Darcy’s Money Stories – After marriage, but before kids

Here goes another round of Money Stories, this time about my life between getting married and starting a family:

  • Kevin and I are coming up on our 12 year anniversary this August. So much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same. We still seem to have more or less the same financial goals, and thankfully we have reached many along the way.
  • Our honeymoon was very much a budget trip. We had really wanted to take a train trip to Glacier National Park, but when we were in the process of budgeting (i.e. seeing how expensive it was) we went out to dinner with a work associate of Kevin’s. She graciously offer for us to stay at her rustic little house on Lopez Island in the San Juans. We practically jumped for joy at the offer, and spent a lovely week completely unplugged. It was located on Mud Bay with sweet view and deck as big as the tiny house, where we slept in a loft (not unlike our Camp Cabins!) We made most of meals, and walked down the road to pick up fresh eggs. We ate out mostly at brew pubs, as we still do. We rented bikes, did some sea kayaking and did a day trip over to San Juan. Free rent aside, it reinforced our belief that vacationing doesn’t have to be an expensive affair, but it is important to getaway and unplug.
  • In our conversations leading to marriage, we decided to combine our finances. We both knew that there might be times when we each wanted our autonomy back, but we also felt that it was important to form a true partnership. After two years of living together, the process was pretty seamless and we kept pretty much the same financial arrangements (Kevin was paying more of the rent since he had the higher income, I was paying all of my student loans and some of the utilities, shared food/dining, etc.)
  • Returning to Ashland we were already starting to itch to move. Ashland is a lovely tourist town, but not a place for young professionals. I had certainly hit the meager ceiling of my non-profit position. I started researching graduate school. I applied for Tufts in Boston and Bard in upstate New York, while mentally making plans to move the next summer. Eventually I was accepted to both schools, but before I had a chance to make up my mind the tuition bill came. I can’t remember how much it was then, but it was more than I could stomach to lend (it’s $46k per year for tuition now). Plus, I was legitimately worried that Kevin was going to have to leave his full-time job, and we’d have move ourselves across the country not knowing how long he’d need to search for work. Knowing how quickly Miel had racked up credit card debt while between jobs, I was very intimidated by the idea of taking such a financial risk for the sake of higher education.
  • In the process of deciding we went back up to Portland for an engagement party. Being back in Portland reminded us of how much we missed Portland, and got me dreaming of returning. I started to research graduate school options and realized that I could attend Antioch University Seattle from Portland (traveling up for four days of each month). The tuition was slightly less expensive, but the real deciding factor was knowing (planning/hoping!) that we could buy our first starter home before I finished grad school, instead of being faced with another cross country move after just two years. The graduate program, a Master’s in Environment & Community at their Center for Creative Change, was truly a much better match for me.
  • In the end we still ended up deciding to take a cross country road trip, but just for the fun of it. As newlyweds planning to start a family after I finished graduate school, we figured that it would be our last chance where we would both have more than 2-3 weeks of vacation together (between jobs!). So, we packed up everything and moved our belongings to Portland before heading out on the road.
  • Backing up a moment, I was really getting burnout on earning $15 an hour at my environmental non-profit job. So, after a misunderstanding with my manager, I gave my notice. I was planning to just take a couple months off before moving. Yet, serendipity stepped in when I happened to join an anti-war march down main street Ashland (Yes, there many of these during the Bush II wars to help us liberals feel connected and little less powerless). So, I started chatting with the woman who I was walking next to through the little march. It turned out that she was a faculty member at the local community college, and the head of their diversity program. She happened to really need someone to help organize an annual conference, and by the next week I was on payroll as faculty on a contract basis. It was simply easier and quicker for her to hire me as faculty, and it was my first job being paid $25 an hour. It was a great gig…I loved everyone I worked with and felt truly confident about my skills and the service I was providing. I was no longer learning, but knowing. I felt very professional and very valuable.
  • Then we packed up everything and headed on our cross country road trip. We backtracked along the Lewis & Clark trail, visiting a ton of national parks along the way. We spent two weeks traveling East, then two weeks on the East Coast and then two weeks back again. It was a wonderful trip in so many ways (minus one burnt afternoon driving across Ohio and Eastern PA). I remember while we were visiting Kevin’s family that they had lots of questions about our camping set up (we even demoed our backpacking stove for them!). We also tracked virtually every penny on the road, and we averaged less than $50 a day for food, gas and lodging. His family could barely believe it.
  • Returning back to Portland felt great, minus the fact that neither of us had a job. We were planning to live with Miel until we found a place, figuring that it would take a few weeks. It turned out that as soon as we got into town we met up to head out to dinner. On our walk there, just a block and a half away from her apartment, we found a beautiful apartment…the second story of a little dutch colonial between Chapman Park and the Stepping Stone diner (where we enjoyed many breakfasts). We moved in the day before our first wedding anniversary, and it was nice to settle into a new home.
