Big Dreams on a Small Budget

You know those newlyweds who sip iced lattes in the spa outside their five-bedroom Tudor while planning their next trip to Italy?

Neither do I.

Most people I know started out eating mac and cheese in a cramped apartment while sorting stacks of bills.

Weren't your first years of marriage supposed to be magical? Weren't you supposed to take weekend getaways, buy spontaneous gifts and paint the town? So why does it seem that every dime is paying off the past or accruing for the future?

Enjoying the "just married" moments and still saving money is challenging — but you can live well when you prioritize your spending based on the three C's of financial contentment:

Choose what matters most.

If you can't have it all, discover the most important aspects of your activities. What's the best thing about going to the movies? If you think it's the atmosphere, attend an earlier (cheaper) show. If it's discussing films with friends, rent one at home and invite the gang. Figure out what brings you the greatest enjoyment. Then look for ways to have fun without breaking the bank.

Cherish what you have.

When the Joneses are buying hot tubs and big screen TVs, it's tempting to pull out the credit card and keep in step. It's the American way, right? How quickly we forget to thank God for the simplest things. Even hot showers, comfortable homes and cupboards full of food represent luxury to people in most other nations. Challenge yourself to take your eyes off of your neighbor's toys and to reflect upon everyday blessings.

Commit to God what's His.

God commanded the Israelites in the Old Testament to give Him the first 10 percent of everything they harvested. This showed they trusted Him to provide the rest. New Testament writers don't play with percentages; they remind us that all we have is God's. The lessons: Give generously and spend wisely. When we invest our time and money in Him, we reveal our hearts. And if you think faithful giving only leads to eternal rewards, talk to someone who consistently offers his "first fruits." He can probably amaze you with stories about God's abundant provision here on earth.

Live better — and smarter — by incorporating the three C's of financial contentment. Here are 20 money-saving tips to get you going.

  1. Dig discount stores. Save big bucks, even on name-brand items.
  2. Play the host. Forget going out. Cook for your friends or plan a potluck party.
  3. Keep the change. Empty your coins into a change jar; you'll be surprised when you count them in a year.
  4. Buy and sell used items online. Books, music and videos are often sold in great condition. (Bonus tip: Read about the seller's track record before you buy!) Take care of your items and sell them back when you're done.
  5. Buy a sprucer-upper. While not everyone can restore a turn-of-the-century home, it's easy to find a house with ugly paint and carpet. One couple invested a few thousand dollars into renovations and upped the value of their place by $35,000.
  6. Rent movies. A movie night at home runs you a fourth of the price of two theater tickets. Older flicks are often cheaper than new releases – and may contain less questionable content. (Bonus tip: Don't let late fees drain your savings!)
  7. Curtail Cable. Three hundred channels and nothing on? Save yourself $300 to 400 a year by simply "cutting the cord."
  8. Purchase a pre-owned car. A reliable used car with low mileage costs thousands less than a new one; insurance costs less too.
  9. Work out wisely. Forgo gym fees. Buy a $10 exercise video, purchase used equipment or get a walking buddy.
  10. Accelerate your equity. With mortgage accelerator plans, you make half a house payment every two weeks rather than a whole payment once a month. You'll build equity faster, save tens of thousands of dollars and pay off your mortgage years ahead of schedule.
  11. Split a meal. Many restaurants pile on the food. Save by sharing, or making a second meal from your leftovers. Note: Even if you split your dinner, leave a gracious tip. The waiter served you both.
  12. Scrutinize sales. If you've collected closets and cupboards full of wrong-sized, wrong-colored, wrong-flavored items you'll never use, you've wasted money, not saved it. Shop carefully: a "sale" isn't always a "good deal."
  13. Use credit card caution. Keep one credit card and pay it off monthly. You'll save on interest fees and avoid buying things you can't afford.
  14. Limit the liquor. Moral considerations aside, alcohol is expensive. And in some states, insurance rates can skyrocket based on a person's alcohol intake.
  15. Send yourself packing. Why spend $6 a day for lunch? Bring leftovers or a sandwich for next to nothing!
  16. Consider the lattes. Do the math: 260 (weekdays a year) x $3.25 for a specialty coffee drink = $845. Instead, set up a coffee pot at work and have coworkers chip in for beans.
  17. Love your list. Clever in-store advertising begs you to impulse buy. Your only hope is to remember what you came for. (Bonus tip: Don't shop for groceries when you're hungry!)
  18. Ponder prescriptions. Buy the generic brand of your medication. Even better, purchase prescriptions by mail. You'll get several months' worth at once and save on co-pays.
  19. Care for your car. Paying too much for gas and repairs? Experts provide fuel-efficient driving and maintenance tips at*,* and*.
  20. Do-it-yourself. Save hundreds of dollars on your home by learning to landscape, redecorate or remodel.

It's great to dream about the future — and wise to plan for it — with the one you love. But ultimately, your level of financial contentment as a newlywed depends on your mindset. French poet John Petit-Senn summarized it this way: "Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance."

Copyright © 2004, Carolyn MacInnes. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.