ONE

Champions of Extraordinary Marriages

Debt Sucks! January 7, 2010

Filed under: Financies & Career — Tony & Alisa @ 8:01 am
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Do you and your spouse ever discuss finances outside of the when the bills are due?  I mean sit down pull out the BUDGET, we call it a Cash Flow Plan, and talk about your finances.

Which one of you is the Spender?  How about the Saver?

Do you talk about the consumer debt you have?

Is there a Cash Flow Plan in place or do you fly by the seat of your pants hoping there will be enough money for the month?

Tony and I used to have loads of consumer debt.  There were student loans from Tony’s college days, 2 vehicle payments, around 10 credit cards that we maxed out, department store cards, as well as unpaid utility bills.  I’m sure there were others that have escaped my mind.

We had amassed over $50,000 in consumer debt.  The hardest part for me were the constant calls from creditors, letters coming in the mail with past due notices, and no plan.  I was STRESSED OUT. To add to all of this we were newlyweds!  We spent the first 3 years of our marriage living month-to-month. We juggled the credit cards by getting a new lower rate one, transferring the balance from a high rate card to the new card, and then repeating the process as many times as possible.  It finally came to an end when we could no longer get another credit card.  Eventually the stack of bills, past due notices, and collectors calling got to be too much.

We didn’t talk about our finances then.  We just ignored this very large elephant in the room, never saying anything to each other about it.  When we did talk about money we were yelling and arguing about the lack of money we had.  The romance, passion, and intimacy that we had before we got married wasn’t there any longer.  Money and debt were driving a wedge between us.

Finally, Tony had enough of living month-to-month.  He sat me down one night to talk about “our finances”.  This was the first time we sat down and really talked about our money situation.  We decided to find a credit counseling service in our area.  We found one and with their help we developed a plan to pay off our debts.   There was only one problem we hadn’t really learned how to manage our money.  They gave us a way to get out of the debt we had but didn’t teach us how to avoid debt in the future.

We also enjoyed going out with friends and living a very comfortable life but we weren’t ready to make a lifestyle change.   Becoming debt-free required a radical change and we weren’t there.  So, we kept living the lifestyle and the elephant was still in the room with us.

Tony hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2000 and shortly afterwards we moved to Spokane, WA.  He needed the change of pace after hiking the PCT as well as spending some time away from Southern California.

For the first time in our marriage we were able to live on Tony’s income and use mine to pay down our debts.  It wasn’t happening fast enough.  One day while listening to the radio Tony heard the Dave Ramsey Show and what Dave was saying struck him and then me.  Dave’s 7 Baby Steps are:

1.  $1000 Emergency Fund
2.  Pay Off ALL Debt with Debt Snowball
3.  3-6 Months Expenses in Savings
4.  Invest 15% into ROTH IRA & Pre-tax Retirement Plans
5.  College Funding
6.  Pay Off Your Home Early
7.  Build Wealth and Give

These 7 Baby Steps enabled us to GET MAD at our debt and finally pay it all off.

Dave’s Baby Steps, (cash only, NO credit cards, NO debt) has made our marriage a happier one!  I am happy to tell you that since 2002 we have not had a single credit card.  Over the years this has meant that we do without sometimes, but I never have to worry about going to the mailbox and seeing a crazy, big credit card bill or answering the phone with someone who wants me to pay my bill to them.   We have a roof over our heads, cars to drive, food to eat and clothes to wear.  Do my kids get everything they want?  NO.  Neither do Tony and I.  We save up for those large items and pay cash.

Now, we talk about money openly in our family.  The kids know that they can’t have everything they want.  We talk to them  about saving for trips and for expensive items that we want.  Last year Alex “needed” a Nintendo DS.  He saved his birthday money and Christmas money to get it.  He paid for it with his hard cold cash and to this day he knows where it is and treats it with a lot more care than most other toys.

We’re sharing all of this because over the past year, we’ve gotten soft.  We didn’t get any credit cards or department store cards, but Tony and I haven’t been talking to each other and working together on our Cash Flow Plan.  Money is coming in, but more is going out.  Towards the end of last your we realized that our lack of planning was starting to affect us.  With the start of a new year we decided it was a great time to get back into those “good habits” with our finances.

So, what are we doing?  You can do this too.

  1. Have a conversation with your spouse about your money.  Talk about your financial goals, maybe you want to be debt free or take a vacation or buy a car.  If you don’t know what you are working for how will you know when you get there?
  2. Develop a plan. He who fails to plan, plans to fail.  We’ve all heard it and know its true-without a plan for your money it’s literally going to just disappear.  For years we have had our monthly budget on an excel spreadsheet that we update every month.  We take care of the basics first:  tithing, shelter, food, utilities and health and then the other categories like preschool tuition, vacation, car maintenance etc.  Just recently Tony came across this website PearBudget which allows you to set up and monitor your budget online.  It’s very simple and straightforward and yes, it does have a nominal monthly fee ($3) but I am finding that this is a tool that works well with our lifestyle.  Give it a try to see if it works for your family.  There is a 30 day free trial.
  3. Do it! Don’t just talk about your money and the plan you have for it, live it.  Give yourself a month or 2 to work out the bugs.  Keep trying even if it gets hard.

I can honestly say that the last 7+ years of being debt free have been amazing.  The passion, romance, and intimacy that was missing in the early years of our marriage is back.

How will you change your financial future?  Please share with us what you are doing today to make a difference tomorrow.