Peanut Butter Sandwiches & Netflix Binges
A Notorious philosopher once proposed: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”. The idea is widely accepted as fact and many consider the hypothesis to have tremendous merit. With all due respect to Mr. B.I.G., I would like to delve a bit deeper and put his proposal to the test. The reason many people find a positive correlation between, both, the amount of problems and the amount of money they possess is because of a lack of discipline -- the clear implication is that mo’ money means mo’ choices and mo’ opportunities for those choices to become problematic -- but let’s be real, that doesn’t make a catchy hook (so let’s give Biggie the benefit of the doubt). All of this to say, human nature rebels against the idea of living within our means and society has never made that easy. Some may think that it’s because of social media and today’s technology, but consider the fact that the phrase “keeping up with the joneses” was coined in 1913 and you’ll realize that our society has been flawed well before Zuckerberg and Tom. This information makes it a little bit easier to tell you that living within our means is something that has not come easy and that our financial gameplan has been subject to many audibles.
I struggle with jealousy. It’s not my favorite attribute, but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful for what I have. And nooooo it doesn’t mean I don’t have faith that the Lord will always provide. Don’t smite me. I’m just sayin’, I have my moments.
I had those moments a lot sitting in our one bedroom one bathroom apartment. I was not cut out for apartment living. I couldn’t serve people in my home the way I wanted to. I wasn’t able to host dinners. I couldn’t decorate a front porch. I couldn’t open the back door wearing my pajamas to let the dog out and right back in. I loved being under one roof with Ethan, but dang it was a tiny roof. I envied couples with cute new homes. Heck I envied couples in apartments with 2 bathrooms. But, let’s look back on the newlywed lives of The Sauers.
I had just starting student teaching, so I had to quit my student-worker job. This meant we were just living off of Ethan’s salary and I’d love to say it was bliss, but that’d be a lie. It was a rough adjustment to what we had grown accustomed to and challenged us, to say the least. We had to make the choice to live within our means and God absolutely provided -- we never struggled with paying rent or any bills -- but it wasn’t the glamorous life filled with date nights or big, random, romantic gifts. It was many nights filled with peanut butter sandwiches and Netflix binges.
It was a time that I almost hated going online to see what friends were posting about. I remember reading a blog post about how this blogger and her husband were struggling financially. She talked about no matter how hard it got, at least they always had Costco wine. Who the H is struggling financially with a Costco membership? Pardon the sass – that’s gonna happen in my sections of this blog.
Anyways let’s fast forward a bit. We survived the great student teaching financial depression, I got a job in the fall, and the first paycheck hit and HEYYYY COSTCO WINE. Not really. We felt abundantly blessed and were relieved to have made it through a rough year, financially. So what did we do to celebrate? Well, we made peanut butter sandwiches and finished our Netflix binges. We didn’t go Target-crazy with the newfound “dollar, dollar, bills (yall)” in our bank account. Sure there was now a weekly date night splurge added every now and then. But Ethan knew what my heart desired: a house. So on days when I wanted to hop on a plane and fly to the beach, bathe in margaritas, and Instastory the whole thing, he would be my reminder. We live within our means to get the house. We made small sacrifices and eventually we got the house (and there was even a beach trip in between). I’ve had many friends ask us how we got the house and the truth is we got it because of two things: (1) Prayer and (2) Living within our Means. We prayed our guts out to find a house we could afford that was in a great neighborhood. Yes, we saw houses we adored slip away to other families (who I’m sure were just as deserving). Yes, we had obstacles at literally every step of the way (If you haven’t been on a house hunting adventure yet, here’s your warning, that part sucks). Though, like He always does, the Lord provided (on His time-- not ours). Now, living within our means required saving (I hate to even call “saving”, because it really wasn’t-- it was just not spending all of our money). It required living in a smaller apartment because we wrote a smaller rent check. It was not getting brand new furniture. It was checking out DVD’s at our library. It was not going to an exotic location to celebrate a lengthy 365 days of wedded bliss. (There that sass is again. I tried to warn ya.)
Anyways—to sum this all up:
· It’s ok if your life doesn’t seem as glamorous as someone else’s; glamorous isn’t always blessed, and what you see on social media isn’t always the full story.
· If you want something, it’s ok to make small sacrifices to get it. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
· It’s also ok if you want to blow all your money at Pottery Barn. We don’t judge that, either. We feel ya.
