This weekend, my husband and I finally completed some much anticipated home improvements. We installed the new flooring in my office. Like every other floor in our house, we are installed Pergo laminate which is a nice cross between nice looking and indestructible (both important to us).
As we ripped up the carpet, I noticed that the scent of mildew, dead skin, and old hair products overwhelmed the office. It was even worse than the other rooms in the house. And then there was the matter of removing the inexplicable tile (this was a bedroom after all) which was glued with a black mastic to our wooden sub floor. Not to mention the fact that eliminating the squeaks in the floor required my husband to remove most of the nails in the floor, and we also removed our baseboard which has revealed some significant wall gouges and mis-colorations.
By noon, the office was worse than when we first began. It was dirty, bare and ugly. It was utterly uninhabitable.
Why are you talking about home improvements?
The point of waxing poetic with regards to our home improvement is to state a well know truth. When you're making a real improvement, it always gets worse before it gets better. This is just as true with your finances as it is with your home.
The process of making a true and lasting changes isn't just establishing new habits (though it is that), it's rooting out your old bad habits too. It's dismantling your old methods of thinking as a part of building a new foundation for your new ways of thinking.
What does this look like in personal finance?
I've previously talked about the fact that my husband and I started our marriage with a hazy view of money, and that a zero sum budget was extremely helpful in allowing us to create and achieve financial goals. What I've never talked about was how horrible those first few budget meetings were.
Although Rob and I were ostensibly on a team, we were barely putting up with each other's financial eccentricities, and our monthly budget meetings were our first opportunities to voice our frustrations. I wish I could remember details, but I can't. I can only remember feelings. Our first budget meeting lasted 3-4 hours. I remember being so frustrated that Rob couldn't estimate the cost of our electricity even though he had been paying the bill. I grabbed the computer and looked up the bill for 3 months and averaged it. The number came out to the exact number I had in my head. I was shocked that my husband couldn't pull up a number like that.
I remember walking away from our first, and second, and probably even third budget meeting when Rob was so elated to be, "taking control of our money," and I felt like we had nothing but a stupid plan. I remember seething with anger when Rob told me he wanted to buy new socks and underwear (he has expensive tastes in socks and underwear). I remember when I told Rob that I just wanted to be able to buy a $.75 soda, and he had spent all our fun money on windshield wipers. Windshield wipers are not fun!
It took months for us to be on the same team. It took probably 6-8 budget meetings for me to not want to insult my husband when he couldn't remember the minutiae of our spending off the top of his head. It took probably 6 more months before I felt like I could say, "I want more fun money, and you can't spend it on tools."
So, it took a year for us to be a team. Our budget meetings are now something I look forward to, but it took a year. I remember to prepare questions for Rob, since I'm the one who writes about personal finance all the time, but I still value his opinion. Yesterday, I asked if Rob wanted to invest, or save the cash for next year's Roth IRAs. It took about 30 seconds of discussion to agree we would hold onto cash. It's nice to share financial sensibilities, though that wasn't always the case.
Our budget meeting yesterday only took about 15 minutes. And about 8 minutes of that was logging into our accounts to update our net worth. Neither of us freaked about the flat or down accounts. We just updated our excel spreadsheet, and then watched Agents of SHIELD (big recommendation on all of the above (budgeting, checking net worth, and SHIELD)).
Of course, some of this is because our financial position is easy these days. We have plenty of money for the things we need and a lot of what we want too, but more than that, I think we're doing better because we didn't let ourselves get stuck in the bad. At first, it was worse to be aware of our money. At first, I was obsessing over every dollar spent and about cancelling every subscription known to man, and selling our condo and improving every single thing. But its gotten easier. Now that we have a firm foundation in place, I think we can weather storms more easily. I think even in tight financial situations, our marriage will thrive.
I guess I say this to encourage you that it does get better. If you're working towards your goal, it might feel worse, but it will get better. It might take a while, and you'll still have to do maintenance, but if you're starting out with your finances, and you feel like everything is worse, take heart because if you stick with it, it will get better.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.