Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Things You May not Know about Me

You may not know this about me- but over the past few years, I have become a tightwad. Yes, I am a plastic-bag washing, thrift-store shopping, aluminum-foil-hoarding, toilet-paper-roll-crushing cheapskate.

I wasn’t always this way. Sure, I always had saving tendencies. I enjoyed saving money as a child, and was raised in a family where, though we always had plenty to eat, money was tight.

My father was a Southern Baptist minister and my mother stayed at home for most of my childhood. With three children, this put us at the poverty level for most of my childhood. But we didn’t need new clothes, lots of toys, or nice cars- we had a mom who stayed at home, and that mattered much more than anything money could buy.

Once we were old enough to go to high school, my mother started working full time and we almost forgot that there was time when we couldn’t buy new clothes or have a nice car. Through a combination of student loans, parent loans, scholarships, and working, I went to a private Christian college. Though most of the money I earned at my part-time job was spent on tuition or school-books, I received enough gifts at Christmas and birthdays to take care of my needs.

When I got married after college, I quickly got my teaching credential and began teaching high school. My husband had already been working as a Physical Therapist for a few years, so we found ourselves in the rare position of having two career-sized incomes and no children yet. Of course, we still had our massive student loan debt (he had also gone to a private Christian university, and I had spent some time studying abroad at Oxford), so some of our income went to paying off debt, but there was still plenty to play around with.

We went out to eat at least two or three times a month. I bought lots of pretty clothes and got a fancy new hairstyle. We spent a lot on expensive presents for other people, and took a few nice vacations, too. These were all out-of-pocket expenses, and we figured that as long as we weren’t charging it to a credit-card, we should pamper ourselves. After all, we told ourselves- we both worked full time. We deserved it.

Finally, after two and half years of marriage- everything changed. My husband and I had long talked about building our own home on his family’s property, “someday,” and that Christmas, he told me that the timing was right to get started. Granted, he and I had been talking about this for years…and nothing had ever happened about it before, so when he discussed it with me- I didn’t honestly think it would happen so soon. But, three months later, to my shock and chagrin, we had moved out of our comfortable rental home, sold or gave away most of our things in a yard sale and put the rest in storage. We moved into 1973 thirty-foot travel trailer in the front yard of my mother and father-in-law’s house…for an indefinite amount of time.

It would be an understatement to say that I was a little upset by this. I wanted to support my husband and his dreams. I wanted to own a nice home of our own and be able to stay home when we had children. But for heaven’s sakes- I was living in a trailer in my in-law’s yard! I felt like poor white trash. I believed that since I had been responsible and gone to college and worked full time at a challenging career, I shouldn’t have to do things like this. I was more than uncomfortable and inconvenienced…I was embarrassed, too.

After a few months of moping, I decided that it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and deal with my current situation. We had a sizeable amount left on our student loans, and a 2400 square foot house to save for. Plus, we needed to do it all in less than five years so I could start having babies at a reasonable age. I started trying to figure out how we could accomplish all of this with our current incomes. Our budget was simple: we tithed 10%, lived on 30%, saved 40% towards the house, and spent 20% on debt.

Even with two paychecks, I knew that living on 30% of our income was going to be difficult, and I was still feeling a little sorry for myself, but I was willing to do what it would take to meet our goals. I bought a copy of an amazing book called, The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn, and from the moment that I picked it up- I was sold on Tightwaddery.


Amy made it sound like Tightwaddery was a wonderful lifestyle choice- something that responsible, creative people such as myself could choose to do. Suddenly, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I felt proud. We were doing something that no one else I knew had ever attempted. I started thinking of my husband and me as brave frontier people, working hard and sacrificing for our future. Instead of feeling like I was stuck in a humiliating purgatory, Amy’s philosophy made me feel like I was playing some fun, challenging game…a game that I could win!

We began evaluating what we should and shouldn’t spend our money on. I stopped buying new clothes and got to know our local thrift stores. We started shopping at Winco and making all our food from scratch, which slashed our food bill in half. We had been using two cell phones, and we cut down to one that we share with a limited plan. Cable TV, drinking, or smoking have never been a part of our lives, so we didn’t have to give those things up. I discovered that line-drying our clothes saved a few dollars on electricity a month. I know it sounds extreme- what’s a few dollars- right? But according to Amy, “If you take care of the pence- the pounds will take care of themselves.”

Some expenses we have decided to keep are: Tithe and Charitable giving. We give more to charity now than we have ever before, and we hope to keep increasing the amount. We also decided to keep buying organic fruits and vegetables. Yes, it’s much more expensive to shop organic, but we decided that it’s worth it to support American farmers and to eat food that we know is good for us. I still can’t stomach the price of organic meat, so we’ve gone almost completely vegetarian.

We’ve been living in the trailer now for about two and a half years. In another six months, we will have all our student loan debt paid off. In two years, we’ll move into our completely new home, debt free.

Sometimes, I’ve wanted to scream and bang my head against the wall in frustration. Other times, I’ve been happy and excited about achieving our dreams and goals. I don’t want to downplay how hard it’s been to do this-it’s been extremely difficult

However, whenever I get discouraged, or hurt because a friend or family member treats us like we’re crazy, or upset that I can’t do what I want to do when I want to do it- it all comes back to one question for me.

“What is the most that you would sacrifice to earn the freedom to give generously to God, to stay home with your children, to allow your husband to retire at 55, and to be free from the slavery of debt?”

My answer: I would sacrifice almost anything for that.

So my question for you today is- what are your financial goals? Are you still in the "we deserve it" mentality? Are you doing what you could be to reach your family's financial goals- or is watching sports on Cable TV more important to you?


  1. I loved your post. Amazing. I'm sure you'll go from strength to strength - you have done so well.

  2. Great post, Sandra! You are such a lucid and interesting writer. Let's be honest, as a mother of a toddler, I rarely read blog posts of this length (unless it's a religious or literary piece), but I loved every minute of this! I can also completely relate. We live on one income, put tithing first, and do all we must to live debt-free. I'm definitely checking out that book. Although I might have to wait to squeeze it into next month's budget, or wait to see it at the thrift store;).

  3. We may tease you about being "trailer trash" but we are very proud of you and the sacrifice you are making to be debt free so you can give your life to your kids!

  4. What a post! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Congratulations on paying off the debt! And on your new home!

  6. It has been fun watching you. There is an article I am going to save for you in the Readers Digest this month about a Millionaire who is giving away all his money to be free. I think you might like it.

  7. Well done, with 2 young boys it's hard to save. You have done really well.

  8. Thank you everyone, for the kind comments. I appreciate the support. It's been a hard road, but at least we don't have to walk it alone.

  9. I was just talking to Grant tonight about how proud I am of you guys, in two years, you'll look back on this time and feel that it was all worth it! no debt, house paid for... you'll wonder what to do with all the extra money you have lying around all the sudden. I love you!