Grace Cartwright Aspinwall’s family lived frugally, yet she and her siblings never felt that their necessities were not taken care of. Despite the large pay cut her father took when he became an ordained minister, her parents were still able to put all of their four kids through college and pay for three weddings.
Grace grew up watching her father sort cash into envelopes when she was just three years old, eventually learning to master budgets and the “envelope system.”
“When I was little, I dreamed of being a figure skater and took lessons for a long time. It was a very expensive sport, and I loved being able to save up and pay for more lessons, which took quite some time. I remember saving my allowance for several months, and earning my lessons on my own,” Grace shared.
That was only one of many skills her parents instilled in her: Her mother also taught her to clip coupons and find great deals. “I credit [my mother] for my learning how to grocery shop, save money, and cut corners, because she made it a way of life,” Grace said.
Grace’s mother even made her own laundry detergent from a recipe found online, mixing borax, grated soap, and water. She also shopped at Goodwill and made her own bread with flour she bought from local mills.
The kids spent a lot of time with their mother, especially because they were homeschooled. “It gave us more opportunities to shop with our mother and learned how to to bargain hunt and plan meals together as a family. She never complained about a tight budget, and always ensured we had a more hands-on experience with money,” Grace recalled.
“I wasn’t very into it though,” she laughed. “ I loved spending form the time I was small, and to this day, shopping is one of my favorite things to do. I would say of all my siblings, I am the shopper for sure.”
Although the she learned a lot growing up, Grace still faced real-life challenges when she went off to college. “I made many dumb financial mistakes,” she sighed. “I had a good job, but I still took out student loans. Instead of living on the income I made, I ended up spending part of my loans on things like eating out and building a very expensive wardrobe. Only later did I realize that I was living on money I didn’t actually have.”
Kids can learn important skills growing up, but its best when they are made real and tangible for them. “I didn’t have the the concept of finality when it came to money nor the ability to see far enough ahead in the future and how it would affect my life. I just assumed I would get a high paying job that would pay off the loans,” she explained. Looking back, she wishes she had done things differently, but it also influenced her to live more like her parents did in the years to come.
Grace’s biggest “Aha Moment” was when she and her husband became parents to their first daughter. Not only did they realize the enormity of raising and providing for a child, but she also faced the challenge of being married to someone from a different background where money was unstable and never used wisely.
“We had to create boundaries and make smarter decisions for our new family,” Grace explained, “My husband completed Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace” program from which we both learned a lot.”
Grace admits they still argue occasionally about money, but that they keep their conversations open and honest. “When we became a family, we really decided to live within our means, get rid of debt, and not live on credit cards,” she explained.
Being able to reach the financial goals that the Aspinwalls have since then is not easy, but their determination and sacrifices got them there – five years later, they finally purchased their home.
“We didn’t want to jump into a huge mortgage right away, so over the years, we lived in tiny apartments and townhomes until we were able to buy a home within our budget on our fifth anniversary,” Grace said smiling proudly. “We saved for it for a very long time. We had to make quite a few sacrifices, especially since I wanted to stay home most days with our children.”
“We were cooking more often than eating out, having date nights at fast food restaurants or the taco truck instead of fancy restaurants, living on a food budget of $200 and set a clothing budget of $40 a month,” Grace explained. “I took it as a challenge to find the best deals for my family,” Grace said.
Because of their saving habits, Grace’s family was able to survive and pay for a number of medical crises which happened over the course of their marriage, without accruing any new debt. “We were able to pay all our medical bills in cash and even made large progress on our student loans,” Grace said proudly.
What’s most important to Grace is to ensure her kids learn the same habits and values. “One of my happiest money teaching moments was watching my daughter who was four at the time, run her own lemonade stand and popcorn table,” Grace beamed, “We told her if she earned enough, she could purchase a brand new bicycle, and she did it! She’s an extremely driven kid, and she knew with a goal and a plan, she could do it. She earned $90 in less than 5 hours and we drove to the store to get her bike that very night. She was so proud, and I knew it meant more than if she just was handed one.”
Grace wants her daughters to know that the way you treat money is representative of their passions and their hearts, that money is just money, but it can be a tool that can be either good or bad.
“We want our daughters to know that where our family spends money and gives generously, is where our priorities lie,” she explained, “I also want them to understand that ‘stuff’ is not important and does not create an identity for them. I hope I am successfully modeling how to withstand the societal pressure for more stuff.”
One of the most important things Grace learned on this journey is not to compare herself with others. Her biggest piece of advice when it comes to money is to get honest with yourself, your financial situation, and your personal values. “Denial usually ends with mountains of debt or bankruptcy. We have seen many of our friends treat debt as a way of life, racking up expensive clothes, vacations, and cars they can’t afford, and it breaks my heart, because it’s enslaving them to interest payments and a timeline they will never escape.”
Grace Cartwright Aspinwall is the founder of the Aspinwall Collective marketing firm, where she creates digital content for photographers, companies, and brands. She has previously worked on staff at the Krazy Coupon Lady, and CCM Magazine, and works for FrontGate Media in marketing. She is a graduate of Oregon Health and Science University, and is the proud mom to two daughters. She calls Southern Oregon home, and loves iced coffee, great books, and helping her clients tell their story.