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.
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
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.