Same as it ever was

I’m reading more and more frugal living and financial independence and personal finance blogs and I am so impressed with the choices people are making and how much they are saving. I think, maybe if I make those same choices, I could save that much too.

Then I realize they have smaller mortgages (either because they live in areas with lower COL or because they have a smaller house) and bigger salaries and some of them even have bonuses.

I can’t even fathom getting a bonus. I just got paid an extra $174 for moving my classroom last summer. I have a feeling that is not what they are talking about when they mention bonuses.

I think about how hard I’m trying to change the way I spend money–I finally think it may actually be happening, that shift in mindset–but then I realize that all these changes add up to a pretty small amount. It may not be insignificant, but it feels close.

It just doesn’t feel like we’re ever going to be where we want to be. Saving $45,000 for our emergency fund? It could take a decade! And then what? We’ll be in our mid-thirties, our daughter will be about to start college, our son won’t be far behind.

And what about the things we want to do? Can we just never do them? When it takes so long for us to save, projects like resurfacing our kitchen cabinets or installing new pipes (which our plumber says will need to happen some day) seem impossible. We’d have to borrow against the equity of our house, which is the ultimate no-no for the financially responsible.

I think I’m just feeling overwhelmed, realizing that even with the big cuts (no vacations, no private schools in a city with shitty public schools, no moving into our downstairs unit) and the smaller cuts (no frivolous spending, no nice things, limited eating out) we’ll still be making very small gains. I get that we chose these jobs, and we chose this city (well my husband chose it), but I don’t think we realized what we were getting ourselves into. I don’t think we understood how impossible it would be to get ahead. No one told us, because everyone lives this way. We were prepared to live this way. But now I’m not so sure I want to. And I know my husband would never, ever want to go.

I’m not saying it’s not worth it, because these changes have to happen. They have to happen for us to simply survive, but I don’t think they’ll be helping us achieve the kind of financial security we ultimately want. I don’t think we’ll ever have that.

I read these blogs and they throw around numbers that boggle my mind. Amounts are saved each year that are bigger than my salary (before taxes!). Sometimes MUCH bigger! These people, they are making double, sometimes triple what we make, and they live in places where the cost of living is less than here. What is the point in reading those blogs? When they suggest we have one person’s ENTIRE salary deposited into savings so we won’t be tempted to spend it… We need my salary to live! Can these people really teach me anything, when I’m in such a totally different league?

Sometimes I read these blogs and I walk away inspired. I see people making choices I never considered were possible and I stretch my preconceptions wondering if I could make them too. And sometimes I walk away feeling like I’ve already lost before I’ve even begun, like it will never be enough, that we’ll always be wanting.

For the first time since I bought my house I’m wondering if we’re making a mistake trying to live in this city. What if I decide I don’t think it’s worth it anymore, and my husband doesn’t agree? What if all this soul-searching around money drives a intractable wedge between us? What if we can’t figure out a solution that works for both of us? Already he fights back on almost every money-saving change I suggest. We just seem to be on completely different pages about this stuff.

And how can I blame him? I was right where he was only a year ago. I can’t believe I was so blind to our financial reality for so long? How could I not have seen?

I know I’m all over the place with this post, I’m just feeling a little hopeless about our financial prospects. We’re never going to make much more than we make now–we’re certainly never going to get bonuses–which means our financial future is now. This is it. And if we can’t even put $5,000 a year away, it’s going to be hard to get ahead. These people I read are chasing financial independence… I don’t think we can achieve financial security.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

(Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime)

How do you feel about your family’s finances? Are you and your partner on the same page?


  1. To be honest, here’s how I feel about my family’s financial situation: we come home each day to a house we own, and we own a little more of it each month. It’s 90 degrees out, and we have air conditioning. My kids are cared for by good people in places they like. We may not be saving a lot for retirement, but each month there’s a little more in those accounts. And each month, we owe a little less on all our debts. Yes, I’d love to have 3 months expenses in an emergency account, but I’m not going to beat myself up for doing my best. I don’t want to work more hours or in s different field. I like the city we live in. So really, I’m okay with not having all the financial stability I “should” have. It’s a trade off, and you can’t spend all your time being upset about what you don’t have (at least, I can’t).

    1. I think I used to have your mindset and then I started reading these blogs and now I don’t anymore. (Actually, it was more like I had this mindset but was oblivious to the actual reality of the situation.) I like your mindset. I hope I can find a way to get back to that place, of being okay making the small incremental gains that allow us to simply live here and have that be enough, but with the added knowledge of where are money is going and feeling like we are spending intentionally. Thank you for this. I needed it.

