

2. Produce your own food

You mention having your own home – start a vegetable garden in the back. Even if you just grow three tomato plants (which are pretty easy to care for), you’ll have an absolute flood of tomatoes each year. Learn how to freeze whole tomatoes and also to make tomato sauce and you’ve just given yourself a pile of free food for the next year. It reduces the cost of making a delicious pasta dinner to a few cups of flour and a few eggs.

3. Treat your emergency fund like an actual emergency fund

The brakes going out on your car was an emergency – you should have tapped your fund for that, then focused on rebuilding the fund after the brakes were repaired. If you’re not spending an emergency fund out of fear of another emergency, it’s not actually being used as a tool, but as an emotional crutch. If you have more than a thousand in your emergency fund right now, use the excess to get rid of the credit card debt immediately and focus on paying it down instead of building more emergency fund. If you don’t do that, the debt will continue to weigh on you, both emotionally and financially.

4. Find ways to give yourself hope

One major undertone of what you wrote is a sense of hopelessness, that nothing’s ever going to get better than it is right now. Your mind should realize that it will, but that often doesn’t help the heart. For me, what worked was finding constant motivation in the form of my son. Every time I looked at him as he’s grown from a baby to a toddler, I’ve realized that the future holds a lot of possibility if I make good choices now, because his life is all about that future. Perhaps you can draw the same from what your husband is studying – apparently, he’s making a career shift right now, so he must be moving into something he’s more passionate about. Draw from that passion – use it to realize that you are making great choices every day that enables this career shift. If you need to visualize a goal, imagine his graduation or the job he will get after that.

Good luck.

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  1. ryan says:

    What exactly is a “CFL”?

  2. MJB says:

    I can relate. My wife and I had a great deal of credit card debt plus student debt when we got married. Over the last few years, we have been able to trim it down and currently have it all on 0% interest balance transfers. We are working on building up our emergency fund, but have a few low interest credit cards just in case.

    I too feel like it can sometimes be a constant struggle. Time is the only answer. Be patient and consistent. Your day will come when you can just live and not worry. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will come. Keep at it!

  3. Mary says:

    I have been where you are now, pink slips in the mail to shut off utilities, credit cards out of control, house needed major repair, car squeaking by (literally) and me working mid-nights so there was no public transportation available. I know your husband is going to school full time, this however does not mean he cannot work also, even a few hours at the college as a tutor or in the cafeteria would not only bring in a little money but lift your spirits as well. Go by the financial aid office and make sure he has applied for all available scholorships, loans are not the answer, been there done that too. During school breaks have him contact the temp employment agencies, work at the mall at Christmas, mow lawns during the summer. Used books work just as well as new ones, and besure to sell back the ones you won’t need later. Foodbanks, contact the utilities and see if there is financial help available, check to see what his “extra fee’s” cover, my husbands not only covered the use of the gym, but a nurse that had samples of cold medicines etc, movie night and other entertainment. I understand your sense of hopelessness, this could also be a sign of depression and you should find someone to talk to. I wish you and your husband all the best, as Trent said “this to shall pass”.

  4. Monica says:

    Good comments. I would like to add a few more though.

    1) Is there any way to earn more money? Either you or your husband? I worked part-time when I was a full-time student. This may depend on the program though. Even earning an extra 100$ might make a difference to you.

    2) Trent is right that this is a temporary situation and that it itself should give you hope. Sometimes when you know intellectually that things aren’t so bad and that there IS hope, the reason that you only feel despair and hopelessness is depression. I am not saying that you are depressed, just that maybe you could look into that. I have been depressed & I cannot express how much better life seemed once I had been treated for it.

