When I paid back my debts in March 2011, I thought I’ve seen the last of money struggles.
Those debts came from a 2500€ business loan and one small personal overdraft I had for 250€ (2009). I was planning on paying back the big loan from the revenue the business would generate; however, the business started slow and we couldn’t wait out long enough for it to pick up. There was some cash-flow (more like a trickle) but it wasn’t even enough to cover the monthly expences, let alone pay back the initial investment.
A debt of alsmost 3000€ was crippling to a 24-year old who made 350€ a month; and when you factor in living costs, I could only afford 150€ towards the loan. At that rate, it would take me about 18 months to pay it all back – provided that I didn’t buy shoes or clothes in that time, provided that my rent didn’t go up in that time, and provided that no emergencies happened in that time.
But just three months into paying back, the biggest emergency happen: we lost a family member.
I moved back to my home town and I can honestly say this was the darkest, scariest time of my life.
Still, I was lucky to get a job soon after I moved back. It paid half as much, but since I was now living at home, I had no other expences. The catch was that my whole salary was just a hair over 150€ (which was the amount I intended to pay back each month), and that left me with pretty much no pocket money. Which is why, for 18 months, I had bought just one pair of cheap “made-in-China” shoes and a couple of second-hand clothes. I also cut my internet connection at home to save money, and went for the cheapest TV contract available.
But it was all worth it. With God’s help, who spared us any more major emergencies, – I managed to pay down 150€ every single month for 18 months, while virtually spending nothing else. While working on my debts, I often had doubts that I will make it in just 18 months; and often, a month seemed to stretch forever. So when March 2011 approached, I could hardly believe it that I was really, really, going to be free at last.
I had planned for my debt-free moment and thought about what I wanted to do after that. The first two months I kept saving and put 250€ for my buffer (emergency fund); then bought a heap of second-hand clothes to replenish my wardrobe (and once again use more than 5 hangers); then bought a second-hand laptop and restored my internet connection at home.
For two more years, I worked on my savings. I started earning more, too, so I could afford to live a little while keeping the same steady savings rate as before. I had gotten not just good with money, I was great.
And I thought I had seen the last of money struggles.
* * *
In September 2012, I met my soon-to-be husband through a dating site.
Now, dating always comes with a few pricetags attached (Love without money or money without love?), but even more so in our case, because he was from a nearby town – about 50 kilometers (30 miles) away. Neither he nor I had a car at the time. On one hand, it was good because this was the frugal thing in our situation; on the other hand, our dates revolved heavily around public transit schedule.
And even though we are both pretty careful with money, I know that the whole dating thing cost me at least 50€ a month, including travel. I never asked how much it cost him, but it was more than that.
Then around New Year’s we had a whole eternity together – I’m talking like, nine whole days (and nights, and mornings together). We decided it was finally time to have The Talk – the big talk when we decide who moves where, when, and lay out a plan for the near future. We had scratched the surface of The Talk several times on dates, but were always quick to abandon it because it made us both nervous and also because it just wasn’t right to have The Talk at a park bench. (10 tips: how to manage money as a couple)
We decided that Spring was a good time for a new start, and that I should move in with him. We aimed for March or April, but of course depending on how soon I’d find a suitable job.
* * *
In February 2013, I was getting nervous about moving in together – even though I already had a job lined up for me in March. Maybe we were rushing things? I mean, he had a car now (a good spacious one), but he also had the loan that went with the car. Did he expect that we merge finances when we move in together? What were we going to do with the monthly bills? And what if something happened with my job and I stopped earning money?
As we sat on our outside table in the crispy February air, I was getting more and more jittery, so when he said something like “I’m so happy we’ll be living together soon”, I barked back:
“Yeah? Well living together or not, I’m still a FREE ELECTRON, see?” I rigorously turned my right hand in the air, showing him my bare, ringless finger. “Until I see a ring on my finger, I’ll do as I see fit! There will be no joint finances, no split bills, no nothing! And if I don’t like it, I can just up and go!”
I was just short of having steam blow out of my ears, and you know what he did? He laughed.
Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, red, velvet, heart-shaped thing.
Inside was the prettiest engagement ring I had ever seen.
* * *
In March 2013 we were already living together, sharing a three-bedroom apartment with his parents. It was a temporary solution, but no one knew how temporary exactly – it could be six months or it could be three years. Neither of us (nor our families) had the money for a down payment on a separate dwelling; and even if we did, it seemed like too big a step to impose on our young relationship. We decided to see how living together goes while looking at dwellings in the mean time, but hold off on the buying.
Renting was not an option, as we both felt it was a waste of money.
I had also started the job I had secured earlier, and we marily prepared to start building our joint savings together (thus far I had my savings and he had his, which amounted to zero).
I wasn’t exactly looking forward to walking through another rough patch of building savings. But I was glad my partner understood how important saving was.
* * *
In late March 2013, our plans for saving were long abandoned.
I had quit my job after spending two weeks at that horrible place. I was now unemployed, but I was confident I’d find a good job really soon. Still, we couldn’t put anything towards savings right now.
We were also preparing for me to start a dance school in the new place, so we were going to use part of my savings to buy a stereo, pay for ads, and have two months’ rent in advance.
(See also: Unemployed and depressed? You are not alone)
* * *
In late April 2013, I was suffering through another bad job (Job-hunting during recession), and this time I had to stick to it if we were going to have our wedding this year. However, we were still facing at least a month until I got my first paycheck from my new job, and we didn’t have any savings left. (Well, I had a little something tucked away for dire straights, and I also had locked in a three-year cash deposit. But I wasn’t touching the little something unless someone was dying, and neither of us wanted to unlock the 1000€.)
Before I had this new bad job – and soon after I quit the first horrible job – I talked to my fiancée about paying off the car (750€). I argued that if he lost his job too, I’d be freaked about having a monthly payment that we couldn’t meet. Also, we’d save a little bit on interest. And most of all, I’d just have peace of mind that we didn’t owe anything to anybody.
He finally agreed. I put in some money from my saving account, we also had a little something in a joint account we set up right after engagement, and we managed to spare just enough from his salary to make up for the rest.
So we didn’t have any debt now, but we also didn’t have any savings. We both agreed that as soon as possible, we’ll restore the money in my savings account, and then also in our joint account.
* * *
In late May 2013, I was celebrating my first month of employment with this great, big, amazing company. (How to get a good job in the recession: start any job, then keep looking) I was out-of-my-mind happy with getting such a great job during recession, and I appreciated it all the more after some ridiculous interviews and several offers of really bad employment conditions.
The last time I got a full paycheck was late March. I got a partial one from my first horrible job at mid-April. I didn’t get the unemployment check I was counting on, and the second bad job I had didn’t even pay me.
Now I had a great job, but I would get my first check, for the first month of work, at the end of the second month of work. So I had to file for paycheck advance, but that would mean that at the end of June, I’d get the remains of my May salary, and I would get my next full paycheck as late as July.
So late May through late July… that’s four months of scraping by on money from here and there. My dance school was bringing in very little as of yet. I only got one partial paycheck and one salary advance (which is still a partial paycheck).
Then we found out I was pregnant.