    2. Yes, but…saving for retirement is important, unless you want to work into your 70s and/or expect an inheritance.

      1. Saving money for retirement and not being a huge drain on your family when you’re hit with a big emergency like a job loss. You have to look at the whole picture, including what happens if there’s a bad shock– are you ok with the trade-offs you would have to make. If so, then sure, it’s ok to not have an emergency fund or retirement savings. If not then, you should make smaller sacrifices now so you don’t have to make huge ones alter.

        Yes, it’s great thinking, “I’m spending what I want and not worrying about the future” when the future isn’t there yet and you’re not facing a job loss. But it’s better to not have to cut consumption to extreme levels when you have no money or to put your parents in a precarious position because you didn’t save for a rainy day so they have to buy you a metaphorical umbrella.

  2. Money seems to be the root of all our arguments in my household. Typical, I suppose.
    I don’t ever feel like we’ll ever be in a place where we’ll be financially stable. I’m in my mid-thirties and my MIL is helping us pay my 3 yr old school tuition, a whole $225 a month all because, we really can’t afford it. Sad.

    Then I think, I do get a bonus every year (so far) and I complain about how I only got a $300 increase in my bonus. And my bonus, before taxes, was $6,300. I know. Where does that go? Straight into savings and I hate it. Again, I know. I want to travel (Hey, Disney World!) and renovate our kitchen while The Hubs, wants to save it for our A/C going out (understandable) and other emergencies, like a car fix. Ugh. I know he’s right. Meanwhile, I have to save for vacations and whatnot from whatever money is left over.

    And yeah, those blogs while they bring good insight, make me depressed lol. One of my co-workers, gets paid about $50k a year and her paycheck goes straight to savings or whatever she wants to use it on while her hubs paycheck, over $150k, goes to their spending. Good for her, sucks for me.

    Hang in there. Right now it seems you are in over your head & treading water but you’re on your way to financial security.

    1. I think one of the big things that is getting to me is realizing that we can save this some money, but it’s not going to go to fun things like vacations but instead necessary things like new pipes one day when ours crap out on us. I think one big difference between my husband and I is that he doesn’t mind that, maybe because he grew up not taking vacations. But vacations were such a huge and wonderful part of my childhood. They are some of the only things I remember about my childhood and the foundation upon which many of my happy-family-feelings are built. I guess that is why it’s so hard to let go of these ideas. They have deep emotional roots. Maybe if I recognize that, it will be easier to let them go.

      1. Maybe you can still take vacations but they don’t involve flying (which is a big cost)? CA has lots to see that you could drive to. Do you have a credit card that give you hotel points? Maybe see if you can switch to that as opposed to whatever you have now. That way you could save up points for a vacation that you drive to sometime in the future.

        1. That is a really good point–there are so many fun places to visit in California. I just need to learn to love camping; that is what my husbands family did growing up, a lot of camping. I don’t like camping but maybe if I do it more it will start to grow on me. There is so much beauty in this state. We have a lot to do that isn’t very far away.

          1. I’m a high maintenance cost–I need running water etc. but I enjoy it enough. However, I can’t see doing it with kids for a long time. I can easily see my 2 yo unzipping the tent and wandering off in the middle of the night.

  3. I don’t think you’re really going to know what is manageable until you sit down with your husband and figure out your inflows and your outflows.

    Like we said in our post the Monday before last, once you get rid of debt and start saving it becomes easier to free up money to save or spend. We are now in the situation that we are in the group that makes more money than you do, but that has only been the case for about a year and a half when DH got a job that pays 2x his old job (after a spell of unemployment). We made sacrifices early on– no vacations, cheap groceries, etc, so we wouldn’t have to worry about mone later even on a much lower salary. Because we paid off his high interest student loans and put money in CDs and the stock market. A little sacrifice upfront allowed us to not have to sacrifice later. Like Dave Ramsey says, live like no one else so you can live like no one else.

    To be honest, you do spend more money when you are on a spending freeze than my family does when we’re not, with the exception of this year when we are spending on moving expenses and related items. (Not including what we spend on daycare since we don’t have family to watch our children.). And you have lots of smart introspective posts about why you spend–you hope it will solve problems. But it often doesn’t.

    It is really unlikely that your situation is hopeless, unless you give up. And, every little bit helps even if you don’t make it completely. It’s not like in one scenario you retire to a yacht and the other you live on the streets. There’s an entire multitude of scenarios in between.

