Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On fire

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that every winter my husband and I do a bet with each other to see who can spend the least amount of money for the longest amount of time. I won all the bets (here's one of them) up until last year when I lost (sniff).

This year, however, we’re not doing the bet. This year we’re doing a seismic overhaul of how we manage our household finances. It has been revolutionary and I am on fire.


It all started a couple years ago when my friend and her husband took a Dave Ramsey class. She’d fill me in on Dave’s theories and methodology and I’d grill her on the details. I began to think that we might benefit by learning more about The Dave Plan, but my husband didn’t view the new ideas as rosily as I did. His comments ran something like this: “You pay for everything with cash? That’s stupid.”

“But hon, I do better when I pay with cash,” I’d say. “I need to see what I’m spending.”

“Nah, it’s too inconvenient, not to mention too risky. I don’t like it.”

So we continued to bounce along from pay check to pay check (it’s amazing how attached you can get to a non-working plan), spending money when we needed to and wanted to and hoping we didn’t face-plant. Sometimes we’d get sick of all the bouncing and would attempt to get control of the situation, but it never stuck and soon we’d be back in the good old Sliding By Position.

A note of clarification: our financial situation wasn’t dire, as far as financial situations go. We didn’t have credit card debt, and John possessed a fairly good understanding of how our money moved. (We’ve since learned that understanding how our money moves is very different from controlling how our money moves.)

Then last fall my friend loaned me her Dave Ramsey book. I slurped it up, and when she informed me that a new Dave class was opening up, I planted myself in front of John and informed him that we needed to take it. He, wisely, agreed. So every Tuesday evening for the past eleven weeks (two more to go!) we’ve been meeting at a local school for our two-hour sessions; the first hour we watch a DVD of Dave and the second hour is class discussion.

Far and away, the best thing this class has done for us is—and this can not be overestimated—it has put us on the same page, hallelujah! We now share a framework with which we can talk about money. John agrees that paying for things with cash is perhaps a wise idea, and we plan to get rid of our household credit card in the near future (we’ve switched to debit) and—

Whoa, whoa, whoa, let me back up. For those of you who aren’t familiar with either Dave Ramsey or his Financial Peace University (the fancy name for our class), here is a sample of a couple of the main ideas:

*people spend 12-18% more when they use a credit card than when they use cash (even when paying off the credit card every month), so use cash
*rainy days will happen; plan for them
*never get a loan for a car or anything for that matter (except a house and college, if you must)
*financial peace means having a plan and sticking to it

Dave’s financial plan is comprised of a series of baby steps, the first three of which are:
1. put aside a thousand dollars in an emergency fund
2. snowball your debt
3. save 3-6 months of living expenses (which is step one expanded)

There are more steps, but since they're the ones that John and I are working on right now, they are all I’ll mention. I don’t want to overwhelm myself (or you).

This class has challenged me to not only change how I handle money, it’s also challenged me to rethink how I view money. I somehow got the idea growing up (in a series of Mennonite churches and with halfway-granola Mennonite parents) that money is bad. We were to avert our eyes from it, and not depend on it, talk about it, or roll in it. People who had a lot of money were entangled in its snares. Not being controlled by money meant not having any. ‘Cause didn’t Jesus tell us to sell everything and follow him?

These teachings still persist. Just the other week we had a Sunday church service that revolved around money. The classic Do Not Worry About What You Will Eat Or Drink scripture was duly intoned, and there was much talk about trusting God and good stewardship and yadda yadda yadda. Inside I was screeching, Don’t tell us not to worry! Tell us what we can DO so we can STOP worrying! Which is completely anti-Everything I’ve Been Taught because not worrying about money is all about faith, right?

Wrong! If faith means turning a blind eye to finances and just hoping things work out, than I want none of it. (Which is probably not what any church leaders intended us to do—the turning a blind eye part—but when we're given mystical, floaty, o-happy-day teachings in place of concrete advice, general clueless-ness is the unintentional side effect.)

What does work is getting A Financial Education and A Plan and Sticking With It. Scrutinizing our spending habits, naming where the money goes, and working with what I have and ONLY with what I have, has provided me more peace than anything I’ve ever done.

(I can share more of the nitty-gritty details regarding our allocated spending plan and envelope system, if you’re interested—just give a shout-out in the comments. But if not, no prob. I don’t want to drag you all through our money dirt [which is not to be confused with pay dirt].)

