When I first married Boaz knowing that he would soon matriculate into a full-time grad school program that would take three to four years to complete, I admit, I was nervous.

I looked around for a community of other women who had done this—gotten married with their spouse in grad school full-time—and I found quite a few ladies in the blogging community who called themselves “WOPS” (Wives of Perpetual Students). While I discovered a handful that were living in ways similar to mine, I also found many who were not, including several ladies who had gotten pregnant shortly after marriage, worked at their job up until delivery, then had to live off hubby’s student loans or his skinny graduate living stipend while raising tiny kiddos (man, tough stuff). The ladies who were in my boat—no kids yet and working full-time—had great things to say about filling up the time in the evenings when hubby was studying, being intentional about setting aside time to share with him, and being pretty frugal, and I appreciated that. (Visit the WOPS blogroll here.)

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

But I wished in all their postings that there was more of a single-stop, step-by-step for the financial planning part of this process, a plan that went beyond just budgeting to get by. I wanted a plan that would help us not only survive financially, but also thrive post-graduation by helping us lay the foundation to maybe, just maybe, get a little ahead. On less than the equivalent of one starting teacher’s salary going into my account (with a huge chunk taken out in taxes and to pay our combined health insurance), this seemed fantastical.

 

Until I dug a bit and started reading.

 

And readers, I read, and do read, a lot. Not just advice from other WOPS, but from folks in the financial independence movement. So, for all the other gals out there like me—or maybe just for other people who are working with a small income who want to still figure out financial plan—here are three principles Boaz and I have adopted based on some good advice:

 

#1. AVOID (OR GET RID OF) DEBT. Simply put, don’t put your foot in a hole. Avoid or (pay off any existing1) student loans, avoid credit card debt, avoid a car payment wherever possible by not buying a “new” car, avoid the one-two punch of a house down-payment-plus-monthly-mortgage-payment by sticking with a little apartment or rental unit (emphasis on “little”, since space equals money in the renters’ market). You get the picture—just live well inside your means, keeping a small footprint as your goal. Being young and in love, you don’t need a ton of stuff to be happy, just each other.

 #2. SAVE UP BY CONTROLLING WHAT YOU SPEND AND EARN. Learn to watch where your money goes and how much comes in. As you do, take some of these steps to save.

  • First, tackle your biggest expense by scaling down hubby’s school fees any way you can without hurting his degree attainment goals (graduate assistantships, special merit scholarships, grants, etc., are all great places to start).
  • Next, expend a bit of energy to make a little extra on the side during some of your after-work downtime (I tutored a couple evenings a week this school year) and have hubby do the same during lighter seasons of study.
  • And finally, if you haven’t already, get out your financial scissors and cut the fat out of your lifestyle expenses. This means sticking to a budget that makes room for savings to grow and even enforcing the act of savings (if necessary) by setting up a direct transfer from checking to savings every month. To create budgetary space for savings, try dropping cable TV in favor of Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Instant; cutting “entertainment food” like takeout or snacky sweets; and minimizing transportation costs by carpooling or biking more places. There’s a ton more I could put down here in terms of steps to take, but for brevity, I’ll leave them for later posts under my “Frugal” category.

#3. PUT YOUR SAVINGS TO WORK.

  • Once you have a little to work with, take a chunk of that hard-earned savings account nest-egg and set up a mutual fund or other high-earning account. Chances are, any money that’s sitting in your savings account at the bank is simply sitting there; at least a mutual fund will put your money to work for you, or switching to a bank like Ally with a high-APY savings account will actually yield some noticeable dividends.
  • Lastly, remember retirement by contributing to a plan. I happen to have an employer that matches contributions if I throw in a minimum amount each year. If you have an employer that will match like this, too, take advantage of it, even if (heck, especially if) you’re in your twenties (compound interest/earnings for the win)!

 

I know this was a rather involved post, but I hope it was worth the read.

 

For more tips on how to cut the fat in your budget or become more money-savvy overall, I strongly recommend checking out these resources:

  1. Dave Ramsey – because he’s Dave Ramsey, and he’s helped millions save up and tackle their debt using the “debt snowball” approach.
  2. Mr. Money Mustache—a guy with a weird blogging alias who teamed up with his wife to save two-thirds of their combined income during their 20s through sheer “badassery”, then used these funds and their cleverly acquired assets to essentially retire at age 30. Badass, indeed.
  3. The Peaceful Mom – a brilliant SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) who raised four kids on her husband’s $28,000 annual salary without losing her mind or getting into debt.

 

*&* A NOTE ON PAYING TAXES AS A MARRIED COUPLE (U.S.)

It’s worth a visit to a tax advisor to see whether filing jointly or separately works out more to your favor when you’re married. Whatever you decide, when it’s over, transfer any tax refunds into your higher-earning savings account or mutual fund.

 

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