Stop Wishing, Start Writing; The Debt Free Edition

Last week we – and by we I mean you and I – started a series called “Stop Wishing, Start Writing” wherein I’ve committed to sharing with you tools that have helped me out of difficult circumstances. I hope that you spent some time thinking of a goal that you wanted to accomplish, writing the goal down and making it real, and finding a way to measure and record your progress. Today I want to focus on one of the two things that are, probably, stopping you from chasing your dream: Money.

I know, now I’m meddling. Some of you have a tremendous handle on your finances, and that is awesome, but maybe one of you is where Leah and I found ourselves about 18 months ago. We weren’t going hungry (I weighed over 200 pounds, remember), we had clothes (in several sizes), and we were current on all of our bills. We contribute to our retirement accounts and college savings account. We were comfortable, but every month we found ourselves struggling to find enough money to do some things that we really wanted to do.

There are organizations like No Longer and WorldVision that we wanted to support, but there were other organizations like Visa and MasterCard that were getting our money each month. Visa and MasterCard are not in business to house orphans or feed the hungry. They’re in business to make money off of transaction fees and interest. I don’t really go for those.

Oh, and our children have heard of this place called Disney World, and they’ve requested to see it in person.

We needed a plan. Now guys, Leah and I each have college degrees. I have a Masters in Business Administration. We may talk slow, but we’re not dumb people. I can do the math on the benefits of so-called “good debt” and I can write papers on using borrowed money to achieve higher returns than the cost of the borrowed capital. These words of a country preacher at a 1980s revival still echo in my head, though, “If you play with dirt, you’re going to get dirty.”

Credit cards are dirt, and if you play with them you’re going to, at best, get dirty. Some of you may end up buried in that dirt.

So much of our income was going to credit cards that we couldn’t help any one else. People who send a significant portion of their discretionary income to credit card companies can’t help hurting people, y’all. We needed to find a way to pay off the credit cards in some reasoned, orderly way. Enter the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps. (If you don’t like Dave Ramsey, please don’t stop reading.)

It took almost eighteen months, but we paid off three credit cards and a store card that we had for so long that the account number was only five digits long (that one hurt a little, but it isn’t the same store that it was 20 years ago, and we really haven’t missed it).

We purchased magnetic numbers when we started the program and we put the total balance of all the credit accounts on the refrigerator (we made it real – we could see the enemy).  We’d adjust the number each month as we paid down the accounts. One of the happiest days we’ve had was when we removed the last of the magnetic numbers from the refrigerator.

We are following the Dave Ramsey program, mainly because he approaches money from a Biblical perspective and I agree with the theory that, out of every paycheck, you should spend some, save some, and give some away. I fully admit (as does he) that he can be a bit arrogant. The good news is that you don’t have to listen to his radio show to use his program, and there are other programs out there that can help you defeat debt. I’ve watched and listened to Suze Orman, and she says a lot of things with which I agree.  I’ve also listened to Clark Howard, and while he offers great suggestions on paying off debt and how and when to find great deals, he’s not as hardcore about closing credit card accounts as Dave Ramsey. If you play with dirt, you’re going to get dirty.

Point being, there’s a plan out there that works for you, but you have to be brave enough – or sick and tired of being sick and tired enough – to start.  If I can help, please let me know.

Photo credit: lemonjenny / Foter / CC BY-ND

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