How Saving Money Nearly Ruined My Marriage and My Life

I was a teenager in the 80’s, the decade of decadence. I grew up to believe that you should get what you want, when you want it. Why wait for anything? A new car, a new outfit, that new pair of shoes was as close as your nearest credit card or loan.

jar with coins
jar with coins

My parents were not poor, but we never seemed to have a lot of luxuries. We had a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothes on our back, but I never felt “complete”

I compared myself to my peers who were wearing Guess jeans and frilly cowgirl boots. I didn’t have those things, so I was on the outside, looking in.

Vacations growing up were camping at the lake, or visiting family. Going to a theme park or to the beach? Not gonna happen on that budget.

My hubby grew up much the same way. His parents were kind and generous, and sacrificed the luxuries like new cars, large homes or fancy vacations so they could send him and his sister to what they felt was the best education possible.

His view of money was also “skewed” by the fact that he often wore second hand clothing and didn’t have the latest fashions, cars, or “toys”.

So, when we got married, we had a lot to learn about money. We didn’t know how to budget, how to save money, or even WHY we would need to do those things. We would go out to eat when we wanted, buy clothing when it struck our fancy, and never bothered to pay attention to what we were spending.

Save money? Nope, not for this couple. After only 7 years of marriage, we found ourselves wallowing so deep in dept with 4 credit cards, 2 vehicle loans, student loans and 3 kids to support. To the tune of almost $50,000.

To say we hit rock bottom financially is an understatement. After losing it all, and having to start over with nothing, no credit, a junker vehicle, and living with my parents, we didn’t learn a single thing. We started the credit card “buy now, forget about paying later” cycle all over again.

We felt we needed a new vehicle, so another loan. We had to have our own house, so there came the mortgage. Kids need clothes?

No worries, another credit card will do the trick. We were once again neck deep in debt. Once again, we worked to get ourselves out of that hole. Nope, still didn’t learn from it.

Eventually, we found Dave Ramsey and his Total Money Makeover. We worked together to get a budget, get an emergency fund, and start taking control of our money. We preached to our kids “save, save, save”, “cash only”, “credit cards are evil”.

They were totally on board with us, and with their 3 jars started their own system of save, spend, share. We were finally winning with our finances, and our marriage never was stronger. Well, there was always that underlying tension…

 We would balance the checkbook together and we paid cash for everything. In 30 days, we build up a savings account over just over $1,000 and 6 months later, all but our mortgage was paid off.

We were riding high on the financial wagon, so to speak. But, each of us had a different personality. I was a spender, he was a flyer.

Neither of us had the instinct to really hang on to a budget, and neither of us cared to call the other on it. And it came swirling down.

Under the mask of “winning our makeover”, a layer of resentment began to build. Seeds of bitterness were sown all over, and soon began to rear their ugly head in sarcasm, hurtful words, and even the hiding of money.

You see, we would go through our budget for the week and we would do something like this:

  • Food $40
  • Clothing $15
  • House $300
  • Gas/oil $50

and so on and so on.

Food prices were steadily increasing as were my now teenager’s appetites. Clothing prices went through the roof as well, and having to replace a growing boy’s shoes every 8 weeks became difficult at best.

Our van took more than $50 in gas to fill up each week, and cutting out trips reduced even going to the library. Forget going to the grocery store more than once. There was chicken feed to buy as well as dog, cat and rabbit food.

While we were putting money into savings each week, it came out faster than it went in, simply because we were still budgeting like we always had and never adjusted for life.

Soon, our savings was gone again. We were once again at bottom, looking up. Only this time, communication had broken down completely.

We no longer talked about money, or the budget, or what our financial goals were. I spent what I thought I needed each week, and Karl went on his merry little way, working copious amounts of overtime to compensate.

The kids and I never saw him, and when we did, he was so tired and worn out that his presence was merely for show.

We never really argued much during this time, and we were quick to apologize when we flew off the handle at each other. Our dreams, our hopes, our marriage had simply faded.

We were stressed, and it showed. We would drop everything and go out to eat, because it had been a “long week” or it “sounded good”.

We bought new appliances because they would “help me in the kitchen” (and yet we were eating out a lot) or we would buy clothing because “it was on sale”. Same ol’ routine.