    3) Make sure you are finding ways to have fun! Is life all saving money and cutting corners? Don’t forget to do fun things, they don’t have to cost much. Go for bike rides, go walking along the beach, bake cupcakes and decorate them with cute designs, have friends over for a potluck, borrow DVDs from the library (maybe you could do a theme, like French movies or film noir or something… it could be fun to learn about a particular genre), go to free activities held at your husband’s school (my local universities have free lectures, recitals, etc.), go “mystery worshipping” on Sunday morning (even if you’re not religious — wouldn’t it be neat to learn about other people’s religions? you could try a new place of worship once a month, including unusual ones like Quaker or Greek Orthodox), play board games (invite other people over and make a party of it if you like), borrow a bird book from the library and go to nature spots and try to identify as many birds as you can, start a new low-cost hobby (such as drawing — all you need is paper and pencils)…

    4) Sometimes when I feel deprived I like to think of other people in the past, like during the Depression or during World War II. The mentality was different: “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. During World War II, especially in England, people could not buy the food they wanted even if they could afford it, they could not drive places much even if they owned a car, they started gardens to “dig for victory”, they made clothes out of curtains, whatever. They did this because they thought they were doing their bit to help the war. You can do these things, not because of a war, but because of another cause that is important to you: your financial wellbeing (you may have specific goals which you can keep in mind, like buying a house or starting a family or retiring at a certain age).

  5. Amber Yount says:

    Wow. I know exactly how that woman feels. Except I have $26,000 in credit card debt (thanks to our business truck breaking down) and I don’t graduate until next spring, so my job offerings are limited. Me and my husband sit at home all day watching tv because we dont want to waste gas…or even leave the house in fear of spending $$. I feel like we’re moving along in the pace of a turtle :(

  6. Tony says:

    What is a CFL?

  7. With one person in school, it will always be extremely difficult to save money. But, coming out debt free will put you waaaay ahead of most people. When I was in college, my wife worked and we were barely breaking even. But, when I started working again, all my income was bonus. Since we were living on her income, we could save a ton right off the bat.

    For us, it was better for her to stay home with kids than to continue working.

    For now, you should be exited to be able to tread water.

  8. nightingale says:

    I know exactly what she’s saying. I don’t have a dime to spare, literally, and it does feel so hopeless. My emergency fund totals $120 and it’s taken me over 4 months to save that. I suspect next month when my student loan repayments kick in that emergency fund will be the first thing to go, too.

    In fact I think next month going into repayment terrifies me more than anything else I can think of, since I’m already struggling to hold it together and I’m going to have another thousand dollar bill a month with nothing to pay it with.

    Be glad you are at least succeeding as much as you are and that you have a few options.

  9. Lurker says:

    I also know exactly how she feels, since we are in the exact same situation but we rent and do not own a home. I have moments of doubt and hopelessness, and my best remedies are distraction in the form of doing things we enjoy (that don’t require lots of $) like cooking, watching movies, being outdoors, playing with our dog, etc., and imagining together what our future will look like. It also really helps me to feel in control of our finances by tracking every expense in excel and having very specific budgeting and savings plans in place. But we also try to stay flexible, forgive ourselves when we mess up, and we allow as much room as possible in our budget for our shared love of travel. If that means just one short day trip a month, it’s ok, as long as we allow it for ourselves – it gives us something to look forward to in the short term, since it can be hard to look forward to the LONG term! Honestly I also get a big kick out of signing up for free samples online and getting them in the mail!!

  10. hibryd says:

    I’ve been there. At the tail end of my school I had a job that paid for crap, classes during the week that messed up my work schedule, and my finances were so tight that anything could go wrong – car repair, school expenses, Christmas presents to buy – and my “surplus” money for the month was gone. I had a bus pass, ate homemade soup every night for dinner, and hardly ever went out with friends. I was living as cheaply as I could and was barely keeping my head above water. I knew it would get better later, but that’s little comfort when you fall alseep cunching your financial numbers, yet again, and it doesn’t look any brighter.

    What helped me – a lot – were getting second seasonal jobs. I worked at a book store during the Christmas season (the employee discount and first dibs on sale merchandise helped for buying gifts) and in the group sales department of an amusement park during the summer (again, I got free passes I could give away). Second jobs can be a painful drain on your mind and body, but they’re easy to get through when you know, on some level, that it’s temporary and you’ll go back to having free weekends eventually.

    Trust me, you’re doing everything right and you’ll get to the end of the tunnel eventually. And let me tell you, as someone who made it and got her students loans paid off a year ago, it was all worth it.

