Life First, Finances Second

Society smiles on “good” decisions– decisions that often follow certain rules– decisions that seem “right”, “correct” or “normal”.

These collective judgments are made on everything from nutrition to relationships to money.

But sometimes, the logical, sensible decisions just don’t work in real life. For some, conventional wisdom is anything but wise.

In this series, Financially Dumb, Personally Brilliant, we’ll meet many bold risk takers who went with their hearts/guts over their minds/wallets.

Today’s story comes from Sarah from Lemon Blessings:

Like many others, my husband and I strive to make the best choices, both for our personal life and financially as well.

Over the years we’ve made great strides as far as paying down debt, bolstering our savings, and preparing for the future (and retirement).

We have, however, had a few pivotal moments in our married life that have required us to pick between making a financially smart decision or making a decision that would only benefit us personally, possibly negatively impacting our finances.

They were not easy decisions to make.

Pivotal Moment: Single Income, No Kids

When my husband first graduated college, we made the decision that he and I would learn to live solely on his income. It seemed an unusual thing to do, because every married couple we knew was working forty (or more) hours a week each.

Our primary reasoning for the decision was that we wanted to have kids someday and didn’t want to be tied to using daycare or other childcare options unless necessary.

So, when Justin took his first full-time teaching job, I quit my job and stayed home.

Financially Dumb

We absolutely lived paycheck to paycheck during that time period and, at first, didn’t do it well.

We’d maxed out our credit cards during the moving process, had some sizeable medical bills we needed to address, and were not used to making a meal plan and sticking with it.

The last week of every month was incredibly stressful as we ate all of the leftovers (and canned goods) in our cupboards.  We prayed that we wouldn’t have any emergency expenses before the next month’s paycheck arrived.

Anyone around us would have said we were crazy if they’d known what our finances actually looked like at that time.

Honesty, they’d have been right. I mean, we could have had a second income to place in savings, pay off debt, or simply add to our retirement fund.

It was more important to both of us to figure out how to live on one income.  Because we were both naturally spenders, we knew we wouldn’t be financially successful with a second income, no matter what we decided to do with it.

Personally Brilliant

Despite the financial frustrations we were facing, the choice to have me refrain from working was wonderful for our relationship.

We spent our summers hiking, biking, and traveling around the state. We enjoyed the flexibility that came with being able to pick up and go when a family member wanted us to come visit.

To this day, we love spending time with each other more than anyone else.  We attribute that, in large part, to our time spent together in those early years–time that we might not have had if I’d been working as well.

Additionally, we learned to live on less – food, clothing, and even apartment space (550 square feet). It took us awhile, but we figured out how to make our budget work  – and we stuck with it.

In fact, I used the same excel spreadsheet budget for eight years before we found additional income and needed to make some changes.

Could we have taken on that second income, placed money in savings, paid down debt, or funded our retirement to a greater extent? Yes, but to this day, we are both certain that it was the right decision for us to make.

The valuable lessons we learned during that time period molded our life and finances into what they are today.

Pivotal Moment: To Blog Full Time or Not?

Now, almost exactly eleven years later, we’ve decided to make another decision that could be deemed as financially dumb. After working full time for three years in an administrative position I loved, we decided it was time for me to take on blogging full time.

I’d been working because I loved to, not because I needed to.  The extra money we’d been making over and above Justin’s income had been used for extra activities, vacations, paying down debt, and padding our savings accounts.

Financially Dumb

Many might look at the decision we’ve made for me to be a full-time blogger and to, once again, go back to the single-income situation, as a financial mistake.

You see, while I am making money blogging, I am still relatively new at it.  I have a long way to go before I will consider it as a replacement for my full-time income.

When we first broached the idea of me working from home, there was a lot of discussion about whether I should work in the office for a few more years.

If we’d decided to go with that option, we’d be able to put more money into savings and toward retirement.  But ultimately, seeing how quickly the blog was taking off, we decided that the time was now.

Personally Brilliant

Thanks to the lessons we learned years ago regarding living on one income, we were able to quickly scale back our extra expenses.  Honestly, the move from working mom to work-at-home mom has been seamless.

Not only do I have more time to dedicate to what I love doing, but my whole family is excited about the new opportunities this will allow for us in the future (travel, summers off, and flexible work hours – to name a few).

Of course, only time will tell whether it will be financially detrimental, but for the foreseeable future, it seems like the right choice not only for me, but for my family and the blog I am working hard to maintain.

And…if all else fails, I can always use that teaching degree and substitute again.

Financial or Personal?

As you’ve read, my family places a high value on making sure life fits us personally, allowing the finances to come second. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we jumped into any of these situations lightly.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

When we lived on one income, we knew we could make enough money to cover food and housing, even if we had to give up the extras in order to do so.

Before I left my most recent job, we carefully budgeted the remaining income and determined that we could keep up our current lifestyle without it, even if it involved making a few adjustments here or there.

Ultimately, the decision to elevate your financial status over your personal, or vice versa, comes down to what you believe to be the best thing for your future, for your life.



Sarah Brumley is a wife, mother, writer, and former English and History teacher. Her website, Lemon Blessings, focuses on practical family finance and household-related topics and is geared toward new and seasoned parents seeking ideas for simplifying their family life, finances and all.

Sarah can always be found on Twitter or you can track her down on her blog.

There you have it!  Stay tuned for the next installment of Financially Dumb, Personally Brilliant!

Want more?  Check out other popular posts from the series: Income is Replaceable; Health is Not and My Race, My Rules

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top