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Debt-Freedom

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In December 2005, I hit a low spot in my life. I wrecked my car on I-65 in Nashville, TN in morning rush-hour traffic on my way back from early morning work before class. It did no damage to the other car, but it did plenty to mine. As in, an accordion.

Since then, I began to focus more on my finances. I became an avid Dave Ramsey listener. My family was a very financially focused family growing up – not in the sense of get and get and get, but “Let’s make smart decisions because this is best for our family and as stewards of God’s money.” I hated it at the time. I mean, in third grade, I knew what a budget was.  I also knew that I didn’t like a budget because it kept me from doing as much stuff as friends. Our family though, in no way suffered. We were blessed. My father worked and my mother stayed at home with my brother and I. We had plenty and never a worry.

As I entered college, I worked some. But, I wasn’t a fan of work because it removed me from socializing. And it was hard. I worked at FedEx Ground for about 8 months and began training to be a manager. So I quit, because I hated the hours. I picked up a job through the local YMCA where I worked after-school care. It was a $2/hr decrease in pay, as well as about an 8-10 hour a week decrease. But, the hours were better because I was back on campus by 6:30 pm and could hang out. That was until i wrecked my car.

I remember sitting down and talking with a man in the church I was attending who was great with finances. He, like my parents had followed the Dave Ramsey plan and succeeded. He liked me and sat down to look at my situation. When he put it on paper, it looked something like this:

Monthly college bill: A lot

Monthly income: You’re poor

Advice: Do something new

I was making about $600 a month working after school care. I realized in order to not take out tons of loans (at that point, I had taken out $8100 in two years, which was putting me right around the average for college students), that I needed to get my butt in gear, work harder to make money. It was at that point that I began to really focus on my finances.

I had listened to Dave Ramsey a lot as a child because my parents were obsessed. As I began to listen, read his books, and focus on my life and where it was headed, I knew that I wanted to do something that wouldn’t take me into the pit of financial despair.

I applied for a job doing valet at a hotel in downtown Nashville. God truly blessed me with this job. I would work three days a week or so, and I was guaranteed to bring home between $240-$300 a week working those few days. It was mind-boggling. It was also in this time that I became very cheap. When my friends would go out to eat, I’d stick around on campus to get the meal from the cafeteria that I had already paid for at the beginning of the semester. When they went to the mall to buy stuff, I’d always ride with someone else.

Mid-way through my junior year, I finally began to date Lindsey, my wife. By this time, I had began to work full time at valet, meaning 5 days a week, but many days getting off early – so I’d say around 30-35 hours a week. It was great. In fact, I was working a lot and my work had promoted me in some aspects. Money was rolling in steadily, as in, $400-$500 a week in cash. I kept it honest, claiming all the tips I received, so I never received a paycheck. I made sure to set aside and give freely to my church, and I honestly believe this is where God began to bless me. For me, this was always the hard part – giving money. I’d forget and sometimes I’d “forget”. But, I began to realize that giving to God for me was an act of worship. It was an act of surrender. I trusted Him. At the time, I never thought about it, but four years later I look at it and realize God was so quick to bless for faithfulness.

In the meantime, I was paying my school bill regularly. The $8100 in the first two years stayed the same. My junior year, I was only needing a $1000 loan. Lindsey and I continued to date.

My senior year rolled around. The same story. More blessings. I would easily average $500 a week in tips and some weeks saw it go over $700 in tips. God blessed. And my senior year, I paid cash for two semesters, and I even was able to treat my beautiful girlfriend (at the time) to some nights out…usually with coupons. 🙂

I graduated and already had a job here in Indiana as a youth pastor. My loans over those four years had accrued interest and were sitting close to $11,200. I was slightly overwhelmed, but realized I was sitting well below the $18,000 average for college students. Also, God had blessed in such a mighty way that I was able to have plenty of cash saved up before I graduated to have a nice little knock on the overall debt picture. I think I paid about $2500 after graduation when I had moved.

