“Don’t buy things you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.” – Dave Ramsey
About five years ago I read the book by Dave Ramsey, Total Money Makeover. At the time I was $20,000 in student loan debt. My monthly take-home paycheck was $2,800. I had been waiting for this book to arrive form the library for months! Before talking about how to make over your money situation, this book focused on behavior. The belief was that until you reckoned with the person in the mirror, change could be an elusive dream.
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Five years ago, the person staring at me in the mirror really wanted to keep up with The Joneses.
That meant going on lavish vacations, wearing new clothes, dining out frequently, and buying a new set of wheels. I was succumbing to pressure all around me to live largely outside of my means. I felt completely disempowered about money and was willing to give this book a chance.
I began the work. For me that included budgeting every two weeks, using the cash/envelope system, working holidays, and teaching yoga on the weekends. When I came to extra cash through my taxes, working overtime, selling items, etc., all that money was thrown towards my debt. I would have a big sign in my closet AKA my office space that would declare my current debt and then I would gleefully reduce this number twice monthly. I saw that once I began budgeting, I actually had more money every two weeks. I am not quite sure how that happened, but it may have something to do with foregoing my lunch break spending sprees.
I ended up paying off $20,000 worth of debt in less than a year on a meager income.
I no longer have credit cards. And to this day, my husband and I budget every two weeks and only use cash. I kept my newfound path to myself and simply lead by example. My husband (boyfriend at the time) noticed a change in me. He began to read the book and subsequently start the process of paying off his debt as well.
Toward the end of us becoming debt free, my husband and I became engaged. As a person who now prided herself on being the cheapest gal around town, I was personally offended with the obscene wedding related costs (average wedding is $35,000). I complained constantly to my closest confidants. The reason this whole process felt conflicting was that I wanted both worlds – a classy wedding that celebrated our love that was also “affordable” (apparently nonexistent in the wedding industry).
Financial peace was now a firmly engrained value of ours and to go against that felt like we were violating a sacred agreement.
During the process of planning a wedding, I fully rejected the idea that this was the new normal. If I were to spend copious amounts of money that I didn’t have, it would be for the approval of others. I could not reconcile going deeply into debt and appearing to have more money than we did, just to look cool in other’s eyes. I took some flak from people about our decision to have our wedding on a Thursday night, a week before Christmas, in the dead of a PNW winter, WITHOUT serving dinner to our guests. You see, this was a dessert reception only with the offering of goldfish crackers to those that were really starving – And it was a really great night. While I received scrutiny during this time, and to this day people will make comments about how dark and hard it was to travel to the wedding on a rainy, work evening commute, my husband and I know the truth – that we walked into our marriage value-centered, debt free, and committed to doing things our way.