As I begin to write this next round of stories, I have a feeling that it will be the most complicated as far as emotions go. It’s not so much in the past, but still feels like part of my relationship with money. Hoping it will be a chance to forgive and learn, and that Hubby won’t get upset for me being completely honest.
It’s also complicated in the fact that there are so many daily stories around money. Money is part of our everyday conversations, and an integral aspect of our relationship and life partnership.
- After dating for barely six months, Kevin and I were ready to move in together. This was obviously a big step, but we felt ready for it and by that time we were spending time almost every day together, and were ready to try out this thing called being adults (Kevin was seven years older than me and worried for some time that I wasn’t ready to settle down yet). During that courting time we were obviously getting to know everything we could about each other.
- Before Kevin even hit on me (asking me if I gave dance lessons after seeing me swing dance with another guy!), he had talked with every friend we had in common to find out more about me. He had also looked me up in the directory and found that I came from a tiny place called Days Creek, and he then struggled to find it on a map, which is more of a bend in the road than a town. It was obvious that I grew up in BFE, but he was still intrigued enough to want to take a chance.
- In our early conversations about money, it was obvious that we had grown up in two very different worlds. Kevin grew up the youngest of five in an upper middle class Catholic family. His Dad traveled across the country regularly to court doctors as a high level pharmaceutical rep, and had recently retired. They were snowbirds and went to their second home on Marco Island in Florida each winter. They enjoyed tending to a beautiful Bucks County countryside estate before downsizing. His parents were members of the Doylestown Country Club and had a long standing gourmet group that rotated dinner parties. His mother volunteered as a docent at the Michener Art Musuem (still does), played tennis with her girlfriends on a regular basis, was active in a antiquing club called Questers, and generally had made herself an active and lovely lifestyle. They traveled regularly, and growing up Kevin had never camped. The closest he had been to roughing it was on a fishing trip to Canada staying in cabins. Naturally, he grew up not needing to worry about money, although I think his parents did their best not to spoil their kids (his siblings are all very kind and generous). He was picky about things though (still is!!), wanting only the popular designer clothes and somehow turning down an offer to go to Ireland to meet distant family in high school (I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing!). Meanwhile his parents owned a “hobby farm” where his Dad was very strict about making the kids (especially the boys) do projects like painting and pruning on the weekends. So, despite being catered to, Kevin also felt like he worked hard growing up, and still had a relentless work ethic.
- Essentially Kevin forgave me for growing up poor. He fell in love with me in spite of my meager upbringing, knowing that I was determined to be successful in life. In turn, despite being frustrated by his finicky standards, I forgave him for growing up never having to worry about money. Our common ground was and is our values, and that we both wanted to create a life together where we could live in sustainable abundance.
- After becoming Kevin’s “Sugar Mama” during my senior year, we were ready to move in together after my graduation.
- Serendipitously, we both landed jobs in Portland within a week of each other (moving in together hinged on us both getting jobs in PDX…again, I was in awe that I had managed to land a full-time job as an environmental activist…my dream job at the time!).
- I was making $24k, plus full benefits and retirement after six months. While it was a pretty typical entry level salary at the time, it was actually more than any of my parents were earning. It felt strange and awkward to earn more than them, even though they were very proud of me. It felt like my college loans would be justified, which I started paying six months after graduation.
- After graduation I headed to Down-to-Earth to buy some kitchen and household goods. I wanted everything to be as sustainable and as durable as possible. The shopping tab was maybe a third more than if I had bought everything at Target, but I wanted to invest in our future.
- I also picked up quite a few things at a yard sale, and we still use several of the items.
- We moved into Ladd’s Addition place in SE, which was a converted three bay garage with one bay as the bedroom/bath, and two bays as the kitchen/living space…it was cozy, but located between Ladd Circle and one of the four rose gardens. In the process we thought we had lost the place to another tenet, but it turned out that they had bad credit…another reminder of how important your credit is.
- Soon enough it was time to buy our first vacuum cleaner. Up until that point I had been very intentional about keeping our purchases separate. I didn’t want to end up breaking up and having the complication of joint ownership. But Hubby really wanted to have it be our first purchase together, so I agreed…little did I know that he actually loves vacuuming…a good purchase indeed!
- During our first year of living together we were diligent about tracking our expenses. We had a notebook where we wrote down every bill and grocery tab, and at the end of the month we calculated who had paid more and evened the score. It felt very fair and equitable.
- We also alternated who picked up the bill when dining out. Whoever was paying got to pick the restaurant, for the most part. (We also alternated nights for making dinner, and whoever didn’t make dinner washed up…this only changed once we moved to Ashland and soon-to-be Hubby needed to commute longer and I was working fewer hours).
- Overall, our first year of living together was about as harmonious as it gets. We both had decent jobs, our expenses were pretty low and we put fair systems in place.
- Just as Kevin was finishing up his Master’s in Planning, he was offered a job as the planning manager in Talent, where he had served the year before we met in an AmeriCorps program (RARE). This offer put us at our first turning point, and for a brief moment we weren’t sure if we would need to live apart (or break up) because of our jobs. Thankfully, telecommuting was just beginning, and I was working for a national NGO. So, I managed to convince them that I could do my work from Ashland…so with very little time, we packed up and moved south. But not before having an important conversation…I insisted that if we were moving for his career that our next move would be for my career, likely to return to graduate school.
