Money at 30: How 4 Big Life Events This Decade Helped Shape My Money Outlook
As I write this, 2019 has mere hours of life left in it. What’s even crazier is that, as the ball drops, we’ll also be welcoming a new decade (save your technicalities — culturally, decades start in years that end in “0”). This got me thinking about just how much my life has changed during the 2010s. Moveover it seems that a lot of these big events had something to teach me about money and finances.
So, in the spirit of reflection that New Year’s Eve brings, here are four major life events I experienced in the past decade that have helped shape my financial worldview:
Being unemployed (and then barely employed)
When the decade started, I was working as a senior manager at a movie theatre in a salaried position. This meant I was making more than $40,000 a year. Yet, oddly, it seemed like I was constantly short on funds. I’m sure my proximity to Disneyland had something to do with that but I seriously can’t tell you where the rest of that money went.
Then, in August of 2010, I decided I’d had enough of my theatre gig and decided to quit. If you’re wondering whether I had another job lined up at the time, I did not. In fact I didn’t really have much of a plan at all. Thus I spent the next few months living off of the partial 401(k) distribution I took out early (stupid idea) and, curiously, spent even more time at Disneyland.
However, after that initial celebration of freedom, a funny thing happened: I actually started to get a better hold on my money. As my cash supply dwindled, suddenly I not only found ways to make money but also how to save it. This trend continued as I found a “career” as a background actor, working sporadically for $64 a day. Despite making so little, the overdrafts and late payments were a thing of the past. Sure enough, learning to live with less was perhaps the greatest money lesson for me and has served me well throughout this decade.
From that point in 2010, I never expected that, just a few years later, I would be married. But, in October 2013, that’s exactly what happened. Of course our wedding wasn’t quite what you might expect.
First of all, for all my talk about Disneyland, we didn’t have a “fairytale” (read: expensive) wedding in the parks — although we were technically wed in a castle. My wife and I tied the knot at the Excalibur hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada due in part to its affordability, all-inclusive nature, and proximity to my mother’s house. All in, the whole event cost us less than $2,000 including the rings.
In my mind, the story of our frugal wedding isn’t just about how we managed to save a few bucks on something that many other blow tens of thousands on. To me this shows how my wife and I were on the same page financially since day one and how neither saw the sense in starting our new lives in debt. I remain thankful for that and, as I look back at our special day, I wouldn’t change a thing.
As I mentioned, it was pretty clear that my wife and I had similar ideas about money before we got together. Still that doesn’t mean we haven’t had to navigate some financial issues together or had to keep each other in check. For example, fairly early on in our marriage, we set a ground rule that we’d need to discuss any purchase over $50 with each other before making them. This wasn’t really in reaction to anything one of us had done at the time but, since this went into effect, there have been instances where we’ve talked about buying something and ultimately decided against it.
One area where we’ve both evolved some involves credit cards. Funny enough, when we first got together, I didn’t have any credit cards to my name while she had just one. Then, as I started writing about personal finance, I decided we might benefit from trying some other cards that might allow us to earn more rewards. I won’t lie — it took a bit of convincing for my wife to get on board with this idea but now it’s become a part of our money strategy.
Through these examples and many others, one thing has been abundantly clear to me: the key to finding financial success in marriage is communication. Yes I know I’m not breaking any new ground here but it’s true. By talking openly and honestly about money as well as about our short and long term goals, we’ve been able to manage our finances more effectively overall.
It’s amazing to me that this month marks five years since my wife and I decided to move to Springfield, Missouri. This decision actually came out over the week of Christmas 2014 when we took advantage of my wife’s break from work to drive from California to Missouri to check out the town and, as it turns out, put a deposit down on an apartment. One month later, we packed up our stuff in a U-Haul (graciously driven by my father in law who volunteered to help us) and headed east. In doing so, we cut our cost of living tremendously — including paying just $625 for an apartment instead of $1,450.
Speaking of rent, after nearly five years, we just weathered our first price hike last month. Now instead of paying $625 for our two-bedroom apartment plus water, cable, and Internet, we’re paying… $640. That’s right, miraculously we’ve only added $15 to our rent after all this time. Truth be told, my wife and I are kind of itching to move to a nearby complex with some nicer upgrades and features, but it’s proving difficult to pry ourselves away from the deal we have now.
In any case, our move to Springfield has meant great things for us. Not only has the dramatic decrease in rent allowed us to build a proper emergency fund — something we were 100% lacking in L.A. — but it’s also enabled us to travel. And, since we’re not completely immune to splurging, we were recently able to buy a used car from a vending machine without feeling the pinch in our pocketbooks (do people use pocketbooks still?). Therefore I’m still so glad to have discovered Springfield and remain proud that my wife and I were gutsy enough to make the move.
Needless to say, the 2010s were an impactful decade for me. While I started it off alone and without a plan, I end it beside my wife and with plenty of promise ahead. With that, there’s nothing left to say but Happy New Year — and here’s to a great new decade.