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.


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.

1 thought on “Leveling Up in Financial Conversations

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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