This is the first post in my series “Financial Mistakes I’ve Made”. To read the other posts in the series, click here.
In one of my previous posts, I wrote about some life circumstances that I’ve let hold me back from financial freedom. That got me thinking how important it is to acknowledge the mistakes I’ve made in the past so 1) I don’t make them again, and 2) I can be purposeful about doing better. I like what Maya Angelou once said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Being a good steward of money is more than just following a series of practical steps, or having the gift of diligence. Sometimes we have to wrestle with the mentality we developed towards it throughout life, and even how it affects our identity. It can be heavy stuff.
Sacrifice is typically a requirement for growth. Breaking unhealthy habits, replacing a fixed mindset with an abundant one, letting go of expectations, and having a serious confrontation with that ugly beast called dysfunction – all of these can be uncomfortable and unpleasant as we try to do better.
I know. It sounds like 6 months of therapy.
But really – money affects our thoughts, our emotions, our actions, our relationships, our decisions, even our health! It’s important to do a little digging to figure out how our past and present circumstances have affected how we handle it.
So I wrote a list of my own mistakes I’ve made with money. It wasn’t difficult to come up with ten, which makes me tired just thinking about how many bad habits I need to overcome. Some I’ve gotten better at over the years, some I’m still in the thick of.
The first mistake I’m going to address is waiting for my husband to get involved – and may be the one that’s caused the greatest consequences. Of course, I’m not sure – I mean, who can really calculate that type of thing. But I’d like to think that if we had worked harder at working together, then we could have held each other up when one of us slipped.
It’s a nice thought, anyway.
Waiting For My Husband To Get Involved
Marriage is tricky. There’s a fine line between assuming and expecting. And sometimes you don’t figure out the difference until after you’ve crossed the threshold. Holy matrimony has a way of setting a torch to your veil of assumptions so all that’s left are their ashes and a pile of unmet expectations. Trial by fire, baby.
My father was a leader. When I was growing up, I saw my mother’s husband take care of the finances, plan all our vacations, do all his own home improvements, even build the houses we lived in. If he saw a problem, he always offered a solution – and then he’d try to do it for you. If one of his kids was going off the tracks, he would intervene and try to help. If a car, a doorknob, a faucet, a tv – *anything* – was not working right, he fixed it right away or got it fixed. He just got it done.
When I grew up seeing my dad look after everything and everyone, I felt very taken care of. I never felt like any problem was too big to solve, because my dad was there. If something was too heavy to carry, dad was there to help. If I didn’t know which way to turn, dad was there to point the way. He was always reliable, even when he was dying of cancer. Today I see him as my hero, but when I was young I just thought all husbands and dads were like that.
Then I got married.
I found out what I thought was a given was really an expectation. Call me naive, but I just assumed my husband would do all those things my dad did. He would be the head of the household and make sure things were taken care of. Isn’t that what husbands do?
Turns out my husband didn’t really want to be the leader. He didn’t want to take care of everything, and plan everything, and fix everything, and solve everything. He just wanted to be a kind and caring husband, work a simple job, raise a few kids, and have fun with his wife. Keep it simple. Go figure.
So I took care of all the finances. And planned all the vacations and parties. And initiated all the home improvements (and my dad always helped). And read the parenting books. And sought solutions for problems. And came up with the ideas. I even homeschooled our kids because I cared about their education.
After all, if I didn’t do it then who would? Somebody had to take care of it. Otherwise, everything would go to hell.
Where I Went Wrong
Occasionally I would passively express some frustration, and sometimes I would directly make it clear that I didn’t want to be the leader. But that’s as far as I took it. I would dump my unhelpful comment in his lap and then expect him to figure it out on his own. I really had no idea how to handle marital conflict, and my husband sure wasn’t going to try to figure it out. After all, he didn’t see a problem.
So while he would add 2 beers and an appetizer to our dinner tab, I would sit there pissed that he was enjoying life while I growled into my french fries – and didn’t say anything. I guess you could call me the mature one.
And *that* was my mistake. I settled for the man my husband was. That sounds a tiny bit horrible, but let me explain because I mean it in the warmest and most caring way possible.
We both came into our relationship with faults and shortcomings and baggage. I mean, who doesn’t? But we each also had gifts and knowledge and experiences and passions that were meant to benefit the other. Part of my commitment was to help him be a better husband, and his was to help me be a better wife. And that doesn’t happen when you’re both assuming the other knows how to be your perfect mate.
I thought my husband would care about our finances. He didn’t, so I carried the emotional burden of caring all by myself. But that’s where I went wrong. I should have done or said things to inspire him to care. I should have expressed my expectations clearly. I should have initiated a budget and held him accountable. I should have challenged him to have higher standards and a bigger vision. I should have fought for better, for both of us.
And I should never have assumed that he would or could figure it all out on his own.
Instead, I settled. For his lack of initiative and enthusiasm. For my disappointment and frustration. And for waiting for him to get involved on his own.
What I Learned From My Mistake
No two people start out as “perfect” for each other when they get married. Compatible is a good starting point – but marriage is so much more about compromise and sacrifice and growth and give and take than it is about being perfect for each other. It’s about helping each other become a better version of who we were when we were single.
I’ve learned that I need to let go of some expectations. My husband will probably never be as enthusiastic about financial goals as I am. He will never be as focused on getting out of debt as I am. He will never be as ambitious about increasing our income as I am. And I can just about guarantee he will never, ever, initiate a budget meeting.
But that doesn’t mean I should settle for where we’re at. As his life partner, it’s part of my commitment to inspire, encourage, challenge and support him in getting more involved with our finances. It’s good for our marriage. And it’s my way of helping him be a better husband.
I’m not saying this is easy. I know I will be frustrated at times. We may even get into some arguments (which is a rare thing). There will probably be tension. And both of us are going to mess up. But I also believe we’ll become closer through it, and I know we’ll reach our financial goals faster.
And I’m also *definitely* not saying it’s all his fault. After all, I still have nine more mistakes to write about. Ugh.
Getting right with money is just one part of a holistic approach to healing and growth. So don’t just look at your checkbook. Look back at your past and figure out what you know better now, and how you can do better.