Since I was very young, I knew I wanted to be married. There’s a picture of me at six years old, sitting on my mom’s cedar chest with a napkin on my head, in a white dress, holding a bouquet of fake flowers in two chubby hands. I always wanted to be a bride!
But since most women marry in their mid- to late twenties, and I had plenty of time on my hands. After an epiphany at age 21, I realized I wanted to be married – but was woefully unprepared. I commissioned myself to develop habits that would, at the very least, make the transition to marriage a little easier when that day finally came.
That day did come, and while I learn more daily in my role as a wife, below are five habits I formed while single that have been extremely useful – even essential – to my life as a married woman and mom.
1. I Learned to Cook
My mother is a fantastic cook and my grandmother is a Dutch kitchen queen. Growing up, I let them do the work and I washed the dishes. Somehow the food showed up on the table and I fulfilled the arduous responsibility of simply eating it, never wondering how it was made. When I went to college and then spent a summer in New Mexico, I realized just how little I actually knew. Upon my return to Michigan, I devoted myself to learning to cook. I am so glad I did.
Cooking is not an ancient discipline for stay-at-home moms and grandmothers. It is an advanced science and art. Food brings people together and is a means of blessing people in many capacities. By learning to cook, I gained timeless knowledge and experience that provides a return on my investment every single day. Here are just a few benefits:
- Cooking saves money. Eating out, or eating prepared foods, costs double, triple, and even quadruple what it costs to make the same dish at home. By cooking, you pay YOURSELF for your labor by NOT shelling out that extra money.
- Cooking reduces stress. What?! Yes, it does. At first, cooking can be stressful if you don’t know what you are doing. But as you continue learning, it becomes second nature. I rarely use measurements (unless baking) and after five years in the kitchen I know what herbs complement which meats, what wines to use in sauces, and how to plate a nutritional and eye-catching dinner. With knowledge and planning, cooking becomes a relaxing, rewarding practice.
- Cooking blesses others. Not just your husband – though he will be grateful too. I bring pies, tarts, and cookies to the office. I give cookie mixes as gifts. I make dinners for friends who are ill or have babies, and serve on my church’s ministry of meals team. Food truly brings people together and is a means to bless others without much financial investment – but plenty of heart!
You might be wondering how to do this as a single woman. In the two years I lived alone (after leaving my parents) I designed my shopping, meal planning, and cooking AS IF I were married and had a family, but adjusted the portions to one. This meant using the flyer from Kroger or Food Lion, making a list, and planning my meals based on the sales. Then I would cook those recipes each night and pack my lunch the next day. When I got married, I took those habits and multiplied the portions to two.
In some marriages, the husband cooks. That’s cool. It is still to your advantage to know 8-10 basic dishes as a single OR married woman, as well as good meal planning and grocery budgeting. This will be helpful regardless of marital status.
Before we were married, I also sat down with Josh and discussed any food allergies or meals he liked/disliked. For a complete series on my meal planning and cooking, check out this link:
2. I Learned to Live Within My Means
I was blessed with a mom who set a good example in this department. My parents raised us with an aversion to any kind of debt beyond a home mortgage – we never had car payments and never took trips, went shopping, or bought anything we couldn’t pay for our of our own budget. This meant buying clothes from secondhand stores (though my mom had good standards for our appearance and knew what brands to buy), saying ‘no’ to overpriced items, shopping at garage sales, and learning to simply wait.
When I went to college, I took out a loan to study residentially. I returned the next year and worked two jobs to pay it off. My parents charged us rent after age 18, not because they were cruel and mean, but because they knew it would teach me and my siblings the responsibility we would need when we moved out. And it did! The discounted rent at my parents’ home taught me the budgetary discipline I needed when I moved to Virginia.
It wasn’t without its struggles. My clunker car was in the shop many times, and every time, I paid for the repairs in cash from my savings. No shopping that month! I worked to wittle my grocery budget down to $140 a month and didn’t eat out very often.
Before Josh asked to marry me, he presented my parents with three Excel documents: mock budgets based on both our salaries, just his salary, and just his salary with baby expenses. He did this to provide my parents with tangible proof he could provide for us.Those plans served as a template once we DID marry. We chose to live on one salary and with the other, pay down his student loans – you can read how we did that in this post.
While dating, Mr. M and I completed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University – I recommend this to EVERY dating or engaged couple. It helped us solidify that we were on the same page concerning our financial and lifestyle expectations.
3. I Learned to Do Laundry, Mend, and Sew
In a family of 8, you’d think I’d learn the best way to do laundry. This post is revealing just how little attention I paid to real life during my growing years! When I moved out on my own, I was no longer matching 824 socks for my five siblings and parents. Now I had to do my own clothes. Suddenly I cared a lot more what happened to them (selfish, I know)! I learned what ‘delicate’ wash was for. I learned how to whiten sheets. I even bought a book about the best way to handle different fabrics so they lasted longer (hello, linen).
I knew some basic sewing from my 4-H days, but on the day we got engaged, Mr. M bought me a sewing machine. I revisited my basic skills and learned to hem pants, fix tears, and take up sleeves. This saved us from going to a tailor, and also enabled me to make a tree skirt for Christmas, our Christmas stockings, and seat cushions for our dining room. I learned to adjust some of the clothes I bought at Goodwill so they would fit me better. All of this so I could save us more money – from habits I learned while single!
