Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Say Goodbye to Debt

Today, I want to put on my "Dave Ramsey" and talk about freedom from something else; the ever growing, all too comfortable monster of our society...

While I am fully aware that I don't have millions in the bank or the reputation of being wealthy, I am thankful that I can say, "I am almost completely debt-free." Therefore, I feel like I can say a little something about how to handle money. Well, at least how we did and how it worked.
Although the choice we made early on to become financially "set" sounded incredible, the decisions stemming from that choice weren't really as smart as we thought they were. I thought buying things on credit was normal, saving for anything other than emergencies was impossible, and waiting until you could pay cash was unnecessary. I honestly thought debt was a no-brainer for the "bigger" needs and wants of your life. I sincerely felt it was worth applause when we "sacrificed" what we really wanted for something that carried a lower monthly payment. I really thought I hit the jackpot of wisdom when I discovered another façade of awesomeness- "12 months same as cash!" What a disguise that offer puts on! Yet, at only 19 and 21, we were trying to use what little "real world smarts" we'd acquired. Debt wasn't a big deal as long as you didn't have a ton of it, right?

According to the guy who has become a millionaire from scratch... twice... that is utterly and completely wrong. I started reading Dave's "Total Money Makeover," and my brain was soaking in a crazy amount of wisdom. This guy was genius! He knew so much about mutual funds, interest, consolidation, the myth about "building credit," and the list could go on. He made me see that just because you have expensive things doesn't mean you have a lot of money. It actually means the opposite. You buy a brand new vehicle for 50K, you don't have 50K... you owe it! And what's crazy is a recent poll showed that 90% of Americans buy things they really can't afford. As Dave said it, "We buy things we don't need with money we don't have in order to impress people we really don't like."  He was a husband, a father, talk show host, author, and realtor. I was completely impressed at how he had so many avenues of expense, yet he disciplined himself to paying cash... for everything! He was quite the financial example.

Then, the more I read, I quickly learned this man was also a Christian. Well, what do ya know? So am I! The principles he pulled from the Bible convicted my heart. Those words have been there for me, too. Why did I not see them?
   I did. I just didn't understand their significance.

I read about the borrower being servant to the lender (Proverbs 22:7), and good parents leaving an inheritance for their children and grandchildren (Proverbs 13:22). Proverbs 22:26-27 says it plain, "Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from  under you?"

More and more I was starting to see just how against debt God seemed to be. Then, I read Luke 16:13, and I understood why. "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." Proverbs 13:11- "Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it." What about the verse in Luke 14 that references Jesus asking a question, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?"  What seemed to be a common sense rhetorical question back in Bible times, leaves the majority of the world today saying, "Not me!"


That's how my attention was grabbed. I started reading Dave's book, soaking in these Scriptures, and observing my own habits and plans. Was I thinking at all about the future, or did I just dive into spending any "new" money I received? Jobs are never secure, no matter what you think. Income is never permanent. Health is never guaranteed. We have to grow up and actually use some common sense. It is pertinent that we find a balance in enjoying our life and preparing for it. As recorded in his book, Dave says, "You need an emergency fund; an old-fashioned Grandma's rainy-day fund... Sometimes people tell me I should be more positive. Well, I am positive; it is going to rain, so you need a rainy-day fund." I highly encourage you to read his book, if you haven't already. I learned a whole new concept of enjoying life. What's crazy is it doesn't even include spending money!

Yes, I want to travel. Sure, I want nice things. Of course, I would love to purchase an entire new wardrobe on a whim. But, no, I won't sacrifice maturity for them. I don't want to mimic a child throwing a fit in the store because I can't buy the toy I want due to the fact that I'm out of birthday money. There's really no difference between the over spender and the spoiled kid; just the piece of plastic one of them now has. I have been nothing short of amazed at how some people just can't say no... to themselves. We grow up learning to share, waiting our turn, dropping coins in our piggy banks; but for what? So we can grow up, hoard all our fancies, cut people off at McDonald's drive-thru, and spend money before we even earn it? I've worked in finance nearly my whole adult life. Now I'm venturing into property management, and I honestly can't believe people. They'll be late on rent or mortgage, car payments, and electricity, before they put back a pair of shoes they find at the mall. It's unreal. When did it become acceptable to owe so many people for such frivolous things? What about what God advised in Romans 13:8? "Owe no man anything..." I remember a sermon I heard when I was a child that still resonates in my brain quite often, "God Doesn't Make Suggestions." If anyone knows the best road to travel, He does. From what I can see, He does not like the thought of His money being used in advance for things that aren't really necessary. What about the homeless? The hungry? Foster children or orphans? What if we invested just 1/4 of the money we spend on designer bags and furniture on them?

