I have been a little "slack" on this blog lately. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that my father-in-law is very ill and we have been consumed with those issues. Besides that, however, life just gets in the way of things! Some weeks I find lots of time to write blog posts and others . . . well . . .not so much.
Another thing that is absorbing a great deal of my time (and my husband's time) is that Rob and I are leading the Dave Ramsey "Financial Peace University" class at our church. If you have never heard of Dave Ramsey or any of his courses, you need to check him out. Click here for his website and to find a class near you. His information and advice (if you follow it) can be literally life changing!
Even though Rob and I have been following these steps for years, we are both becoming remotivated in this class! We realize we had gotten into a "rut" when it came to saving money - or perhaps not being as careful with our spending as we've been in the past. This course is inspring us to once again make our finances - and, most importantly, communicating about them with each other - a priority.
As a result, over the next few weeks, I'd like to share on this blog some of the things we've learned or changed in our lives (and the lives of our kids) as a result of leading this class.
The first night of our class, Rob and I typed up a "testimony" to explain our experience, throughout the course of our marriage, with money, saving, spending, staying out of debt and investing.
Before I begin telling you the "new" things we are doing, I just wanted to share our "financial story" with you, so that you have an understanding of where we are coming from . . . and not just where we are going. I don't tell you any of these things to "brag" about what we have done right, but rather, to inspire you that you CAN leave a debt-free life - and you don't have to make a fortune to achieve that!
Here it is:
Rob and I married Thanksgiving weekend of 1996. At the time, I was just finishing my graduate degree and Rob was a 2LT in the Army, stationed in KS. We managed to squeeze pre-marital counseling into the two or three trips I made to visit him in Kansas during our engagement. If how to deal with your family finances was a part of that counseling, though, I don’t remember it.
We went on a honeymoon and then, the day after we returned to NJ, we packed up our cars and drove to Manhattan, Kansas to begin our married life. We arrived at our new apartment on Thursday. On Saturday morning, I woke up with my new husband, anxious to spend our first married weekend together “playing house.” I had waited years for this first weekend. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Rob rolled over and told me that he, too, had big plans for our weekend. We were meeting with a financial planner at 10 AM!
Talk about taking the romance out of the day. And, it only got worse from there. Rob let the financial planner break the really “great” news to me. We were booked to spend the next FIVE HOURS with him! That meeting is a blur to me – charts, numbers, chopped up credit cards in a jar - those are the things that come to mind when I think of that day.
But, the concepts we took from that meeting have lasted us for the past 14 years. We were fortunate to begin our marriage with little debt (a $10,000 graduate school loan was the extent of it). That meeting, though, ensured that we never got ourselves into any more debt once the loan was paid off. We began by saving $50 a month (“paying ourselves first” with an automatic withdrawal out of our bank account into a money market account) – a fortune, it seemed, when I was unemployed and Rob was being paid a Lieutenant’s salary. And, as time went on, we made sure to acquire life insurance, fund our IRAs and 403Bs (what we had then instead of the typical 401Ks) and build a substantial emergency fund – and, of course, tithe 10% of our salary. God blesses those who are faithful. With each pay increase we received, (because, I eventually did get a job and Rob would be promoted over time) we made sure to stay at the same standard of living. Instead of buying more expensive items or “loosening the purse strings," we would use each increase in income to fund the next part of our financial plan.
We also used the “envelope system” – especially when it came to grocery shopping. Our first few years of marriage, we were only able to budget $150 a month for groceries. When that money was gone and out of our envelope, so were our meal options! We ate a lot of hotdogs and beans towards the end of each month – and dealt with a lot of teasing from the other soldiers, too. Rob has memories of “eyeing” the lunches of his fellow soldiers and asking them if they thought they were going to “finish that!”
When we wanted to buy a “larger” item, we saved for it and paid cash. We knew we’d need a refrigerator when we moved into our first home, so I drew a picture of a fridge with dollar amounts lined up on the outside of it – taping that drawing to our current fridge. As we saved money, I’d color in the drawing, showing our progress towards the purchase of our new appliance. Rob has “fond” memories of saving for two months before he could afford to buy our first garden hose. If we went on vacation, we saved for it in our “vacation fund” and paid cash. We never bought something if we didn’t have the money in the bank to pay for it.
We are about to enter our 15th year of marriage. All of the “baby steps” we started taking that first weekend of our marriage have paid off. We regularly fund our investments, rarely touch our emergency fund and believe that we will have financial security in our retirement. We have no credit card debt and have never had a car payment – we drive our cars into the ground! We own two pieces of ranch land in the hill country, equaling about 70 acres, and both are completely paid off. As for our house? We took out a 15-year mortgage on that and intend to have it paid off about the time our two year old starts elementary school.
Three years ago we had the privilege of being featured in a PBS documentary entitled “Retirement Revolution.” It was hosted by Paula Zahn and followed a number of American families, discussing how they are “planning,” or have “planned,” for retirement. We were the example of a young couple who are saving for our future. A camera crew flew into Austin and followed us around for a few days – even going to work with Rob. If you’d like to see a clip from the show, and read more about our story, this is the link:
We are super excited to be leading this class! There is no greater feeling than to go to bed at night and know that you are DEBT FREE!! God has blessed us with not only money, but the people he has placed in our lives, who have provided invaluable information and support to live a debt-free life.
Along with leading this class, however, we are also excited to be students in it! No one is perfect in their financial plan. We are looking forward to being “re-motivated” by Dave Ramsey (specifically, as we really begin to save for college for our three kids and teach them how to save for their own future!) – and all of you – as we plough through this experience together!
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