This is a story about a bed. You probably have a similar story. Let’s see ……
I was married between my junior and senior year in college. We were totally oblivious to the material needs and costs of life together. We did not own a car. My husband had a motorcycle, and I had a bicycle. We had no furniture. What were we thinking?
To set up our apartment, we bought a second-hand bed and dresser. We scavenged a kitchen table and chairs that were in my in-law’s basement. We also found a couple of side chairs (with splotches of tar) and an end table and lamp. My father-in-law had an old black and white tv that, I believe, he had either built or rebuilt, and we also claimed it. You could see a fuzzy picture if you moved the rabbit ears just right. My husband built a wood and brick shelf unit for our stereo system (purchased with wedding money) which was our pride and joy.
We learned to tolerate dried milk and spread our food budget as far as possible. That meant little meat and lots of grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. There were free events on campus—movies, concerts, etc. For work-study, I was assigned to be a ticket seller in the complex that included a beautiful concert hall and the basketball arena, so we occasionally splurged and bought tickets to concert events—the Beach Boys (horrible concert) and Elton John (fabulous), for example.
My husband’s sister and brother-in-law gave us a used car they found in someone’s field for a wedding gift otherwise I am not sure how we would have gotten groceries to our apartment in the cold, Iowa winter. That car had “issues”, so we eventually inherited my parents second car. We survived on a little savings, income from summer jobs, help from our parents, a scholarship, and the work-study program.
That is how we started married life! But back to the bed ….
Once we both graduated, we moved to Illinois and started our careers. We swapped the two side chairs for lawn chairs, but all the other furniture went with us, including the bed and dresser.
Growing up, both of our families were savers. They bought things with cash or, in my husband’s family, built what they needed. (My father-in-law was an industrial arts teacher and contractor.) My father was not handy in that way, but he balanced the financial books of our family to the penny, so he knew where every cent was spent. We learned from them. We made purchases with cash, and we started to save and invest.
As we worked and saved, my husband and I gradually replaced the used furniture. A sleeper sofa and comfy side chair were the first things we bought so we could have out-of-town guests overnight and host comfortably. Then we bought a new dining table and chairs. I don’t remember exactly when we replaced the tv and traded in our car for another used car. We kept the bedroom set.
Our eating habits also changed. Now there was money for meat, and we found a local butcher shop where we could select the cuts we wanted. I loved to have guests over and try new recipes from the recipe shower my sisters had given me before we were married. We no longer drank dried milk, Life was good!
The apartment building, as it turned out, was not well insulated and Illinois winters can be very cold. The windows leaked badly so we taped thick bats of insulation over them and closed the drapes for the winter. It helped. When spring arrived along with warmer temperatures we could once again see natural light.
Our First Home
When talk about starting a family became serious, we began to look for a house. We knew what we could afford and had saved for a down payment. We found an older home in pretty good shape with a big yard and lilac bushes. I love lilacs! They remind me of my mother. There were things about the house we wanted to change but my husband was handy, and we liked the neighborhood. It was also close enough to a park-and-ride location for me to catch the bus to my job downtown.
We had not saved quite enough, however, for a down payment that would allow us to avoid mortgage insurance, so we asked my in-laws for a short-term loan. They once again supported us, and we bought the home. (The loan was paid back within six months with interest.) I must admit that it was not easy for me to adjust to a mortgage. I had never owed money to anyone for any length of time and especially not a loan that would be hanging over our heads for years and years. It took me a long time to be comfortable with that.
It was a very happy day, however, when we moved both our used and newer furniture into our own home. Over time we purchased a rocker-recliner and an area rug for the living room. We remodeled the kitchen and built furniture for the family room. We added a shower head in the main bathroom and, when our first child was expected, we decorated the third bedroom to welcome him/her. We bought a new bedroom set, so the old set was relegated to the guest bedroom to make visitors comfortable. We continued to set aside money for the future.
Six months after our first son was born, we moved to Arizona. It was hard to leave our first home and my sister and her family who also lived in the same city in Illinois. They were such wonderful support to us, especially as we adjusted to parenthood. Most of our extended families were in the Midwest, too, but both my husband and I had roots in the Southwest and my oldest sister lived in Arizona.
We found a house not too far from my sister’s and our furniture arrived in time for the New Year. All the furniture—old and newer—found a place in our new home. Over time as we saved, we bought some new furniture, but my husband also built a coffee table, sofa table, and book/display cases. I was not able to find a job right away, so I took up crafts and decorated our house with macrame and weavings. We replaced our kitchen table with a nice dining room set and added comfortable seating for the family room. Our original bed set continued to welcome overnight visitors.
Our family grew with the birth of our second son, and we started thinking about more space. I found a job and both of our careers blossomed. We continued to set aside money for the future. Eventually, we built a house in the same community and continued to use the old and newer furniture. As we were able, we replaced some pieces, added some, and I decorated—something I love to do! The original bedroom set, purchased used before we were married, graced its new guest room location. That bedroom had a beautiful view of our back yard and sliding glass doors to its own patio.
Years passed and my husband and I divorced. The bed set became his property and, to my knowledge, he still has it today.
What is my point with the tale of the bed?
Not only things in your lives but also people and friendships come and go. Some will be part of your life for a very long time—like the bed set—and some will serve a particular purpose and then move on. Some may be gone for a while and then reappear.
That is the same with your portfolio. Some of the reasons you save and invest will stay the same for your whole life—retirement, for example. Some are shorter term—like a car or vacation or furniture purchase. And, of course, some of your money will go to support your living expenses. Your priorities will change over time but the value of setting aside funds for your future never changes.
Only you can decide which treasures you will keep, and which ones have served their purpose and it is time to part. I am now at that stage in life that downsizing is appropriate. It is a slow process, and I am sad that I no longer have room for some of the things that carry special meaning. My portfolio is changing, too. I still want it to grow for the future, but now I also want it to provide regular income.
Because it is the many happy memories of times and experiences with family and friends that bring me true joy, I want to make sure there are lots of opportunities for that in my future!
~Bev Bowers, CFP®