    1. Wow, to hear that I spend more when I’m on a spending freeze than your whole family spend when they aren’t on one is pretty eye opening. I clearly need to make massive, massive changes. I feel pretty inept that I can’t see where the cutting should be coming from. Besides not eating out with friends ever, I honestly don’t see where to make these huge changes. I guess groceries…we aren’t super smart about how we shop because we both hate to cook and are so tired and overwhelmed by the end of the day. And taking out kids out to fun places. We could definitely stop that entirely and that would save us a lot.

      My husband did pay off his high interest debt before we had kids, but he still has a lot left because a law degree from Columbia costs a shit ton, especially when you aren’t making an attorney’s salary, but are instead working for the city. But it’s true that back when we could have been living below our means we weren’t. We were eating out and seeing shows and enjoying being young in a big city. I guess that was our big mistake. And I suppose we’ll be paying for it forever, not just with the financial implications but also in the lifestyle we became accustomed to.

  4. It’s an uphill battle for sure without your spouse on board. I thought my husband had been taking in the stuff I’ve been saying lately about sticking to a written budget and saving every penny towards beefing up an emergency fund. And then he comes to me wanting to buy a pair of stand-up paddle boards ($700/each) – which we’ve never even tried before. How does that make sense by any stretch of the imagination?!

    1. Your husband sounds just like my dad. They still have three surf boards in their garage from when my dad decided that he and I and my sister would become surfers. I think we went out maybe a dozen times. He is always so quick to start a new thing and buy ALL the gear that goes with it. And I wonder where I learned to spend money so quick and easy!

  5. We found the Dave Ramsey cash only deal helpful to rein in spending. You budget for each kind of spending, get cash in that amount for each envelope, and only spend cash on everything. We only did a week or two but it was startling to see the pauses in the store before buying things afterward. I agree with those above – what others are up to can be inspiring but if it isn’t helping, forget them. Do your thing. Or if it really is impossible to live on what you make where you are, change some of that. Add work, move, whatever is needed, if it would gain you peace of mind. We are ruling out a few job openings because it would cost more than double to rent a house there, and buying is more than double what we’d pay here. Nothing says you can’t make radical changes if you want.

    1. I think that right now it feels like radical changes are off the table because my husband is not at all on board. He LOVES this city and even if we didn’t live here, urban living is a must for him. So it just doesn’t feel like we can make the big changes required. And if I were to change jobs I’d be taking a pretty significant pay cut, at least for a few years (maybe longer). But it’s probably this restrictive thinking that is keeping me from seeing some viable options. Maybe I just need to throw away all my assumptions and see what I come up with.

  6. I agree that it can be depressing to compare yourself to others’ situation—which is why I don’t find reading posts about other people’s specifics helpful at all. Any post with “budget” or where I see $ and numbers gets a nope. I like reading about the philosophy—it helps, little by little, in changing the way I look at spending and money and life, and maybe some general strategies like “how to spend less at the grocery store” or “where to keep your emergency fund”.
    I agree that it may take a radical change for you guys to get to optimal financial security. The question then becomes whether you would rather make those changes (move jobs, move to a different area) or settle for less-than-optimal financial security (but still better than what you had before, because it is getting better, little by little). You can’t have EVERYTHING—you can’t live in an awesome area and yet have ridiculously low COL. You may not be able to live near family & have cool jobs. If you are a rural-living type and work in the city, you have to deal with a long commute. You have to figure out what is more important to your family and than work within those constraints.
    I really like Deborah’s comment above. Its a really levelheaded and calm approach and I think it works for anyone.

    1. clarification—I DO read your budget posts—I enjoy reaading about someone who is still on the journey–not so much those that have arrived.

    2. You’re right that we can’t have everything, and I think what scares me is that slowly I’m changing my stance, and am on the road to wanting to trade in the big city for more financial security (and more community, but that is for another post that is still percolating in my head), and my husband won’t ever want to do that. Urban living is a MUST for him, he is morally opposed to suburban living because it’s not sustainable for a planet with a fast-growing population like ours (his adamant opinion). I would honestly live in a rural town if we could make a living there, but that would make him miserable. So I guess I’m going to have to reacquaint myself with being okay living here but having decreased financial security. I can probably get there, eventually.

      And you’re right that we will be in a much better place if we keep working on this stuff, we’ll just never be where I’d like us to be.