The fall of 2008 rolled around. I was in Indiana, and that wonderful girl was still in college in Tennessee. We had talked about marriage, and of course, we had plans. I had been ring shopping and found the perfect one (after about 6 months of looking and a dozen stores in that single day of shopping). I called, put down a down payment. The whole time, I had been talking to my brother, a Christian financial counselor, about this whole ring thing since he’d been married for a while. After the down payment, a friend of my sister-in-laws had called who owned a jewelry store. I contacted him, and for the exact same ring I was custom ordering, with an even better diamond than I had ordered, he agreed to custom make for me for half the price of the original ring. God thing? I think so. Good shopper. I think so. (Kennedy Jewelers – check them out.) I paid cash for the ring.

In November 2008, I proposed, she said yes, and things were great. I continued to pay loans off. When we got married in May 2009, I had a little over $1500 left in my loans. I paid straight cash for our honeymoon. It was great (except for the tropical front that ruined out whole week…)

In July 2009, I paid off my loans completely. All we had to do for hers was find out who they were through and begin paying. She only had one loan from her freshman year – it couldn’t be that bad, right?

Well, $13,000 had accrued almost $5,000 in interest. We began paying on October 1, right before we left to go see Dave Ramsey that night live in Indianapolis. It really gave us the boost we needed.

Lindsey was also blessed with a full-time sub position in a local school. We didn’t know what to expect. We had everything figured out: If we payed $x amount then we would be debt free by our one year anniversary.

Well, money just rolled in. Her job paid exceptionally well. God had supplied the job. When she first interviewed, she didn’t get a position that would have lasted from late October through the end of January. But, they called her back about a second position. This one: late October through the end of May. This was a blessing to us, as the full time pay would seriously help. Through Christmas, we tried to give as much as possible. We did limit ourselves in some aspects, but we tried to give liberally to our family and friends. We had a tight reign on our finances and it was much easier to do so.

Finally, January rolled around. I looked at how much we had left on the loan after that month’s payments and I began to crunch the numbers. Could it be possible?

That’s right, as of this morning, I made the final payment on her student loan. We walked a tight rope for the past 9 months of our marriage, but we don’t regret it.

You see, none of it makes sense to us. We know that God blessed us financially, and to Him we give all glory, honor, and praise. None of the numbers make sense, either.

Since May 2008, combined, we paid off $29, 348.89. I don’t know how, but we did. We don’t make a lot of money honestly. We just learned to live tight. Things always worked themselves out. And now, we have the honor and privilege of helping others to the same debt-free lifestyle that we’ll lead.

So what are our plans? We want to give.

My mission work in Haiti has brought many friends, and I’d love to be able to give to those families to make sure they’re taken care of. I’d love to be able to help with education and food.

We have good friends who will be planting a church state-side, and we want to give.

I don’t tell this story to brag on us, because as I said, it’s nothing we did. We got motivated by the ministry of Dave Ramsey, and then we stayed focused. In the midst of it all, God brought so many blessings to us.

I hope that someone reads this and realizes, “You know what, this is possible! I can do this! I can get out of debt much faster than what I thought!”

I’m just learning to be a good steward of God’s money. I’ve done a horrible job in the past, but I can’t wait to be His hands and feet to bless others now.

Also, one thing I hear from a lot of people is “Dave Ramsey’s plan might work for you, but we’re different.” Or, other people are just straight up rude and claim, “His plan is dumb.” I just challenge you to try it if you’re a naysayer. If it doesn’t work for you (then you obviously didn’t follow it) then that’s fine. But from someone who followed it, experienced it firsthand, and can stand and rejoice, just do it.

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  1. February 6, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Great stuff man and great thoughts. This is an area in which I struggle. While I am sure there are those out there that would love to trade debt amounts with ours, it still bugs me and the more I think about it the more ashamed I am of myself for getting us into the debt we’re in. My wife and I both admit that we have made some very stupid mistakes. This year we’re trying to make it a point to work on the debt issue. We’re cutting up cards and trying to be a little more wise with our spending habits. The problem, and I am trying to be totally transparent with you, is that I think I know what the plan is, but implementing the plan is not easy. I’m rambling…. thanks again for the thoughts.

  2. February 6, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Pusch,
    Implementing the plan is the toughest. Lindsey and I lived live last summer after marriage just kinda buying whatever with the ideal plan “in place” but not really. When we started following the Ramsey plan with envelopes and everything, things really improved in our life. We started feeling like we were accomplishing something because we at least saw where all of our money would go. In my opinion, getting started is the hardest part. Once you get rolling though, it turns into something awesome. Good luck!

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