The worst part of it all (and the most embarassing part) is when my oldest son went to camp for a week.

The shoes he had with him were only a month old, but they got wet and shrunk a bit so he threw them away. Yes, threw away a pair of $60 shoes that were only a month old!

We were a bit miffed at this, since it really was his only pair of shoes, besides his “shower” shoes. So, being the loving parents we are, and wanting only the best for our child, we took him to get another pair of shoes.

The sad part is that we were so far gone with our money at this time, we joked and laughed about buying him the ugliest pair of shoes in the store to “teach him a lesson”.

We nearly broke our son’s heart over a $60 pair of shoes!

We sat down at the table over coffee one morning, like we always do, and just began to talk. Really talk. For the first time in a long time, we just talked. We talked about our homestead projects, the 4H projects, vacations, parents, kids, homeschooling, us.

We listened to each other. It was almost as if the door of Heaven opened up to reveal the real problem. Everything we talked about, said, did, or dreamed about revolved around money.

We had placed a higher priority on things that weren’t as important, such as buying a new charger cord for the cell phone (we had been sharing) and not leaving enough money for gas.

I spent $200 on groceries, only to find I hadn’t bought a single thing to eat. I would spend $50 on my daughter for clothing, and get resentful that “there wasn’t enough for me” to get anything new.

Karl would get mad when the boys would mess up their computer because “he couldn’t get a new one each time.” Go ahead and say it, we were acting like spoiled brats. Because we were.

When we realized how much of our lives is controlled by money, and how easily it would be to just give up and walk away from each other, our marriage, our kids, and our lives over it, it was a real eye opener. Scary eye opener.

We knew that in order for our marriage to survive, immediate action would have to be taken. And it would have to be different than any other time in our lives. Our futures, our marriage, and our kids futures depended on it.

We reworked our budget. The first thing to work on was the biggest expense…eating out. In the past, we would cut back on eating out to save money.

Of course, we’d get tired, or bored, or angry and grab a pizza. This would lead to going out for dinner the next night, lunch another day…(we never learn) We had to finally be honest.

Our family likes to eat out. When we said, “no more eating out”, inevitably we would go out and then go all out and spend $100 on dinner.

So, we said “We eat out”. We put money in our envelopes for eating out. We got realistic about what we were eating, and padded the envelope accordingly.

The next thing to work on was the food/grocery budget. When Karl actually listened to how much things cost now at the store, and really saw how much our kids could pack away at a meal, he was astounded.

No wonder I couldn’t make it on what we were budgeting! We talked about real solutions to this problem… building a bigger garden, added more meat birds, were just some of them.

The most important one focused on ME- giving Mom a day off of cooking and the kids take over. I would get tired of cooking, and give up, we’d go out to eat, spend too much money…

The next thing was being realistic about gas for our vehicles. I am a stay at home mom, and my van goes through about $75 in gas a week. Hubby drives an hour each way to work 2x a week, using about $60 in gas. So, you can see that part needed reworking.

We weren’t even budgeting enough for him to get to work! We are blessed that he works from home the other 3 days a week, but not having enough money to get to his meetings was a huge no-no.

We finally got realistic about clothing. We don’t go around without clothes, nor do our kids. Our neighbors thank us daily for that, but I digress.

Clothing isn’t that expensive, if you go about it right. I would shop at thrift stores, and then the kids wouldn’t wear the clothing, or it was stained and I didn’t notice it, or it went out of season way to early, like sweaters in April.

The best deals I found are shopping at consignment stores. The clothing is usually high quality, minimal wear and a fraction of new. But, clothing 5 people on $50 every so often wasn’t going to work.

We have to make a concerted effort to budget this, even $5 a week to make sure that when our son needs new shoes, or our daughter needs a new shirt, or underwear and socks are needed that the old spoiled child in us doesn’t come out.

That was just the start of it. We HAD to budget in for dates, for fun for the family, and for “ME” time for each of us.

That didn’t mean we went all hog wild and spent, spent, spent. We are learning to be intentional about this. One month, I go out with my friends for dinner. Then, on subsequent weeks, it’s coffee only for me.

The next month, he gets a guys night out for dinner and a hockey game. We go out on dates weekly, but most of the time it’s just in our kitchen.

