Confessions of a Dave Ramsey Flunkie (Part 1 of 2)

2:46 PMHeather

We tried, Dave Ramsey. Really, we did. We've worked the program. Went to the live event. Did (and still do!) the cash envelope system. Worked the baby steps. Yet, here is our story... the agony of defeats. The thrill of victory. And then, repeat, apparently. One step forward. Two steps back. 

I think someone needs to hear this tale. To know that you aren't the only one. Here within, you shall find the truth of our Dave Ramsey inspired journey to financial freedom. I share it humbly. With great humility, in fact. Because I'd love to be loud and proud of how we worked the program and never went back. How we got gazelle intense and conquered consumerism and paid off debt and lived like no one else now so that we can live like no one else later. 

And we never went back. I wish I could say that we have the experience and testimony to back up our one time stint as Financial Peace University group facilitators. I wish I could say, "do just as we did -- because we came, we saw, we conquered. The end."

Except that's not our story.

We are, truth be told... Dave Ramsey flunkies.

Listen, we are frugal people. We've never been really dumb with our money. That's not the heart of our struggle. The fact is that my husband and I have always worked for non-profits. For over twenty years, throughout our entire careers. I'm a social worker, for pete's sake. And my husband has always worked for a ministry, on the business side of things. Proof that we've never been in it for the money. 

We've worked hard our entire marriage to be wise financially. This was true even prior to our marriage-- during our dating and engagement. We both worked all through college and grad school. I was financially independent at 19, once my dad died. I was on my own completely. That means college, grad school and our wedding. Undergrad at Baylor University. (In other words, not cheap). That's a whole other blog post about how God provided for those years. The gist is that I worked, got scholarships and got an inheritance from a grandfather that allowed me to finish at Baylor. 

Then, Chris and I took out loans for grad school as we began to plan our wedding. We decided that the measley 3 semesters of grad school were worth it in the long run. So we began our long distant relationship as we worked, went to grad school, and planned our big day. We paid for 2/3 of our wedding on our own, with my in-laws graciously stepping in.

And then, as we jumped into wedded bliss, I clipped coupons, we ate in, and we went to dollar movies. We rarely bought clothes, and if we did, it was only on the sales rack. Clearance was the only way something was purchased. So that we could attack our debt head-on. Every extra cent-- Christmas bonuses, birthday money, whatever... it all went to our grad school debt. I made gifts instead of buying them. We completely skipped Christmas gifts for each other. And we memorized the dollar menu for whenever we did eat out. 

All in all--we were working hard to be good stewards of our finances and to honor God with our money. My husband does, after all, have an MBA in finance. God was good and faithful to provide when the unexpected came. Which it always does, by the way.

So we muddled through, on a wing and a prayer, and we were able to do crazy things like buy a house that was a foreclosure and have a couple of babies. I even got to completely stay home after baby #2 for one whole year. That is a testimony to God's provision. Honestly, I look back and think about how we were trucking along, feeling pretty good about our progress.

Then, since we were done with having kids, we dropped maternity coverage on our insurance when it came time to enroll for the next year. Why not? We said. We'll save some money, we said. We, after all, have managed thus far. With our great wisdom and God's grace. So we patted ourselves on the back for this carefully deliberated decision. 

You might guess what happened next.

Three weeks after our insurance enrollment, we found out we were pregnant with our precious bonus child. The one I had dreamed of and then surrendered. Because having two kids felt right to my husband. And so I released the idea of having one more.

And God said-- not so fast. I think he rather enjoys reminding us of his sovereignty and his omniscience. While we say that our baby girl is the missing piece to our family puzzle that we didn't know we were missing... the truth is that it all kicked off a long wrestling match with the Lord when it came to our finances.

Because we thought we had that all figured out, too.

I think for me, I hit rock bottom financially when I began to get threatening phone calls from collectors after my daughter's birth. We had tried to make payment plans and do our best when it came to the bills for delivering her. But, like any house built on straw, the tiniest thing made it come crashing down. For us, that translated to a series of minor but expensive health issues for our girl. Serious jaundice, barely escaping a hospitalization. RSV at seven weeks. Multiple ear infections. A garden variety of minor and routine sicknesses that kids just get. And all of it added up to the tipping point.

So we went, reluctantly, on an unusually snowy and ice day in Dallas during February 2005 to this thing called Dave Ramsey's Live Event. Oh, I was so gearing for a beating of an ALL DAY LONG affair listening to some boring guy tell me how I've messed up when it comes to finances. But, I was desperate. And I loved my friends, who were completely on board and wanted us to jump in with them.

I want you to know something. If you think an all day seminar that costs you money you don't have to teach you about money you wish you had sounds like the last thing you'd want to do, I'd agree. My friend Amy is rather convincing. And those collection agency calls had me in a very dark place. 

Dave Ramsey surprised me. It was worth every last cent we paid to go to that live event. The hours flew by, and I was on the edge of my seat. Yes, in fact. I drank the kool-aid. The Dave Ramsey, total money make-over kool-aid. To the very last drop. I came away gazelle intense and all about those baby steps and ready and believing that we could turn the tide. Or rather, that God could and would turn the tide as we obeyed the very clear steps he'd graciously showed us.

