At the end of 2012 every American heard daily some little bit about the “Fiscal Cliff”. There was constant wonder, intrigue and anxiety regarding the economic status of the United States and how tumbling over this “cliff” would affect us all. As the society and media were up in arms about this matter, my husband and I began looking at our own personal finances. While the status of the economy in our country does affect my family as well as everyone else, at this point there’s not much if anything we can do about it. We just need to batten down the hatches and hang on tight while we ride out this storm.
One storm, directly affecting all who earn a paycheck in the U.S.A, is the end of a two-year tax cut on paychecks bringing the tax rate up to 6.2 % from 4.2%. This meant that my husband’s first paycheck of 2013 was about $60 less than the last one of 2012. Since he is the bread-winner, as I only work part-time to avoid the cost of daycare, this was a huge and startling set back! When I saw his first pay stub of 2013 I was brought to tears. Things can already be tight and just like all people we have bills to pay! Credit Card, car payments, medical bills, you name it! Once I recovered from my mild anxiety attack my husband and I decided to enroll in a class our church was hosting called Financial Peace University.
FPU is taught by a man named Dave Ramsey and it’s a look at finances from a biblical perspective. What?? Huh??? How do you handle money biblically? The idea of handling my finances biblically confused me at first. Yes, I am a Christian woman, we go to church and we try to live out our daily lives in a way that would honor God by caring for others and by being the “hands and feet of Christ”. But I had never thought about handling my money in such a way. I don’t know why but it just never occurred to me. Now, if you are not a Christian, please do not hit the back button to never return here again. The principles taught are for everyone and make sense! They are simple and basic. This isn’t Earth shattering stuff. I mean deep down we all know that if we have $10 in our wallet, no gas in the car, an empty refrigerator and debt coming out of our ears, then we shouldn’t buy that new flat screen TV for $800! Yet, many of us still swipe that credit card only adding to our growing pile of debt. But isn’t that just normal? Isn’t that how we American’s are supposed to purchase things? That’s just sort of been the normal thing to do here. If you don’t have the money then just charge it! Our society is all about spending money we don’t have. Many of us watched our parents do it and the government loves to do it. If you give Visa or Mastercard a chance they will gladly give you a free, hands on lesson about credit card debt. Just open up one of those offers in the mail and start spending. You’ll soon learn all about the cumbersome pile of consumer debt you can incur! Dave Ramsey discusses things like this and so much more! There is a hilarious skit from Saturday Night Live about this very thing. Please take a few minutes to watch for a good laugh. It’s funny because it’s true. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/dont-buy-stuff/n12020/
Scripture says: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” Proverbs 22:7
Have you ever felt that way with your debt? Have you ever paid your bills only to sit back and feel overwhelmed because you may not have enough money to put gas in your car or buy groceries? Or have you ever wondered if there could ever be a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t the debt train barreling toward you?
The biggest debt that my husband and I have are our student loans. Holy Cow! Why did I ever take out student loans!?!? After earning my Bachelor’s in Business Administration I found it extremely difficult to get a job that was equivalent to my education and experience. I ended up staying in an industry I hated and working a job I despised! What was even more frustrating was knowing that I had coworkers that didn’t have any college experience at all! Now, I’m not saying those people didn’t do one heck of a good job because most of them did. The point is, I worked my tail off, finished my degree while going through a divorce, a death, struggling with being a single mom and no money to my name. I was so proud of myself when I finally finished my degree. But then reality hit me hard. I thought that I would be able to get into a better paying position so that I could pay back these loans but I just couldn’t.
FACT: The number of American’s living paycheck to paycheck is roughly 60-77%, about 2/3 (I’ve provided some links below). Yikes! Do you fall into this category?
What Does Debt Free Look Like?
I imagine a debt free life giving us the freedom to use our money wisely and in a way that will benefit others. I would invest and donate more. I would use it to help others in some way. I would save it up to pay for my daughter’s college tuition so that they don’t have to experience the headaches of student loans. I envision a life with less stress and more enjoyment. Money won’t make you happy but living free of debt will. Not having to rely on credit cards to cover emergency expenses. Having the cash set aside for emergencies would be wonderful!
Alan and I decided that we were going to tell our money what we wanted it to do and not allow it to control us any longer. So after being in FPU for 2 weeks (tonight is our third class) we are so pumped about getting our debt paid off and working toward being debt free! What would living a debt free life look like to you? Can you even imagine not having any consumer debt at all? No student loans, credit cards, car payments or mortgage? How amazing would that be? What would you do with your extra money? Would you invest it or donate more to charity? Just think about it! It seriously is possible with discipline and hard work. Dave Ramsey discusses steps that you may need to take in order to achieve this goal. They aren’t always easy and they may even make you a little uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable! That means you are moving in the right direction!
Dave discusses his seven baby steps throughout FPU. I’m not going into all seven steps as you should really take the class or read his books for yourself. Plus he is the master at this, not me, I’m simply sharing my experiences so far. Go to Dave Ramsey’s site to learn more and sign up.