      1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good! It’s okay if you will never be where you want to be, but you will still be better off.

        I agree with the other commenters that this will be easier to do with your husband.

        If your husband is adamant about living in the city, can you be adamant about other things, like not eating out?

        1. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!” <-- OH! I LOVE THIS! This will be my new financial mantra!

  7. As always, your honesty is inspiring to me. Your writing style and the way you work through your problems with prose is always an engaging read. I don’t always hop on to comment, but reading this entry I had a thought.

    Given the wide variety of content available on the ‘net, it might help to tailor your money-related searches to cities/areas that are more in line with SF. I know that it would frustrate me to no end if I kept reading about how people in a VERY different living situation than myself were telling me how they could do more with more money in a different area (or more with LESS money!). San Francisco sounds a lot like Vancouver and Toronto in Canada. Maybe adding a city qualifier to your searches can help you find advice more relevant to you 🙂

    As a side note, my parents moved to Vancouver and lived there 10 years. In that time, they worked opposite shifts, saw very little of each other, and had two children. We owned our townhouse and one vehicle, and living was tight. When we moved back to Alberta, what took them 10 years to acquire in Vancouver took two in Edmonton. It’s so different city to city.

    1. That is good advice. Almost all of the blogs I’m following have been found through links from other blogs, so it makes sense that they’d all have a similar tone. Maybe if I found some that were better suited for my specific situation and personal journey I’d be feeling better about everything. I think I’ll try to find some of those kinds of blogs and see if it helps.

  8. “Saving $45,000 for our emergency fund? It could take a decade! And then what? We’ll be in our mid-thirties, our daughter will be about to start college, our son won’t be far behind.”
    If, in a decade you would have $45K in savings, be 4 years from your daughter graduating college and 8 from your son doing same, you aren’t doing badly. Your daughter may need to go to a school she can afford… like community college for 2 years than SF State and live at home while doing this~~ but that would be affordable for her and her brother and physically possible. Then you would have more space, few expenses and about 30 years to continue to save for retirement. Actually not bad at all and doable.
    Having your priority be SF versus trips to Disneyland/Hawaii/Europe…. well, lots of people prefer SF and for good reason. And, the majority of people already accept that as life. Suppose your family’s good memories are not Disneyland but going places in SF and picnics in the park. They are still good memories. Culturally we are told “Disneyland” is important, and spending is good, but unless our economy changes and the middle class revives those things aren’t going to happen for the normal family. (And then I became political and had to remove it.)
    Maybe those cultural messages are simply not true. Maybe your children do not go to Columbia for a law degree, maybe that is ok with your husband and you both can be together on that page. Life is all trade-offs. You both choose your jobs and house and this is perhaps just part of those choices. Maybe this is all good. Maybe your image of ‘life and family’ is Norman Rockwell and he never painted verisimilitude. Maybe real life is ok.

    1. I’m realizing from you quoting me that I meant to say mid-forties. We’re already in our mid-thirties. Eek!

      I think you’re right that real life if probably okay. I just have to figure out what I want real life to look like.

      1. I did wonder about the age thing.
        The reality is that 50 years ago it was financially possible for middle and blue collar families to live in San Francisco and other big cities. And to have one adult in a family of 3 or 4 or even 5 working at a paid job. Today, with two adults working it is hard to financially afford even one child in big cities like San Francisco or the Bay Area in general. Some of this is the incredible salaries from tech, but a lot is related to where post-recession wealth generation has gone… it has not trickled down or been spread evenly. It is appallingly expensive to eat out, travel anywhere, fly anywhere, educate your children, or even go to a museum. Pricing for theAcademy of Science is $35 for an adult, 25 for a child 4-11 65+ is $30. Prices lots of people out totally.
        Of course you feel like you are never going to survive financially much less a get ahead and be able to afford to replace broken pipes… it is reality. And it is different in so many ways from when you were a child….and MASSIVELY different from the 1950’s when your parents were growing up.
        You are not alone. You are not wrong. You are not living ‘high on the hog’. I am so very sorry about this entire situation. And going to go political if I don’t take my hands away from the keyboard.

    2. Excellent comment! I am also struggling with the reality of my life not matching my fantasies. Not so much in terms of finances, but in other ways that are hard to explain. I think I get bogged down by what I always thought my life SHOULD look like. I’m trying to let it go.

      1. “I am also struggling with the reality of my life not matching my fantasies.” I think this is the central focus of this life-stage. When the dust settles and you’re looking around and what you’ve built and wondering how you got here.

