We were stuck.
$60,000 in student debt and newly married, I was in seminary and my wife was teaching. My car broke down and I needed a root canal. There was no money in the bank and no plan.
We were toast. We were afraid! We were mastered by money. It felt hopeless.
We had borrowed on our freedom at 6.7% interest and limited our options. We decided things needed to change. We decided to learn to master money rather than passively being mastered by money. We made big changes.
We moved from Denver’s high cost of living to the Midwest’s affordability despite our love for Colorado. We traded our short-term geographic preferences for a big step toward financial responsibility.
I joined a real estate investment firm managing acquisitions. My wife found a great teaching job. I finished my degree from the seminary at a distance, paying cash of the remainder for the course work. We lived off less than half of what we made and in 18 months we paid off the $60,000.
In two years we had an emergency fund in place. We had a retirement plan up and running. We had taken a great trip to Europe. My broken down car had been replaced and my root canal was repaired.
Then something very strange happened. An unfamiliar uncertainty began to creep into our lives. Or was it curiosity? It’s hard to know.
It was much like an animal raised in captivity experiencing the unfamiliar life outside of the confines for the first time. We were free. We didn’t know what to do with that freedom. We could look up for the first time in a long time. We could dream.
Where would we live?
What would we do?
With whom would we do life?
We began to pursue questions of meaning and purpose realizing we were unbridled, unsaddled, from the burden of debt. We were not independently wealthy. But we had learned to use the resources we have to facilitate greater freedom for ourselves. We were ready to support the mission of others and organizations in which we believe.
We’ve learned a few important lessons on our journey. We continue to do so as we grow in life’s adventures.
Proverbs 22:7 reads, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Each decision we make with money either moves us toward or away from freedom.
Leveraging your dreams can quickly become a long term burden and limit your freedom to choose in the future. Don’t rush into debt, as it can quickly volunteer you for indentured servitude. Get out from under debt as quickly as possible. The freedoms to give, serve and experience the world are much more brilliant than you might imagine.
“There isn’t a pain free way to achieve your goals.”
Seth Godin in The Icarus Deception
Changing your financial circumstances is not easy. Nor should it be. It was easy to get into debt, but really hard to get out of debt. However, working our way out has provided far more rewards than I ever imagined.
Do the hard work.
Make the hard choices.
Set goals, work toward them.
Learn and keep learning. Use your God-given capacity and take in what you can. Start basic and continue to grow.
If personal finance is new to you, begin with something like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course (offered in many churches). I’m facilitating one beginning March 29 here in Centennial, CO, if interested. As you progress, keep learning. You’re never done.
I want to better understand the industry in which my financial future is invested. If you have that passion too, there is a wealth of resources available to you. Use them. Some authors to discover if you are looking beyond the basics are Burton Malkiel, John Bogle, Michael Covel, Charles Ellis, Pat Dorsey, Benjamin Graham and James Montier.
Money math can be very emotional. There are the hard numbers. There are the emotional numbers. Know the difference.
For us, it’s our emergency fund. There is a number at which we feel like we can “take a licking and keep on ticking.” My wife and I had to come to that number together.
Our emotional numbers were different. But by coming to a number that satisfied our emotional math we freed up an underlying fear and then more freely pursued other goals.
We began to understand a quote by Zig Ziglar, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” On the other side of debt, there is even greater freedom to give and serve. You’ll be amazed at what you can do for others when you learn to save, budget and invest wisely.
Don’t ignore it.
Get ready for it.
“During the years of early adulthood the future still looks promising, the hope remains that one’s goals will be realized. But inevitably the bathroom mirror shows the first white hairs, and confirms the fact that those extra pounds are not about to leave; inevitably eyesight begins to fail and mysterious pains begin to shoot through the body….these limitations or mortality plainly communicate the message: Your time is up, it’s time to move on.”
“When this happens, few people are ready. ‘Wait a minute, this can’t be happening to me. I haven’t begun to live. Where’s all the money I was supposed to have made? Where are all the good times I was going to have.’” …from Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Live now and plan into your future.
It’s coming whether you like it or not. Difficult decisions made today better prepare you and your family for tomorrow. Don’t be surprised that your future is coming.
This is one of eight guest blog posts focusing on the 8 Dimensions of the Circle of Life Mentoring Model within Leadership Design Group. We are indebted to each person who will be sharing from the reality of their own life. Adam Hawk is the friend of Leadership Design Group who has written these wise words.