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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breaking Free Part 2: How To See Some Hope

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

Finding hope in the war
Danielle made a comment recently that I'm pretty sure would've proven true had our lives taken different paths two years ago. She said, "If it weren't for our financial plan we probably wouldn't be together."

And I think she's right. Just a few months after getting married we found ourselves locked in a purgatory of money disagreements (we don't like the word "fights") and bad financial habits. She's a saver. I'm a spender. And neither of us had really considered the impact our individual approaches to money would have on our relationship.

In the fall of 2012, just four months after we got married, we took Financial Peace University by financial guru Dave Ramsey. I know there's a lot of Dave Ramsey detractors out there, but a lot of it is simple misunderstanding. I've noticed two groups of Dave-haters. First, there's people of the world who think debt is normal, who think our country's national debt is no big deal, and therefore don't understand why Dave Ramsey is on a crusade against it. Many of them—the biggest haters—also know he's a Christian, and that, in and of itself, paints a big shiny target on his bald dome.

Then there's other Dave Ramsey hate that comes from people—mainly Christians—who simply misunderstand his message. Sure, he can be a little too dogmatic about some things, but if you listen to his story you'll understand why. Dave doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he's built a massive empire around his business that's loaded with people who work their butts off every day to find the answers.

Dave's money management program stems from his own personal experience of having wealth, going bankrupt, finding a renewed faith in God, and having wealth again—lots of wealth! He's currently worth millions. His home in Tennessee—which he paid for with cash—is worth $4.9 million. Some Christians have a problem with this. They think Dave is unbiblical for living in such a way. But I fail to recall any Scripture that says having money is evil, or that when God blesses you in one particular area because of your obedient faithfulness that you need to turn the blessing away.

Their feelings on the matter leave me vexed. Terribly vexed.

Anyway, Dave's plan for achieving financial peace has one major design flaw: it doesn't work if you don't do it!

Ok, ok. That was a little too emphatic. Sorry.

Danielle and I aren't the Dave Ramsey worshippers that many others are, but we do appreciate his method because it has worked amazingly well for us. We also understand that everyone is different and that different plans work for different people. We encourage people who are in serious financial straightjackets to consider Crown Financial Ministries or another biblical-based money management program.

The Time When We Saw Hope

Danielle and I faithfully worked through the small-group version of Financial Peace University in the fall of 2012. I didn't want to do it. I didn't think it would work. But both Danielle and I needed to change the way we felt about money, and, more importantly, we needed to find mutual ground upon which we could start building a budget to get us out of debt.

Dave Ramsey's Baby Step #1 wasn't that hard for us—get $1,000 emergency savings in the bank. During our time leading FPU we met some people who struggled with this, so, trust me, we know how hard it can be, but we were just married and we didn't have any children, so finding $1,000 to put in an account was no biggie.

But then came Baby Step #2—pay off all non-mortgage debt using the debt snowball. This took some time, but we doggedly tracked down every spare dollar we could and eventually paid off the credit card. Then we took the money from the credit card payment and added it to a vehicle payment and we paid off that vehicle a year early.

And then our eyes opened.

Then we took the combined payments of the credit card and the vehicle and added it to another vehicle, and that one was paid off six months early.

And our eyes opened a little wider.

The plan was working, and, most importantly, it was changing the way we felt about money. Seeing progress was making the change happen within us. We began to see the value of cutting back on how much we spent on eating out. So we cut back some more. As our debt went down and our savings went up we saw the value of canceling nonessential monthly bills, like our Netflix account. We even decided not to budget for vacations for a while.

As time went on our vision for our financial future came together. Gone was the fear and desperation that my wife had felt before. Gone was my frustration at her for being so tight-fisted with money. We had learned each other's "money language," and there was newfound respect and empathy.

Our friend, Jacey, over at The Balanced Wife, puts it well: "Taking the first step takes so much more energy than staying in motion."

The great thing about Financial Peace University is that it allows you to see hope in a short amount of time. Usually within 1-to-3 months you'll see that $1,000 emergency fund in the bank. After 3-to-6 months you'll see that debt snowball working wonders. You'll start to feel more in control of your money, instead of feeling like you're money is controlling you.

You might even start to see that maybe Dave Ramsey is really onto something after all.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call
Part 3: Overcoming The Comparison Trap
Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

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