  11. j dawg says:

    What I am reading is you are scared. That all your efforts are not adding up to enough. What will remedy that is to increase your income some how. What I would suggest is a part time job for one of you. If you worked 24 hours a week you would make around an extra $140/week. You could easily take $100 and put towards your debt so in 4 months you are debt free. Take the extra $40 a week and that will give you some money to make it feel like you are coming out ahead and can enjoy a meal or Latte.

  12. Mike says:

    CFL= Compact Flourescent Light
    Constance–I recommend you lean on your friends: not financially, but for moral support. I second the idea of having people over for board games and potluck. Having friends and fun is much more rewarding than money. In addition to a previous poster’s suggestion for low cost entertainment, how about a garage sale? I’ve always found them entertaining; people will buy just about ANYTHING! Get your friends and neighbors together for a big one; it will draw more traffic. Check on Craig’s list: you can sometimes find stuff that people are giving away, then turn around and sell it yourself. Good luck.

  13. Amber Yount says:

    Oh I forgot to mention. Whats worse than us being $26,000 in CC debt? A 26 year old husband who acts like a baby and REFUSES to get on board with our money makeover and to get out of debt, instead he wants to spend money on whatever he wants when he wants it. And when i ask for us to talk about it he starts calling me names and getting upset and loud and telling me to pack my things, but all i want to do is make sure we’re making the right financial decisions! Which is why i’m trying to sign up for marriage counseling…i cant take this pressure anymore T_T

  14. I can relate to Constance. Only we have 25K in credit card debt and over 130K in student loans. I’d be thrilled with just $1500 in credit card debt…but I suppose it’s all about perspective, eh?

    I’ve been working as the main breadwinner for over 5 years (my husband was a four year program but it takes a long time to build a private practice). Now that we’ve started to really focus on tackling our debt I find that the work it takes borders on obsessive and it feels like its taking forever. Sometimes the obsessive penny pinching can be fun but other times it can be very depressing and oppressive. That said, I try to look at what a HUGE investment we’ve made in ourselves. We waited a LONG time before deciding to have my husband go back to school. Taking on this debt was a big deal as we had previously been debt free (and debt adverse). At times I wish that we had managed this period in our lives with more care (not racked up the bad credit card debt). But we didn’t and I’m not going to dewll on that. I know it’s worth going into good debt if it means having my husband in a field of work he LOVES. Trent is right trying to focus on “this will pass.” I had a wise boss once say to me “Every job has its expiration date you just don’t know what it is when you take a job — could be 3 days or 30 years.” I guess the point is that its hard not knowing when the debt will be completely out of the way but in the meantime sounds like you’re doing everything you can to knock it down. I also know it’s really hard when those unexpected bills come up…just when you think you’re making progress. The other readers suggestions of second jobs or freelance or part-time work sound like good ones.

  15. Amy says:

    It’s worth researching if it’s possible to take out (or increase the size of) your student loan. You’ll get much better terms than you will on a credit card, dealing with your outstanding balance could help keep you from feeling so constantly behind.

    The worst thing you can do is let your lack of money keep you from doing things you enjoy. Make an effort to get out of the house to do cheap or free things, even if they don’t seem that promising. You’ll feel so much better if you’re too busy doing things with other people to obsess over your money situation.

  16. r says:

    One thing that tends to help me is to lay out a plan for how things are going to improve over time, with limited short term goals.

    For example, if you expect your husband’s income to go up in a few years, you can build that in so that you “expect” do do nothing except stay out of further debt right now, and then have your savings rate increase in 5 years.

    Then, month by month I can look at how I’m doing compared to the benchmarks I’ve laid out (which may well be “not be any further in debt than I was last month”), instead of compared to the endpoint of my long term goals – but I get the emotional satisfaction of knowing that I’m on a track that will get me there eventually.

    I know it doesn’t seem very different – it’s just a stupid little psychological trick. But for me, it can make all the difference – whether it’s saving money, losing weight, or meeting a long term work deadline that seems overwhelming.