· If you find yourself having a jealous moment—stop. Stop looking at the Instagram post. Stop comparing. Look around and count your blessings. Maybe even grab a jar of Jif from the pantry and queue up whatever’s next on your Watchlist. We recommend Lost.
So Emily and I made it our goal to buy a house this year. When we got married, our original plan was to buy a house in February 2017, once the lease in our shoe of an apartment came to an end. This was unreasonable, but we were two newlyweds looking for open, greener, pastures and doggone it we were going to blaze a trail with our financial prowess. February came and we re-signed a six-month lease to live in our cozy little closet until the end of July. So July became the new goal and we were pumped about it: Summer meant Em would be off work and she would be able to help Pioneer Woman the heck out whatever house we were able to buy.
The sacrifice that we willingly made is one that I would make again and again. We had one credit card between the two of us, we paid it off after every month and we stuck to a small, manageable budget (with a few date nights sprinkled in to keep our sanity). The worst thing about living within our means was having to say no to impulses and desires to travel, upsize, and indulge. Emily and I both had to understand that those things that we said we wanted now were not worth giving up the goals that we’d like in the not-so-distant future. So we saved, we did living-room picnics and netflix dates, and we got to a point where we felt comfortable applying for our mortgage to buy our first home.
As anyone who has ever endured the process will tell you, applying for a mortgage is hell. They nitpick and prod and pour over your financial history all in the hopes of coming up with a number that they can offer you that you hope and pray is enough to buy the home that is at the tippy-top of your list. It’s typically a week or two of compiling documents and then another week or two of crossing your fingers and avoiding credit checks before you get the go-ahead to start house hunting. I remember this process vividly -- I remember getting the phone call on Good Friday when the bank told us that we had been approved for our mortgage and having confirmation that it was enough for the price range we had expected. We were ready to hunt those houses!
Easter weekend was so exciting -- we had the opportunity to bookmark over a dozen houses on Zillow and really prep for our house hunting expedition. We visited multiple houses, we contemplated offers, and we had houses snatched from our grasp all within the first two weeks of our searching. It was draining and absolutely exhausting. We had found a house that was a bit of a fixer upper and we had invited our parents out to see it when, that afternoon, we received a call from the bank. They wanted to tell us that the mortgage that they had confirmed with us (paper-work finished and all) would no longer be applicable, because our student loans had yet to have any payments made towards them (as we were still in the grace-period before repayment). Such a simple, understandable life-situation… and yet, the bank didn’t see it that way. We were an application, we were numbers plugged into a spreadsheet, and the result at the end of their excel equation was disappointment.
We toyed with numbers, we looked for recourse but there was nothing we could do. The road to homeownership hit, yet another, obstacle. Guys, I’ll tell you, one of the hardest things in life is being up against a promise that you made to someone you love and knowing that keeping said promise may not be entirely in your control. I had promised Emily we would be done with apartment living, but our options were starting to wane.
And yet, God provides.
We turned our focus from buying a home to renting and we had a few pre-requisites about the property, outside of affordability, (a yard for Hank/pet friendly, a privacy fence, two bathrooms, and [most importantly] not managed by a big property management company) that made the search a little tricky, but God had a home already picked for us. Early in June, we found the home that we’d end up renting -- five other families saw the home that day and four of them put an application in. Our money that was earmarked for a down payment ended up being used to cover the June and July rent at our apartment, the first month’s rent at our new house, and the security deposit necessary to move our application to the top of the landlord’s list. God’s provision was perfect -- we even received an unexpected bonus during the week that the deposit and security deposit were due. God’s hands were all over our finances, even though we didn’t see it until everything came to fruition.
The craziest thing, for us, in all of our experience trying to live within our means came in the realization that we didn’t reach our goal of finding the perfect home for our little family by holding fast to our checkbook. Finding the perfect home for us came by trusting God with the details and trying our hardest to use our blessings in a responsible and generous manner. So, if you’re in an apartment that feels like a jail cell, we know that feeling. If you’re wondering when you’ll have the money to buy a house and gain equity, we feel that too. But even so, if you're living in that home that has your name on the deed, congratulations! We are incredibly happy for you and know the road is never as easy as it appears from the outside, looking in. We can't yet share in that joy but we know that this season will pass and all will come to fruition in good time.