Leveling Up in Financial Conversations

During the month of February, COMPASS is giving space for thought, questions and conversation related to couples, their money, and their money decisions. As part of this series, we are featuring guest posts from different writers. Today, we welcome Margaret Ellsworth and her husband Drew Baker to the blog to share a story about how they engage financial conversations.

margaretanddrew2

Margaret Ellsworth and Drew Baker

This Valentine’s Day is marked by a lot of conversations in our house about finances. Our partnership has to “level up” (can you tell we’re gamers?) in response to new blessings and new challenges. For the past five years, our income has come from a variety of piecemeal sources: adjunct teaching contracts, freelance projects, scholarships, and an assortment of part-time jobs. We’ve been lucky: we’ve had enough to pay our expenses and put some money away for the future. But because our income sources were so sporadic, we didn’t have much of a saving strategy beyond making it to the end of the semester or the end of the contract. We worked hard to live frugally, putting off large purchases and hoarding away as much money as we could to prepare for a future in flux.

That all changed in 2014. We finished our respective graduate programs, and for the first time since we got together, both Drew and I are in long-term, so-called “career track” jobs. Which means we have to figure out what to do now that the paychecks are the same every month. Our new situation is presenting us with some new questions…

With all of the degrees that this couple share, you might expect that they have quite the library now.

With all of the degrees that this couple share, you might expect that they have quite the library now.

What are our new savings goals? We’re realizing that this is a time to think about more long-term goals, whether or not we are ready to achieve them. For us, our most recent decision is that we want to own a home someday. The housing market in Southern California being what it is, we may not be able to afford that for a while. But we’ve started researching the home-buying process now, as well as starting conversations about our priorities in terms of location, price, and type of home. This gives us a concrete goal to look forward to.

How does our spending align with our values? This applies to both big and small purchases. When we recently upgraded our car, we chose a hybrid car so that my commute didn’t put as much pressure on the environment. We’re moving toward using a smaller local bank instead of the big national chains, and as much as possible we’re moving toward making our smaller purchases locally as well. Taking a look at our budget, we realized we can afford paying a few extra dollars for locally grown produce, or buying Christmas gifts at hometown shops rather than Amazon and Best Buy. We want to honor this privilege

How can we give to others in need? Giving to charity or faith communities is something we put off for a long time when we were living paycheck to paycheck, but we always knew we wanted to make it part of our life. As an interfaith couple (Drew is Buddhist and I’m Christian) our charitable giving has to look a little different than the simple monthly check to the church that I remember from my childhood. We can’t just write a check to the church and call it a day! Not that we’d want to anyway. At the moment our giving is a piecemeal combination of pledges to my church, contributions to charities and interfaith organizations. It’s a work in progress, and we are committed to making it a habit.

These are exciting and frightening questions—thank goodness we are tackling them together. Most weeks we take a Sunday afternoon walk down to our favorite frozen yogurt shop, and we often use those walks to check in with each other about where we’re at financially. Maybe I’ll tell Drew about some of the charities I think could use our help, or Drew will describe a potential house and ask me what I think. We’re trying to find a financial picture that works for us right now, while realizing our situation can and almost certainly will change again.

margaretanddrew1About the Authors: Margaret Ellsworth is a writer, communicator, and recent seminary graduate. She currently works at the Chapman University Library in events and marketing. Her husband, Drew Baker, is an acquisitions librarian and Buddhist Studies professor. They live in a book-filled apartment in Claremont, California.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

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A Big Purchase- One couple and how they made their decision

During the month of February, COMPASS is giving space for thought, questions and conversation related to couples, their money, and their money decisions. As part of this series, we are featuring guest posts from different writers. Today, we welcome Dori Zerbe Cornelsen to the blog to share a story about recent money decisions and a “big purchase.”

Imagine an amazing hotel bed like this.

Imagine an amazing hotel bed like this.

My husband and I made a big purchase recently.  Well, not huge in the grand scale of things.  We’d been thinking for a while that we would like a new bed.  Then last year on vacation, we slept on this amazing bed in a hotel in San Francisco.  But how do couples negotiate bigger purchases?  Here are some things we did.

First, we took our time.  Given we sleep about 8 hours each night, that means we spend about one-third of our lives in our bed.  That’s a lot! So, we decided we needed to do some research and sleep on our decision.

One thing we did was ask friends whether they loved their bed.  Seems an odd question to ask but we found our friends had lots to say about their beds.  We figured this was way better research than walking into a showroom of a bed store and lying down on a mattress for a few minutes at a time.  It’s after several sleeps that you figure out if the bed works for you or not.

We also did some research online about the content of beds, where and how components are produced.  Again, acknowledging that we spend about one-third of our lives in bed, it seemed good to know about things like chemical content, fibre choices, how beds are manufactured, etc.  This did affect our decision.

Cost was also definitely a factor but we also considered the potential life-span of a mattress.  We found a website not associated with a manufacturer that made cost and other comparisons between mattresses.  We also learned that a good company offers a warranty that gives you at least an exchange option of you are not satisfied after a period of time.

It’s not like this research consumed us – we just wanted to be informed.  We wanted to take the time to talk through what seemed important to each of us.