  17. Constance says:

    Thank you all for the great suggestions and giving me some added perspective. The one thing I didn’t mention is that I live in a very old house and a few very big things could go any day now. We’ve been told the furnace is 40 years old and that’s about the lifetime. We already have a cracked sewage pipe and we were told that someday soon we’ll have to replace the entire sewage line. And I think we have mold growing in our wall from a leak. So that’s why I’m saving for the “true emergency.” I’m looking into starting something on the side. My husband is working some now, but he has problems getting flexible hours with his school schedule. And next year he’s starting a physical therapy program and they don’t recommend that you work. So yes, it’s a little scary. But we have a lot more than most, and for that I am grateful.

    To Mike: Ironically, we just had a community yard sale and potluck dinner a couple of weeks ago. It was a lot of fun and we made a few dollars to boot!

    To Lurker: Where do you go to get free samples online? Do they sell your name?

    To All: Thanks again for the uplifting messages and all the best to you as well.

  18. I would recommend that this woman get support in a group such as Debtors Anonymous. Some people, believe it or not, are powerless over their thoughts and feelings about money. Support from others helps that tremendously.


    Good Luck
    Debting Thomas

  19. Lisa says:

    Read “Your Money or Life”, “The Tightwad Gazette” and “The Secret”. All three say basically the same thing in this situation. Your approach is everything. Its okay to get frustrated at times. But, you are not a hampster on a wheel. You and your DH have identified a vision, the goals, and the day-to-day actions to make this happen. Write it down, check each milestone as you pass them. Now, you need the right attitude to go with it. The real “Secret” is vision, action, faith. That said is this your vision or your DH. Be sure while you are helping him achieve his that you are achieving yours. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes not. Time to ask yourself why you are focused on scarcity and not abundance/achievement. Best wishes!

  20. MVP says:

    I’d just add that no matter what, you need to hold onto your husband. These hopeless feelings that usually surround money problems often push couples apart. That’s when you need to hold each other closer. Hug and kiss and (well, you know…) with him a lot and I guarantee things won’t look so bad. Remember, for better or worse, you’re in it together and that’s how you’ll get through it.

    Also, a part-time job for one or both of you likely would help in the short-term. There are all sorts of options, from waiting tables to delivering pizzas. I’m scared to see that your husband is starting a new school program next year. Any way he can put that off another couple of years so you guys can get some traction on these house repairs? I’d seriously consider that, or selling the house and getting something more affordable and reliable. You simply can’t have it all.

    I’d second the advice to have fun. It’s easy to have a low- or no-cost date night (or day) with your husband. Board games, hikes, picnics and cooking a meal together all are ways to let go of your worries and have fun together for a little while.

  21. plonkee says:

    P’raps you could look into mystery shopping. Sometimes its unpaid, other times they pay you, but you get expenses. That way you’d (technically they) be able to treat yourselves and that might make you feel better. Its also really flexible.

    I struggle with money and security issues as well – even though I’m not in your position at all. If you can get subsidised student loans if (and only if) it gives you peace of mind, it might be worth taking some on, so you have extra emergency cash to hand.

  22. Rob in Madrid says:

    It’s unfortunate that our society glorifies instant wealth. It’s normal for a young family to struggle. Your situation is not unusual. I remember my Sister in Law complaining how difficult the early years were, having young children barely being able to get into the housing market and then only by buying a fixer upper that then not having enough money to make the needed repairs. It took them years to get all the work done. Eventually they sold it for a nice profit and moved to a better part of town. Even for my wife and I, when she graduated from college trying to squeeze enough money out of the budget to find clothing for her was very tough. Every penny counted. That’s life, with time it will change.

    Much more important is not to fall into the trap of “if I could only earn more money all my problems would be solved”. Living cheaply is not the same as living frugally. Fast forward 30 years and said sister in law just hit the financial wall. Came very close to losing their house after their 5 trip of a lifetime to Europe drained the bank account and they ran into serious cash flow problems. It was only her working (he’s salaried)70 hours weeks to get in as much cash as fast as possible that they avoid a serious meltdown.