Moving to paying cash instead of debit cards. Brutal. Hard. A steep learning curve with continual tweaks. But, I was the money nerd. Despite not being the spouse with a degree in finance. I crunched the numbers. I kept the budget. I tracked our spending by putting ALL of our receipts into a spreadsheet. I made our debt pay-off goal chart to look like one of those thermometer charts. And we slowly began to color it in, creeping along toward the top.

If you've ever worked the Dave Ramsey baby steps, maybe you experienced what we did. It seems that we loved that first baby step so much that we accrued our $1,000 emergency fund approximately 568 times. Because it kept getting hit. And used up. Every time we tried to move on to tackle baby step #2, which is paying off debt using the debt snowball. 

It went a little something like this. Step one-- $1,000 emergency fund. CHECK. On to debt snowball. Tiny little successes. Then, the minivan broke down. Back to square one. Repeat the cycle, except this time, our dog got very sick ($$$$) and died. Back to square one. Repeat again. Kids growing through upteen shoe sizes in ONE school year. Seriously? Back to square one. Window breaks on the house and other house repairs. Back to square one. 

And so on and so forth.

I thought we'd never make it. I mean, truly. I was worse than an emotional roller coaster. Up one minute with the tiniest win. Then knocked through the mud again as we'd regress with the financial hits in life that come with owning a home, raising three children, and working for non-profits. I cried. A lot. I whined and was all Eeyore with my friend, Amy. Who was totally IN with us throughout the crazy ups and downs. She'd encourage me and I'd gather myself and we'd press on.

Until one day. That one infamous day when I crashed so hard that I can't compare it to any other time in life. Our minivan had been limping along through this whole process. Through the whole two years and nine months that we were working toward being debt free. We all but laid hands on that darn van with fervent prayers to keep it going. But this was it. Our faithful friend and mechanic had been so good to us, but shot straight. It was over. Time for a new vehicle.

And I lost my mess. I literally walked into my master bedroom... with the kids all occupied or gone to school. And I flung myself prostrate on the floor, face in the carpet, wetting it with my tears. And I decided it was time to just be raw and real and bear my soul with the Lord, who knows me better than I know myself anyway.

"God," I said, "I'm done. I'm so out of energy on this. I'm so sick of this manna diet. This 'enough for one day at a time' diet that we've lived on FOREVER. I can't take it. I need you to either give me a renewed appetite for this manna...or I need you to pour out some milk and honey. I don't want to be rich. I don't care for wealth. I just desperately need some margins here financially. Or, I need you to sustain me back to a place of contentment with manna only. I give up. It's all yours."

Then, I gathered myself. I sat on my knees. I thanked him for getting us this far. And asked him to show up and take it all from me.

Within 72 hours, we had a brand new minivan. The debt we accrued in its purchase was less than the average repair bills we'd been paying for previous 18 months on the old minivan. The miracle involved in this van purchase is more than I can explain. It was enough to give us peace that this step backward in debt was going to be okay. We had a game plan. We were completely amazed at how God provided far beyond what we had imagined (Ephesians 3:20) when we drove off the lot in a brand new car with 9 miles on it. Neither of us have ever owned a brand new car before...or since.

And it was the strength we needed to press on. To keep fighting the good fight, with our cash envelopes and our debt pay-off chart. To keep trusting that God heard. And he saw. And he shows up.

This is the first half of my Dave Ramsey story, after all. This is my true confessions as a Dave fan turned into a Dave success story. A true "we paid off all debt but our house" story. 

Listen, we did. We did just that. So much happened in the two months following that van purchase. We set new financial goals and time projections for reaching them. I look back and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had indeed handed this thing over that day that I was so broken and desperate and laid out on the carpet. And within two months, we were, in fact, not only debt free, other than our house. But we had enough in savings to move forward with purchasing a larger home. In about sixty days, God had accomplished for us financially what we thought would take twelve to twenty-four months.

We never screamed how we were debt free on Dave's radio show. But, we certainly screamed it at our house when it happened. We giddily told the cashier at the bank when we ceremoniously went in together to pay off that last payment for our last debt (again--besides the house). 

Then, we told the man at the furniture store why we were paying CASH and rewarding ourselves for the years of our blood, sweat and tears of working through to baby step 4 and beyond of the Dave Ramsey plan. 

It was a sweet time of respite and relief. A time of seeing God's hand so firmly upon us, and feeling his favor that we so did not deserve.  A time of breathing deeply rather than panting hard through the race of debt payments. A time of thanksgiving and margins. A time that included a new home and a new job for Chris. A time to say, "Whew. That was hard. But God saw us through, and may this house and all we have be used for His glory alone."

Oh, yes. We were high-fiving ourselves and telling countless people how God was so faithful to bring our desert wandering through debt to an end. How we went from major debt to being freed from it -- and then, get this -- only mortgaging half the value of our new and larger home in the exact area where we wanted to move. 

We were counting our blessings, and naming them one-by-one. 

And we were telling anyone who would listen about how God had showed up through the wisdom of this radio talk show guy. 

So there we were, shaking off the dust from the journey through the financial desert. Toasting each other with the kool-aid of Dave Ramsey's teaching. With a thinly veiled pride about our accomplishments. 

Arrogantly thinking we were done. Thinking that we had seen the last of baby step #1 and that dreaded debt snow-ball that is baby step #2...

...we had no idea what was coming.

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