Many people decide to wait until they are financially stable to get married. As much as I don't consider myself a romantic, perhaps I listened to that old Alan Jackson song, "Livin' on Love," a few too many times, because I do enjoy the idea of the loving couple who makes the best of a small income. Though, finances being the stressor that it is, I do have a hard time conceptualizing the reality of a couple who struggles financially, yet maintains happiness within their relationship.
I've determined that a few factors may help to keep a low income from upsetting marital bliss. As always, I stress open respectful communication and equal responsibilities in all aspects of the relationship, including financial decision making. Also, I suggest living within your means. In light of school loans and home mortgages I define that as living such that you can pay off your debts and eat without racking up more debt for unnecessary items. Besides these two obvious points, I would make the third suggestion that you make sure that you take the time to have some fun. These days having fun often refers to having a night on the town, eating out, going to movies, traveling, etc., which means that having fun frequently requires disposable income (or at least appears to require it).
Owen is in grad school, I have two part time jobs, and money is tight. We don't mind it though. In order to get around the "I can't go to the movie theater as much as I used to" blues, we have found many fun free (or nearly free) options for entertainment. I get completely stir crazy if I have to stay inside of my apartment all day, so my biggest temptation for spending money revolves around what I do with myself when my primary purpose is leaving my apartment. Making the effort to enjoy ourselves outside of the apartment requires some creativity, but when we can find a free activity that we enjoy, it really reduces our stress levels.
We love going on walks. In warm weather, we walk around the park behind our apartment complex and in cold weather we walk around the mall. We don't really look at the merchandise, mostly we look at the architecture, colors, and people. That reminds me of another fun thing to do-- find a crowded area and just watch people. Or, walk around whatever free museums may be in your area. Here we have The Natural History Museum at the University of Iowa. It doesn't have very many interactive exhibits, but it has a gargantuan stuffed sloth, plastic people, and a room full of animal skeletons. I wouldn't call it up to date, but it's entertaining nonetheless.
Also, we love the public library. We'll go there to get out of the apartment and read or do homework. We don't have Netflix (largely because I'm afraid that if we did, I'd never do anything productive), and as movie rental places continue to decrease their selections, I find that the public library actually has an exciting array of movies to check out! I've had The Godfather on my list of movies to see forever, so finding it at the public library was exciting (and free).
Volunteering is also free. I find that when I'm volunteering, I stop thinking about myself and my tedious problems, and that feels good. Sometimes we just need to put life back into perspective to lower our financial stress levels.
Admittedly, two frivolous expense remain in our budget. First, Owen and I love coffee shops. It's not even about the coffee-- we just like sitting in them. If you go to coffee shops as frequently as we do, you save a lot of money by making a habit of ordering the cheapest item available--hot tea.
Secondly, Owen and I love wine. For our honeymoon, we went to Napa Valley and learned about the wine making process. In order to keep our wine budget reasonable, we've found what we believe to be the best of the cheapest bottles:
Sutter Home Moscato
Beringer White Zinfendel
You don't need an expensive wine to enjoy the flavor enhancing effect, just one that you like the taste of! Though, you should still probably avoid twist off caps.
Actually, all in all, we're having fun spending our young and poor years together. The lack of money forces us to be creative. We've had some delicious dinners with weird, end of the week, left over ingredient combinations. We're also learning that we don't need as much as we once thought we did. I'll let Alan Jackson end this one:
"It doesn't take much, when you get enough
Livin' on love."