Flashback 27 years and I am on the used car lot of Jim Doyle Ford with my Dad looking at this sweet looking Ford Escort GT. I know, you’re laughing right now, but this Escort was a manual and to an 18-year-old girl that qualified as a sports car. Plus it was black and it had a “spoiler”. So my Dad, who repeatedly asked me, “Are you sure?” co-signed on the loan (because apparently the bank didn’t think I could make the payments on my own), and drove my first car back home while I followed in the family K car. Did I mention that my Dad had to drive it off the lot because I didn’t know yet how to drive a stick? How’s that for impulse buying? This purchase proceeded to become the worst car I ever bought. The tires we found out afterwards were not only almost bald, but quite expensive to replace even in today’s economy and after Tim (my then boyfriend) called Jim Doyle to scold them for selling a car with tires that couldn’t possibly have passed inspection, they generously agreed to pay to replace one of them. It leaked so much oil that I was forbidden to park in my parent’s driveway nor was it unusual to see it smoking when I parked under the 190 overpass to go to work downtown. It sounded like I was inside a military tank when I drove it and it got the shakes whenever it reached a certain speed. I just dumped more oil in it and hoped it would get me where I needed to go. I just didn’t care because … it had a spoiler!
Have I made stupid choices with money … is that a rhetorical question? Of course I have. My biggest one as a single person was on that Ford Escort GT.
When Tim and I were newly married we traded in that Escort for brand new electric blue Plymouth Laser with pop-up headlights. Of course we put it on a five-year payment plan, but did I mention it had pop-up headlights? A couple of years later when we were in our first house, we found out how difficult it was to get my giant pregnant self out of a car that seemed like it drove right on the blacktop and it wasn’t the easiest car to get a newborn out of what they called a back seat. So we put an ad in the newspaper and sold it outright. A father bought it for his son. But what was fascinating to us was the pile of cash that he brought to our house that sat on our kitchen table for the shortest time ever before we had to turn it over to the finance company that still held the note. We turned right around and took another five-year payment plan out on a more family friendly four-door sedan. I only knew of one person at that time who paid cash for cars and that was Grandpa Joe, Tim’s grandfather and master mechanic. That was an anomaly to me, something I could not imagine doing.
We were consumers who never asked, “How much?” We just asked “How much down and how much per month?”
Those were some of the early-on choices we made that were perhaps not in the best interest of our long-term financial plan. We never got ourselves into trouble with money. We lived within our means. Sure we had credit cards, paid promptly, took the one-year-no-interest on home improvements, etc. but always paid them off within the year and had excellent credit. I was and still am a stickler for timeliness. I have my parents to thank for that. We grew up in a modest home. My parents didn’t give us everything; they gave us what we needed. We never got the cool Trapper Keepers that our friends got for back to school. We got knock-off Bastad clogs and fake Jordache jeans. It was big deal to save enough money to go down to Studio One in the Southgate Plaza and pick out a pair of genuine Levi cords from their never-ending floor-to-ceiling cubbies. I put my first pair of leather Nike’s on layaway at Liberty Shoes and went dutifully with my babysitting money to make weekly payments until I could finally bring them home. If I wanted something bad enough, I would save. I had to, because I didn’t have a credit card in my possession yet and oh, what a joy it was to buy “brand-name” clothes! My father was aghast that anyone would pay that kind of money for a pair of sneakers or jeans, but my parents’ frugality was probably what helped me not go off the deep-end with spending when I started earning my own money.
So when Tim and I got married, we never did anything that was crazy overboard spending, but after so many years we found out that we didn’t have a plan either. We couldn’t figure out where the money all went because we were both working full time. It was all the little stuff here and there and after years and years of living like that, it was no wonder we had little money. We were like 70% of Americans, and lived paycheck to paycheck and thought that was normal. We finally got tired of being normal.
