Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Real Life Alert: No Mo' Owe

The five or six people who actually bother to read what I put down here know this as a sports blog, and little more. Today, however, real life has to intrude. So, whenever you see a post with "Real Life Alert" as part of the title, you can be assured that that post is primarily not about sports.

A lot of times, "real life intruding" takes on a very negative connotation, symbolizing something that takes time away from more important things or impinges on one's freedom to spend their time the way they choose. In this case, however, I allow real life to intrude on my sports banter to share some happy news, the kind that GRANTS freedom, not take it away.

My wife and I have recently become debt-free, paying off every entity that claims we owe them X amount of money. And for the knowledge and motivation to do so, we offer one more debt, that of gratitude, to the slightly crazy-looking fellow above with the frighteningly large pair of scissors.

That's Dave Ramsey. This link goes to his website. If you're puzzled about personal finance, go there. I would say, "I'll wait," but you could be there a while, so wait until I'm done.

There's no get-rich-quick BS there, so if you think getting out from under American Distress and Your-Owner-and-MasterCard is something you can do in a week, you'll be disappointed. Basically, you need a LARGE dose of self-discipline to be able to handle your budget. Self-discipline to immediately stop using the credit cards and live on real money. Self-discipline to understand that food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and utilities are the only real NEEDS in life, and that a new video game or DVD doesn't fall into any of those categories. Self-discipline to be able to tell yourself, "No, that's not in the budget."

And that's the lion's share of what getting debt-free is about. Budgeting. It can be a long, slow process under the best of circumstances, especially if your income doesn't seem to be up to par. We're talking years here, kids, not weeks. The payoff, however, is immense, both financially and emotionally.

If you're married, the entire budgeting and bill-paying process can bring you closer together if it's done right. So, what's doing it right, you ask? There are a lot of ways to do it, but doing it as a team is absolutely essential. If you're the spouse who says, "I dunno how to balance a checkbook, so my husband/wife does it all," you're best off sitting down and learning. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the family budget.

Think of it this way. Which is easier, having one person drag a couch through the house while the other sits ON the couch, just going along for the ride; or each getting at one end and carrying the weight equally? Well, okay, that's an easy ride for one of you, but it's hardly fair, is it? Handling your money is similar. One person being in charge of every financial decision can end in a lot of unnecessary distress.

If you don't know how much is in the bank and you go out to buy something fun, like that new high-def TV you've been eyeing, what happens when your eyes get bigger than the wallet? A fight, that's what.

If you don't know how much is in the bank, but you try to be good just to be safe, while your spouse is treating him/herself to whatever they want, what's likely to happen? Simmering resentment at best, and at worst...yeah, you guessed it, another fight.

Money fights are the number-one cause of divorces in America. Just saying.

Many couples are comprised of opposite financial personalities, according to Dave. There will often be a "free spirit," or a spender. Opposite them will often be a "nerd," or saver. Which one are you? Over the course of my marriage, I've evolved into much more of the "nerd" than I was when I was single. It happens. Neither side of the coin is a bad place to be, but a little bit of both is needed to keep each other in check.

No matter your personality, it's essential to get on the same page with the spouse and agree on how to manage the budget. Right after we got home from our honeymoon, my wife sat down at the computer and slapped together an Excel spreadsheet that we still use to this day. Every week, she makes the checkbook entries and calls them out for me to verify that they've cleared the bank. Then, I enter our incomes and expenditures into said spreadsheet, which we usually extend through the rest of the year. It gives us a long-term forecast that can tell us when we risk running short, even weeks or months in the future. We like that kind of foresight, others might not. So it goes.

See, it's called "personal finance" for a reason. What worked for us might not exactly work for others. But all I can say is this: while working on our "debt snowball," as Dave calls it, we could see the balances drop...and paying bills became FUN. Seriously. It's among the highlights of my week.

Sick, isn't it?

But doesn't finding something like that fun sound much more pleasant than building it up to be worse than the dentist's chair? Seeing those balances drop is a thrill we have to say goodbye to now, but we're replacing it with the even greater thrill of seeing various savings balances grow.

This is what budgeting does. It gives you a goal to watch for. Just "paying bills" is equivalent to "treading water." Working a budget and using it to make real dents in one's debts is like swimming. It's more strenuous work, but at the end of the day, you've actually gotten somewhere.

Getting debt-free isn't THE goal, but it is A goal. Once you're done forking it out, what happens? You've got a pile of coin that no longer has someone else's name on it, which means it now has YOUR name on it. And as we all know, there's no shortage of things that we can save for...a general emergency fund, in case the economy takes a bite out of someone's employer...the kids' future education...the 401(k) or whatever retirement accounts you may have...that new HDTV...whatever. As long as you're paying your own cold cash and not letting BastardCard sink its claws back into you, you can have a much greater measure of freedom.

And yeah, the snippet of Mel Gibson as William Wallace screaming "FREEDOM!" gets played every time one of Dave's callers yells out, "WE'RE DEBT FREE!" True story, and it's awesome.

I've given a copy of Dave's book "The Total Money Makeover" to both of my parents and my recently married friends Adam and Amanda, of 3FL fame. As far as I know, they're all glorified doorstops right now. But, that and this are all I can do. I can't force anyone to make themselves happy. As Dave has said, "We only make changes when the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the pain of change." If you'd like to make some changes, talk to Dave.

If not, try not to complain, because you're being offered the tools.

Find Dave on the radio in your area: http://www.daveramsey.com/radio/home/?fuseAction=dspFindStation

Dave on Fox Business Network: http://www.foxbusiness.com/our-team/on-air/dave-ramsey/index.html


  1. What an inspirational article! You have glorified sitting down each Sunday doing "the money", and you make it sound like so much fun.

    I am so glad that I am the best...ummmm I mean other...half in this debt-free relationship. Now, let's bank some dough!!! Bring on the cha-ching!

  2. Oh yeah....and one more thing....

    WE'RE DEBT FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Hello Scott and Rachel, glad you are debt free. Scott nice article. My wife and I woke-up about 4 years after we were married and realized we must have had a heck of a good time. We were making the most money we ever had and did not have enough to pay everyone we owed. We sat down after a good fight and cut every credit card in half and made a budget. We been somewhat debt free (except house payments) until my kids turned teenagers. We then accumalated debt again but in a more managable state. I hope adam and amanda use your wedding gift (the Book) and enjoys life without the being owned by chase.