        1. This feels so true! Adulthood is not as fun as I thought it would be. But a lot of that is because of our earlier choices. We’ve never made financially catastrophic decisions but we didn’t make the most of our opportunities and resources. It’s hard to not beat ourselves up about the dumb things but I think both of us have learned and are making more sensible decisions now. But I wish we’d started twenty or even ten years ago!

  9. I can feel your frustration, and I would be frustrated too. Honestly, I don’t think you are going to be able to fix this unless you get your husband on board either to work on spending with you or agree to make some big sacrifices. It can’t be and shouldn’t be all on your shoulders.

    1. So, any suggestions on how to get him on board? I’m seriously at a loss… I’m hoping that by the time I’m better at this and have a more convincing argument (based on my own experience making difference choices) he’ll have come around a bit. If that doesn’t work I’m f*cked.

      1. I think it has to a a long game. Show him your budgets when you do them, just to keep him in the loop—without asking him to change anything. Start talking about emergency fund savings, college savings, etc… and let him know how much you are putting aside each month and how much is left before you get to a comfortable number. I’m hoping that will click in his head eventually and he’ll think “oh, we can DOUBLE that monthly saving if we cut down something…hmmmm…what can we cut”. And just live by example as much as possible. I sort of got my husband on board (not at the level I want him to be…but I’m still working it…). He is pretty good about tracking spending, but not about sticking to budget. I told him, for example, that we were way over on our alcohol budget (how did he not notice? we’ve been in the red for MONTHS) and just left that there. Then the next day, I told him I wasn’t having a drink because “remember, we are way over…” and he looked a bit guilty and decided not to have a drink either. I just keep dropping comments about costs and budgets (not too often, but steadily) into conversations about planning weekends/meals/vacations and I can tell he’s starting to think about it (though he still spends 25% more than me at the grocery store for reasons I cannot fathom).

        1. I like this way of going about it. This is what I’m going to do. Thanks for laying it out for me like this. I can do this and I think he will make changes, eventually, if I do…

  10. I live in a high cost of living area and we are definitely not high-income. We make it work because we want to live in this city. For what it’s worth, moving is not always an easy option as it’s made out to be on those PF blogs. What about family? what about friends? I’m also a minority so I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a low cost of living, pre-dominately white area.

    1. Yeah, our family living so close makes staying here really important. The thing I most worry about when I think about moving is our jobs. I guess it would be pretty easy for me to get one as a teacher, but my husband? I think that would be a lot harder.

      I used to feel like I was willing to make the sacrifices to live in this crazy expensive city but now I’m not so sure. I’m going to have to do some soul searching–and I’m going to have to figure out if I want to keep living here when spending less means we can’t enjoy a lot of the things that make living here fun.

      1. It may take time but you can find non-expensive ways to have fun in a big city, and in many ways, it’s easier since most big cities actually have a lot of free & low-cost activities. Plus, there are always deals on various sites like Livingsocial, Groupon, and Goldstar.

        1. I live in Los Angeles but lived in NYC for a long time. LA is a big city but what I miss most about NYC is simply walking around and seeing people on the streets. You can do that in SF! Obviously there is a lot to spend money on in SF (restaurants come to mind!), but just being in the city is exciting in and of itself. Long walks, parks, free concerts, hikes nearby.

  11. I think the hard thing is that people get used to spending in line with their salaries. I’m sure we make more than your family makes since I’m in private practice at a big firm and yet unfortunately I identify with the same struggles you talk about in your posts. Our mortgage is high too (not SF high but Denver is currently highest in the country as far as huge jumps in housing costs) and we have these godforsaken feeding therapy appointments that aren’t covered by insurance and I look at our totals and don’t know how to make a big enough dent to make me feel like we’re in a good place. It should be more attainable than it is, and it’s embarrassing, honestly. I feel like I’m good with money. Today I’m wearing a sweater that is 4 years old and a skirt that is 6 years old and my only pair of black flats and we don’t have spendy cable and I own exactly one purse that is not a name brand and is two years old and yet we are in the situation we’re in for a reason :/

    1. This is us too… And your point about different income but similar problems resonates with me. My mom always said (and you know I don’t respect that woman much so this must have meant something to me!), “no matter how much money you make, you’ll always think you ‘need’ more, but you don’t.” And my dad would then say, “once your life is settled nicely, NEVER increase your cost of living as you get raises. Raises just mean more savings.”. I feel like we are still settling our lives, but we are slowly moving into not increasing spending with increasing salaries. I’ve watched my dad do this, follow his own advice, and he’s accumulated wealth quite rapidly. He learned this from his dad who also saved money like a crazy man. Seeing someone you know live that way is very helpful because my mom is right…. We always think we need more.

