Married on a Budget

By Lynne

This post is part two of a 4-part series:  Marriage and Finances

When I asked Lynne to guest post on the topic of marriage and finances, she said, “Well . . . we’re not really the average couple when it comes to spending money.”  I said, “I know!!  That’s why I want you to guest post!”  Lynne and Brian seriously might be the most frugal people I’ve ever met.  Sometimes when I meet people who are super good at money management, it makes me feel guilty for not being better about it, but Lynne doesn’t make me feel that way at all.  Rather, Lynne and Brian inspire me with their humility and wisdom. They are the very embodiment of that cheesy adage “the most important things in life aren’t things.” (and if you have this adage on a plaque hanging in your home, by cheesy I mean awesome and inspiring).   – Celeste


Disclaimer: In our almost 12 years of marriage, our income has always hovered around the poverty threshold, sometimes dipping below it, sometimes rising above it. However, we have never been truly poor.  We’ve never had to worry about where we’d get our next meal, or how we’d pay the next month’s rent.  I realize that a substantial portion of the world’s population suffers from a poverty of desperation.  This post is not meant to belittle their situation, or by any means to suggest that I have answers to those problems.

Dublin, Ireland, November 2004:  We live in a tiny studio apartment in the charming quarter of Rathmines.  We share a bathroom with the neighbors – which at nine months pregnant, I’m beginning to find somewhat inconvenient.  As I’m not allowed to work in Ireland, and much of our savings is going to rent and tuition, we’re learning to cut corners elsewhere.  Potatoes are cheap and can be cooked in a variety of ways. If we wait until our neighbor Ronan is out of the shower, we can use the rest of his hot water without having to pay for our own. And walking into town (for me) and biking to the University (for my husband) saves us on bus fare.

Getting on the same page financially

Early in our marriage we acknowledged that we were in this together.  We consolidated our bank accounts and sat down to make a budget. For the first three or four years of married life, we accounted for every penny we spent.  Every Monday evening we’d gather our receipts for the week, enter them into Quicken, assess the week’s spending, and eat a bowl of ice cream. Though sometimes tedious, this did several things for us:

  • It meant eating ice cream together – always a boost to one’s marriage
  • It opened up communication about spending
  • It made us each accountable to the other
  • It helped us budget ahead. We would estimate how many years our car or computer had left in them, and start setting aside money so that by the time they died we’d be able to pay out of pocket for a replacement.
  • Most importantly, it helped us align our priorities.




During our engagement, I was working in Germany, while my husband-to-be was shopping for our first apartment.  He asked if I had any requests, and I told him I wanted a place with a dishwasher.  Instead he found an apartment in an old brick house with hardwood floors, a chartreuse kitchen and a claw-footed bathtub and . . . no dishwasher.  The thing is, I absolutely loved it.  I began to reassess my own priorities and decided that a dishwasher wasn’t as high on the list as I initially thought. In fact, it wasn’t until this last year, for the first time in our married lives, that we moved into a house with a dishwasher.  That means almost 11 years of hand-washing dishes, most recently for a family of five.  But it was okay; we were spending on things that we both found more important. Priorities in a marriage will depend upon the couple, and will naturally change with time and circumstances.  Our priorities may seem somewhat atypical, but they’ve come through constant reassessment of what we really want, over what we sometimes thought we wanted.  Here they are . . . roughly.


  • We pay 10% of our income to religious causes
  • Doing this first has helped us remember what life is all about – helping other people and making the world a better place.
  • I also believe that our willingness to do this first has made other aspects of our lives fall into place by divine intervention.


  • We wanted to have children, but didn’t want to put our children in daycare.  While there are some wonderful childcare programs and daycare is unavoidable for some, for us it meant a major expense, and we didn’t want to miss our babies growing up.
  • This one has been exceptionally tricky; we’ve had to coordinate our schedules to tag team it.  For most semesters we’ve been able to avoid babysitters completely (except for date nights, when usually we’d trade with friends).  The most we’ve needed childcare was 10 hours a week for one semester.


  • We got married with one semester of our Bachelor degrees before us, but knew that we were both looking toward grad school.
  • While this was a priority, it was not one we were willing to go into debt for.
  • We realize that for some professions: medicine, law, dentistry, etc. – it is near impossible to avoid debt – but our degrees, in Art History and Creative Writing are not nearly as marketable as those, so we thought it wise not to dig ourselves into a financial hole from which we had no guarantee of emerging.