I’m not saying every woman needs a sewing machine, but I’ve been a little shocked at how few girls know how to sew on a button! Simple sewing techniques like buttons, fixing zippers, and taking something in or up can be extremely helpful in the long run – both for your own clothes and for your future family’s. I have now hemmed pants for my coworkers, fixed seam tears for student employees, and even taken up a prom dress with the VERY basic skills I’ve acquired. Like cooking – this is something you can use to bless others.
I also make my own laundry detergent by the five gallon tub (costs pennies per load!) using this recipe.
4. I Learned Time Management
Time management. Oh, you beast.
I won’t say I have this mastered. In fact, I’m quite the master at distracting myself from what I need to do. I like to think I wait to the last minute because I work best under pressure… but yeah.
I did cultivate some habits while single that have been monumental now that I am married. Below are a few:
- Make a list for EVERYTHING. Always make a grocery list. Make a list of to-do’s at the beginning of the day. Make a list when you are trying to remember the to-do’s you thought of on your drive home from work. Make a list of what to do AT work. Make a list of dreams and goals. Make a list of people you want to hang out with. Lists keep you on track and help you have a place for tangible goals – and what is better than crossing things off as you accomplish them?
- Use a planner. My first REAL planner was used when I came back from college and began working the two jobs – one at a newspaper and one at a high end restaurant. I had two or three deadlines a day at the newspaper, would go home, change, and drive to my second job at night. I still get out that old planner and read through my crazy schedule back then. Today, my schedule is still quite busy, and my planner keeps me on track. Every time I think of a ‘to-do’, I write it down.
- Plan your meals. I found that unplanned meals ALWAYS resulted in one of two things: spending more money, or wasting more time. If I didn’t plan, I’d run through Chick-Fil-A and spend $7 that could have funded at least two meals from my grocery budget. The other alternative for an unplanned meal was me, flipping through Allrecipes.com trying to find something that sounded good with what I had in my pantry. Once in a while, this is okay. But as a general rule, it wastes money and time.
- Say ‘No’. I’m the kind of person who feels bad saying I don’t have time for something. I feel guilty turning down an opportunity to ‘help’. But the truth is, we can’t do everything. We just CAN’T. Learning to say no teaches us to relax and learn what life is really about.
For more productivity tips check out the productivity tab on this blog or follow my Instagram for my stories on the topic!
5. I Learned to Embrace Conflict
Another thing I don’t have mastered, but something I learned while single, is to embrace and handle conflict. Some people hate conflict, but love drama. These types of people claim to hate drama, but in reality they simply hate conflict. I’ve been that person. It’s EASY to be that person.
And that person does not fit well in marriage.
In marriage, the problems glare right in your face. You can’t avoid them. You can’t say, “I’ll text him back later” or “we can meet up for coffee next week and discuss” – and never show up. In marriage, you’re going to bed with your problems, so if you can’t handle conflict, you’ll learn to do so pretty fast.
As a single woman, I learned the most about embracing conflict at work. Below are some things I gleaned that have helped me immensely in my marriage:
- Stop taking correction so personally. When I first started working, I was very timid and felt that any correction was an indicator of my utter and complete failure as a human being. I would tiptoe around for a few days after the confrontation, sure I was on the verge of being fired and utterly dependent on my boss’s moods. After several years of this ridiculousness, I finally realized that my bosses were correcting me BECAUSE they had confidence I would improve. If they didn’t – I’d be fired. So I stopped taking it so personally and learned to ‘woman up’ and make the best of it. In marriage, this has a different tone since you’re talking to someone who is your equal, not superior. But the same concepts apply: instead of feeling inadequate and wallowing in self pity, we can take the good from our spouse’s complaints and try to adjust as needed.
- Don’t make people guess why you’re upset. As a single woman, I tried to make a habit of detailing my problems directly – not just whining about it to colleagues, which is far easier and which I fall into still at times. Until others know the problem, they cannot help to fix it. This is MONUMENTAL in marriage. He’s not going to guess what’s wrong. You have to tell him. And trust me – he will want to fix it.
- Stop viewing conflict as a bad thing. Conflict is not bad. It may be uncomfortable, humiliating, and even frustrating; but it is not bad. I started to view conflict as a means to an end. I told myself, “This is a refining fire. This is what life is about.” As I changed my mentality toward conflict, I began to understand it in a more positive light.
- Start viewing conflict as a road to resolution and improved understanding. As previously stated, shifting my view of conflict from ‘bad’ to ‘beneficial’ helped me see the end goal; the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. This helped lift some of the pressure off the moment and give me a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the situation. This also helps offset emotional responses and anger – both of which I am prone to use. In both work and marriage, this habit will greatly improve the conflict experience and ultimate resolution.
Remember, you won’t be a finished product when you get married – none of us are ‘finished products’ this side of heaven. Singleness and marriage are both processes of sanctification, each meant to refine us in different ways. But disciplining ourselves provides benefits no matter what stage of life God has given us to live, enabling us to live effective lives TODAY while preparing us for whatever God has in store. These habits made marriage much easier for me. The challenges don’t vanish; they are new every day! But these habits take some of the pressure off the learning curve of a young marriage and will allow you to focus more on glorifying God than learning all-new skills.