      No matter what we pay off, there’s always a new surprise. It’s infuriating. We think we’ll get ahead of where we are, and then we don’t.

      1. I think we have about $10,000 a year left in salary step raises (cumulative, for the both of us–I don’t remember if that is before or after taxes) and eventually we won’t have a childcare bill every month ($18K a year), so if we can get to a comfortable place within our current financial constraints, we could be saving $25K+ a year down the road. That is important to remember, and it’s one of the reasons I want to get our mindset shifted now, while we have the tighter budget, so that we don’t inflate our spending as we make more money.

    2. this is us exactly. we make decent salaries but really seem to have gotten to where we are spending all that we bring home. I’ve completely stopped buying clothes or really ANYTHING material for myself since the beginning of the year, we rarely eat out, our vacations are mostly to visit family, yet there isn’t much more in the bank at the end of the month than there was last year…

      1. Yes! I buy nothing for myself and could care less about shoes, hand bags, the things women are supposed to waste money on. So where is it going? My neighbor today told me she’s considering a $7300 tummy tuck and aside from being annoyed that she won’t even try working out to lose it, I was stunned that they are thinking about it. I know they make the same as us, essentially, and we wouldn’t have $7300 to spend on something so unnecessary. I guess it’s priorities, but this all makes me wonder where our money is going because we don’t have expensive priorities!

        1. I dunno–I had 2 kids in my 40s and I work out like crazy and I’m at my pre-pg weight (and I was athletic before that) and 2 yrs 8 mo after the 2nd was born I still have loose skin/pooch. I really wish I could get a tummy tuck but 1. The $ and 2. Long recovery that I couldn’t miss work long enough for.

          1. The recovery is the part that really made me sick. One of my mom friends just had a mini tuck, whatever that is, and it took almost 3 months to get back to yoga and fast walking. She was MISERABLE.

            I have a pooch too… C-section pooch. It’ll never go away, no matter what I do, but $7300 is way more valuable to me somewhere besides fixing my pooch! Ab work has definitely lifted things a bit, but not much and that’s not permanent. It’s a constant battle.

            1. Yeah, I workout hardcore and am stronger/fitter than ever (including core/ab work) but that diastasis pooch from 2 back to back babies on my small frame have caused a permanent pooch of loose skin (I can sometimes see my abs UNDER that shit, but its there) that makes clothes not look as good and swim suits look terrible. If I had that kind of money sitting around (with no other purpose) I’d consider it—but the recovery time (not being to work out or be active) would probably put me off. Also the fact that we could go on a lifetime-memory-making vacation with that kind of cash!!!

      2. Isn’t it weird how that works out? I was realizing I had blown through most of my tax refund and I couldn’t figure out how, when I’ve been so much more careful about spending, but then I remember the lice episode (I haven’t written about that here but let’s just say it was EXPENSIVE) and the sensory assessment/PCIT sessions and the bike and backyard stuff at the beginning of the summer. Each of those was A LOT of money. It adds up! The reality is I’d probably be stressing about paying my VISA bill this month if I hadn’t been watching my spending. So I am in a better place, but it’s hard to see that when I so easily forget about these big expenses that we don’t usually have, but that we had to cover these past few months.

    3. I think you are absolutely right. 100%. And oh man, those feeding therapy sessions must be costing you a considerable fortune! I can’t even imagine! That is where you’re money is going. It must be an insane monthly expense.

  12. I feel for you on all of this, but especially your struggles with getting your husband on board. I am a saver, my husband is a spender. In my relationship, the biggest divide is in terms of how we view that impact that money has on our freedom: I view saving as way to enhance my freedom to live the life I want, he views it as restriction of his freedom. It’s always been this way and I’ve resigned myself to the reality that it probably always will be. If he does change, it will be because he independently decides to make the change, not because I’ve pressured him to do so.

    So, what do I do? Make everything as automatic as possible. Bump up the amount of any of your existing retirement savings that happen automatically. Put your general savings in an account that is at least somewhat hard to get at. Our non-retirement savings improved once I opened a brokerage account and started making automatic deposits to it. Something about that account seems different and more untouchable to him than a regular savings account and since then he’s made fewer splurge purchases that requiring a dip into savings.

