I read your post on “If You Want Something Badly Enough” and wondered if you could share about your lean years when your husband was in law school. You were obviously highly motivated. Was there a catalyst for that? Something that moved you to sacrifice so much for so long without yielding?
All of us want to be debt-free, but wanting it isn’t always enough to carry us through the lean times because deprivation hurts! And doing it for an extended period of time requires a tremendous determination. Can you share your source for that determination? Did you have anything that pushed you through when you wanted to give up? -Lori
Thanks for a thought-provoking question, Lori! I don’t hold myself up as someone who has it altogether or has arrived, by any means. I have many struggles and short-comings and there are definitely times when self-discipline is the last thing I feel like practicing!
In thinking this through recently, here are some of the things that I believe were instrumental in keeping us motivated and determined to keep going during those lean law school years:
1) The Grace of God
As Christians, God is our hope, our Sustainer, and our Provider. He has proven Himself faithful time and time again.
Without His grace, I don’t know how we would have made it through law school. It wasn’t easy and there were many, many times when it felt like all we had was each other and God to cling to. Our faith was challenged and strengthened so much during those lean law school years.
2) Our Parents’ Examples
Jesse and I were both blessed to have parents who modeled wise financial stewardship before us. Seeing them make short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term benefits was a huge inspiration to us and one of the main reasons why we made the audacious commitment to stay out of debt during law school.
3) Being On the Same Page as a Couple
One of the biggest keys to our financial success has been the fact that Jesse and I are wholeheartedly on the same page when it comes to finances. We are best friends, we talk about everything, we see all of our finances as “ours”, and we set goals together — taking into account both of our needs and wants.
Nagging and dragging your spouse along never works. Believe me, I’ve tried that and it was a miserable failure. Both of you must be willing to communicate and compromise in order to get on the same page and the same team — in finances and in all of life. There is no “I” in team.
4) Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings
Not only have we set financial goals together since the beginning of our marriage, but we’ve also held a practice of having monthly Budget Accountability Meetings. This is when we both go over our current financial standings — what we spent over the last month, where each of our budget categories are looking like, and where we have a surplus and a deficit.
We talk about areas where we struggled, we discuss possible changes and tweaks to the budget, and we look at our yearly financial goals to see the progress (or lack thereof!). The Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings are not always fun and yes, sometimes there are some hearty discussions (ahem!), but without these regular check-ups, it would be a lot easier to lose touch with where we are financially and it would be a lot easier to get way off course without realizing we were going in a bad direction.
5) Making Room for Microscopic Splurges
We’ve always stuck to a strict written budget and there were many months in the beginning of our marriage when things were tighter than tight (you’ve probably heard me tell the story about the time our fish had to go for two weeks without food because we couldn’t afford to buy the $2 fish food as every penny of that was needed to buy groceries). That said, we made it a point from the get-go to find ways to regularly “splurge” — even if in a microscopic sense.
I worked as a mystery shopper so that we could occasionally get free dinners out at restaurants. I read daily emails from MyPoints in order to rack up enough points to get a few small gift cards each year to Barnes & Noble (too bad Swagbucks wasn’t in existence when Jesse was in law school!). And we saved our change in a jar to use toward $0.50 movie rentals at the movie store or a very occasional meal at a fast food restaurant with coupons.
6) Reminding Ourselves Of How Far We’d Come
It’s easy to focus on how far you have left to go, or how little progress it seems like you’re making. Instead, we tried to focus on how far we’d come.
Sometimes when we were feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we would sit down and look at our budget and bank account and just be in awe that it had held up for so long and we’d been able to pay all of our bills. That gave us hope to keep holding on and holding out.
7) Visualizing the Rewards at the Finish Line
For us, visualizing ourselves at the finish line having stayed out of debt and survived law school was a huge motivator for us. Sometimes, we’d have fun talking and dreaming about the things we would be able to do when we had a little wiggle room in our budget. And often, we’d remind ourselves how freeing it was going to be to not have to be sending a huge chunk of our pay checks toward school loans.
Remembering why we were making the sacrifices we were making and what our end goal helped us to stay the course even when we were completely ready to give up.
What helps you stay determined to make short-term sacrifices and how do you keep from giving in and giving up?
photo from Big Stock