I almost went down a road that a lot of people find themselves traveling. It’s the road that leads to a life where debt is normal, and account balances are guesses. The world is backward. There are financial institutions telling us how to use our money. These are businesses in the business of money, trying to get your money, and helping you to manage it. Lest you think I’m calling for banking regulations, let me be clear that I’m not saying that. At least, I’m not calling for the government to police the banks or credit companies. What I’m calling for is for the people to start to re-learn the basic financial principles of their grand-parents. Capitalism will do the rest, I think. If we say to the banks and credit companies, “Your product no longer provides me with a service that I find useful.” Then they’ll have to do one of two things: Adapt, or go under. Let me tell you my story.
My personality has always been a here and now kind of thing. As a kid, and even on into early adulthood, I jumped from hobby to hobby, and interest to interest, unapologetically and frequently. I used to say that I had what many people call an “addictive” personality, but that’s not really it with me. My personality is more like, “consumptive”. I devour my interests with gusto, and for awhile I’m intensely focused on whatever it is, and then I will suddenly move on to the next thing. So forth and so on it goes.
So, despite a solid instruction regarding money when I was growing up, I was never terribly interested, and so it didn’t stick. I got a little older, and my vascillating interests became more and more expensive. My hobbies required funding, and I wanted things right now. You can see the problem.
It was at this point in college that I started wondering about credit. See, it made sense to me that I could buy something big and make payments. After all, that meant I could “afford” the big things I wanted now instead of waiting the weeks or months it would take to save up for them. My first purchase was a lie which said “If you can afford the payments, you can afford the stuff.” I completely bought it.
It wasn’t because I consciously, rationally thought it through. I was emotionally attached to the stuff I wanted, and the idea that I could have it now and pay for it slowly was intoxicating. I’m the guy who, when he first gained access to ATM cards, got a thrill from going to the mall and getting $20 out of the magic money box. I spent who knows how much on bank fees, and who knows how much on $20 food court trips to the mall. Spending is fun for me, and I wasn’t thinking at all.
My first card was Capital One with a $600 limit, which I quickly slammed up against. I bought a gaming system, likely the only thing that was worth buying in the first place, and who knows how much was just wasted on eating out, and frivolous garbage. I opened another card, and maxed that one out too. Fortunately the limits were low. I simply couldn’t help myself. The biggest problem was that I didn’t have anyone telling me to stop. It wasn’t anyone’s responsibility but mine at that point. I didn’t tell my parents how I was doing financially, and once I moved out on my own, there was absolutely nothing to keep me in check.
Before I was finished, I had bought two cars, one used, one new, neither of which I needed. I had a mortgage, which I rolled my other debt into on a refinance, and I still hadn’t cancelled my credit cards, so they were on their way back up. The banks didn’t stop me, the credit companies didn’t warn me, and the loan officers never once said, “This might not be the best option.” And do you know why? Because they don’t care about your financial future. They want you locked up in their products, because that’s where you’re the most profitable to them.
Two things saved me. The first and most important was the girl I decided to marry. I say it that way for a reason. She didn’t save me as my wife. She saved me when I decided that I needed to be better than I was to even be worthy of spending my life with her. I didn’t get better overnight, and I’m still working on being the best I can be, but realizing that I needed her in my life caused me to look very seriously for the first time at the way I behaved. In some ways, I was fine. In others, like my finances, not so much.
I realized that what I was bringing to the marriage was a lot of debt and irresponsible behavior. I didn’t pay things on time, I didn’t have any control of my spending, and the worst part, was I didn’t have any idea how bad it was. I tell people it’s like being out of shape and overweight. A thing that I’ve also experienced first hand. You know, because your clothes are tight and your joints hurt, and your breath is short, that you’re in bad condition. You’re living outside of your means in one way or another. And you know that before anything changes, you need to know how bad things are. You have to get on the scale. With my weight, the moment came when I had to buy a pair of size 40 pants, when I had been a 38 for years. I knew I was losing my health. I knew financially, when it became stressful to do anything that resembled looking at my bank account. It happened when my electric got turned off one month. I knew I was floundering, and I was going to lose if I didn’t get my head screwed on straight.
Ok, second thing. My parents came to me, because here’s the thing: Your parents aren’t as stupid as you hope they are, and they said, “Look, take this class. We’ll buy the kit for you, if you promise to take it.” I was skeptical, and I was prideful, but I was also scared and feeling more hopeless every day. And I knew that soon I would be getting married and that was when I caved and agreed.
I started Financial Peace University in May of 2005 on my own, and in June, I married Michelle, and she attended the rest of the class with me. I was afraid that she’d be mad at me forever when she saw how terribly I had handled my finances, but instead, she tackled it with me, and we used our tax refunds, both mine and hers, to kickstart our emergency fund and begin to pay off my debt. I don’t want you to miss that. We paid off MY debt with OUR money, and that made an impression on me which still means the world to me today. We’ve been married 12 years this coming June, and we’ve never had a fight over money. We’ve never had a fight period. Now, can I say that we’ve had disagreements? Sure, but we’ve always been on the same page.
Financial Peace was an incredible tool for us. We started our lives together in step financially, and with money being the number one cause of divorce in the United States, it was about as wise a decision as we’ve ever made. We never even had to wonder about it. I recommend it more than words are capable of conveying. It made this frivolous financial drifter into someone with a real sense of control over his impulses and spending. It made me a better husband, and a more generous giver. It really did bring peace into my life. Thank God. (And Dave Ramsey, and a bunch of other great people without whom I would never have been able to drag my sorry broke behind out of a financial hole of my own making.)
Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes, it is a tree of life.