    Don’t do a strict budget. I know that goes against most of the advice you’ll hear, but my experience has been that budgets absolutely backfire with spenders. They will revolt and you won’t save money and you’ll incur a lot of heartache in the process. A general spending plan works better. That is, set aside a chunk of money each monthly for all of your variable and discretionary spending (e.g., food, gas, restaurants, entertainment, home goods) and stick to that amount. You can spend that amount on whatever you want, but once it runs out it runs out. It requires way less tracking though and it will be much easier for you to get your husband on board.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll stop with: start slow. Do one thing and wait a few months before implementing a second. That you are already thinking and paying attention to this stuff is a big deal and you’ll likely notice an improvement due to that alone. And, I’ll join in with everyone else in seconding Deborah. There is only so much you can do and incremental change is still very important.

    1. I really appreciate your experience and perspective on this. Thanks for sharing.

      I do think my husband might come around eventually, and I’m lucky that he is only a spender in one category (although it’s a big one) and that is eating out. He doesn’t spend anything on stuff (I’m the main procurer of “stuff” in our family, both the stuff we need and the stuff we want) so that is hugely helpful, and why I’ve started working on myself–because I spend so much of our money, I can make a difference without him getting on board.

      But ultimately I will need him on board, and I’m hoping that after a while he’ll see what I’m doing and make choices more in line with mine, or when he asks if I want him to get burritos and I say no, it’s okay, I’ll make something for us at home, he won’t be too disappointed. Hopefully as that becomes are new normal, there won’t have to be any big confrontation about it. I’m hoping it happens organically for him because of the hard changes I’m making in myself.

      1. Interesting–when I read your posts I’m like why is she fretting over a $12 swimsuit when they spent $100 on eating out? The way I look at it is money not spent on restaurants is money that can be used for fun things like vacations–which can include eating out. $100 per week is $5200–a nice vacation.

      2. Food is a huge expense. It is probably the main area where you can save based on how you post.
        There are a lot of blogs out there on eating well on a budget. I know you don’t like to cook, but maybe you can find a few good, easy recipes and put them on rotation. Once you make them enough it will feel more automatic to you and you won’t stress about it. And, freeze leftovers, herbs, stocks, sauces to avoid waste. From what you describe, your kids aren’t big eaters any way so they probably won’t mind the lack of variety.
        The thing about dining out, is that it becomes very easy to justify it with a special occasion. But these special occasions start to become the norm. My husband does this and it drives me crazy. He says I don’t indulge in pleasure enough but I think he always seems to find a way to these justify indulgences.
        About going out with friends, I’d eat a big dinner at home first and then order a drink or split an appetizer.

  13. We have the similar cost of living issue. I agree that a blog about living cheap in Idaho won’t help. And for most of suddenly doubling your salary isn’t possible. I mean the highest person into organization doesn’t even make 2x my salary and I’m not even at the top of my range yet. And in my location there isn’t biglaw and its high salaries.

    Re your husband…there’s lots of biglaw there in SF. Maybe you could somehow make it like if you want to keep up this lifestyle, then go get a biglaw job.

  14. Move to Oakland! Just kidding but also not really. I also live in the Bay Area and make quite a bit more than you guys, we only have 1 kid, but I can’t imagine making it in the city. My job is in the South Bay so we moved to th sc mtns for good schools and a much nicer house than we could have anywhere else in the Bay Area (plus I love the redwoods). I understand why you want to stay in the city but the reality is that of my friends, very few can, usually only with the help of roommates or rent control, definitely not buying a home or kids. So given that metric you have to give yourself kudos for what you have achieved.

    1. Oakland was definitely our plan B, but I was hoping to avoid it because my parents and job are on the peninsula. I could (and would) change my job if we lived in Oakland, but I’d hate to have a bridge between me and my parents. We depend on them for help/child care too much.

      I used to think that we could make it work in the city but now I’m not so sure. I think once I have some more “spending data” to present to my husband we can have a productive conversation about it. At this point I don’t have what I need to show him the reality of the situation. But once I do, we’ll be “conversing” about all this.

  15. In terms of broad budgeting categories, good goals, and understanding how this time is (and maybe isn’t) different from other times, plus how where you live, matters, I found need Elizabeth Warren’s book All Your Worth a helpful read. Don’t know if you would our not, but as no one else has mentioned it, thought I would.

  16. Ok first of all, I think you are doing a fantastic job with all of this! Your plan, your thought process and your results are very impressive and I think you should be proud of yourself this summer!!