Now, please hear me. I'm not saying I don't buy things I don't need. Of course, I do. I hope you do, too. Live a little. I just think it should be done in the right manner. And yes, I'm practicing what I'm "preaching." We have been working hard and cutting corners to pay off what little debt (besides our home) that we have. And once that's done, there's a plan already in place to cut down time owed on our house. We do without what we want sometimes. But, we always have enough. God always provides. One thing I will say to you, from firsthand experience, God will  bless your efforts when you try to be a wise steward of the money He's placed in your care. Since we started pursuing this, money has come in from many directions. We got job offers, promotions, raises, offerings, gifts, lower payments on some bills... Almost every time I go to balance the checkbook, it feels like I subtracted wrong. There's always a little more in there than I feel there should be.

Because He blesses.

One point Dave Ramsey makes that opened my eyes to so much is this: "Your greatest source of wealth is your income." Seems elementary enough, but we seem to forget that. We always think we need to make more and get more. No. We just need to spend less and build up. If you only made $500.00 a month, but had no payments, that little amount of cash would still get you further than someone who made $4,000.00 and owes $3800.00. It's not always about your salary.
Now, for you people fortunate enough to bring in more than a decent amount, be smart with it! Before you jump into a crazy amount of payments, make sure you have enough back to sustain that lifestyle you're living should a tragedy take place in your life. No, we shouldn't worry our lives away and never enjoy what we've been given... Just utilize maturity and moderation.

This is not to pin a feather in our hats by any means at all, but stress has decreased tremendously in our home because of our choice to try our hardest to be smart with our finances. We get to do more, go more, get more, help more, and pay less. It's a victory all the way around. I understand that not all families can do the same things, but the principles can still be adapted. It's up to you ultimately. What's most important to you? If getting to buy whatever you want, or going on several trips a year, or dining at the most chic restaurants is what brings you your truest pleasure, then so be it. But, if you have dreams of making a lasting impression with your life, take debt out of the picture. It's just not a wise choice. Ever. If you're already there, get out... Then save up to stay out. It IS possible. Read Dave's book. It's the most interesting "self-help" book I've ever dug into. You will glean so much information derived from Christian principles. His word never returns void, so I know that if you're heart is sincere, He will help you financially.

You walk in, live in, and wear the favor of God...

Jesus Himself asked us, "If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:11-12)
Hebrews 13:5- "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have..."

If you've been around me any at all over the last year, there's no doubt that this subject has been brought up. Since we've started budgeting and saving and paying things off, several of our friends and family have noticed a difference in our finances. I've had a few of them ask me to sit down with them and help them budget. There has been absolutely no negative feedback. Just last week, one of them called me to tell me that they had noticed a big difference in their money since they started  budgeting. They started "telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went." I recommend to everyone: really try to pursue the possibility of becoming debt-free.

I'm guessing that right now some of you are taking notes, nodding your heads, or resolving within yourself that you are going to handle your money differently. I also guarantee that some are rolling their eyes and labeling me extreme or absurd. Whichever category you fall in, just know that none of this "wisdom" came from me. I gleaned it from someone else. I committed to taking what I'd learned and putting it into action. I did this because I didn't want to be considered foolish or ignorant. I didn't want regrets or bankruptcy. I didn't want to miss opportunities God wanted me to grab because my hands were full of bills. I want God to bless me more. I want my finances increased and my ability to help His kingdom expanded. I realized something had to change for those desires to come to me. He told me so.

Proverbs 17:16- "Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, if he has no desire to get wisdom?"

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