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Money: A Retrospective

2011 January 24
by Pamela

A friend who has been working to turn her finances around recently posted on Facebook how she and her husband were about to meet with their financial planner.  They were so excited to meet with him, knowing they had made much progress towards their goals.   Reading her post was one of those Aha! moments for me.  I remember how we first met with someone five years ago and left the meeting feeling completely defeated. 

Her post made me want to share a little bit of our story with money and how it stopped controlling us. 

We were like most families in America for a long time, living beyond our means, drowning in debt, and constantly living only for the now.

A series of events, which I can now thank God for, moved us in a different direction.

In 2002 when Bob and I started dating, my finances were a wreck.  I had one credit card with an $800 limit, but because I never paid it on time the balanced skyrocketed to nearly $3K.  I also had some unpaid medical bills.  I drove a car that was way too expensive, but it was my DREAM car and I had graduated from college, was living in my DREAM apartment, and “deserved” to have everything in my life look like a DREAM.

But the trouble was that living beyond my means was turning into a NIGHTMARE.

After a few months of dating, I ‘fessed up to Bob about my finances and asked him for help.  Systematically and without judgment, he helped me with every bill, showing me how to make phone calls about payment plans and worked with me to get some of my debt paid off.

In 2003 we married.  Six weeks later I lost my job.  We both went into a tailspin, accruing debt needlessly, making home improvements that were unnecessary given our financial situation, and living a two-income standard without two incomes.

It was not a pretty sight.

In 2004 I got back to work and found out I was pregnant a week later.  We went into immediate scramble mode.  But right around that time we were also introduced to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University through Bob’s co-workers the Harpers.  They offered to do a class at our church and we signed up.  I think Mary Claire was 5 months old at the time. 

Bob is the type of person who does something with 100% focus and intention.  Not only did he attend every class, but he did every bit of homework too.  I highly recommend FPU to everyone, but only if they are really committed to putting in significant time to make the changes.  I have seen Dave Ramsey’s principles radically change the path some people are on, truly bringing financial peace.  But for most people, it’s just a class they attend.  It requires a level of determination and WORK that is hard for most of us. 

For us it was simple:  our goal was to be out of debt, except for our house payment, and for us to live successfully on one income so I could ultimately stay home with our children.

That was the goal, but getting there was tough.  As I said, Mary Claire was around 5-6 months old when we started.  And we had a lot of debt to pay off.  I wanted to stay home with her, but we could not figure out a way to get out of debt without two incomes.  Anyone who knows Bob knows he would work as much as it took to accomplish a goal, but there was no second job he could take on that would make the salary I was. 

It was not a great time for our marriage, frankly.  I was resentful that most of my friends were staying home with their kids while I “had” to keep working.  It didn’t matter that I loved my job, my co-workers, and worked in a very family-friendly environment.  Nor did it matter to me that Bob stayed home with Mary Claire all but 7 days a month.  On those 7 days it also didn’t matter that my Mom came over to stay with Mary Claire.  I was still resentful and my attitude during that time is one of my greatest regrets in our marriage.  It didn’t help that we sometimes got the message from others that my being home was more important than getting out of debt.

But we knew that some sacrifices in the short-term (relatively speaking) would mean that we could get out and stay out of debt forever.  If we didn’t do it now, we didn’t see any way out in the future.

We worked from a VERY strict budget and never (I mean never) deterred from it.  We never counted my income toward our budget, except for gifts and tithing so we were learning how to live on one income long before we actually did.  We went out to eat five times a year, had a very small entertainment fund, didn’t take a vacation, and put every extra dollar possible towards our debt.

Within 2 years and 4 months we paid off nearly $30,000 in debt, saved 100% of our emergency fund, and paid cash for our family room remodel.  All in all we saved nearly $70,000 while still giving to our church and helping others at times.  

One month prior to Elizabeth being born, I was able to “retire” from my position and stay home with both girls.   Virtually debt free.