    Now I might get yelled at for this, but it sounds like your husband has expensive tastes (his law school/loans, going out to eat/drink, refusing to leave a very expensive city to live somewhere less pricey) buy it doesn’t sound like he is backing these up with his salary. Maybe it’s time for him to go back to big law? Would make emergency savings, retirement savings and college fund savings for your kids much more realistic.

    Maybe he doesn’t love that job, but sometimes you have to do things in life that aren’t fun (and what’s less fun than struggling to get by or never going on a vacation or not even getting little things to enjoy the day?)

    1. Ha. It’s so funny that you think my husband has expensive taste. I guess he is starting to have expensive taste, though I never thought of him as someone who did. But now that you mention it… maybe he’s changing. The fact that he drinks cocktails most nights instead of beer would have been unheard of to me three years ago. And maybe if his tastes are evolving, his paycheck should too.

      I doubt my husband would ever return to law. I think he’d reign in his spending before he did that. We definitely need to have a big talk about all this, I just want a few more months of tracking (especially once we’re on the same accounts and I can track what he’s spending on food) before I stage our coming-to-jesus about this.

  17. I don’t have any real advice. Just a perspective on the family holidays/vacation issue.

    I grew up in a family with little spare cash. We had enough for school uniforms, sport, and piano lessons. In a country area, I didn’t have exposure to other opportunities. With school uniforms, we needed few other clothes – and really, we had VERY few! Amazes me now when I think back. Once a year, my parents would borrow a caravan from a neighbour, and we’d have a two week camping holiday/vacation. We didn’t eat out during the vacation, except that we’d have the occasional treat – an ice-cream or milkshake. Otherwise we’d cook in the caravan or on a barbecue, have picnics, and eat different (easier) food than we did at home. Some of my happiest memories of those holidays, and they cost very very little.

    Now, when I bemoan the fact that I can’t go on safari, or take a cruise, or travel business class, I remind myself of those simple days. And one of our favourite holidays in recent years was when we rented a cabin about 8 hours drive away, and just chilled out at the beach. (I even bought the same breakfast cereal that was always a treat when I was a kid!)

    I’ve done all my travelling and fun experiences as an adult (or since I was 17), and except for my exchange student year, they’ve all been self-funded. My sister-in-law (who had a similar upbringing to mine – except in Malaysia) and I have talked about her children who have spent their life travelling, and we feel sad that they don’t have the same sense of joy and wonder about new destinations and opportunities that we (the 50-something adults) still have. So there’s a lot to be said for NOT travelling with your kids too!

    1. It has helped me to think of what about vacations I like the most and I realize it usually is the simple things. It’s not necessarily seeing a new place or meeting new people, it’s just escaping from the reality of my every day life. It can be harder to manage that if I don’t get far away, but I’m sure I could learn how to do it.

    2. Thank you for writing this Mali. Its given me a LOT to think about in terms of values & priorities going forward for our family. Its really easy to get caught up in a certain lifestyle if everyone around you is living it, and it takes outside perspective to see it for what it is—luxury, not necessity.

  18. I don’t know if the videos on this link are viewable in the States, or if this series has been shown in the States (it’s a Canadian-made & based show), but have you ever heard of Gail Vaz Oxlade and “Till Debt Do Us Part”? She takes a different couple each week, analyzes their spending & gives them challenges to help them get back on track financially and mend or strengthen their relationship. Depending on their effort & attitude, she’ll give them up to $5,000 at the end of the show to help them pay off their debt. (She’s had another series called “Princess” — same idea, but focusing on spoiled young women who have been racking up debt.) She can be very blunt, but she’s really all about common sense.

  19. Your post sums up how I feel. When my husband and I moved to the big city where we now live, our combined salaries doubled. However, whereas we were saving money where we previously lived, in the city we have just been managing to maintain more or less the same amount in savings while seeing our quality of life go down. Compared to how things were where we lived before, child care costs have doubled, and housing costs have been multiplied by several times. We will have to put a previously inconceivable amount of money into buying a place unless we want to waste even more on rent. There is now and there will continue to be no significant cash left for any other type of investment.

    If I were still living in our previous place, I could have my own smug personal finance blog where I could brag about how I had it all figured out and was saving so much money. (Yes, I’m bitter, but, really, some of these bloggers seem mighty pleased with themselves when a lot of them have just managed to luck out in some way.)

    We moved here for my husband’s job, which he would never want to leave. It seems that I have a lot in common with you.

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