    I recently fell into a deep funk when we got an unexpected bill that wiped out our account along with several letters complaining about missed payments on our many cards. I realized that since moving to Europe 8 years ago my wife has earned almost a million dollars Canadian) and we had nothing to show for it. That really upset me! Earning more money will not change a thing unless you learn to live frugally. Trust me!

    Thank god I ran into Trents blog (amongst others) reading his story made me feel alot better. I wasn’t the only one who lived beyond their means. Also I found that by living frugally we not only can enjoy all the best Europe has to offer but we can save money as well. For the first time ever we are on track to save up money for our annual trip home to visit family. We’ve never done that before, always on Credit Cards. It’s a great feeling to see money in the bank. Yes my wife earns alot more money than you do at the moment (and we don’t have kids to deal with either) but didn’t make a difference. Learn to live frugal and you’ll find in the coming years that your situation will change dramatically. Simply living cheap won’t change anything. Trust me I know from experience.

    Trent here’s a good question for you. Why if debt (payments) forces us into instant frugality does nothing change. You go to living on 120% of your income to 50% after all the payments are factored in?

  23. Rob in Madrid says:

    trent can you remove the above comment I edited it for clarity thanks

    It’s unfortunate that our society glorifies instant wealth. It’s quiute normal for a young family to struggle and your situation is not unusual. I remember my Sister in Law complaining how difficult the early years were, having young children to feed and clothe and barely being able to get into the housing market and then only by buying a fixer upper that they couldn’t afford to fix up.

    Even for my wife and I, when she graduated from college trying to squeeze enough money out of the budget to find clothing for her was very tough. Every penny counted. That’s life, with time it will change.

    Much more important is not to fall into the trap of “if I could only earn more money all my problems would be solved”. Living cheaply is not the same as living frugally. Fast forward 30 years and said sister in law having just returned from her 5th trip of a life time ran into serious cash flow problems as the trip had drained her account far more than she realized. It was a tight call for her and Jon. It was only by her (he’s salaried)70 hours weeks to get in as much cash as fast as possible that they avoided a serious meltdown.

    I recently fell into a deep funk when I got an unexpected bill that wiped out our account along with several letters complaining about missed payments on our many cards. At the sametime I realized that since moving to Europe 8 years ago my wife has earned almost a million dollars Canadian and we had almost nothing to show for it. That really upset me! Earning more money will not change a thing unless you learn to live frugally. Trust me!

    Thank god I ran into Trents blog (amongst others) reading his story made me feel alot better. I wasn’t the only one who lived beyond their means. It also gave me alot of encouragement to make the needed changes. Now by living frugally we not only we not only can enjoy all the best Europe has to offer but we can save money as well. For the first time ever we are on track to save up money for our annual trip home to visit family. We’ve never done that before, it’s always been done on Credit Cards. It’s a great feeling to see money in the bank. Yes my wife earns alot more money than you do at the moment (and we don’t have kids to deal with either) but it didn’t make a difference for us and it won’t for you. Learn to live frugal and you’ll find in the coming years that your situation will change dramatically. Simply living cheap won’t change anything. Trust me I know from experience.

    Trent here’s a good question for you. Why if debt (payments) forces us into instant frugality does nothing change. You go to living on 120% of your income to 50% after all the payments are factored in?

  24. Mary says:

    Freebie websites:
    My Fav: http://WWW.BigBigSavings.com go to Forums
    next http://www.fatwallet.com
    Freebies are not a constant, sometimes there are lots out there, then a dry spell, but I check the site everyday, I also recomend before you sign up for anything you get yourself a junk e-mail addy and use it or you will clog your regular e-mail with spam. There is also a contest part of the site, when I had more time, I was entering contests like crazy and won all sorts of things, many became gifts. There is also a for sale or trade, for this you need to register or it won’t show up. Wal-mart has free samples: http://walmart.triaddigital.com/Free-Samples.aspx
    The samples change almost daily.
    Have at it.

