Step 5: Communicate -- and perhaps reconfigureThis isn't the last step, but rather a continuation of Step 1. It's essential to keep talking about what's going on, both financially and emotionally.
"People assume their partners have the same dreams, or at least expectations. But they seldom do," says Herigstad.
Sometimes those assumptions are internalized. Matt Tardy says that, early on, Jaime sometimes felt bad about being a full-time mom instead of wage-earning one. "I had to say, 'Whoa! That's not why we're doing what we're doing.' It's just hard for the other person to feel like they're contributing if they're not contributing financially."
Personal finance author Kay advises having a weekly money talk -- and to talk about finances only then. If a disagreement comes up, "shelve it until Money Night," Kay says. And if you're either planning to downsize or facing job loss, start your Money Nights now.
How are our two couples doing?
Spicer and Carolina still have about $1 million in business-related debt. Carolina finished her master's degree in early childhood education in May 2010 but hasn't been able to get a job; she has been substitute-teaching fairly often, though. Spicer works seven days a week, for SkyLedger and as a computer consultant. Between them, they earn about $75,000 per year. Spicer is putting $200 a month into a Roth IRA, but they haven't started one for Carolina yet, having hoped she'd get a teaching job with a decent retirement plan. Financial turmoil has kept them from starting a family.
Sometimes the downsized life is temporary. You live simply while you find a new job, raise kids or make a success of your new business. But once those things happen, some decide they like a simpler lifestyle.
"Yes, we're on a tight budget, but we're making a little bit more every year and that's exciting," Jaime says, "because you can save."
"If you can have a more enjoyable tomorrow because of a little pain today, I'm OK with that."
Save money todayFee free: The "Do One Thing" series at Bundle wants to save you money. "Never pay another late fee" shows both paper people and e-payers how to organize.
Avoiding temptation: Have a spending problem? "Don't put yourself in these situations" offers a very basic (and funny!) piece of advice.
Cut food costs: A reader at the Women in Red message board has a goal called "Groceries on $15 a week." Check out the readers' suggestions for ways to reduce your own food bills.
Published Nov. 23, 2010