Why You Need a Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover book

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many businesses, many households lived paycheck-to-paycheck. This Forbes article from 2019 states 78% of workers are barely covering their monthly expenses, while this article from January 2020 cites Nielsen data stating 74%.

If you’re one of those families or individuals, I cannot recommend Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover strongly enough. Its combination of instruction and inspiring stories allowed me to partner with my wife Brandy and make strides toward financial health.

Our Journey Begins

Back in 2005, my wife finally got me to acknowledge the fact our income wasn’t covering our outgo. I had ignored her pleas to get on a plan, pay off debts smallest to largest, and spend less than we made. Even though she had found several financial experts recommending these steps and laid out the reasoning, I was too stubborn to acknowledge my “we’ll be ok,” platitudes were just making things worse.

To be honest, part of me didn’t think it was possible to pay off our debt, and I didn’t want to accept I would have to change my perspective about money and income. People I respected had made statements along the lines of, “You’re lucky credit cards are so easy to get, compared to when I was your age,” and “You just have to get used to living in debt. It’s the only way to get by.”

The Worst Part

It still hurts my heart that it took so long for me to change because every discussion Brandy and I had about money resulted in one or both of us in tears. The person I loved most wound up frustrated, scared, and insecure because I wasn’t willing to acknowledge how poor our finances were.

The Catalyst

One Friday we were driving around and Dave Ramsey’s radio show came on. I know it was Friday because back in 2005, Fridays weren’t just Fridays. They were Debt-Free Fridays! It was a 3-hour show of people calling in to scream “I’m debt free!

If you’re in debt and feel like you can’t even make progress, please go watch some of these people who started where you are and got out of debt. And then start your journey.

Embracing the Plan

The Total Money Makeover book

Even though Dave Ramsey’s plan was the same plan Brandy tried to get me to embrace years before, I finally bought in. I had reached the place where it hurt less to change than it hurt to stay where I was; don’t wait as long as I did.

Don’t Confuse Simple and Easy

Like most plans that work, Dave’s 7 Baby Steps are simple. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement.

Living on a budget (or spending plan) is not easy. But it’s worth it. I have more wants than income, even when our income was better than it is now. I’m pretty sure that will never stop. Whatever level of income I achieve in the future, there will always be things and experiences that could use up all my money and still leave items on my list.

It’s NOT Just about the Money

When we paid off all of our consumer debt in 2007, I didn’t realize how much it was going to change our lives because it changed my mindset. Since our income wasn’t just paying debts, we had options. And options are really what money gives you.

We took a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, and when we came home, we didn’t have to worry about paying off the credit cards. We had already paid for the trip, so we were just able to enjoy the memories.

Your Life Matters

As long as your finances are ruled by debt payments, you may never find out what your real options in life are. I know I’ve been too focused on just getting through the next week or two that I don’t look far enough ahead to tell if the path to get through the next two weeks is taking me to where I want to be in six months or next year.

It’s even more critical now. Getting to September of 2020 has shown us what kind of uncertainty is waiting in life. My last full-time employed position was eliminated in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting.

Because Brandy and I had eliminated our consumer debt in 2007, we were able to follow through on a plan we discussed in February. We sold our house and used the equity to move cross-country to the mountains as we’ve dreamed about since 1998.

If we had any debt payments, we would not have had the option to pursue this dream. Especially in the circumstances where we don’t have steady income.

Don’t Give Up

Please don’t get too locked in to short-term survival. While it’s necessary to get through right now, you need to be able to look at the future. You need to see where you’re going; not just to make sure you’re moving in the right direction, but because your destination should be inspiring.

If you’re struggling with finances, you need a Total Money Makeover like I did. The secret is: it’s not the money that gets made over, it’s your mind.

Do hard stuff. Live Better. Share your victory story with me on Twitter with the hashtag #DoHardStuffLiveBetter.

The Danger of “They Won’t Pay Me What I’m Worth”

I saw a post the other day that made me angry. I couldn’t tell why right away, but as my brain has chewed on it, it’s become clear that the reason is because it’s something I’ve thought as a job searcher. And it’s the flip side of one of the main concerns of a business owner.

In a Facebook group dedicated to one of my hobbies, someone made a post that said in summary, “I have been doing this hobby for years, and I have experience in this closely related industry. But I put my application in for an entry-level position at a business in the industry that is my hobby. They told me I was overqualified for this position, but that just means they won’t pay me what I’m worth.”

As someone who has been looking for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also as someone who has run a business, I can relate to both sides of this. As the job seeker, you need to believe you are as valuable as possible. However, if you apply for a job significantly below your experience level and expect to be paid for your expertise, you are not respecting the job description created by your prospective employer.

When you run a business, there are many things that need to be done. Some of them are complex and require knowledge, experience, and expertise. Others are entry-level jobs that you can pull nearly anyone from the street and have them fulfilling the duties with 30-60 minutes of training.

Those entry-level jobs are where you will get people applying who are “overqualified for the position.” But you can only pay what that position is worth to your business. It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s leading expert in a different position, you only need someone to fill the position you advertised.

As a job seeker, you want to believe you are so amazing that when you apply for a job, your value should be instantly recognizable and you should be paid what you think you are worth, regardless of what you applied for. But the job seeker needs to accept they are not applying for the job worth their knowledge, they are applying for the job that was advertised.

