Okay, so let's get real. I was horrible with money, like really really loose. In college, I fell into the credit card debt trap. I'd like to blame the university for letting those credit card reps offer freebies (Pez dispensers!!! seriously.) to con poor college students into signing up, but I can't. It was my choice.
I was determined not to carry this debt into marriage, and worked hard to pay it off just days before my wedding. Being credit card debt free felt really good. Life happened, and emergencies like flat tires and air conditioners breaking came up. We were newlyweds who liked to go out to dinner and movies and shopping, and our debt slowly creeped up again.
Feeling convicted, that we really did not want to live in debt, and also through some truthful words from friends, we committed to getting out of debt for good... the ultimate goal is to pay cash for everything and be 100% debt free (no house payment, no car payment, nada.)
That was three and half years ago, and we are now left with only our mortgage and car payment. It feels good, but we're not done.
Do you know the secret? It goes against everything our society emphasizes and deems valuable. Here are the simple truths: live below your means, delay gratification, prioritize.
* Live below your means: If you spend every penny, or worse, rack up debt to pay for things, you are spending too much. Some of your money should be going to savings every month. Everyone has unexpected expenses that could throw you deeper into debt if you don't save for the inevitable.
* Delay Gratification: Oh look, that fancy phrase from Psychology 101 just came in handy. Our society thrives on the concept of not having to wait. But guess what, waiting is good, patience is good. Sometimes it stinks that I can't have the perfectly decorated or landscaped house... but we don't have the money for it right now. So we save, and spend our money elsewhere that takes priority.
* Prioritize: I must feed my family, I want a new camera. Well, my kids surely appreciate that I put them first in this area, so save I must, and take care of what is a must first. If and when there is money left over, I can use it in other areas.
How do we do it? We budget. If you're like me you're screaming NOOOOOO!!! Not budget!!! I feel you... I felt like the fun and spontaneity of life was over. I actually felt a little sick about it before we started, but I thought to be fair I had to at least give it a try. We watched the Dave Ramsey DVDs and got to work mapping out a budget. Friends of ours made excel spreadsheets and shared them with us to use as a template each month. In the first year we paid off a car, two student loans, the rest of the credit card debt, and started an emergency savings account. Not too shabby! We cut eating out, except for once a week, and committed to tithing regularly (I know this can be a touchy subject, and really would require a whole post of its own, so I'm not even going to open that can of worms here :)
Three and half years later, God truly did answer our prayers. Just as we were more wisely using the time, talents, and treasures God blessed us with... I got to leave working outside the home and be the homemaker I always wanted to be. Six years ago, when our son was born, this seemed absolutely an impossible dream. We were both working full time, and we were barely making it. We are living on less money now, and things are tight, but I get to raise my own children, and create the kind of home that we desire.
We have a lot of room for improvement, and we are not totally debt free yet, but we have a goal in mind and steps to get us there. How awesome would it be to pay off our mortgage long before we retire?! There is so much more freedom without debt, but our country is constantly pressuring us to consume, buy, upgrade, collect. It is sickening.
I long for simplicity. Where God and relationships and loving others is what I am consumed with. I don't want to want stuff.