Monday, October 3, 2016

Messy Marriage Mondays: Freedom in Finances

Friends, today I welcome my dear friend Hannah Hussain to the blog. We've known each other for almost ten years now, and we have many sweet memories. We met in college but have some mutual friends back home in Marietta, too. Now, we get to journey into new seasons together. She's a former teacher, a new mama, and an awesome writer. Today, she's talking to you about finances. She and her husband are some of the wisest and most frugal people I know. You'll want to take notes, people!

{Tin Can Photography}

I am so grateful that my husband and I sought help in figuring out what financial decisions we should make very early in our marriage, and we have seen the benefit of those decisions over the past six years. The road to financial freedom is definitely full of ruts and pitfalls, and it requires exposing a lot of sin in our lives, but the benefits are so deep and pervasive for marital health.

Before I was married, I had very little understanding of the term “budget.” I was never good at mental math and the thought of sitting down and writing out all of my expenses just made me feel yucky. I grew up in a household where we were constantly penny-pinching and searching for bargains, so I assumed that if I just always bought things on clearance or the cheapest possible price, I would be fine. My method of “budgeting” in the years between home and college consisted of buying pretty much the same things every month and checking my bank account every once in a while to make sure it wasn’t getting too low. Those random checks were always scary, though, and I never really felt safe with my financial decisions. I was also nervous to ever be generous with others when it came to money because I, albeit selfishly, was always unsure that I had what I needed. I tithed sporadically but not regularly, not willing to put in the effort to set a routine in this area.

When my husband, Nick, and I married in 2010, we had some big dreams. We wanted to buy a house and have kids. We wanted to have two reliable cars. However, I was still in graduate school at the time, and Nick had just finished his first year teaching. We were living on Nick’s income since I wasn’t able to work while student teaching. We both had significant college loan debt from four years of undergraduate and two years of graduate school each. That fall, Nick’s faithful 1984 Dodge Daytona finally kicked the bucket. I had no guarantee of a teaching job after graduation because of a failing economy. It didn’t look like we would be realizing those dreams any time soon.

A family friend strongly recommended that we take Financial Peace University, a series of classes offered at a  local church. Financial Peace University is written by Dave Ramsey, and it consists of several videos, a workbook, and in-class discussions that help you create a zero-based budget and a plan for getting out of debt. The class also covers other financial topics such as how to buy insurance or get a mortgage. I wasn’t jumping for joy about attending the Sunday night sessions each week. Nick has always been the financial nerd of our family, and I am what Dave Ramsey calls a “free spirit”, aka the one who dreads talking about budgets. However, it was SO good for us to take this class together.

Instead of Nick telling me what to do with our finances, we were able to hear the counsel of someone wiser than both of us and decide which parts of his advice worked for our family, dreams, and goals. We decided together to begin using what Dave calls the “envelope system,” which is a cash-based budget. We were both a little too eager to whip out the debit card on any occasion, and we knew that relying on cash only would curb our impulse spending. We sat down together and created our budget based on Nick’s income. We budgeted for tithing first (Proverbs 3:9), set aside money to give away and save, and then figured out how we would cover the rest of our expenses. We started couponing like crazy, shopping sales, and eating more beans and less meat, and we were able to significantly reduce our grocery spending. We also decided to consult each other before making any purchase if at all possible in order to reinforce the idea that this was OUR money to use to honor God.

Those first few years of hardcore budgeting with the envelope system were especially tough for me. I almost cried the first time we went to the grocery store with our food envelope and had to return things from our cart once we got to the register because we didn’t have the cash budgeted to cover it. For a while, we shopped together and one of us would add up each item on our phone’s calculator to make sure we weren’t going over. We also had regular budget meetings, and one of our rules was that I would decide when to have them since I was the one who dreaded them. There were many times that Nick had to strongly hint that we needed to schedule one. We relied on Christmas and birthdays for a lot of our clothing and “toy” purchases. Instead of using the cash given to us at our wedding to buy more decorations for our home (which was my first impulse), we started an emergency fund and a savings account for a second car.

In the fall of 2011, I was in a car accident with our only car and it was totaled. Thankfully, since we had been saving for that second car, we were able to buy a used car with cash and avoid a car payment. That was the first time I realized the power of our budget-- with my previous habits, we would have been left high and dry having to buy a new car. And, as we adjusted to our new habits, it all became second nature. I could make purchases with the confidence that we could afford things instead of worrying about checking our bank account and finding no money.

We were also able to be more generous than I ever dreamed possible, and that did wonders for our hearts. When friends were called to the mission field, we were able to help sponsor them and know that we were an active part of their ministry. We could donate to children in need at our schools without worrying about where the money would come from.

When I finally started my first teaching job in the fall of 2012, we followed the advice of wise friends and family and continued to live off of Nick’s income alone. My first two years of teaching, all of my income went toward paying off our student loans, and we were debt-free by the summer of 2014! It was amazing to know that we had achieved one of the most difficult goals we had set for ourselves together. We then saved my income again to afford a down payment for a house so that our mortgage payment would be doable on Nick’s salary. We moved into our house in the spring of 2015, and in the fall of 2015 we found out that our daughter, Leah, would join our family the following spring. Because we were relying on Nick’s income only, I was able to stay home with Leah this fall.

You may think, “Why does God care what my husband and I do with our money? As long as we tithe and mostly pay our bills on time, everything should be fine!” Trust me, I was in that camp for a long time. I really didn’t understand how my financial decisions revealed the state of my heart. In Matthew, we read that Jesus said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21,ESV). Also, in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV). I was living as if my financial decisions didn’t matter to anyone but me, but in reality, they were reflecting on my God and my heart for him. When I made purchases without consideration, I wasn’t glorifying God. I was seeking my own gain. When my husband and I carefully, prayerfully considered our finances, we were able to use them in a way that honored God and allowed us to witness to others about His goodness.


Big disclaimer-- our dreams are not the dreams of all couples. We all have different priorities and plans, and when you pray over your finances, God will lead you to make the decisions that are right for your family. I am NOT saying that you should follow what we did or the choices we made, because each situation is sooo different. However, it is non-negotiable that you and your spouse should give your finances over to God and ask him what he wants you to do with the money he has given you. We have to ask ourselves this hard question every. single. day. “Do we want to purchase [insert random thing here] just because it will bring us gratification, or do we want to purchase it because it will bring God glory?” When we give our need for “stuff” to God daily, it clears out the clutter in our hearts and gives us space to really love our spouse and people who are in need in our communities.

2 comments:

  1. We are so proud of Team Hussain! They have helped us understand the value of simplifying our life and the beauty that it brings. Having always enjoyed being a giver, and watching the joy of someone receiving, it took us watching our children to see the things that matter do not cost money, but with God ever present and helping those in need, it has come back 10 fold. Not necessarily monetarily, but with the peace and satisfaction of knowing you helped someone, or just made a difference. God is good, he continues to provide - our cup runneth over.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, they have definitely been influential in the lives of many!

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