If you want to accept that job, at its lower pay than you want, you better actually be OK with that pay for that job. Because if you go into the interview expecting you’re going to get more than the advertised rate, it’s going to be clear. And your prospective employer isn’t looking for the job you want, they’re looking for someone to do what they need.

Looking to switch career fields can be a valid reason to take a lower pay rate. But you need to actually be OK with that. You can’t resent the fact you accepted a lower position to get experience and work your way up.

But the danger with thinking, “They won’t pay me what I’m worth,” is that you are not looking at reality. You are projecting your wants onto a prospective employer and expecting them to accommodate you. But they just need someone to fulfill a specific task.

When an employer tells you that you are overqualified for a position, they’re being honest. You are overqualified for the position. And you probably showed an unwillingness to work the position they advertised during the interview process.

If you want to get your foot in the door, be happy with that. Don’t expect to be paid for an advanced position that isn’t what you will be doing. You need to do your job and look for opportunities to increase your value to the business. Then you will start to get paid what you’re worth.

So, when a prospective employer tells you, “You’re overqualified for this position,” accept that statement as truth. But you have the option of responding with, “I understand that, but I want to get in to this industry. I’m willing to work this job to get started.”

And trust me, if you’re serious, the employer knows you’re not planning to stay in that position long.

Unreasonable Expectations

A Perfect Sunset

“Nobody’s perfect.”

We’ve all said this, and I think we all agree with this. Most of the time.

When someone we care about faces a challenge and doesn’t make the perfect choice, we offer this statement as encouragement. They should be extended grace, allowed to learn from the experience, move forward, and make the changes they want to make.

Part of being human seems to be looking for exceptions to the rules. And sometimes we want those exceptions to be held accountable for their imperfection.

A Perfect Sunset
As you can see, this isn’t a perfect photo. But the moment was pretty awesome.

Ourselves

The most damaging tendency, I think, is to deny ourselves the grace we readily extend to others. “It is perfectly reasonable to expect myself to be perfect. I’m different. I know what needs to be done and if I don’t do it, it’s obviously a flaw within myself that must be punished.”

But what if we were just a little bit nicer to ourselves?

Fitness & Other Goals

I am active in several fitness groups, and frequently see posts along the lines of, “I am a failure. I missed this one part of my goal because life happened. I think I should just give up.”

When I see these posts, I understand the thought process. I’ve read books that discuss how simple it is to implement a workout program: you decide to get in better shape, you pick a program, and you do it. It’s simple.

But simple is not the same as easy. It is simple to get fit, but the reality of the process is not easy. Some days I don’t want to work out; some days emergencies happen and I legitimately don’t have time; some I days I waste time and claim I didn’t have time.

Likewise, financial, life, and relationship goals are attainable. There are books and experts that have the information we need to achieve those goals, and they’re laid out in a simple way.

What Should We Do?

I think we have to be willing to accept the facts we’re not perfect, and we will make mistakes. And we are still valuable.

The advice I give to people discouraged by their mistakes is pretty simple: “Give yourself some grace. Accept the fact you screwed up, but keep moving toward your goal. It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Some days or weeks, you will make lots of progress. Others, you may not make much; or you may have made a mistake that takes you further from your goal. But don’t give up.”

By not giving up, you are not confusing grace with enabling misbehavior in yourself. As long as you put in effort, you will make progress. Pay attention to which efforts give you the progress you want.

It’s Still Not Easy

Progress is hard. That’s why we don’t all have everything we want. We confuse simple with quick and easy.

It’s easy to look at that far off goal and put off the effort to make that progress we need. I wanted to procrastinate tonight. I had a whole line of justifications, and I would have done it. But my wife loved me enough to call me on it.

I want things to be better, and wants aren’t enough to make things better. I have to put in the effort. And sometimes that is a simple concept, but hard in reality.

#DoHardStuffLiveBetter

Effort > Results

sweat puddles
Little puddles of effort

I’ve noticed I spend a lot of time looking at other peoples’ results. This isn’t a bad thing, looking at what others have accomplished and thinking about whether they got results I want in my life.

There are a lot of results I do want: more money, the ability to accomplish amazing feats, the confidence to hammer out coherent text from a jumble of thoughts and inspiration. And it’s easy to sit in that place of want, where I see what they accomplished and wish I could do that.

But it’s hard to look at all the effort it took for them to be able to do that. Watching professional snowboarders fly through the air while spinning and flipping and effortlessly ride away is almost an insult to them. We get to see the end result, the effortless-ness, and be amazed at their skill.

Part of my brain tells me, “That looked easy. We can do that.” And that part of brain wants to go try.

The truth, though, is that I haven’t put in the effort. My body hasn’t built up the right muscles, my brain hasn’t learned the minute adjustments needed to get my body to move that way, and my fear of heights hasn’t been beaten into submission so it doesn’t lock me up the instant I leave the lip of the jump.

And the effort is necessary. The hundreds of repetitions required to understand how my body behaves; the pain of all the wipeouts when I get it wrong; the small victories that build one on another until success. They’re all necessary; but I’ve been too impatient to follow all the way through the learning process. I just want the result.

But I’m changing that. I’m embracing the effort. Well . . . embracing might be a little strong. At least I’m making the effort.

Effort is greater than results. Because when we just focus on the result, that’s the end. No more progress, no more learning, no more effort.

But if we focus on putting in effort, the possibilities are endless. When we put in effort, we get results. And then we get more results. As long as we keep putting in effort, we can tweak our effort to get the results we want.

But we have to put in effort.

EFFORT > results