About a year into our marriage and three years into college, Dexter and I heard about Dave Ramsey, a Christian financial planner. We knew that his ideas were helping people in our church work toward being debt free. Then, my mother-in-law gave us Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover. I read it on the two-hour drive home from visiting our families.
Ramsey’s ideas include getting rid of credit cards, building a $1000 emergency fund, and beginning a process called “the debt snowball.” I was pretty impressed by his plan and thought it might be for us someday.
First, we needed to stop going into debt. A year and a half later, when we graduated from college, we did just that. I wracked my brain for a way to stop going into debt sooner, but we would have sacrificed college educations, decent grades, or our marriage, so we stuck with sacrficing the money.
After graduation, Dexter was blessed with a great job. He has a great boss and fantastic coworkers, gets to hone his graphic design skills, and drinks and roasts the most fabulous coffee in the world. I substitute taught in five school districts and made gelato twice a week. For eight months, we got by.
In August of 2009, I started a new job with salary and health insurance (hooray!), and we bought a house right around the corner fromwhere I teach. For the first time in our marriage, in September of 2009, we made more money than we spent.
Then the battle really began. I got the idea from a friend that we should have a “month ahead plan,” meaning that we should pay for things in October with the money we made in September. This was a really attractive idea to me. I’d be able to see how much money we made down to the penny and plan it all out from there. Then there was Christmas, and I needed new glasses, and insurance was due, and it was February 2010 and we were not a month ahead. I began to feel extremely discourged and our debt was all I could think about.
I keep track of the money in our family, and I enjoy it. I love to keep things organized and to hear the “ding” when Quicken balances the checkbook. But, I didn’t love being really pumped to get rid of our debt and the feeling that I had that I needed to “take care of it” all by myself. I asked Dexter to read Total Money Makeover. I had explained Dave’s plan after reading the book the first time, and Dexter already agreed thatwe should use Dave’s plan, but I hoped that reading the book would help him to share or at least understand the sense of urgency that I have about becoming debt free. He read the book and became as “gazelle intense” (as Dave calls it) as I was.
I still had to get past a few mental obstacles of my own. Ramsey’s plan instructs we debtors to get rid of all our credit cards. I was hesitant to do this because we got all of our credit cards to get rebates or discounts at stores or gas stations. Wouldn’t it be silly to give up those discounts if I pay off my card at the end of each month? God must really want me to totally follow the TOTAL money makeover, because I forgot to pay two credit card bills this month. So, for the little discounts we got for using them, we paid at least $50 in late fees and interest. We also got credit cards in the mail for an account we closed last year, which made me trust these companies even less. So, our card cancellation calls are on the to-do list for this week.
I also decded that I needed to give up my “month ahead” idea. I realized that the reason I loved the idea so much is that it meant I could screw up my budget one month (or decide to redo my hideous, awful bathroom) and just lower my available “income” the next month to cover the expense. That sounds like a recipe to have a bunch of stuff I want and to also have a bunch of debt. I talked to Dexter about forgoing that plan, and we now plan on a nomal, month-to-month, zero-based budget. We’ll officially start this on March 15.
According to a variety of debt calculators, it should take us seven or eight years to be debt free except for our main mortgage. Although that sounds WAY better than the 20-30 years that our creditors want us to take, it still sounds kind of gross to me. After praying about it, Dexter and I have decided to set a goal of paying off our debt in 4 years. March 2014, here we come!
Although when I crunch the numbers, four years sounds impossible, we wanted to set a goal that we would have to work hard to meet and that we would have to trust God to help us meet. To help us monitor our progress and to keep me accountable, I’ve decided to calculate the percentage of our debt that we’ve paid off each month and post it on this blog. Although we’ve been making payments on all of our debts and are almost done with our car payment, I’ll start with today being 100%.
Proverbs 24 says, “A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” I welcome your success stories, tips, and advice!