My husband, Ben, and I grew up with very different financial backgrounds.
He was raised on a farm, began earning money at a young age, and had an extremely hard work ethic. Math quickly became his strong suit as he would constantly calculate the number of hours he was working by his wage to determine his paycheck (and what he could buy/save!). Ben paid for many of his own things such as his first vehicle and gas, but was encouraged to save his money. If there was a certain “toy” he wanted to purchase (such as a four-wheeler), his Dad would ask questions getting him to think through his decision. Ben understood the value of a dollar, and if he worked hard, could purchase the things he desired.
I was raised the complete opposite way. My parents were both incredibly hard workers running a successful car dealership in our small town. They provided everything for me financially– if I wanted a certain gadget or outfit they would purchase it. If I wanted to go to the movies with friends, out to eat, or on a trip they would pay for it. I never had to purchase a vehicle or gas as the car dealership covered it. Despite getting my first job at 12-years-old (a paper route!), I never really grasped the value of a dollar.
Even though we were raised completely different, we both had one thing in common: our parents didn’t teach us about money. Having discussions about money was always a hush hush thing– it just wasn’t something that was done. We weren’t taught about loans, interest rates, retirement, credit cards or student loans. We had to make our own mistakes, do our research and figure things out for ourselves (we love you parents if you are reading this!).
When Ben and I were married in 2013, we didn’t think we had a money problem. The income we brought in each month covered our bills, loans, and neccesities. All the money we brought in would immediately go back out the minute it hit our bank account –– Just like 70% of Americans, we were living paycheck to paycheck. At the time, we had no idea how wrong we were.
Shortly after we wed, we purchased an eighteenth-century farmhouse outside our hometown that needed to be completely renovated before we could live in it. As a carpenter, Ben’s dream had always been to renovate his own home. When an opportunity presented itself to purchase this idealic home, we jumped on it! Truthfully, we were so broke in the early months of our marriage that we had to ask my in-law’s to help us cover the $5,000 down payment needed to close on the home. Looking back, this should’ve been a red flag telling us we could not afford this home.
As we were in the midst of our main floor renovation, we ran out of money through our bank loan. The home was still a long way from being completed (and being able to move in) so we had to ask my parents for an additional loan to aid us in completing our project. Another red flag.
Our debt kept increasing month after month, and at the time, we didn’t realize how poorly we were managing our money. We also had 10 open credit cards between us (not all maxed out, but close), two vehicle loans, students loans, a 4-wheeler loan, a lawn mower loan, and medical bills. In total we had over $70,000 in consumer debt and $90,000 on our mortgage.
We were completely “normal.”
I began doing some research on the best way to start out a marriage financially after we were married. Ben and I agreed it was important to join finances, but I wanted to make sure we started out on the right foot. As I was doing my research, I stumbled upon Dave Ramsey’s website and his book The Total Money Makeover (TMM). I immediately purchased his book for my Kindle and started to read. After a few sentences in, I got distracted, put the book away and never returned to it. If only I could go back!
Over the next few years, we continued to live above our means, purchased things on credit card, took out more loans, and had zero savings to speak of. We finally moved into our home, added two more members to our family, and were in the midst of planning two trips: one to Belize and another to Italy (I was finally going to get that dream honeymoon!).
On the outside it looked like we had it all –– a new home, nice vehicles, a growing family, luxury vacations, and great jobs! In reality, what everyone didn’t see was the constant stress we felt each month forking out thousands of dollars toward payments. We were both working multiple jobs with no clear direction on where our income was going. I longed for many years to take my photography business full-time (so I could spend more time with my kids), but due to our overwhelming amount of debt, had to settle working on my side-hustle in the early mornings, evenings and weekends. It got to the point where we were both so exhausted, overworked, stressed, and sick of the way things were going. Something had to change.
As I sat packing for our trip to Italy, I was mulling through the different books I could bring to help pass the time on our long flights. Ben and I had recently had a conversation regarding our finances (and how we kept overdrawing our checking account), and during our discussion Dave’s book popped into my head. I decided this would be the perfect time to finally get through The Total Money Makeover! Maybe it would help us with our finances? I jumped onto Amazon, ordered myself a hard copy, and received the book just a few days prior to our departure.
Now, Ben is not a big book reader. A magazine or newspaper? Absolutely! The last time he finished a book was ten years prior on his last international trip, and knowing this, I didn’t have high hopes he would agree to read the book. On our initial flight, I pulled out TMM handed it to him, and without objection, he began to read.
Within a few chapters, I could see he was getting excited. He would often read out loud certain quotes, stories and sections that stood out to him –– it was like a light bulb went on! He was instantly hooked on the plan, the process and couldn’t wait to get started when we returned home. He finished the book prior to the end of the trip, which allowed me to read the book on the entire flight home. I, too, was immediately hooked and could not wait to begin our Total Money Makeover!
And so began our journey! The entire drive home from the airport was spent talking about our budget, debt snowball, and envisioning all the things we could do once we started to implement the plan. We finally felt hope; like we were heading in the right direction, and we knew our lives were about to change for the better.
Be sure to check out Part Two of our Debt Free Journey here!
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