On the outside, my family looks like your average middle class household with all the trappings of a successful life. We drive decent cars, we live in a nice house, we have all the necessities and a lot of the little extras, too. There’s always money in the budget for nights when I don’t feel like cooking, we give generously to a lot of different causes, and if we want to blow $150 at Target, well what’s stopping us?
If you snuck a peek at our credit card bills or what we pay out every month toward our student loans, you’d see a much different story, however.
We’re in debt. Quite frankly, pretty major debt. I promised my husband I wouldn’t talk specifics because 1) it’s embarrassing and 2) we have to keep some things in our lives private, but suffice it to say, it’s not a small number.
I didn’t wake up to this fact until about a year ago and, even then, I didn’t do much of anything about it. I’ve always let my husband, Adam, handle our finances and, for a long time, I was pretty ignorant about exactly how much we were spending beyond our means. That is not a knock on my husband at all—he didn’t tell because I didn’t ask. I’m a writer; numbers have always scared me. If given the choice, I’d gladly avoid them altogether. As a result, I never made myself interested in our finances, and for years, my husband shouldered the responsibility for them by himself.
When I finally asked, I couldn’t believe how deep we’d let ourselves get. I had some idea of what was on that credit card or this one but, honestly, ignorance was bliss for me. It was much easier to close my eyes and swipe, and that’s pretty much how I operated for years on end. There were so many times I didn’t even register the amount spent when the cashier gave me the total. It felt like it didn’t really matter; using plastic gave me the illusion of having a limitless supply of money.
Turns out, that supply was not limitless. We had good credit, so our credit lines kept increasing and, with it, our spending. But that didn’t mean we had the income to pay them off every month. It was a vicious circle.
About a year ago, we took stock of our finances and decided to stop using credit cards for day-to-day spending. That helped a little. But slowly we slipped back into our old ways and resumed charging this or that because it had zero interest financing or we wanted it but couldn’t afford it right that minute. Over the course of a year, we did absolutely nothing but tread water; when all was said and done, we were no closer to the shore and we’d completely exhausted ourselves in the process.
It was time for something a little more radical.
Awhile back, I’d heard about Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover through our church, but hadn’t really looked into it much at the time. Even when I finally ordered the book, it sat in our nightstand untouched for months. Maybe it was divine intervention or finally opening my eyes to the hole we were sitting at the bottom of, but at some point I decided enough was enough. With a little cajoling, I convinced my husband to read the book out loud with me at night before bed. On the third night of reading, only a handful of chapters in, he turned to me, convinced, and said, “Let’s do it. Let’s just go all in.” That’s all I needed to hear. We both committed to trying it Dave’s way and seeing what happened. Even though we hadn’t yet saved a single dollar, I was already excited to get started on the path to finally getting out of debt.
This was in September. We took the first month to build up our emergency fund and started planning out our October budget in the meantime. Even before we’d officially started, we noticed ourselves tracking our finances much differently and cutting out unnecessary spending completely. It became a game to us.
“I haven’t spent a single dime on anything except bills, groceries, and gas in TWO WEEKS,” I bragged to him in the middle of September. He said he’d done the same. When I checked our bank account (something I rarely did) I saw it was true; with just a little bit of discipline, we’d gone from blowing our money on God knows what every week to spending it only on that which we really needed. Instead of feeling like a punishment, which was what I expected, cutting out unnecessary spending felt like a reward; we were finally making our money work for us.
When we sat down later that month though and put our debts in order from smallest to largest, the truth was sobering. Seeing it all spelled out like that made getting out of debt seem impossible. For half a second, I honestly considered just closing my laptop and forgetting we had this idea at all—it was that bad. But I was also acutely aware of the fact that we’d be doing this again another year from now with a much higher figure staring us in the face if we didn’t just rip off the Band-Aid and get to it.
So we made a deal (we even shook on it). All in, no backing out.
Someone hold me.
This is the beginning of our journey to financial freedom. Wanna come along for the ride?
If any of what I’ve described sounds like your current situation, consider joining us on our journey to living debt-free. I will be doing a series of posts on our specific path to getting out of debt for those who want to follow along. In addition, join our Dave Ramsey Support group on Facebook for extra accountability, practical tips, crowdsourcing, and encouragement. If you’re just starting out, here’s where you can order the book. This series is NOT sponsored in any way; I am not being compensated or receiving anything for giving my opinions. I simply want to share our journey with other people who are on the same path.