March marked our first anniversary with Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I’ve posted before about our experiences with this course, namely when we first started, about three weeks in, and then again a month in. Now we’re up to a year, and I can say that we’ve hit a good stride. We were able to repeat, for the most, our progress making and living by our budget, putting money away in various savings accounts, and spending cash for the things we agreed at the start to pay cash for. It’s comfortable now. If you’re new to Dave Ramsey’s principles or just starting an FPU course, know that it does get easier. A LOT easier.
We have hit a few wobbles along the way, though they’ve thankfully been A) minor and B) we’ve been cognizant enough to notice when we’re straying off track and subsequently take action to get back on track with minimal gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately, I can testify that old habits do die very hard: our biggest struggle is still with not eating out on a regular basis, so when we mess up in other areas (go to the grocery store a few days late, get lazy and don’t want to cook, forget to withdraw Blow money on our designated withdrawal day), we find ourselves falling back on this bad habit.
FPU ProTip: Be honest about your biggest hang-ups in following this program and be diligent in staying away from the actions that help encourage those hang-ups.
We also encountered our first experience where someone close hasn’t understood our motivation: a while ago, a close friend commented that we were fixated on money. That some of the actions we were taking (having what appeared to be a restrictive budget, putting all our extra money to tackle our Baby Step goals, my taking on a large freelance editing job on top of my current full-time job, etc.) had become “obsessive.” The friend even doubted that we would ever be able to stop compulsively saving: “First it was the emergency fund, currently it’s the house payment, and you’ve talked about taking a trip to Ireland when you’ve paid off the house…when is it ever going to end? Don’t you see that it’ll never be enough? It never is for obsessions.”
Our friend even warned against the toll this was probably taking on our daughter, that I wasn’t able to spend enough quality time with her given the freelance job, because even though I was only working after she’d gone to bed, I was stressed and tired (which was true) which, consequently affected our time together. I was also told it was “sad” that I had not been able to chip in on a friend’s new baby gift because I’d said “It wasn’t in the budget.” All of these things, our friend claimed, were a result of our money obsession.
As I listened, I was speechless. To have someone close be so off-base to what I thought we were doing. To have my motives, my parenting, and my work habits questioned…it made me sick with hurt and anger (and oh man was there anger) and even fear. I started questioning if that was what we were really doing. Were we just two people with good intentions that had truly become money obsessed? Over the hurtful words, that second-guessing of my own intentions was the worst part.
So I sat Clayton down for a heart-to-heart. Sure I felt confident that God wanted us to follow this path for our finances, but maybe our friend was meant to be a wake-up call, an impartial third-party observer. Maybe we really did need to reevaluate what we were doing and the situation we’d made for ourselves; good actions should be bearing good fruit, right? And the more we analyzed and the more we identified our financial fruit, we realized that it was moving in a very positive direction. It wasn’t just that we were saving more—the more responsibly we managed our money, the more God seemed to give us to manage. I’m not saying we were becoming fantastically wealthy, just that the more we followed a biblical financial path, the more we seemed to have at our disposal to give at unexpected times. (And that really is the fun part, to be able to give in creative, spontaneous ways and see God bless that.) Even beyond the money aspect, we’d seen how positively our marriage and relationships with others had actually become strengthened, too. We simply didn’t see any of the bad fruit that’s commonly associated with greedy, obsessive behavior.
The I realized I’d been asking myself the wrong question. It wasn’t a matter of “How could my friend think that of us?” It was more like “How could they NOT think that of us?” It’s actually pretty natural logic for an outside observer to have. Our friend doesn’t live with us and consequently can’t see the positive trend our financial actions are taking, doesn’t see our checkbook to know how much more freely we’re able to give, doesn’t see our kid thriving in her environment or our relationship with her growing daily, the subtle improvements in communication our marriage has had, or the financial peace of mind we’ve gained.
All our friends see is us ratcheting down on our frivolous spending, not taking as much time to entertain ourselves like we used to, hearing us spout phrases like “It’s not in the budget” or laud becoming “debt free” or “paying off the house.” They’ve heard us talk about moving from Baby Step to Baby Step in a continuous progression (which may seem endless if they aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey’s program). Or, they might not agree entirely (or at all) with the Dave Ramsey plan and so begin considering your actions with a negative perception from the start. Given this, it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to come to the assumptions my friend made. The good financial fruit we’re bearing are largely intangible (as they’re related to our mindsets and behavior) and the visible signs aren’t usually things you broadcast with a loudspeaker (“WE DID X GOOD DEED WITH OUR MONEY BECAUSE GOD PUT IT ON OUR HEARTS!” or “I JUST HAD A WONDERFUL CONVERSATION WITH MY SPOUSE ABOUT HOW TO SPEND OUR TAX REFUND! INSTEAD OF SPENDING AN HOUR ARGUING ABOUT IT, WE HAD A FIVE-MINUTE CHAT AND THEN WATCHED THE WALKING DEAD!”).
And that actually made me proud. Because the only way for my friends, especially a close one who knows us fairly well, to think we’ve become money obsessed is for us to be pursuing financial peace with gazelle intensity! Which, from a Dave Ramsey perspective, IS AWESOME! I’m not mad at my friend for what was said—I’m really, really glad that their words made me realize that our actions have become apparent to others (even if others disagree with them).
So for those trying to follow Dave’s plan I give you this advice: stay focused on this path that God’s put before you. Even if you don’t approach it from a religious perspective, if you know that this is a positive thing for your life and your money and your finances and you see good fruit growing from your new financial habits, KEEP IT UP! Dave warned you this would happen. He predicted that folks might say you’re crazy or perhaps even look down on you for sticking to something that seems so radical and foreign to them. What you’re doing is certainly not the status quo.
Keep living like no one else right now. Because later, you know what you’ll get to do…?
Yup. You know.