Thursday, July 28, 2011

Temperance: Getting Out of Debt

In September of 2008 we were at our whit's end with finances. We had a negative cash flow, 5-6 credit cards (a few of them were maxed out), 2 car payments, some medical bills (our oldest spent almost a week in NICU at birth), a couple of student loans, and our mortgage.
Jared and I are Christians and are very involved in our church and ministry. We would hear about a need and wish that there was some way we could give toward it but not have any means to do so because we were so far in debt. We'd be sitting in church as a missionary presented their work and wanting so badly to be able to put some cash in the offering but not having any to give. Then we'd hear stories from missionary friends of ours about how they'd visited a church where someone just up and bought them a new vehicle, wardrobe, or some other big ticket item. We have both thought that would be the most exciting thing to do for someone someday! We'd just had baby #2 in May and I was stressed. We totaled up our debt and had roughly $37k in debt BESIDES our mortgage when the hubby decided to try something different, Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.
I was terrified to say the least when Jared told me that we were cutting up the credit cards and not going to use them anymore. I was balancing the checkbook and handling almost all of the bill payments, etc. I just didn't know how we could handle it with Jared still in school and 2 kids in diapers.

Jared has always been very protective of his investments (small as they are). When I saw that he was serious about getting out of debt by using his investments to get us started, I just had to jump in along with him. Getting out of debt and staying out of debt is all about showing temperance - saying "no" to self with God's help. You cannot get out of debt or stay out of debt if you are consistently giving in to your indulgences or buying the latest "toys" for yourself (or your kids). As Christians, we are to have this attribute (check out my post Temperance: Eating for Weight Control to see more on Temperance). Not only are we to have temperance but the Bible is very clear about debt. If fact, the Bible has more than 250 verses regarding money. If you are struggling financially you should read them.
...the borrower [is] servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7 - When you borrow money through a loan, a credit card, etc., you are really a servant to that debt until it is paid. You also end up paying a lot more for things than you would have due to accrued interest. Do you like finding out that you have grossly overpaid for an item?

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
We also believe that God has called us into full-time ministry and we do not want to be hampered with the burden of debt when that happens.

Here are the things that we've done to help us in this endeavor:
  • We started out by reading Dave's book The Total Money Makeover, which I would highly suggest as he gives some great advice. You can also read many articles and such on his website.
  • Get an Emergency Fund in place because Murphy will come knocking (Murphy's Law). Dave suggests $1,000 and I would definitely agree that this is a good amount to start with.
  • Start shopping smarter - 
    • Make a weekly menu (there's a lot to be said for planning ahead when you consider anything in life).
    • Make up shopping lists and stick to them
    • Start using coupons - there are several blogs and websites you can follow that give shopping list ideas based on sales + available coupons. Many times you can get household and grocery products for free or REALLY cheap.,,, etc. to name a few.
    • Compare prices between stores for anything from groceries to clothing to big ticket items like cars. Also, you can price-match at both Target and Walmart. 
    • Don't be ashamed to buy things used - shop at thrift stores,, eBay, classified ads, etc. 
  • Sell Stuff - it is much more important to be debt free than it is to have a lot of "stuff". We went through our house and found anything that we had extras of or weren't really using and sold it on eBay and Craigslist to get a jumpstart on paying off debt.
  • GET RID OF YOUR CREDIT CARDS!!!!! If you decide to keep one for "emergencies" you WILL end up using it so DO NOT carry it in your wallet. In fact, keep it somewhere that would be difficult to get at it, you know "Out of sight, out of mind". If you have them because you get "rewards", check to see if there is a debit card option (i.e. gas station credit cards, store credit cards - both Kwik Trip and Target now offer debit versions of their credit cards). Target's option saves 5% off your purchases right at the register!
  • Start giving to your church or charity if you aren't and keep giving if you are. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
After almost 3 years, we have less than $7k left of the original $37k. We have increased our charitable giving each year. We've never gone hungry. We have a positive cash flow and net worth, which has given us an amazing feeling. I love being able to give when I see a need or stock up on a product when it's on sale for a rock bottom price, etc. We do still struggle with telling ourselves "No" to indulgences and "Yes" to the paying off debt and living responsibly,  but that is due to our human sin nature. We have to ask God for strength on a daily basis if we want to get out and stay out of debt.

You may be feeling overwhelmed and convinced that it's too hard and you have too much debt to get out of it. Whenever something seems too hard or too big to tackle, Jared always says, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is "One bite at a time." Each small step takes you that much closer to your goal. Our goal is to have everything except our mortgage paid off by Christmas of this year. We want to be able to call in to the Dave Ramsey radio show on "debt free Friday" as our Christmas gift to each other.

Update (5/17/12)
Well, we didn't quite make our goal. Ended up needing to purchase a new vehicle instead, but we were able to pay cash for it. Less than $3,500 to go though! After calculating doctor bills, a new vehicle, mission trip, etc. into the mix, we've paid off over $40k since September 2008. Hoping to have the remainder completely paid off by the end of this year. Please be praying for us that God would give us the strength to complete our goal!

1 comment:

  1. That's an awesome Christmas gift! Great job! :)