I never thought I was broke. I know that sounds like a privileged thing to say, which in a lot of aspects I am. What I mean is that I grew up in an upper-middle-class family in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. My sister and I went to private schools, I played all the sports I wanted to, and we took trips to Florida and other amazing places every year. I’d never had to worry about money. As a single mother, my mom did an amazing job raising my sister and I by herself. She never discussed or alluded to any financial struggles while we were growing up. As a child that kind of shelter is appropriate, but as I grew up I continued to be sheltered from finances and the value of a dollar. When I turned 23 and was on my own financially, I’d grown to become terrified of money. I never thought I was broke until I had to figure it out on my own.
I worked throughout my college years, picking up part-time jobs on nights and weekends, but if I wanted to go out to eat with friends or buy ridiculous costumes for an upcoming social event, I never hesitated to swipe my credit card not really knowing what was on the other end. All I knew was that I had an amazing mother who frequently checked my bank account and transferred money when I needed it. She didn’t ask where the last $500 she deposited went, she just made sure I was secure. I am both grateful for and spiteful of those transactions. Grateful because I know my mom loves me unconditionally and never wanted to see me struggle any more than I already had. Spiteful because a part of me wishes I had been taught to be financially smart before I ventured out on my own.
My eyes were opened to the world of personal finance shortly after Ryan and I started dating. Our first Christmas came 3 months after our first date. The holiday was a bit awkward since we were still getting to know each other and I thought gifts at Christmas were supposed to be sentimental and sparkly. But under the Christmas tree was one of the best gifts Ryan has ever given me. It was a pair of windshield wipers (installation included) and Dave Ramsey’s (@DaveRamsey) book, “The Total Money Makeover.” I say it is the best gift because 1. He gave me something very important to him and through that I learned more about him; and 2. He gave me the gift of knowledge about something I had shied away from my whole life. It made managing money and debt seem less intimidating.
Ryan continues to make me feel safe and secure in our debt free journey every day. It is not always easy to live on a budget and resist wasting money on stuff instead of paying down debt. It definitely takes discipline and forgiveness because we have both given in to temptation (often) over the last two years of our relationship. Nobody ever warned me that a CPA could still be bad with money! The reason we will succeed is that we have learned to communicate and support each other 100% through the good and bad. We have learned that a $40 impulse buy will not put us out on the streets, so we don’t let it make or break our relationship.
Since we moved to Colorado, Ryan and I have been gung-ho about everything outdoors; hiking, biking, camping, mountain climbing. We want to do it all right away (even in the middle of winter, not a great idea.) We got a little excited after Christmas with all the clearance sales and ended up spending over $400 in one afternoon! Sure, we paid mostly in gift cards and Christmas money we had received, but it was a perfect example of us taking another step in the wrong direction. That beautiful new REI daypack will always feel heavier due to the debt we carry.
What we have realized is that if we are truly serious about this journey to be debt free, we need to make smart financial decisions even when we don’t want to. No more getting caught up in the moment, no more keeping up with the Joneses.
Did you have a financial role-model or were you left on your own to figure it out as I was? Looking forward to hearing your stories!