But for my new wife and me, 2018 was a difficult year. We were pregnant with our first child, my job was going south as I faced poorly communicated expectations and measures of success, and my wife was working part-time while looking for full-time work. We had also purchased our first home eight months earlier with no down payment, so we were technically under water on our loan.
The decisions we made in the months that followed were not easy. But they allowed us to survive a personal financial crisis and ultimately prepared us for the pandemic and subsequent inflation that, unbeknownst to us, was only a few years away. Here are some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned along the way:
Redefine what is truly necessary and cut everything else
My wife and I have always been thrifty spenders, individually and together. But what we learned from January to May 2018 was how much we could reduce our monthly budget by adjusting what was important to us and where we focused our spending.
We replaced all fresh vegetables with frozen vegetables. Although we did not consult the USDA at the time, its website Remarks that frozen vegetables are sometimes cheaper than fresh and last much longer, reducing waste and further reducing expenses. We canceled Netflix. It was only $12/month, but it was money we needed to save in case things went wrong. We also had a smaller gym included in our HOA fee. We replaced chicken breasts and sliced turkey with whole chickens and turkeys. Boneless, pre-cut foods make cooking much easier, but our time was less valuable than saving money. This dropped our prices per pound from $1.79 for chicken to $1. We started making bulk meals every Sunday. It gave us more time to focus on other matters and reduced the temptation to eat out or order.
We also considered other longer-term issues. For example, we had a backup plan to sell one of our two cars if necessary. This would have further reduced our monthly expenses by a few hundred dollars and given us a new injection of cash. (Fortunately, we never needed to sell.)
Every money-saving choice was small. Together, they provided noticeable savings during our time of crisis and taught us to assess what was needed and what was simply wanted.
You may have to work a little hard to feel safe
One of the downsides of saving money is that there isn’t a lot to cut. We have to eat, have a roof over our heads and wear clothes. It’s also nice to have air conditioning in the summer, heating in the winter, and year-round water, electricity, and sewage systems. Therefore, my wife and I had to work on the other side of the ledger and find ways to bring in more money.
The first way was to increase my freelance income. This required me to work a total of 70 hours per week instead of less than 50 hours per week for several months 40 hours at my day job as a communications professional, 20 hours freelancing and 10 hours researching a job. I was forced to be creative and accept whatever work I could get, be it a “dream” gig. (The alternative route may be to work overtime or help a co-worker on vacation.)
Second, my wife held several part-time jobs while looking for full-time employment. We had planned for her to rest during the pregnancy, but circumstances forced her to move up a gear. None of them paid what she earned from a previous gig, but we knew any port in a storm was worth it. Being pregnant while looking for work wasn’t easy, but we focused on prioritizing what was important in our schedules to reduce unnecessary travel and other stresses. We were also lucky that the jobs she did were not physically demanding.
Teamwork and communication go a long way
The one benefit during this difficult financial time was that my wife and I learned how well we worked together. The stress of working so many hours and feeling like I was failing my family was constantly hanging. And yet, every night my wife was there to massage my shoulders, remind me of how a team we were, and give me the one break I often felt during those months. When she worked less, she cooked my breakfast and lunch, making sure I had an extra 20 minutes of needed rest and when her schedule got busy, I was the one who cooked the meals.
We have also openly discussed our financial situation dozens of times. Fears were shared and priorities were established, which reduced conflict and ensured that important decisions were made together. We also took long walks to reconnect.
Things have stabilized markedly over the past four years. We now have three children, my business is doing well, and my wife enjoys excellent pay and benefits as a part-time hospital nurse and Air National Guardsman. We sold our original home and purchased our long term home in a great neighborhood.
But we never forgot the lessons of 2018. When the housing market soared, we quickly changed our home buying plan to reflect economic conditions. This allowed us to quickly buy the right house and have an affordable mortgage. When inflation has skyrocketed, we quickly assessed our budget and made some changes. And each of those decisions was made deliberately, in open communication with one another.
Every family is different and would make different decisions. But our personal financial crisis has primed us to navigate any moment, good or bad.