Elizabeth and I rarely have disagreements about money. This wasn’t always the case. The early years of our relationship- then marriage- saw countless arguments, disagreements and frustration with each other based on the topic of money and finances. Fortunately, many of those bad decisions were turned into better decisions over time. Investing, paying off debt and getting on the same page has reduced those conversations down to almost nothing.
But the other day, we had not just a disagreement but a real life argument that was so out of character after all of these years. Too bad the kids weren’t home to hear it.
It started during a budget meeting. During this meeting, we realized that we’ve been coasting along with our finances and not spending enough time on what we were working towards. We weren’t dreaming enough. Well, that was my argument.
I’m a big picture guy. If I’m given a task, I will question it if I don’t know what the meaning of the task is. What are we working towards? So often with me, actions are based around the big picture. And I got frustrated during this meeting because I didn’t see a big picture vision that we were working towards.
Elizabeth is a very content person. Which I am incredibly grateful for. Her calmness keeps me grounded. Her contentment has taught me gratefulness. But all of that contentment can drive a dreamer crazy. What’s next? I ask. What are we working towards?
“I’m just really happy with what we have,” she responded.
I hear that and I ask myself why I sometimes struggle being that happy. Why do I feel the need for more financial security? Why am I always striving for more? And not more in terms of stuff. Neither of us are stuff people. Yet I have a hard time defining what ‘more’ means.
Elizabeth unexpectedly gets emotional. She looks towards the bedroom of our fourteen-year-old son. A tear begins to roll down her cheek as she struggles to get the words out.
“I was Nolan’s age when my dad died,” she explains while wiping that tear away. “And these times are so precious. I’m so grateful that we get to live like this. Every day, we get to be together. We get to be outside, to learn, to make memories. I’m sorry. I think about that and I don’t think often about wanting much more.”
Now I’m getting emotional and feeling like a jerk. Fortunately, my parents are alive, thriving and just celebrated their 54th anniversary. I have never experienced what she went through. We both sat silent for a few minutes. I thought about her, and her pain. I lifted my head up and looked towards the bedroom door of our sixteen-year-old. It was then that it started to make sense.
“I was Andrew’s age when I walked downstairs to find my dad lying face down on the couch,” I explained. “I learned that morning that his business partner emptied out all of the bank accounts and, in the snap of a finger, our family was essentially broke. The business expenses that he was left with that went unfinished wiped out whatever money they had left. The rest of my time in that house was lived inside of a financial tornado of stress, worry and fear.”
I realized that we weren’t arguing any longer. We both saw that our individual past led to our present mindset on money. Maybe this is why it’s called personal finance. It’s personal. It’s why formulas, graphs and retirement planning in a traditional and standard sense doesn’t resonate with many people, including us. We don’t go deep enough into our lives, our past and our desires to create a clear picture. That’s even more so when it comes to marriages and two people blending their lives and history.
I now understood better than ever before why Elizabeth was so grateful for each moment that we have. How when Nolan comes out of his room in a few minutes and gives us one of his huge hugs, that those moments are not guaranteed and shouldn’t be taken for granted. But often, we do take them for granted. And we do it without even knowing it. We follow what everyone else does-we get into debt, we pack our schedules with work and activities and tasks- and we get so busy that not only do we miss out on those moments, we justify it with our busy-ness.
Elizabeth understood as well. Financial insecurity in my youth made me acutely aware of the pain that comes with not having our finances together. It’s guided me to understand that having dreams and plans for the future- and taking action on them- leads to the very life that we are so appreciative of now. As much as we appreciate a life where we have time, money and location freedom- the ability to homeschool, live in a beautiful area and spend these precious days together- is only made possible because we collectively had big plans fifteen years ago for how we wanted to raise our family.
Because of that communication- and that argument- we were able to grow. It’s exciting to know that after twenty years of marriage, we are still learning about each other and building to make a stronger life and family. I understood her perspective of enjoying the moments for exactly what they are without needing more. It’s a beautiful way to think. And she understood my desire to not only dream but to plan out that dream and take action. And to do it together. She saw what the pain of almost having everything taken away financially did to me- and how actions from that led to a better life.
It was the perfect story to accompany a phrase that I say often- to be content but not satisfied. It’s how I love to live life. Being content means that you are happy now. You aren’t distracted. You aren’t stressed. You don’t need anything else today. That is contentment. But you also aren’t satisfied. You aren’t done. You don’t rest on your success or your contentment. It means you still have dreams that you are chasing, goals that you are setting and a new level that you look to attain.