  25. Steve says:

    Sorry, my approach is not really totally financial. But I have been (and I am) where you are. I second Trent and everybody who has said that this is temporary. Live a day at at time and before you know it, your husband will be out of school and he will get a job and then a good job and this worry will be a thing of the past.
    I fight my doubts by telling myself that things will be better. They always become better regardless of how long it takes.
    I count my blessings. I actually write them down. This helps me to see that it is not all bad.
    You have done your best, and that is all you can do. Take comfort in that.
    Saving takes time, especially if you are not making much. What’s great is that you are doing it. In due time, it is going to get where you want it. Slowly but surely.
    I look at it not incurring debt as saving even if it means dipping into my small savings. I draw a graph… of debt plus interest saved vs. savings used up. It makes me feel good to see that my past saving efforts have prevented me from paying interest to somebody, and then I start again.
    Good luck!

  26. Carl says:

    As you can see you are not alone. I am retired and have a lot of debt still. One thing that I have done is this. I hope people don’t think I am tooting my own horn, but it is working for me. I write content at this site below.


    They are begging for writers. I then take the money they pay me from my paypal account and invest in small stocks where I can get a lot of shares at a cheap price. I don’t go after the biggies like Google or Apple but, smaller ones. I also try to put money in a savings account like Vanguard. I forget they are there because this is extra money I raised on the side. Then I forget about it. Not really, I check on it from time to time. But, if my stock falls, I don’t lose any sleep, because that is how the market works. I will not reccommend you do this but, it does work for me. Maybe the savings account is your best bet. Anyway Good Luck. You are not alone.

  27. Rachel says:

    Constance, I hope you come back and read this because it has not been mentioned in any of the comments ahead of me. We have to realize that all we have belongs to God, and He is in control of it all. I truly believe He expects us to be frugal, but more than anything He expects us to rely totally on Him, so much so that He asks for a tithe or 10% of our income. This is something my husband and I do each payday, plus contributions to our church’s building fund. I would imagine that to most people reading this board, 10% sounds like a lot. and it really is. But I do not pay a bill or buy a morsel of food until that 10% is tucked into its envelope. When that happens I am saying to God ” I trust you to handle this situation more than I trust myself, I am giving it to you.” We have never gone a day without plenty to eat, we have no credit card debt, we pay extra on our mortgage each month, we do manange to save some as well. Our youngest child has had health problems his whole life, and I also have a few, so I have not always worked, and I know what it is when that emergency fund is low. Once I needed to buy a new washer, there was $500 in the fund and the washer was $400. My absolute faith in God caused me to spend that $400, leaving $100. No other major catastrophes occured and the fund was built up again. We once considered moving to another state and my husband went there to work while I sold the house and stayed here with the kids. I was at the worst point of my medical problems and not working. my husband decided he did not want to make the move and he returned to Florida and took a lower paying job at a company owned by a friend of his. We had $100 in the bank. I took a part time job as well. Four months later our savings had grown from $100 to $10,000!! How? Checks began to flow in from sources we never dreamed of for one thing. mostly from the short time my husband spent in Missourri working. He was making less at his job now, and I only had a part time job, but God blessed us at a time that we needed to be blessed. Of course we always gave God the tithe!I would suggest that you go to http://www.crown.org, or look at your library for books by Larry Burkett, Howard Dayton, or Elle McKay. These are Christian financial authors who can help you see what happens when your finances are handled in the way God intended. God bless you Constance!

  28. SwingCheese says:

    Constance, I understand exactly where you are. My husband is working over the summer, but cannot work during the school year b/c of the commute time and his course load. To top it off, he has two years of university work left before he starts his physical therapy program, which, as you already noted, means “no working”, and requires going straight through the summer, too. I’m a teacher working off about $80K in student loans (mainly from grad school). It does seem hopeless sometimes, yet I take comfort in a few items: 1. My husband will be graduating with FAR less student loan debt than I. 2. When he graduates, our income is going to shoot through the roof, allowing us to really pick up on our savings, investments, wipe out our credit card debt, and make double payments on my student loans (since we’re used to living on my salary). 3. My husband and I spend a lot of time together talking about everything. We don’t have the option of zoning out on constant stimuli. As a result, we spend far more time interacting, and I believe that our relationship is stronger for it. (And, as someone else noted above, we spend a good deal of time talking about our life to come, which creates the feeling of workng towards a common goal, as opposed to slogging away with nothing to show.)