About three years ago I started listening to this guy Dave Ramsey guy on the radio. I thought I found him by accident, but God knew what He was doing. I had never heard anyone like him before; he is a “tell it like it is” guy who isn’t afraid to share with millions of listeners about your stupid financial choices because he made a lot of those stupid choices himself and has made it his life’s work to change the American norm of being forever in debt to the weird concept of being debt-free. I bought his Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace books and read them in record time. When I read these, if Tim was in the room, I would say, “Listen to this …” and kept talking to him about it until he read them as well. We had pretty much stopped using credit cards at this point and had no debt except the house, so we were very interested in this emergency fund concept and retirement. But this guy has this “Dumping Debt” piece of his teaching that is flat-out phenomenal. He debunks all the myths the world wants us to believe is just how it is. Of course he makes total sense but were there people who actually lived like he was teaching, no car payment, no credit cards, cash only, etc.? Sign me up! Wait, is there a budget involved? Ugh, I should have known there was a catch.
The real stick in my craw is this whole budgeting issue which is a big hairy deal in working your way towards being debt-free, but I have to tell you, it was the best thing we could have done. I am the bill payer in the house, but Tim is the budgeter. He can work rework numbers that make my eyes glaze over to the point I start to hear the ocean. But between his number crunching and my wanting to save for a rainy day, we are now telling our money where to go; making it behave. Just getting a handle on that is fantastic. We use a cash envelope for groceries now which I think is where our biggest over expenditures happened. I never charged groceries in my life. To me that seemed as strange as charging gasoline. Our bodies and our cars would have ingested, digested and expelled before we even received the bill to pay for these things! But I did write checks and debited groceries before going to cash and it really wasn’t any better. Even though it was still coming out of the checking account, I still overspent because I didn’t physically have the cash in my hand. It’s amazing what happens when you hand over cash you’ve grown fond of instead of a piece of plastic.
Flash-forward to the present where I am no longer swayed by spoilers and pop-up headlights. I am no longer impressed by trying to look “cool”. It’s less stressful living a simpler life, not trying to keep up with Joneses. I’m not competing or comparing. When God wants to bless us I know He will in His time. Does that mean we don’t like to have nice things? Absolutely not. I like them as much as the next person. I’m just not going to get all wrapped up in what the world thinks we have to have in order to be happy. Sometimes it’s a struggle not to just go out and get take-out because I don’t feel like cooking or buy the kids something we know they don’t need, but they would enjoy. But we stop and think now before we make purchases and in some cases learn to sacrifice because we now know it’s so much nicer to sit on paid-for furniture and eat paid for food.
When we stopped using credit cards and started paying cash, it was incredibly freeing. Where we once would head over to Sears in an appliance emergency to charge a washing machine on a no-interest-for-a-year plan because we didn’t have the cash on hand, we can now go to a local appliance store and pay cash. The emergencies are no longer emergencies … just inconveniences. Where we told our kids we would only be be able to help them with college their first year, we have now been able to help them every year. Having a plan (Tim prefers “budget”) makes all the difference.
Last year one of our Pastors asked Tim and me if we would be willing to bring this Financial Peace University DVD-based course that Dave Ramsey teaches to our church. We jumped at the chance, because we see where the country is heading and we see how people are struggling with finances every day. This became a passion for us because it’s our hope for people to be free of that struggle so they can enjoy the blessings that God wants to give them.
The biggest blessing for us that has come from this shift in thinking about money is in our kids. At one point our two oldest kids I’m sure wanted to stick something in their eyes every time they heard us say the name Dave Ramsey just so they could exit the room. However, they are finally getting it. They are seeing by our behavior what happens when you have a plan. We are changing our family tree! No doubt they will make mistakes, but they now have the foundation where they have learned what God wants them to do and parents who encourage them to stick with it no matter what their friends are doing and buying no matter how hard it might seem at the time. If they stay the course, I’m sure these mistakes will be few and far-between. The sacrifice will be well-worth it in the long run and … they won’t be so easily impressed by the spoiler.