Within Your Means

I’ve been feeling a little guilty this year. —No, guilty isn’t quite the word I’m looking for, but it’ll do for now.

The economy has gone to shit. I know people who have lost their jobs. I know people who have lost their houses. Yet, here we are, myself and my husband, enjoying our pricey Starbucks every weekend, splurging on sushi at least once a month (if not more), and flouncing off to Tokyo this past May. We’ve also planned a weekend getaway to Chicago for Labor Day Weekend, and have every intention of going someplace especially awesome again next Spring.

Like I said, part of me feels uncomfortable with our conspicuous consumption. Yet, on the other hand, I’m proud of us for being able to afford our few extravagances.

Aaron and I were so used to scraping by. When we first moved in together, Aaron was working part time, and I had a shitty-paying job that had nothing to do with my degree. We opted to keep our finances separate — an arrangement that we still keep to this day. We each paid our own personal bills, like student loans and credit cards, but split the rent and car insurance and utilities and such.

When Aaron went full-time, that definitely helped us financially. With his higher pay, we were able to afford our new car (to make us a two-car household), and our wedding, and our house. He started paying more than half of the bigger bills, like the rent/mortgage payment, and footing the bill for most of our leisure activities, all of which made my life a lot easier.

Then, two years ago, I got laid off of my shitty-paying job (which, surprisingly, gave me a respectable severance package), and subsequently found my current job. Aaron and I are now on equal financial footing again, as far as income goes, and are doing well. Our aforementioned “new car” has been paid off for a couple of years now. My severance package paid for one of our vacations, and I was happy to pitch in some savings and some credit to help fund the other two. I rolled over the 401(k) from my old job into my new job. I squirrel away money into my savings every pay period automatically, so I barely even miss it.

Have we been lucky? Absolutely. I don’t deny that.

So, what if our luck runs out? What if I find out that, on top of not getting a merit raise this year, I’m getting a cut in salary — or, worse, that one of us is getting laid off permanently?

I have almost a three-month emergency fund saved up in a high-yield savings account, so we wouldn’t be S.O.L. right away. And that’s assuming we wouldn’t make any lifestyle changes, like canceling our cable internet, or going back to eating ramen noodles like the old days. I’d go back to paying the minimum on my credit cards, and I’d look into getting a forbearance on my student loan. I’m sure Aaron would do the same. And whichever of us was still gainfully employed would pick up the slack. That’s part of what being married is all about, after all.

I’m not trying to sound condescending or smart, and I hope this doesn’t come off that way. I’m trying to point out that, even after I got a new job with a salary that was waaay beyond what I’d expected, our financial reach didn’t exceed our grasp. Sure, I still have a massive student loan debt to pay off, and I carry credit card balances. I’m not debt-free, not by a long shot. But it’s manageable.

And I refuse to feel guilty for enjoying myself every once and a while.