Before I got married, people always joked how the first few years of marriage were the toughest. They shared their tales from when they were “starving newlyweds,” eating Top Ramen every night and living in tiny, run-down apartments.
I always shrugged off these stories, though, because I never imagined they’d apply to me. Before saying “I do,” my then-fiancé and I calculated our expenses, set a budget and moved into a great studio apartment in the heart of Salt Lake City. Our rent was reasonable — about $800 — and we spent another $500 a month on utilities, groceries and gas. After those were paid, we had roughly $600 left over for discretionary spending and savings. I didn’t want to brag, but I felt like we were crushing it.
A Change of Circumstances
Then, as we hit our one-year anniversary, my husband graduated college, quit his job and decided to take a gap year to study for the MCAT and apply to med school. All of a sudden, we went from two incomes to one and I became the primary breadwinner.
Suddenly, we were struggling to live on one income while saving for med school application fees (which run about $150 each) and, of course, the looming price of school itself. I suddenly related to those “starving newlyweds” anecdotes.
As our stress levels began to rise, my husband and I discussed our financial options. While we could technically still afford our rent, we also recognized this was one of the biggest opportunities to save. So we swallowed our pride and moved into my aunt’s basement, where — in exchange for help with household chores, yard work and errands — she allowed us to live rent-free.
The Ups and Downs
Right away, we felt a loss of independence and that newlywed excitement. While the basement is a separate space all our own, we are still guests in someone else’s house. We don’t have the freedom we used to, and we feel the need to ask permission to have friends over or check in with my aunt.
And then there was the shame and embarrassment that came with the move. According to societal norms, we “should” be purchasing a house of our own — not moving in with family. We decided to put our short-term feelings aside and think of the long-term benefits instead.
Since we gave up our apartment, we’ve paid off $3,000 in credit card debt, purchased a new laptop my husband needed for school and saved close to $15,000 in just one year. In addition to the financial benefits we’ve reaped, we’ve also been able to further our careers, find time for new hobbies and enjoy more quality time with each other.
What We’ve Learned
1. Assess short- and long-term goals. My husband and I sat down and outlined our one-, five- and 20-year financial goals. In the short term, we want to pay our bills and start a savings account. In five years we decided we want to own home, have a baby and graduate medical school. And in 20 years, we’d like to have a few children and an established medical practice. While things can definitely change down the road, defining our long-term goals now ensures that we’re taking real action to making them a reality.
2. A savings account is everything. I’ve always aimed to have at least $1,000 in savings, but it can be hard to put money aside every month when there are bills to pay now. With significantly fewer bills, we’ve been able to save an impressive amount of money in the last year — and our stress has gone way down.
3. Don’t deprive yourself. With the luxury of spending money, my husband and I decided to invest in our hobbies. Before moving in with my aunt, we felt like any additional money should go straight to savings. While we still have a strict savings goal, we also spend on a few fun things each month so we can enjoy life as it’s happening now. Moving forward, we’re creating a line item in our budget for these expenses.
While it may not be the most glamorous situation, living with my aunt not only alleviated our financial stress, but it also allowed us to get our life in order as we save for some major life events. And now we’ll have a solid financial foundation when we do move back out on our own — something we’re incredibly grateful for.