  • However, being between jobs was stressful. Kevin really was set on landing a great job, not just a lateral move, but it took patience. He got tons of interviews, but in the end it took a few months. We still had a savings/safety net, but as the holidays drew near, he was almost in panic mode. He even applied for a temporary job as a delivery truck driver. This was first time that he/we ever stressed about money together. Of course I felt pretty responsible, since I was the one who really pushed the move to return to Portland for graduate school (and felt it necessary that we take our cross country adventure, even if it did leave us with barely enough of a safety net). But I still felt it critical to keep the faith for him and us, and looking back now I can see that that’s become our pattern: he feels scarcity, while I do my best to keep the faith.
  • I had also landed a part-time job just before Kevin, but it was just enough to supplement my expenses through graduate school (similar to my Ashland non-profit wages). I was doing meaningful work, organizing and marketing inspiring environmental lectures, but I wasn’t all that financially sustainable. I was earning enough to pay for my college loan repayment, my phone and basic expenses. I felt like a poor student waiting for my professional life to really begin, and as I was ready to bust out of the non-profit poverty cycle.
  • Once we were just starting to get into a groove with our new life back in Portland. I ended up tearing my ACL (the second run on a lifetime ski pass for Mt Bachelor!) (I had torn it in high school…so I knew the pain/routine all too well, thankfully this time the recovery was much faster). I felt very fortunate to have health insurance. Growing up my Mom’s insurance was so good that it covered me until we got married. But between jobs we didn’t have any insurance for a few months. Kevin had just landed his new job, and I had just gotten coverage again just a week before I blew out my knee. Again, I felt very lucky to have good health insurance.
  • Unfortunately, karma wasn’t in our favor that winter, and the same week of my accident we were given two weeks notice that we needed to move out because our landlord’s son wanted to move in. They gave us a week extension, but I was still packing boxes on pain meds. This turn of events did inspire us (piss us off!) to resolve that we would save every penny for a deposit on our first home. Kevin did the math and calculated that we could afford to buy after another six months of renting. So, we moved, but didn’t truly settle in, knowing that we were ready to move as soon as we could manage it.
  • Even though I don’t remember particularly sacrificing, somehow we saved up enough for a downpayment by the next summer. We ended up closing on our first home days before our second wedding anniversary. Yippeeeeee! In case you haven’t added it up, our first home was our fifth place in four years! It felt awesome to finally put down roots.
  • We finally had a place of our own to invest our love and energy (even if it would mean unexpected repairs and plenty of obligation). The market in Portland was really hot at the time, and the median sale price was $195k. We bought for exactly that price, and the place had just been completely flipped and needed very little work. The yard/garden was in sore need though, and that’s where we put most of our sweat equity.
  • Our first home was a 1920s cottage with lots of charm and light. It’s was pretty small, but perfect for a couple. Plus, it was across the street from the Arbor Lodge Park, and the neighborhood was pretty up-and-coming in a working class family sort of way. It felt like our envisioned life was coming to life.
  • I was still busy with graduate school and pinching my meager non-profit paychecks, and had one more year to go before I would be able to restart my professional career.
  • Somewhere along the way I started feeling less confident with money. At times when I was younger, I remember feeling really frustrated about being told that I was like my father with money; i.e. irresponsible, frivolous and eager to spend. While there was some truth to it, I am passionate in the way I use my resources, I also felt/feel like it was a story about the past and an unhelpful label. It somehow condoned my bad financial habits.
  • Plus, by this time, Miel was starting to earn some serious bank in D.C., while I still struggling to save much. I didn’t have a retirement fund to speak of, and Miel had already socked away a good sized nest egg. I’ve tried not to compare us in this way, since after all D.C. is not comparable to Portland for earning potential, but it’s hard not to when you see your identical twin reaching her full potential. The only consolation was/is that she’s always been so generous and so emotionally supportive and kind.
  • As for Kevin, he’s also been very supportive and wants to see me succeed. Yet there is an undertone of male chauvinism. Partly because he’s seven years older than me, he’s always been forthright in admitting that he thinks he should be earning more than me and that it would be a big bruise on his ego if (when!) I ever earn more than him. We’ve had friendly and not-so-friendly debates about gender equality, and we’ve agreed to disagree (although he doesn’t believe that he should earn more than an female counterpart or superior, but there’s something in him that believes he should earn more than me).
  • One of my big life/career goals that I set my freshman year in college was that I wanted to earn my Master’s before starting a family. I knew I wanted to learn more than college had to offer and advance my career as much as possible, but I also felt like it would be too challenging to do this with kids.
  • But with my thesis coming along and graduation on the horizon, I started thinking about starting a family. We were back visiting Kevin’s family for the holidays (the same place he had proposed to me), and I went to bed on Christmas Eve knowing that I was ready for a family. Low and behold, the weekend I wrote my thesis I got pregnant, and announced that I was pregnant at graduation. A very effective way of ending one chapter and beginning a very new one…

I can hardly believe how the stories keep coming…thanks for your patience and interest. I can only hope that you’re getting something out of my reflections and perhaps dredging up your own stories to forgive and release.




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