If you have looked at my website, you have seen that I list Dave Ramsey’s books as one of my top 10 favorite things, and there’s a reason for that.
For as long as I can remember I have hated debt. With a passion. I’ve hated paying interest, I’ve hated seeing statements moving the needle towards the bank and not towards me, and I hated how it feels like racing with a resistance band around your waist that is bolted to the ground. When Josh and I got married in 2009, we had $40,000 in combined debt, and two-thirds of it was the debt we acquired to pay for our wedding. We both wanted it to be as we had dreamed of – it was my second marriage but my first real wedding, and Josh’s first. We both were 33 years old and had had our fair share of crappy relationships, so we wanted to really celebrate our love in the most magical way possible. We felt like we owe it to ourselves and we went all out. No regrets, but man that was a lot of money!
We managed to pay off the 40k debt in three years. We lived within our means and any extra income we got from side gigs was applied towards our debt. It was intense and extremely satisfying. Josh always says that he doesn’t know anyone that loves paying bills as much as I do! But then it was like we forgot what it felt like because although we tried (tried, but not always succeeded) to stay away from revolving debt, we kept making mistakes that were holding us back month after month after month. We leased cars every two and half years. We trade-in the cars “we owned” (more like the bank-owned) for the newer and shinier kind, and reset the clock on those loans. We bought the big house. We bought a $12,000 hot tub. We would accept every invitation to eat out. We… did… not… have… a… plan!
I had heard of Dave Ramsey for about a year before I heard “from him”. Most photography groups I belong to mentioned his teachings, and I honestly thought this guy was a cult leader. And he may as well be. He is an author, a speaker, an entrepreneur, and a financial advisor. He is also responsible for thousands of families, couples, and individuals’ financial success; and I wanted a piece of that pie.
On New Years’ Day 2020, I bought Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” audiobook, and exactly a year ago, on January 2nd, I began playing it during my commute to work. I felt like Dave was coming out of the car’s speaker to slap me in the face. Within three days I had listened to the entire book, and I was shocked. I honestly felt terrible, disgusted almost. I thought… What are we doing? Josh and I constantly talk about retirement and yes, we have 401(k) accounts that we started in our mid-thirties but other than that we were just winging it and hoping for the best.
Before I got the book, Josh was already planning to trade-in his car once it was paid off in May of 2020. “I need a new car” he would tell me. Sounds familiar, right? I need, I need, I need. This is when it got interesting. After I listened to the book I said to him “I think you should just keep that car until it doesn’t run anymore”. You would think I was asking him to donate a kidney! He flipped out… “but I need a new car!“. No, you don’t. You WANT a new car. I needed him to listen to this book… I needed him to be on the same page and the only way we could truly be successful was if he also understood what had to be done. I told him that, if after listening to the book he still “needed” that new car, I would support it. I knew he wasn’t going to “need it” after he heard from my friend Dave. We both drank the Kool-Aid and set the wheels in motion.
Ramsey’s teachings kept me up at night. I knew we needed to do more to be able to reach our goals. Two weeks after I finished the book, I emailed Josh and the email said something like this: “hear me out… what if… we sell the house and move to a condo where the maintenance expenses are less than half?” I was so hesitant to start a conversation about something this drastic in person – we had put so much love, sweat, and tears into renovating our home for the previous five years, that I knew it was going to be a hard sell. Buying a big sprawling house with gorgeous lawns was a dream come true. What we didn’t know is that the care, maintenance, taxes, heating, cooling, etc., etc., etc., was going to eat up whatever extra money we had each month that could have been used to invest in our future. A 30-year loan sounds good until you realize you’re going to be 70 by the time is paid off.
Dave Ramsey convinced us that we didn’t need the “showpiece” house. Or the new car smell. Or the fancy handbag. Or the expensive dinner. What we needed was a plan, and we needed it now. We were able to sell our beautiful home in the middle of a global pandemic. We bought a three-year-old maintenance-free condo that will be paid off in 10 years (and hearing the sweet sound of someone else cutting the grass for you is amazing, by the way). Our next car will be a pre-owned car and will be paid for in cash before it leaves the dealership. We got rid of the little bit of revolving debt we had (who needs five years to pay for furniture and mattresses?). We are OK saying no to eating out at expensive places. And if we don’t have the cash to buy it, we just don’t buy it! As Dave says, we are attacking our plan with “gazelle intensity”: living like no one else, so later we can live like no one else (also a quote from Dave. See the pattern here?)
“LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE, SO LATER YOU CAN LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE”Dave Ramsey, Total Money Makeover.
I’m sharing my experience for three reasons. First, because I think so many of us have never been taught how to handle money. I know personally, my parents never taught me about money, all I knew was that sometimes we had it and sometimes we didn’t. I know people that don’t budget at all, and by the end of the month, they are wondering if they were robbed. And they were… by the “Keeping up with the Joneses” thief. Ignoring money management is financial suicide, and if I can get one person to make a healthy financial change, to look in the mirror and know they can do better, then sharing my experience was worth it.
Second, because if you’re married or in a long-term relationship with someone, both partners must be on board. I knew I couldn’t make all these plans, budgets, and changes if he was going to spend what we saved or somehow boycott the plan. Money conversations with our partners should be fun and exciting, not worrisome and frustrating. We still have challenges from time to time, and we constantly have honest heart-to-heart conversations about money, and we do our best to get on the same page. I’m usually the one popping the “I want it and I want it now” bubble, and he’s ok with it. He knows I’m a gazelle and the lion is not going to get me.
Our “instant gratification” brains have slowly developed into “I can wait” brains. It’s liberating. Retirement will be here before we know it, and we know social security is a joke. Since we both embarked on our “Total Money Makeover” life seems easier, more exciting, and less pretentious; and the future looks brighter, healthier, and wealthier.
And my third reason: because I am all about accountability. I want to read this in 10, 15 years from now and say… yes, we did it.
I may not be able to leave a monetary legacy to my children (we’re working on it, but life is unpredictable as we all know by now). But if there’s something of value I’m leaving them, is the ability to handle their personal finances. Both of my children are hard workers. My daughter is only 16 and she has more money in the bank than the average American. My son is 23 and he has tackled more than half of his $40,000 student loan debt in less than 3 years. They hear me preaching about saving and investing. They see me budgeting and balancing accounts on a weekly basis. They know the concept of “paying yourself first”. If I am not able to leave them money when I’m gone, I know at least I have left them a good relationship with it so they, too, can live easier, more exciting, and less pretentious lives.
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