On top of that, we kept in mind that while important, a good bed is still a luxury decision.  We agreed that we needed to be able to make the purchase and still keep our generosity plan in place.  Waiting and saving can keep purchases in perspective.  For us, taking time for purchases like this reminds us that money isn’t just about us and how we spend it – it’s about living generously for the good of all.

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220About the Author: Dori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg Manitoba where February is cold but offers activities like skating on the 6 km river trail and drinking hot tea in front of a roaring fire.

 

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credits: Hotel Bed & Dori Zerbe Cornelsen.

Money Doesn’t Talk, That’s Our Job

During the month of February, COMPASS is giving space for thought, questions and conversation related to couples, their money, and their money decisions. As part of this series, we are featuring guest posts from different writers. Today, we welcome Pastor Rebecca and Trip Sullivan to share some of their stories and approach to money decisions and finances.

Newly ordained Pastor Rebecca along with Trip and their son Jack.

Newly ordained Pastor Rebecca along with Trip and their son Jack.

Someday we’ll concoct a more elaborate and dramatic back story, but for now we’ll go with the truth: we met at church. Rebecca grew up in Wisconsin and had found her way to Baltimore after graduate school to work in the downtown central library. Trip grew up nearby in Delaware, and had moved to Maryland where there were more jobs.

We met at a Lutheran church in a young adults group. We got married soon afterward, and a few years later decided to pack up everything and move to Minnesota so that Rebecca could attend Luther Seminary to become a pastor. I am pleased to report that seminary was a success, and Rebecca began her first pastoral call this past November in Minnesota.

For some reason, talking about finances has never been easy for us. We know we must do it—and we always get through it—but it is about as enjoyable as having your teeth drilled at the dentist. It’s not that we’re particularly bad at finances; we would just rather talk about—or do—other things with the little time that we have together. With two full-time jobs, a two-year-old and another baby on the way in May, we’re just strapped for time, period. But money doesn’t talk by itself—that’s our job. In fact, constant communication really has been the key to having control over our money.

A few years ago, we took a finance class that emphasized holding regular and detailed money and budget meetings. For us, that idea just never worked and we have come to favor short money “pow-wows” versus long drawn-out budget meetings. Unlike a gushing firehose that just drenches everything in its path, our finance conversations are more like a methodical sprinkler, able to cover a lot of ground with a few drops here and there.

We discuss all our big, and medium size purchases (over $50) before making them. We talk about the small purchases too, often at the end of the day, or over dinner. These types of things range from the “needed a few things from the store” to “decided to treat a co-worker for coffee.”  We keep talking, we keep sharing. It’s a constant dialogue, so that each partner has an idea of where our money is going.

Meetings with different financial planners have helped too. In addition to helping us navigate financial information we’re not familiar with, it’s helpful to have another person in the room to listen to our challenges and help us come up with plans for aspirational goals like planning for retirement, or college for our children.

When we have argued, it is often over fairly petty issues: too much of the budget was spent on this, or we didn’t set aside enough for that. When we’ve spent time to really dig into our disagreements, we’ve found that the source of the tension is purely anxiety-related. What if we don’t have enough money in checking this month? How are we going to pay for these medical claims? When are we going to pay that loan off?

Trip, Rebecca and Jack

Trip, Rebecca and Jack

Sometimes these questions are frightening, but are often not as scary or as intimidating as they seem at first. Once again, we talk it through, we break it down, and we find a solution. Perhaps it’s just a matter of creating a new budget plan and following through, or moving funds from one place to another. Setting up automated saving accounts has been a huge help. They are a big reason why we were able to both quit our jobs and move to Minnesota.

That’s our story, and that’s what works for us when it comes to handling our finances. What’s your story? What works for you?

Rebecca Sullivan is the pastor of Lakeville Lutheran Church (Maplewood, MN). Trip Sullivan is the communications director of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church (Apple Valley, MN). They reside in Saint Paul with their son Jack, dog Sprocket, with a second baby on the way.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Couples, Money and Valentines: February COMPASS blog preview

How do you and your partner (or Valentine) talk and think about money together?

How do you and your partner (or Valentine) talk and think about money together?

During the month of February, COMPASS is giving space for thought, questions and conversation related to couples, their money, and their money decisions. Over the course of the month, a series of guest posts will explore this topic and how different people engage in money conversations with their partner. The series of posts will offer reflection about how couples approach money, money decisions, and finances together.

Do you have some thoughts you would like to share? Might you like to think about this and share reflections in the form of a guest post yourself? If so, please let me know.

In the meantime, consider these questions yourself (and if you have a partner, with your partner):

  • What is your earliest memory of money? (What is your partner’s earliest memory of money?)
  • Do you believe that you have enough, or do you always feel like you are running short of enough money?
  • How much money (by percentage of income) do you put away in savings, and how often?
  • How often, and how much money (by percentage of income) do you give financially to faith communities, non-profits and other social needs?
  • If money were no object, what would you (and your spouse) do for fun or your favorite hobby?
  • What is one bigger expense that you have put off that you are hoping to make this year?
  • What is one bigger expense that you know you need to pay this year?
  • How would you describe your ability to talk about money with others?
  • How would you describe your ability for those closest to you (like your partner) to talk about money with you?

As we travel through this series, we will also share possible resources to help explore these and other finance questions for couples.

Until the next post, and even though it is a bit early, Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope that your money questions and conversations are positive and helpful, and that you are able to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a meaningful way with those you care about with or without the use of money.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.