Confessions of a Dave Ramsey Flunkie (Part 2 of 2)

8:55 AMHeather

Author's Note: After receiving some thoughtful insight from a blog reader, I wish to clarify something regarding these blog posts about our journey through Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. All that I write and speak of in regard to my personal financial journey should be read within this context. It's all a first world problem. All of it. Debt. College. Jobs. Student loans. Buying houses. Taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom. It's all first world problems. Because I've never known hunger or had a lack of shelter or truly been in WANT. I recognize that completely. And I hope what I'm writing is seen within that context here.

I've told my kids once or a dozen times that our Biblical standard is humility. Humility towards God. And humility towards others. Following Jesus means living to serve, just as he did. Watching carefully for pride within us. Because we are wise to avoid being in a position where God has to painfully humble us. 

Um, yeah. So about that....

Like I was saying yesterday, we were all happily trucking along in our comfortable Dallas suburb, enjoying our all American life, living quite happily in our four bedroom and two-and-half bath home. So very proud of ourselves for working successfully through Dave Ramsey's first few baby steps. After all, we've been socking away to retirement from the beginning, taking full advantage of matching programs from employers. We even started a small college fund for our kids when they were born. 

So there we were, living the American dream in a safe and great part of town, and none of us truly knowing what it is to be in need. And we were tap dancing along through our debt free existence. Thinking quite well of ourselves. Or at least, I was. My little works-based, performance and approval-hungry self was pretty much thinking I was the bomb dot com when it came to managing our household income.

Not to mention some pretty ridiculous things we've enjoyed through the generosity of extended family.

For six years, we were enjoying more than we deserved to in our debt free existence. We kept our cash system going, lived by a budget, tried to live well within our means, and gave our tithes and offerings, as we have our entire marriage.

We taught our kids to look in the "cash kiddie" to see if we had the cash for new shoes this paycheck or if we needed to plan to do it the next paycheck. We kept shopping sales and we kept ordering water to drink when we ate out. We love to give, so we've tried to be generous with the resources we've had. And we have continued in our careers with non-profits.

Little known factoid. You may or may not have been aware that our country went through a bit of a financial downturn in the last few years. 

Which for us translated to some job responsibility shifts for my husband. Listen to me carefully. In a season where so many are without a job, we've counted ourselves lucky to still have one. Or one and a quarter, I guess, with my contract work. Yet here's the bottom line. 

Our income has not increased. While the cost of things have. Our kids are getting bigger. Which means bigger appetites (two teenage sons here). Bigger clothes and man shoes and no more shopping in the kid section or buying the kids meals.

All of it...the "unexpected" that comes in life and the cost of living increase. And to be completely honest--my apparent inability to plan ahead and make some radical changes before it was too late.

So, as of last August, we officially went back into debt.

My prideful attitude has been completely called out. In these last few years, as our finances began to shift and shake, I have not dealt with it well.

You can ask any of my closest friends.

I confess it here honestly. I'm coming clean completely. I'm afraid that I am not stewarding this story of returning to debt very well. I've allowed myself to feel like a victim. To think I somehow deserve better or have earned some kind of elusive financial status because of my "faithfulness" to being a good steward. I've felt ashamed of our return to debt. I've felt angry about it. I've felt completely insecure and downright crazy about it all.

I've sunk to moments of feeling like God is mocking me.

I know. I know. It's ridiculous. I'm all whining about my lack of financial margins and how we are having to say no to our kids about some things. While we live a rather comfortable existence compared to the rest of the world. 

I'm living in the top 1%, while my husband is working, driving my paid for car and keeping my pantry stocked. 

And I feel struck down.

All because we are Dave Ramsey flunkies. Because I believed in a system that worked for us once, and I thought we were moving on up. (To a de-luxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi). 

(FYI: that was a cultural reference to a television show called The Jeffersons for those of you who are NOT a child of the 70's).

I've prayed. I've begged. I've bargained. I've admitted this financial struggle in a whisper as a dark secret. I've been wound up about it and unwound by it.

I've been desperate for this situation to fixed. But the truth I'm grasping more and more is that God is actually way more concerned about fixing some things within me.

And in case you've been there or are there or might be there, let me clearly state some things here.

God has indeed humbled me. But only recently have I leaned in to the lesson. Because my pride has allowed me to feel oh-so-sorry for myself and to think I deserved better. That I was owed.

But here's the truth of it. God's love and his grace and his provision cannot be measured in dollar increments. And our financial status is in no way a reflection of our worth to our Father. Nor should it be an indicator of our contentment. Or our security. 

Living by Biblical standards when it comes to money is definitely part of our obedience as Jesus followers. But our struggles within that journey do not point to our position before Christ.

We were every last one counted priceless. P-R-I-C-E-L-E-S-S. The highest price was paid for us, and if you are a starving child living on the streets in a third world country or a mostly SAHM whining about your little debt... your bank account says NOTHING about who you are to your Heavenly Father.

I'm throwing it all out here today. And this really doesn't come easy. But I think it's part of my journey to be real and authentic for those who might feel some kinship to where I am. 

I hope you will still be my bloggy friend.

God has gotten my attention alright. And here's the ugly truth. I have measured my worth by my material possessions and status. I have run to finances for security instead of God. I have worshiped the idea of financial margins, making it an idol, wanting it more than I want to hunger and thirst for God. I have wrestled hard here because I have a big issue with unbelief and worry. I have wanted to be debt free more than I have wanted to be growing deeper in the love of Jesus. I have envied others. I have coveting what others have.

And in all of it, I have been ungrateful. 

I have listened to the new Christy Nockels CD, Let it be Jesus, about a zillion times. There are two lines from two different songs which are hitting me square in the heart of this problem I have with money.