- We were also both saving up for a trip to Europe, since one of my criteria for marriage was that we travel abroad together (After I had fallen in love in Denmark, but felt the need to break up even though he wanted to get married, I decided that I needed to set my own criteria before I fell in love again: 1) We needed to live together for at least a year 2) We needed to travel abroad together 3) I needed to be at least 25). Thankfully, we both managed to save up enough and meet up in London to travel to Wales and Ireland for two weeks (I had been in Bonn, Germany for a U.N. conference on climate change, and then continued on to visit Miel in Ghana in Peace Corps).
- After an amazing six week adventure I returned to Ashland, where we had found a newly built apartment located directly across from a quiet beautiful little park just south of the university. Once again, it felt like we were building our dream life…which at the time included a great deal of hiking, learning to play Frisbee, playing volleyball and reading for leisure.
- The good news was that Kevin was suddenly earning quite a bit more money, since his previous planning consulting position was more on an entry level position and this was the real deal, even if it was for a small community.
- Then, barely two weeks after returning from my six week trip, 9/11 happened. As everyone, I remember it vividly and we were all in shock in the days and weeks following. It’s economic ripple effects hit me harder than I expected. As the stock market crashed, virtually all foundations gave word to the non-profit world that only the bare bones projects would be funded. Since my project’s funding was up for renewal (combined with the fact that with Bush in office, it had become very apparent that he would oppose any climate policy on his watch), I was told by mid September that I would be laid off by the end of September with no severance.
- This was all pretty surreal. I had just moved to a very small town with a limited job market outside of the tourist business. Thankfully Kevin’s new salary could support us, but I was very professional motivated and too young to be a not yet married housewife.
- In my not-even-mid-life crisis, I joined a rafting trip on the Rogue to consider my options. I remember feeling like I needed to draw on my faith that I could define what I wanted, rather than feel sorry for myself. When I returned I found out that one of the few non-profits in town needed a conference coordinator for their annual Forest Activist Conference. It was full time position, but only for four months. I think the starting pay was maybe $17/hr.
- I worked my butt off to coordinate the conference, but I was feeling pretty poor and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do once it was over. I had only one pair of dress shoes that were around four or five years old and truly falling apart. I was sooo very grateful when Kevin bought me a shiny new pair of Danskos just before the conference began. (Another money memory was that one of the keynote speakers was being a real prima dona and putting his stress onto me for something I had no control over…I remember chewing him out “Do you realize that you are earning more in one day than I’ve earned for four months of organizing this whole conference?! I will bend over backward for you, but I will not let you walk all over me.” I was so proud of myself for standing up to him).
- I ended up coordinating the conference three years in a row, and after the first conference season, they managed to find enough money to keep me as a community project coordinator half time the rest of the year. It was barely enough to get by, even with Kevin paying the rent.
- I took a job as a hostess two nights a week at Standing Stone Brewery. I really didn’t earn much, but I did get a nice dinner and it felt like I wasn’t entirely mooching off Kevin. I also started making more of the meals on the weekdays.
- One of the things I loved about living in a small town was knowing the business owners. At the bank the tellers knew my name, even after just my first visit. There was sweet young woman my age named Rose, and I loved when she greeted me by name. But it was also embarrassing that my balance was perpetually low. I remember overdrawing a couple of times, and my Mom bailed me out with a $100, saying that she hoped I could keep it as a cushion, which I tried my best to do.
- We spent the holidays with Kevin’s family back East, where he proposed to me. The engagement ring was his great grandmother, Mimi’s, and was an elegantly simple platinum ring with a lovely diamond from the 1920s. I had always been afraid of wearing a gaudy ring, and the ring felt both substantial and understated.
- Two words, simple and elegant, continued to resonate in mind as the “theme” of our wedding celebration, and naturally as sustainable as possible. We budgeted well, knowing that we would need to share in the expenses with my parents. We got very creative and called upon my Umpqua Tribe to create a wedding that was truly a group effort. It was actually quite incredible our friends and family came together to throw us a beautiful celebration. At our 10 year anniversary I wrote a post that described how it took a village to throw a wedding!
- It’s likely selective amnesia, but I literally can’t even remember a single fight we had about money p rior to getting married, although I know we had minor money squabbles. They were very likely about the same issues we occasionally argue about now: too much clutter/stuff, prioritizing home repairs, budgeting for vacation, and generally trying to manage our finances to best of our ability (and forgiving each other’s minor transgressions).
- Despite coming from two very different perspectives, we had come into alignment with each others’ hopes and dreams. We both knew that I wanted to go to graduate school before having kids. We both wanted kids. We both wanted to travel, but were happy spending more time in campgrounds than hotels. We both had the dream of owning a small beach house. We both wanted to retire as early as possible in order to enjoy an active retirement. We both wanted to help our kids thrive, and give them an awesome start to life. We both dreamed of being able to give back to our community.
OK, that sums up our courtship period. Once again I feel very blessed to have found a life partner who shares the same sustainable values and is willing to work toward success, but still enjoy life along the way.
What money stories came before your marriage?