    I don’t kave a lot of advice, but keep your chin up, and take your joy where you can find it, even if it is something as simple as a cup of coffee that your husband made for you :)

  29. Trisha says:

    Dear Constance,
    I have been where you are and know how it feels. For the first 4 years after we were married, I was the primary provider while my husband went through school, and during that time he was only able to work odd jobs part-time. I found the stress of being the financial provider on a social worker’s salary to be quit burdensome and the real work for me was to see the situation with eyes of faith, faith in God yes, to know that He and not I was the real provider, but also just as much I had to have faith in my husband. It was hard never having seen him in the role of provider with a steady job to believe that he at heart, in the very essense of his character, was in fact a provider I could trust in and lean on. Some days I did better than others in seeing his and our potential–this as much as pinching those pennies was the daily work before me. I tried to focus on the fact that when done with this season I wanted to look back with pride with how I handled the situation and not look back and see someone who was a constant worrywart who struggled to have a good attitude towards her husband because of the many sacrifices we were making. Let me tell you, it pays off. Even though I didn’t do quite as well as I would have liked, our marriage I believe is stronger for those earlier challenges we faced and we learned some important lessons through them. I earned from my husband a great deal of appreciation and respect during that time, and he always will know that it was we and not just he that got him through school together. After he got out of school we gradually made the switch from me being the main income producer (I had towards the end of that time gotten a better paying job as a state employee and manager) to me working only part-time after the first baby, to now I work only sporadically out of home and we are expecting our third baby. My husband has proven to be a great provider getting many promotions in the 5 years since then. We still struggle with a tight budget with me being a stay-at-home mom, but we have learned to approach each new challenge and sacrifice with faith in each other and faith in God and probably what’s just as important is contentment. By the way, we too live in an old house that we just bought as a fixer upper to have more space (it was the best we could afford) and in the first week we had to replace our sewer and water lines (a surprise $2000 repair) and had numerous car emergencies which ate into our home remodel funds. So we are at the time living in Florida with only 2 window A/C units and (I’m 7 months pregnant) because we cannot afford at present the very expensive job of installing central heat and air without going into debt to do it. I guess life just keeps afording many opportunites to learn patience, contentment, and trust. I hope some side jobs will help us to afford this soon. Ways we try to have fun in the midst of financially tight times are going camping as an inexpensive getaway and we have done picnics with inexpensive wine, crackers and cheese, or the movies from the library and a pick up pizza for good family time. Getting out of town occassionally was the best way for us to escape the mindset of being trapped in the present and focus on our dreams, hopes and plans for the future. You will make it, I know you will, and you will be so proud of yourselves afterwards. God bless!


  30. nightingale says:

    You mentioned taking out money on a student loan. I STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. I cannot say it enough. You will not get better rates than a credit card unless you have federal loans, and that is usually not possible for spare cash. Most people are unaware that in the last three years private student loan interest rates have risen to as high as 20%, which in many cases is higher than your Visa or Master Card. Also, while you may be able to get lower rates, student loans do not go away in the event that you go bankrupt, unlike credit card debt. I know people who have taken their student loans, paid for them with as many credit cards as possible, and then gone bankrupt to get out of debt…. it’s a drastic measure but it shows you that student loans tend to be much more resistant than credit cards.

  31. Amy K. says:

    In addition to the free sample sites that Mary listed, I also check back at Proctor and Gamble:

    and Colgate Palmolive:

    for free samples.

    As for taking on larger student loans: I know I was not taking on the full federal loan amount available to me, in an effort to have very minimal debt when I graduated. And it was tight. Maybe it would make more sense to you to have more breathing room now, and take on subsidized federal loans. There’s no interest while in school, and you (your husband) has 6 months after school ends before repayment begins. As nightingale said above, private loans are not as good of a deal, but subsidized federal loans (if you’re not already taking the full offered amount) are at a lower interest rate and might be a good tool.

