Go get a beverage, it’s a long one today…
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A week or so ago, I saw on my Twitter stream that Dave Ramsey was looking for stories of people who have been living debt free for 10 or more years. Since we had just celebrated our 11th debt-free anniversary, I took the time to send him our story in a paragraph or two.
I was really surprised when the producer emailed me and asked if I would talk to Dave on the air on Friday because our story is not all that exciting. It’s not like we were $100,000 in debt, clawed our way out using Dave’s program and now live on a yacht in the south of France.
We have been quietly living debt-free for eleven years because prior to our marriage we agreed that is how we would live. But to be honest, 99% of the credit goes to Antique Daddy. He does most of the work and provides the leadership and it has blessed me beyond measure. Even though sometimes I don’t like it.
Our story starts back in 1996 when I first met AD. I was immediately and wildly attracted to him, not just because he is hot but because there was just a steadiness about him that really appealed to me. Beyond being a person who shared my faith, which was of number one importance to me, he was sane and responsible and disciplined — all the things I am not. The longer we dated, the more it became apparent to me that those things were deeply engrained in his being and not just paint on the surface, so when he finally asked me to marry him in 1998, I squealed and said, “I though you’d never ask.”
AD and I both grew up lower middle class and poor but that experience shaped how we view money in very different ways.
I hated being poor and not having the nice things that I saw that others had, so I worked hard and spent every dime I made on clothes and shoes and cars and other stuff that is probably at this moment in a landfill somewhere. In my 20s, I got myself into credit card debt (twice because I’m a slow learner) in my quest to have nice things. I was in my 30s before I finally learned that retail consumption is a monster that cannot be satisfied. To this day, at the core of my being, even at nearly age 50, is a poor little girl who wants nice things and is a world champion rationalizer when it comes to new shoes.
AD’s story is that his father died unexpectedly when he was eleven-years-old. He grew up watching his mother sell Tupperware to support him and his two older brothers. She did well, but there wasn’t a lot of extra money. He spent many an evening at home alone while his mother went off to give a Tupperware party. Like me, he decided that he didn’t like being poor and so he saved every dime he earned, which he pretty much still has. To this day he thinks long and hard before buying even the smallest thing. At the center of his being is a poor fatherless little boy who is scared of not having any money.
I tell you this to illustrate that how we feel about money and how we deal with money is less about money and more about whatever ancient hurts and injustices we lug around with us. We don’t just one day arrive at a financial philosophy, it has been shaping and building our entire lives. But at some point, you have to face it head on and decide if it’s working for you or if you need to make a change. If you are in debt, you probably need to come to terms with the emotional cues that are sparking your spending habits and fueling your bad choices.
As we were planning our wedding, I read somewhere that the number one thing that people fight over is money. So prior to tying the knot we had a number of in-depth discussions about money and we realized that we had to figure out a way to merge our views on spending and saving if we wanted to stay married more than a week.
I strongly encourage everyone who is thinking about getting married to do this. It is reallllly important. You’ll still fight about money but at least you will have some insight into your partner’s point of view.
Before we walked down the aisle, we hammered out what would be our family’s financial philosophy, which is basically this: If we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it. Period.
Beyond that, the other thing that has served us well is that we agreed that neither of us would spend more than $100 without first talking to the other person. There is a little bit more to it than that — we live on one income and below our means, we maximize all tax-free or tax-deferred financial vehicles, we never ever ever revolve credit and a few other very basic tenants. But at the core of it all, we agreed that we would not worship at the altar of conspicuous consumption.
This agreement has on more than one occasion chafed me because I really like certain things that might be described as conspicuous, like new cars.
I bought my first new car in 1977 when I was 17. It was a sweet little ride, a 1977 Mustang, black with red pin stripes, wire wheel hub caps and red look-like-leather seats. To my credit, I paid for it myself – my parents did not help me other than with half of the initial down payment. Their financial philosophy is this: “You kids are on your own.” And honestly, that has served me well too. All that to say, I love me some new car smell. I do. It is intoxicating. I am a new car kind of gal and I knowingly married a debt-free kind of guy. And over the past eleven years, it has vexed me and blessed me all at the same time.
So then, in 1995, the year before I met AD, I bought a brand new off the lot Jeep Cherokee. I have not bought another new car since and probably never will again. In 2003, five years into our marriage, the Jeep had seen better days and it was time to replace it. AD found a super deal on the car I drive now. It was three years old at the time, had low mileage and was just like new, although a little short on new car smell. I took it for a test drive and agreed that I could be happy with it. We paid cash for it, drove it home and I have been driving it ever since. My little old car is 10- years-old now, but it gets me around in a reasonable amount of style, if not conspicuous style.
In the interest of honesty, because Antique Mommy is nothing if not honest, I will confess that sometimes I see my friends driving new cars and I feel an itsy bit sorry for myself because I want to drive a new car too. But the thought of taking that kind of cash out of the bank, which is the only way AD would go along with buying a new car, makes my stomach turn. And it makes my paid for car look pretty darn good.
The real benefit of living debt-free these past eleven years has become most apparent in this past year when the economy seems to have gone to hell in a hand basket in a hurry. The unemployment rate is supposed to be something around 10% but it seems to me that 20% of the people we know have lost jobs, including us. But because we have been savers and not spenders, we have insulated ourselves as best we can against the uncertain ebb and flow of the economy. We expect we can ride out this storm and the storms in the distance that we hear but do not yet see.
My final point is this: A lot of stress comes into our lives that we cannot control, but the stress that comes with debt is a very often a choice (obviously there are extraordinary and extenuating circumstances which I am not trying to address here).
If your circumstances are not extraordinary or extenuating, you have the choice to eliminate the stress of bill collectors, living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about making ends meet by taking baby steps towards systematically eliminating debt, living within your means and a instituting a methodical savings strategy. And you will get there. It won’t be easy, but you CAN make it happen. And that would be an awesome gift you give yourself and your family — much better than anything you drag home from the mall.
If you are not there yet, or don’t know how to get there I encourage you to check out Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial Ministries. And then make an agreement with yourself and your family to work towards becoming debt free.
Living the good life means living the debt-free life.