We do get dinner together once in a while, but the focus is now on our relationship, NOT where we would eat out. (what is it with my family and food???)

We aren’t perfect yet. We still have our ups and downs and we still have moments where we revert to our old ways. But, the biggest thing is that we have come to recognize the true source of a LOVE of money and pride and we are better able to combat that.

Yes, there are still moments when we get angry over money spent, but now we know that we can really talk about it and solve the issue right away instead of letting it fester.

It wasn’t easy to swallow our pride and admit we were wrong, or to even apologize to our son over the shoes. But, we had to decide we wanted to be reconciled, not right.

After all, when it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, what’s really important isn’t have the biggest bank account, or the nicest things. My marriage, my kids, my family are what’s real. And, I can’t put a price tag or a budget envelope on that.

18 thoughts on “How Saving Money Nearly Ruined My Marriage and My Life”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story…I identified with a lot of the behaviors you were describing. I love your final approach, being realistic and yet not spending outrageously. Especially loved the idea about mom taking the night off!

  2. I’m SO glad you posted this! We have been having the same issue and I bought the Ramsey program but haven’t gotten him on board. We are spoiled brats too and I think this program is great but we will have to work through some issues and get to the root of our money problems

  3. This sounds EXACTLY like my husband and myself. Our problem is we may never dig out of student loan debt. After going to a private college and doing absolutely NOTHING with it, I have enough debt to drown a horse. Same with hubs. We dream of buying a house but we just keep spending spending spending on this we shouldn’t. I would love to try Dave Ramsey’s plan, but it costs a fortune. Seriously…what sense does that make?!? :/

    1. My suggestion is try a library. They have a lot of books about finances too. You can read it then make copies of the stuff you need. Or take notes as you go along. Also he has a workbook version that has all the important parts, but is a little cheaper.

  4. I think you make some VERY good points about needing to “expand” the budget to accommodate how you realistically live your life. We’re a family who eats out too. We could try to stop it, but it wouldn’t work. We enjoy trying new places and the break from having to eat at home every day. So we budget for it. I see nothing wrong with it, as long as nothing else major in life is suffering because of it 🙂

  5. Kara @ ALLterNATIVElearning

    I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I argued over the grocery budget. He never believed how much things cost. Whether Whole Foods or Wal-Mart, never mattered, always a lot more than he realized!

  6. I really appreciate your putting yourself out there, Heather. I think we humans can get so wrapped up in anything — budgeting, eating a certain diet, whatever — and get to a point where we can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m sharing your story with others, in hopes of helping families keep things in perspective. Thank you.

  7. We started using a website called that helps us classify things into categories, for example, it knows or learns when things are grocery stores, gyms, coffee shops. Then it *tells* us what our budget looks like based on our past months, it alerts us when we are over budget and gives us weekly updates via email on where are budgets are. We can set savings goals and it will tell us how we’re doing. This really helps because it was the making of the budget that was the really hard part for us and frankly, like you said, if it’s not realistic, what’s the point of having it?

  8. Heather I recently wrote a very similar post, for a very similar reason! I never realized how common money problems are in marriages but I guess its like the number 1 cause of divorce. I felt very alone going through this, but I see now that many people struggle with the same problems. Your story is inspiring and I wish you guys continued victory in your budget battle!

    1. Heather HippyHomesteader

      thank you so much! We have been very blessed in this, no matter what it seemed like. May you have continued victory as well!

  9. Rebecca Tulloch

    I’m not sure the title is quite right for this post :3 I think it should have been something like why adjusting your budget regularly is good, or how not adjusting our budget with life was working against our marriage. Budgeting and saving didn’t nearly destroy everything from what I read, it was just the learning curve of not adjusting different areas when changes happen something even hard core budgeters like myself and my husband has com across 🙂 I think every budget needs to be re evaluated quarterly every year! Gas and food prices go up or down and others things as well need adjusting through out the year 😀

    1. I appreciate the comments, but if you re-read it, you will see that my marriage WAS falling apart…we simply didn’t care anymore. Had we stayed on the road we were on, divorce would have been imminent.

  10. What a sweet and open posting. This is truly what it takes to make it. Thanks for being so very transparent. I know it will be a help to those who need to face the facts!

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