  32. Amy K. says:


    I’ve been thinking about your furnace and sewage pipe overnight. If I were you, I know that would be gnawing away at the back of my mind and causing me stress. Heck, I’m not you and it was gnawing at the back of my mind.

    Here’s a few thoughts I came up with
    *Can you get a Home Equity line of Credit, to fall back on for home repairs if/when the need become urgent? It seems like a better choice than the credit card (tax deductible interest, etc.) if you need to get a new furnace or pipes in a hurry.

    *What about a home equity loan, and buying the furnace before you need it, so you can get it on sale (hopefully!) and take advantage of tax credits on a high efficiency one (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=Products.pr_tax_credits#chart)
    My thought here is that over the long term you’ll pay less if it’s not an emergency, you can take advantage of tax breaks before they expire next year, and you can take advantage of slow-season discounts.

    I know these are both thoughts about taking on more debt, but for me the peace of mind and reduced stress level of knowing that I have a parachute (the HELOC) or everything is taken care of (loan and repairs now) would make me breathe a lot easier.

    Even pricing furnaces and pipe repairs would set my mind at ease, knowing the enemy (in this case the estimated price of repairs) and planning my attack is better than my nebulous fears of the unknown.

  33. Amy K. says:

    And back to free samples (then I swear I’ll stay quiet!) Walgreens freqently has free items after rebates, and they give you an extra 10% back if you get the $$ back on a Walgreens gift card:


    The selection changes once a month. Brooks Pharmacy has a similar program they call Freebates, but the offers frequently run one week only.

    Here’s how I did at my first Walgreens rebate trip:

  34. RWG says:

    This is a very old post but I feel I must reply. In reading Constance’s post, I sense that your problem, like mine, is more spiritual than financial. You know the mechanical tools, now try some spiritual tools. One very helpful spiritual tool I use each morning is that I thank God each day for all the gifts I am surrounded by that he has given me to use to help others. Example: I have an old house with a leaky roof, but it still keeps me dry and gives me shelter. I have never yet missed a meal. I have gotten to the point where I can make a tastier and healthier meal for a few dollars than I can eat out for three or four times as much. I can still keep my house clean and neat (I am terrible at that also). Every time I get ANY money I thank God for it, even when I am vacuuming and find a coin. It is money I did not have before. I have clothing and I also have electricity. I also take time to write out a gratitude list every so often, and also an “abundance” list–what are those experiences that make me feel abundant? i.e. taking a hot nighttime shower and going to bed early to read. Not waiting until I am out of toilet paper before buying more. Simple things.

    I am fortunate to have the chance several times per year to volunteer at a shelter for homeless people, and to sit with them and actually talk to them. I have learned that homeless people are not a separate species of creation. They are people just like me who at this point in their lives do not have anywhere to live. Many, like me, come from middle class backgrounds and went to college. I Have learned from them to be grateful for each thing I have today. Not in a “thank god I’m not them” kind of way, but truly they feel safety in the shelter that they didn’t have the week before, and that I have each day but take for granted.

    As for mechanical tools that I have used, here are three that I must adhere to for my serenity and sanity:

    1) I write down every single expenditure at the time it occurs in a notebook. Even if I don’t add up the money it makes a difference in my behavior. Including things like: 25 cents in the parking meter.

    2) I never use credit cards. I was forced to stop doing this some time ago and it has changed my life. I didn’t think this practice applied to me at the time but I was wrong.

    3) I looked really hard at the things that I insisted were/are necessities. I “need” to go visit my sister 3 hours away to see her 4 year old daughter. Well, maybe not this week or month. This is going to sound bad, but–is it really necessary for your husband to be in school full time? What is the big shame of taking one class per semester and getting a part time job?

    Right now I am looking hard at whether I should sell my house. The reality is my mortgage payment is less than most rent payments in this market and I have three pets. I have come to understand that i have CHOSEN, and continue EACH DAY TO CHOOSE, to keep my pets and therefore keep this house. I am not being FORCED INTO THIS. It is my choice. I could give them to a relative and move but I DO NOT WANT TO DO THAT. CHOICE. IT is FREEING.


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