Earlier this year, my husband and I started a class at our church based on Dave Ramsey’s popular curriculum called “Financial Peace University.” I wanted to document some of our initial reactions, and encourage others to take advantage of the new year as the perfect time to get your finances in order.
Why we signed up.
When first discussing the class, a lot of the introductory materials discussed credit card debt, mortgages, and saving for kids’ college – things that didn’t apply at all to us! So, I thought, why bother? But sitting through the first class, we liked Dave Ramsey’s logical, no-excuses approach to finances. Plus, we have some big financial dreams for our future, and so we both decided it couldn’t hurt (except the $99.00 it cost for the materials – an investment for us, to be sure) to make sure we were on the right track and armed with tools to help us achieve our goals.
This year, as I’ve discussed before, we have a lot of changes coming to our family, mostly revolving around my finally finishing school and starting my career (YAY four months till graduation!). That means paying for the Bar exam and application, taking three months off from work to study for the exam, trying to find a new place to live, saving up for a house, and starting our long-term goals of each of us being small-business owners. These may sound like tall orders, especially with tens of thousands in student debt weighing us down, but the beginning of a new year is the PERFECT time to start working towards those new goals.
Why? Because of Uncle Sam, of course! We haven’t even filed our 2014 tax returns yet, but we already have to start thinking a year ahead. Combine the new ObamaCare issues with my husband now being an independent contractor and you have a potential for a tax nightmare! But the key is staying organized and staying focused: two things that we thought fit perfectly with Dave Ramsey’s class.
What we have learned about ourselves.
We are about half-way through the course, and we’ve already learned so much about ourselves in this class. The first big thing we learned is that we are very young to be doing all this finance-y, technical stuff – but that is GOOD! So many people said to us, “Oh, it’s so great you are doing this now, when you are young. If only I had done that.” We’ve heard about a million versions of this, and mostly it is said by people who ended up in a crisis before they learned how to handle their money. We have not – thankfully! – been in a financial crisis. But it can happen to anyone, at any time, and we are very glad we are taking the time make a plan to deal with whatever crisis is around the corner.
The second thing we’ve learned about ourselves is that we are freaks. Dave Ramsey quotes lots of statistics in the course – from the average household income, to the average credit card debt, to the average car payment – and none of it matches even closely to our life. Our income is below-average, our credit card debt is zero and we have no car payments or mortgage. On the other hand, we have tons of student debt (all from me). Not fitting into the mold of his target audience is a little frustrating, but it also makes us feel good that we are both less than 25 and already are ahead in so many ways. We are also really grateful that both of us grew up with parents that taught us the cores of finances: everything from giving, saving, spending, to buying used cars.
What we won’t do for financial peace.
The biggest thing we’ve learned, though is what we won’t do to be debt-free. Dave Ramsey’s approaches are pretty extreme, and are really intended to help people break bad habits and prevent them from getting sucked into a debt-glorifying culture. Let’s face it: this entire economy is built on debt, expects you to have debt, and does not encourage financial responsibility.
And these are principles we are totally on board with, especially since we believe that as stewards of God’s gifts, we have a responsibility and obligation – as trustees of a trust – to faithfully care for and grow these gifts. However, we also have an obligation to do with those gifts, not just store them up and watch them grow. We believe God has made specific calls on our lives, calls that can be expensive. We have passions that we believe must be fulfilled, and we have to care for ourselves and our bodies in the mean time.
For example, so many debt-free stories speak fondly of the days of “PB&J sandwiches and Ramen noodles,” in other words, eating the cheapest garbage you can in order to pay off your mortgage early. I’m really happy for people that can do that, and I’m inspired by their hard work. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, eat peanut butter and jelly and Ramen noodles every day. Our nutrition is something we take pretty seriously; we don’t go all-organic, but we do watch our sodium, empty carbs, and processed foods. Because we feel it is so important to spend a little extra on groceries, we can’t put that money towards paying off debt, but that is something we feel is very important and we won’t sacrifice it just to say we are debt-free.
In a more extreme example, we were discussing last week whether we should delay looking for a house so that we can pay off my student loans first. For us, buying a house is not just a choice between a house now or a house later, but a question of my husband’s dream job and our dream of a family sooner rather than later. In the end, we’ve reached a middle-ground on the question of “when,” but it posed a great philosophical issue for us: what should we sacrifice to be debt-free? Every family has to decide for themselves, as thoughtful trustees, what is over that line.
One thing is for sure, this class has gotten us thinking and talking and even making changes in our lives that we may not otherwise have. And for that, I’m grateful that we signed up.
Have you taken Dave Ramsey’s class? When and why? What did you learn about yourself through the course?