Baby Step #1
The very first step is saving $1,000 toward an emergency fund, NOW! This must be done asap. How in the world do you do that? Take a look around your house and take an inventory of all of the junk you don’t need any longer. Have a yard sale, put stuff on ebay or utilize Craigslist. Dave says in his book to “sell so much stuff that the kid’s think they are next”. Ha Ha!
Let me share with you what we are doing:
1. Buh-Bye Cable. Oh. My. Holiness! WHAT?! I know I lost some people right there. But seriously, I was paying a small fortune in cable just so my daughters could watch the Disney Channel. My husband and I do not watch any TV shows. I’m just too busy to sit down and waste my time watching mundane shows. I used to have my favs like CSI and NCIS but now I just don’t have the time. Instead we have Netflix. I went from paying $135 (roughly) for cable including internet (this was just basic cable channels). Now I pay $58 for internet and $7 for Netflix. We don’t even miss cable. The kids could care less. They were angry with me at first but they’ve quickly gotten over it. Remember you are the parents and you know what is best for you and your family. Stand firm!
2. Getting Rid Of The Third Wheel. I drive a newer model mom-mobile, a minivan. I never thought I would drive one but that’s just the nature of the beast. My husband drives an old beater car that he has had forever. It is old and reliable (knock on wood) and is great on gas. Then we have our “fun car”. A 2006 Dodge Magnum R/T with a V8 Hemi. I even added dual exhaust to it as a birthday present for my him one year. We rarely drive it even though we adore this car. It’s an expensive vehicle to operate! Gas alone makes it unbearable. We needed to be honest with ourselves. Is the car making our lives any better? Does this car add value to our family? Is it providing any great sort of service to our family? The answer…..NO! It’s JUST a car with a car payment that we don’t need. When you think about it, it’s silly to even have this car. If we can sell it then we are saved the car payment and insurance premiums. The down side is that we are in an economy where the market of individuals looking for a large gas guzzling vehicle are slim, but I have faith that it will sell.
3. Cell phones. This one is hard for me. My husband and I have iPhone’s and love them. I use it constantly to stay up to date on emails from my students, monitor this blog, navigate by GPS, Facebook, Twitter and so much more. But again, do I need it? Absolutely not! An old fashioned flip phone would be just fine!
Smart phones have become such a crutch to anybody that has one! For example, a year ago we went on a cruise for 7 days. We turned off our cell phones during the trip. When we got back to port I was actually reluctant to turn it back on. I didn’t want to! The thought of being bombarded with emails, missed texts, voice mails and Facebook posts was enough to put me into a panic attack. I wanted to run screaming back onto that ship and hide in the nearest supply closet! I had just spent 7 glorious days sailing the ocean blue. No phones, no distractions, no stress. I then realized how much of a crutch and distraction this technology had actually become in my life. In some weird way I felt an obligation to it. I knew there were emails, voice mails and texts all anxiously awaiting my response. Nothing about them were so important that they couldn’t wait until I got home. But still I almost felt this obligation to turn it on and allow that iPhone monkey to crawl onto my back. Getting rid of a smart phone may not be the answer for everyone but it’s going to work out nicely for us.
4. No More Junk In The Trunk. We have been looking around our house for things to sell. At first we wondered what we could possibly get rid of. Well surprisingly a lot! We currently have old books for sale online. We have a large flat screen TV in the basement that basically is only used to play video games on and that’s it. Do we really need it? Couldn’t we just move the game systems to the living room where we always are? Plus a number of other odds and ends. If you have hesitations about getting rid of the material things in your life then let me assure you that they are just that, things! They can be eventually be replaced. What is more important, having stuff now that you barely use or financial security for your future?
**Saving $1000 is not the only Baby Step. Dave Ramsey has other steps that include paying off all debt, saving 3-6 months of expenses, investing and a few others. If you are serious about getting out of debt and are ready to make those tough changes then I highly recommend looking into the FPU classes or reading one of his books. The books are not boring or dry material. They are actually quite entertaining and easy to read.
My husband and I are continuing to trudge along the path of becoming debt free and making progress where we can. This process is not going to be quick. In all actuality it may take a very long time to achieve our goals. But I’m fine with that because the end goal is in sight, living debt free. Dave Ramsey uses an analogy to illustrate this process. He says “we are in the business of crockpots not microwaves”. In other words we can’t fix our debt problems overnight. It will take some time.
I hope you have found some inspiration in this post and feel motivated and encouraged to take control of your finances. Remember, all of your debt problems will not end overnight. This will take time, maybe even years. But you must stay dedicated to your budget and the principles taught. There are tons of people who are living debt free today because of their self-discipline and dedication to paying off their debt. I would love to hear about your own journey to becoming debt free. We can all be a source of inspiration and encouragement to one another as we each walk along the path toward financial peace.