"everything is mine in You, even when my hands are empty."

"If You never did another thing for me, It will always be enough that You set me free, Always be enough that You gave Your life
Jesus, You are mine."

I can't yet sing those lyrics wholeheartedly. But I'm letting God know that I want to learn how.

Yes, I can look back and see some sorta messed up perspectives on money within my family lineage. I could easily chalk up my issues as "the struggle is real, y'all... cause it's just how I am. I need financial margins."

But that kind of attitude has not served me well, thus far. In fact, it's actually bound me up pretty good. When we were working to pay off debt and then we succeeded, I felt pretty proud of myself. Secure in what we accomplished. Rewarded for "living right." 

But it's a house of cards that comes crashing down. Because God doesn't owe me a thing. Rather, I am forever indebted to him. Because he paid the ultimate debt that I couldn't pay.

And whether I have a million dollars in the bank or owe a million dollars (which I don't...just to be clear).... Jesus loves me all the same. It makes no difference to him. 

How arrogant to think that our financial status is a reflection of how loved we are by our perfect Heavenly Father. What does that say of all those living in poverty? That God doesn't care? It's a total lie. Because Jesus, in fact, had tons to say about those in poverty and the marginalized. They were some of his favorite people to spend time with. And we would do well to stop judging people's worth by what they have or what they can do for us. We would do well to start realizing our actual position as debtors before a gracious God and fall hard on that grace every moment of every day.

When I place my security in whether or not I have debt or in which step I'm on from some financial plan... it'll never be enough. Whether I'm moving up through the steps or falling backwards. Because placing my security in our money makes me a slave to it and imprisoned by it. 

Apparently, while I may be a slow learner, I seem to be sifting through some weighty lessons here in round two of our battle against debt.

Yes. I would love to be debt free. But I think I need to be freed truly from my co-dependent relationship with money in general. It's all wood, hay and straw that will burn up eventually. 

I'm called to steward my resources well. Yes. I must. Be a good steward of all the amazing and ludicrous gifts I've been given. But it's time to stop letting them own me. It's time to lean in hard to the lessons being learned. To the revelations of my idols and my unbelief in God being FOR me and good, no matter where I find myself on Dave Ramsey's baby steps. It's time for me to be freed from worrying and obsessing about money. 

It's time to call it all out and own it all and ask you to hold me accountable to just that. To embrace that everything is mine in Jesus. And if the gospel is real and true, then so is that statement. And I've been freed from death...I've been set free.  Time I quit letting things in this world imprison me. 

So I'm finally processing and owning some hard lessons here. Right here, back in baby step #2. 

I'm asking God to help me get back up. To get in the fight and quit complaining and just tackle it. To heal the unbelief in me about his provision and his love that causes me to worry and fret. Every time I start to feel worry about our finances, I'm praying Mark 9:24-- "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" And I'm asking him to change me so that I want the imperishable things more than the perishable.

Here's my game plan, for anyone else in the same boat financially.

1. Keep praying for God to take his rightful place in my life above all else that distracts me from him.

2. Keep working the cash system. You really do spend less when you are handing over cash. So, every two weeks, when my husband is paid, I go get our cash that needs to last until the next paycheck. For us, this is cash for everything but gas, utilities, tithe, medical and mortgage. You can determine a good monthly amount of cash per category by using suggested percentages of your take-home pay, such as you can find here

3.  I had given up on tracking our spending beyond our cash system approach last year, and it didn't seem to work out too well. (AKA--back in debt). SO, I found this free app that I've been using for a couple of weeks in an attempt to go into attack mode again. It's called Spend Tracker. And it allows you to track your income and expenses with categories you can create. This helps me get a visual on a daily basis of where we are spending and what we need to watch.

4. We have sold all that we can think of worth selling to help attack our debt. I have opened an Etsy store, which is giving us a little extra income. And I have been able to pick up more contract work this year. I'm continually asking the Lord to show us what else we can do to increase our income. For the record, I'm wide open to going back to work beyond my contract. Thus far, we've seen his provision show up every time I'm applying for a job. We feel a strong sense that the more valuable place for me at this time is home with the kids in these critical tween and teen years. But we will keep asking the question about what I need to be doing.

5. In the meantime, we are cutting back our spending. Our eating out is nearly nil. We aren't buying anything by way of home decor or spending money on entertainment or other frivolous categories. And I am making a game again of seeing how little I can spend in general while we are back "in the red."

6. Got my ole debt pay-off chart posted. Again. Yep, that hand drawn thermometer chart, which we will keep coloring in as we get things paid off.

7. My husband and I are making more concentrated efforts to discuss our finances and check in on each other with it and game plan together. As well as praying as a couple about all of it.

That's where we currently are. Or really, I should say, this is where I am. Because while my debt status has changed a few times in the last decade, I'm coming to see my heart hasn't.

I've had a very unhealthy relationship with my income, savings, and margins--or lack thereof.

Yes, bloggy friends. I'm a Dave Ramsey flunkie. I did the baby steps, made progress, and then have had to start all over.

I don't think I'm the only one.

But this time, I'm finally seeing that there's way more to life than Dave Ramsey's baby steps. Money will come and go. Duh. That's been made painfully clear.

It's time I deal with the deeper issues at hand. 

And I'm seeing that these lessons learned are worth more than money could ever buy.

So this is my truest life story and confessions about being a Dave Ramsey flunkie.

If you are in this same journey with me, I'd love to hear any tips or tricks you have implemented financially. But more importantly, I want you to know that you aren't the only one.

You better watch out, Dave Ramsey. We're coming for your baby steps. And we shall fight on to conquer them again!

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