Three Post Blog Post Disclaimers
1. Dave Ramsey does not know who I am.
2. I do not agree with everything Dave Ramsey says.
3. Dave Ramsey sometimes gets borderline Prosperity Gospel-ish which turns my stomach—when he gets going like that I just plug my ears and chant, I’m not listening I’m not listening.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you! I think this is stuff we need to hear - and I appreciate that I'm hearing it from you - oh, one with the wacky sense of humor - than Dave, who I don't think I would like. But this is all very, very valid information. We can never achieve peace without money peace. Amen, sister.

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  2. Back in the Dark Ages when I started paying cash for everything, David Ramsey didn't exist. I'd run-up credit cards for gas, clothes, who knows what. I'm sure it was under $800. (OK. It was back in the 1960s, but back then $400 was a month's salary for me.) I was horrified. I vowed to never be in debt or worry about "how was I going to make my credit card" payments. It was surprisingly simple. Cut up your credit cards. I did leave one gas card to be used ONLY in real emergencies. Not for gas. Pay for everything in cash. When you see the money, actual $1s and $20s it seems like money. When I'd use credit cards --I'd get my bill and then it's like "what! I spent how much?" I did learn I need to have one Visa or MasterCard. (I went to Hawaii once and couldn't rent a car. The rental car companies insist on a credit card. I guess they don't trust the public.) I do need a credit card for Internet purchases; I do have a debit card but rarely use it. I have no debt. None. Right now I need extensive, expensive dental work. Cry for me. But it's not an emergency and I can wait and get it done once I save up. I always have an emergency fund socked away -- so a root canal won't have to wait. Try it, I promise it will change your life.

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  3. Good stuff! Did you know Simple Mom is giving away a big fat Ramsay giveaway?

    http://simplemom.net/financial-peace-university/

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  4. I have certainly heard about Dave Ramsey, but you are the first person to mention the spending more with a credit card part. I will have to talk with my husband about that. We use rewards credit cards and pay them off each month.

    Most of the other stuff, we already do/believe. And I agree with you that being informed is a powerful feeling! I think God intends for us to be smart and competent, not helpless and hoping for luck.

    And I so agree that being on the same money page with your spouse is PRICELESS.

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  5. I've been leaning toward a cash operation lately. Even though we always paid off the credit card, I didn't like the feeling of "unseen" money being spent, so it no longer gets used. Thanks for the info. I've been planning on learning more about Dave's ideas.

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  6. Halfway-granola?

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  8. My husband and I are too taking the Dave Ramsey class- but I can't get my husband 'on board'. He is just removed and letting me do most of it- uhg. Either way- if it works then who cares, right!

    Power to the damn ramsey people : )

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  9. Great post! Thanks for the class tips and steps. I'm a fan of taking a class or reading a book and then passing the good stuff on to people so they don't have to weed through all the other stuff. I appreciate it. :)

    Andy and I have also been discussing money lately and trying to figure out a good plan for us. Our generation is up to our eyeballs in debt by the time college is finished and it is so frustrating. We both have huge college loans, and we just bought a car. It's crazy to think that our married life is beginning in a ditch of debt. (I am forever thankful for eloping and not having an expensive wedding ...that would have added to the debt.) Anyway, money is such a daunting thing especially where debt is concerned.

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  10. Hooray that you and your husband are on the same page! That is a chunk of peace right there. A friend of mine went to Dave Ramsay's class and it saved her and her husband financially. They were swirling the toilet bowl and are slowly climbing out of debt. No debt = peace of mind.

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  11. I love the Davy Ramsey concepts of how to be at peace with money. I lived very much like Jennifer and it drove me crazy to wonder if I had money for food (of all things, it was at the bottom of the priority list). We paid off thousands of medical debt the first year (anniversary was Feb.). Mynde, my husband didn't like it either and turned the finances over to me completely. He will tell you "I don't like it, but it works. So, whateve works right?
    L. in Elkton

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  12. one school year I traveled at lunch time several times a week and would listen to Crown Financial broadcast at that time on the Christian Radio Station. Good stuff. get out of debt and stay out. Pretty strong stuff, but it worked, if you set your mind to it. Learn the ways. It's true about the cards. How many times have you used a card and thought I don't want to just charge this one thing...I think I need some of this and one of those and aren't these nice and you end up with a WHOLE bunch of surprises. Or start tracking every cent spent. i did that for a while, too. Think I need to kick it in again.

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