When I was preparing myself for marriage, my fiance and I had a lot of conversations (within and out-with a pre-marriage course) about what was important to us, and tried to at least talk about some of the issues that were likely to come up in marriage, and could, if not handled well, cause problems. One of these issues, and we were warned, was money.
My view has stayed the same: money although important to keep track of, was not the be-all-and-end-all. This stems from a couple of key moments in my life: firstly, Slum Survivor, secondly, a call from God. Slum Survivor was a challenge and a fundraising activity where a team of us were put in a simulation which saw us living in a handmade cardboard and wood shelter, creating things from junk in order to sell them and raise money for basic food supplies. This included having our home torn down 3 days in, and having to rebuild it from the scrapes; it meant we didn’t eat one day because we’d “lost our food in a flash flood”; it meant not having phones, watches, or anything else to entertain us or make things easier. The challenge lasted 5 days with only a sleeping bag and the clothes on my back as my belongings. It was hard but incredibly freeing. I learnt that what I had considered “essentials” just weren’t what I needed.
As well as teaching me a lot about the situations of billions (except for the fact they couldn’t get out of it), it allowed me a new perspective on my own white, middle-class, existence. My family while not being swimming in £notes were not horribly poor. My mum worked incredibly hard for us and although our budget was sometimes tight, we didn’t often go through a crisis where food was short.
When I started going to University (and a top-of-the-league-boards & full-of-private-school-kids one too) I started accumulating stuff every single year. I would be involved in societies and would buy a hoodie to support it, and a few for theatre productions, and a few souvenirs from trips or plays I went to, plus the general student stuff you would “need” to buy, etc, etc.
After two years I got a bit shook around by God; I started thinking about the parable about the rich young man and came to the conclusion that even if Jesus didn’t ask everyone to sell everything they have (and there are some people who believe strongly that he did), He was telling me to think a little harder about what I considered mine, what was important to me, and what I really needed to survive as a student at university. So I cut down. That September I arrived with a trunk and a backpack. Everything I considered to be important (not necessarily longterm but at least for student-dom) was in those two things – and the trunk wasn’t huge either. The total contents of both were: a limited amount of clothes (about a weeks worth), cooking utensils, a blanket, books, art stuff (because I use it A LOT), bible, a hot water bottle/teddy, my laptop, camera, phone and important documents. I worked this out by thinking about how I went camping – what stuff I actually never missed whilst in a tent, hence would hardly miss in life.
The cutting back was hard. It is surprising and worrying how many stupid little things made me cry to give up. The thing is, that although my room was a little bare back in Uni accommodation, I was fine, comfortable, free of a ton of stuff I didn’t need. I was free. There was even a moment when I had lost my phone, it was returned to me, and beeped and buzzed so much I threw it under my bed just so I could get back to the freedom I had without it for a little while.
Bringing us back to the topic of my marriage: these experiences haven’t been easy to compromise (and in part I don’t want to) which has made discussions with my husband difficult at times. He is a lover of technology, currently a little Apple-obsessed, and also a foodie. So two of the most expensive things in life he tends to adore. We are also not rich: I work part-time for a charity, and he is still in full-time education. Our parents help us with rent and we hope to pay them back. We are in the common situation of having student debts, overdrafts, and very little cash to hand. This can make things tense and with a difference of opinion it can get… sticky.
This is not a post about how awful my husband is, I do not like that kind of writing or attitude and actually he isn’t awful. He deals with a lot from me and is incredibly supportive. Our differences tend to focus on what we might need, what we can afford, and sometimes a little bit of conversation works wonders in understanding each other much better than before.
It was in one of these conversations I found myself attempting to personalise something which I find tries to seem personal, but is actually as cold and logical as Spock on a particularly wintry day.. in Greenland. Banks, and the accounts we hold through them, make us feel safe, make us feel like banks care a little about us, that the people will work to your needs, and are just trying to make things easier, simpler, care-free. This is a lie.
Picture this. You ask a friend you trust to look after all your money, they give you a debit card and everything you buy tells them to send some of your money to the shop, which they do. Now you forget and buy something which is especially expensive and uses up not just a bit of your money, but a bit of your friends money too. At this point, you would probably get a rather angry and worried call from your friend to ask WTF you were doing spending that much, and telling you that you’d spent your money, and it wasn’t OK to just use money you didn’t have.
Are you seeing what I’m getting at here?
I do understand the usefulness of having a overdraft, I really do. What I think people need reminding of is that however much the bank has told you it’s OK to spend this extra bit of money you don’t actually have, it’s not really OK. When my husband talks to me and asks if I can put a bit more money in our “bills & food” account because he decided to buy ice cream and a DVD, I attempt to remind him that the “money” in my account is not actually money, it’s minus figures, it’s overdraft, and it doesn’t actually belong to us.
The truth is that if you move house you take what is inside because it belongs to you. Right now, honestly, if I moved out of my bank I would not take anything with me, I would be in debt because my overdraft is still in the negative.
The truth is that banks don’t like to remind you of this, mainly because the charges they make off you going into negative figures a little too far keep them paid nice wages, partly because they don’t care about you, you are none of their business.
The truth is that it becomes far too easy to get used to being in an overdraft. When I first had one I spoke to my mum about really not feeling comfortable if I went into it by £100, now it’s more like £1000, and that is actually a terrifying thought. I cannot imagine how people must feel when they physically have nothing to feed their kids, nothing to pay the lighting, heating or electricity bill with in the winter months, and how pressured they must feel by banks, loan companies and eventually loan sharks who really are just in it for themselves.
Personalizing the bank for my husband helped. It showed him a little bit more about what I was trying to say: that we don’t have a lot of money to spend on luxuries, that takeaways, cinema trips, meals out, home stuff, and little yummy things do still count as luxuries. They are luxuries because we don’t need them, and the money we spent on them is not ours.
Our plan is currently to get as far out of my overdraft as possible, using money only for things we need, sticking to a budget that gives us a little extra to treat ourselves, but is ultimately less than the money in. I hope and pray that this will come soon. Through budgeting, and asking ourselves continually about what we need, we have managed to get out of my husbands student overdraft. If we can do the same for mine by the summer I will be incredibly pleased. After that I want to save up money we can use for the future, budgeting the whole time in order to do this so we don’t have the scary prospect of finding ourselves back in negative numbers.
I’m not telling you this to seem smug, or tell you we’ve got it all sorted; we don’t, we have a long way to go. I can only pray that we continue to find at least a little employment to pay our wages, and that we keep finding ways to make do, mend, keep our payments down. I would encourage anyone out there to do the same. It is hard, but it is worth it. You need less than you think you do, it will be freeing without the stuff that clogs up our lives, and God provides what you need.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matt.6:34