Travel and Experience

  • As a teenager, my sister once commented to a friend, “When I’m rich, I’m going to travel the world!” to which the friend replied, “Don’t.” Flabbergasted, my sister repeated “Don’t!?” and her friend clarified, “Don’t wait until you’re rich!”
  • Besides the five different states we’ve lived in during our marriage, we’ve been able to live in five different countries (ranging in durations from one month to one year).
  • We’ve found the trick to this is to have someone else pay for you to live abroad.
  • In some ways, living abroad on a budget has meant a more “authentic” cultural experience – figuring out the local public transportation, bargaining with the tomato woman in the open air market, etc.


  • We always worked to put 5-10% of our income into savings.
  • Having a savings has provided a lot of peace of mind and reduced stress in our marriage.
  • It has given us hope – as we’ve saved ahead for a down payment on a house, travel, etc.
  • It has also provided a lot of freedom. When the opportunity to move to Rome for two and a half months arose, we could pay for plane tickets the next day.

In order to have the things we wanted, we had to be willing to do without things that were lower on our list – usually stuff.  It means that we buy our clothes at thrift stores and our furniture on Craigslist; it means that despite having four kids, we live in a two-bedroom house (but that’s okay, as we don’t have any stuff to fill it.)


Unforeseen benefits of frugality

  • A lack of stuff
    –   Stuff can be a burden – it is nice not to have too many things to clean up, store, and manage
  • A focus on things of value
    –   It has helped our children understand the value of things, and avoid materialistic tendencies. One of our family mantras is “Be grateful, not greedy!”  We were recently walking down the toy aisle of a store when my oldest son commented, “Everything here is so commercially.”  (I also attribute this lack of materialism to our lack of TV and our living abroad – our kids have seen many who live without).
  • Greener living
    –   Using cloth diapers, line drying laundry, eating beans over meat and buying used clothes and toys have all reduced our carbon footprint.
  • Unity
    –   Well kind of . . .



In truth, our financial decisions have not really unified us as much as our striving for unity in our marriage has informed our financial decisions. Supporting each other full-heartedly means that our lives are integrated practically.  When I successfully defended my dissertation in the fall, my husband felt a sense of accomplishment.  Likewise, I feel thrilled when he gets a poem published, and we both rejoice when we see our children’s accomplishments. These are things we’ve achieved together.

I am happy to report that I now cook more than potatoes and I take hot showers without a second thought.  In the end, I wouldn’t trade that year in Ireland for a cushy house with a three-car garage.  It is experience, friendships, and education that have made our lives interesting and full.

One does not need to be rich to live richly!

9 thoughts on “Married on a Budget

  1. Such wonderful tips. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    It is so fantastic that you got on the same page about your finances right away.
    It sounds like you have done an amazing job of supporting each other thru all of the ups and downs that finances can bring to a marriage.

  2. Wow! Thank you SO much for sharing that! I really didn’t see how in the world you could possibly be traveling so much on your own dime, I thought like your sister did, you have to be very well of to do those things. Thanks for the touching insight. I try to raise my kids the same way and we haven’t bought anything new sense… I cant think of a time. 🙂 I’m so glad your kids have grasped that lesson! I’m hoping mine do too.
    Good luck on your adventures!

  3. Your lives and family are beautiful! My husband received his MFA in creative writing and I received my degree in Art…smart of you to not expect truckloads of money to start arriving once you finished school 🙂 I love that you say your unified goals/marriage has informed your financial decisions and not the reverse. Best of luck to you on wherever your decisions lead you next!

    1. Amanda, when we were newly weds (without kids) we moved to Taiwan to teach English. That was a great deal – our school paid for our plane tickets and our room and board. We paid for our year in Ireland with the money we made in Taiwan. My husband was offered a job to help teach in a study abroad to Rome for a term. And then our two trips to Africa were paid for by grants that I was able to aquire for my research. (I also got some grant money to go to France). It’s been fun. We’re always on the look out for more oppurtunities.

  4. I love this so much. We did the lots of money, spend it on fancy things, live paycheck to paycheck even though you earn a lot thing. We were grief shopping our way through my mom’s death, and now we live on an income that is 1/3 of what it was before, and have never been happier. it’s crazy what a little perspective and healing can do.

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