We still have a budget, still deal with things on a mostly-cash basis, and still have the family policy of not accruing debt.  We are not nearly as strict now though and sometimes pull out our debit cards to do point-of-sales that aren’t really in line with our philosophy.

Now we are thinking that we would like to move in the next two years, but will need about $40K to be able to do that.  We are gearing up to go back into “buckle your seatbelts” sacrifice mode. 

I write all this as a history lesson for myself and an encouragement for others.  It is not easy, but it can be done. 

Proverbs 22:7 – The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is the SLAVE of the lender.

There are over 800 verses in the Bible about money.  For help focusing, we often read, re-read, and prayed on these verses.  Here is a link to some of them.

Now when we have our yearly meeting with our financial planner, we look forward to it.  There is no longer any shame or fear attached to our money.  We are far from perfect and still have so much to learn and practice when it comes to our finances.  But we are in control of our money and it no longer has control over us.

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Joyce Hansard permalink
    January 24, 2011

    Great story, Pamela! You and Bob are an inspiration and this shows what can be done when you put your minds to it.

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 24, 2011

      Thanks Joyce. You have been such an encouragment and help to many in this area.

  2. January 24, 2011

    awesome and inspiring! thank you! we have been mostly debt-free except for the mortgage until a series of unexpected home disasters (oh, is that the septic tank leaking all over the back yard? and the roof is going too? etc., etc.) took all our savings and then some….sigh. we are crawling back to the top and living as tight-belted as possible. i needed the encouragement this week.

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 24, 2011

      Tonia, I have been meaning to email you to tell you how your blog has been a motivation for our entire church! We are going to start reading Radical as a church and then practice 30 Days of Nothing together as a community. I would have never known about such a thing to suggest it had I not been reading your blog. So thank you, again and again, for your writing.

      Your family has all the principles in place to get back on your feet. We haven’t had those kinds of mishaps (yet!) but knowing you have been successful in the past will help you. That is why I wrote this post, mostly to myself to remember that we did it before and can do it again.

  3. Paige Lloyd permalink
    January 24, 2011

    Wow – what a great post Pamela! So raw, honest & real. I admire you and Bob for the sacrifices you made for your family’s well-being. It is so true that our attitude about our present circumstances (and the choices we have made) are so important to our happiness in life! Sounds like you learned lessons during those difficult times that will help your marriage the rest of your life – what a blessing. It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about what they learned about themselves through a difficult period – but what is the use of going through it if we don’t at least get some light shed on ourselves, right? (Even if it is incredibly painful at the time.) Thanks for sharing!

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 25, 2011

      Oh my attitude Paige. It’s a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again. Thanks for your kindness.

  4. January 25, 2011

    Pam, I love to hear from the people who truly were the gazelles in the class! I’m so proud of you guys! Mike and I are so blessed to have two more gazelle families in the class we are facilitating currently in Dundee. Not only is it fun to get caught up in the excitement and hope that people feel as they change their lives, but it keeps us motivated and learning each session ourselves.

    We have been debt free (except for the house) for 5 years. My only regret is that we didn’t start the program when our girls were as young as yours. We didn’t have enough time to plan for the college experience. I can’t complain, however, as we are paying cash for tuition! We are serious about never going back into debt! Our daughter are serious too. In fact, both of them attended at least one FPU class each and are on board with living a debt free life. That is why we are helping them to start their lives with out the burden of college debt on their shoulders. We also did what Dave Ramsey did with his children. We matched what they saved for their first car. These truly are good lessons for our children as well :) Keep up the good work! Blessings…

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 25, 2011

      That is one of the best parts of all this for us Stacey, knowing we are “changing our family tree”. It must be so exciting to see your girls on board with it. Thank you again for everything.

  5. February 13, 2011

    Pamela, I remember when you and Bob taught the Financial Peace class at your church. Priscilla and I were in town visiting family and decided to sit in on one of the sessions Bob was leading. You guys are an inspiration and encouragement to others because you lived what you taught.

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