You can read part 1 from last week here!
My husband and I have always been in a good solid church since we were married. In June of 2004, we moved from a large church to one close to the size of our current Sunday school class. We felt God calling us to a smaller, simpler fellowship. Two men from our new church, Paul and Brandon, knew we were struggling just to put food on the table and gas in the car and they invited us to a meeting after church one Sunday. From that very first meeting, we were surrounded by God’s love. There was no judgment, no finger pointing, no condemnation – just love and a genuine desire to see us FREE.
They told us that they wanted to help us, give us wise council, if we were open to receive it. We recognized immediately that this was a lifeline God was providing for us. We were in the weeds financially and it was extremely difficult to see anything at all, let alone a way out.
When we began the slow and painful process of digging our growing family out of debt, I felt a strong sense of relief coupled with fear. I was relieved for the help we would get, but fearful knowing that I was the one who did most of the family spending.
Familiar already with Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, we had already taken several recommended steps, like cutting up credit cards. Our debt collectors were calling us, not because we were still charging things, but because we had nothing to pay them.
And so the real work began.
I learned SEVEN LESSONS that pointed us to FREEDOM
Reality – When you and your spouse decide that enough is enough, and you are READY to tackle the DEBT monster, it is imperative that you face REALITY. What is REALLY owed? Write is ALL down. List everything. Even the debts you think may have expired years ago, the uncle you think has forgotten a loan he gave you, the small business who quit sending you an invoice…everything. God sees it all, and He wants to show HIMSELF mighty through this process. Bring it to the light, ALL of it.
Accountability – Nothing will help you more than to have someone walk alongside you. Paul and Brandon did just that for us. Every Thursday night, for 18 months, they came to our home. YES, they drove to US. We knew they would be there, so we were forced to be accountable. They created a spreadsheet for us and we were told to put all of our forecasted income PER WEEK on the form. We had several different streams of income coming in, $50 here, $100 there, they wanted us to put on paper every Saturday what we thought the next 7 days would look like. Then they had us spend every penny on paper. They told us to be realistic on what we needed, to always pay the FOUR WALLS first: FOOD, MORTGAGE, ELECTRICITY, and GAS in our cars. Every other expense we were instructed to number in order of importance on our spreadsheet.
Transparency – This is where the honesty and our character were really tested. Each Thursday, we would open up our online bank balance and record every expense from the previous week. Many may say this is TOO extreme, that it was TOO much transparency. We were desperate, and they were willing to invest in us and work to re-train our bad habits. We were in the HABIT of spending money as an emotional response, or even out of fear of the unknown. Giving gifts we really could not afford at the holidays, eating out when a sandwich at home would suffice. They were getting us to look at our behavior and to make a conscience change in our habits. For example, my daughter accidentally broke her eye glasses one week. In a panic, I veered from “the chart” and spent money from the grocery envelope to have them repaired. I thought that she would not be able to see anything, and could not complete her school work without her glasses, so I spent $30 repairing them. Money not allocated that week. When our counselors came over, my hand was slapped. It stung. I cried. What was I supposed to do? It was not a sin that I took money from one category to cover another ‘mini-emergency’, but it was the behavior I needed to identify. They taught me that it is ok to have your kids tape up their glasses and earn the money themselves to fix something they broke. They taught me that waiting, and even praying, opens the door for God to bless another way. Transparency is hard, but when you breaking bad habits, it is imperative.
Humility – It takes humility to be transparent. It takes humility to be accountable. Humility is not a sign of weakness, but it is a double strength. Knowing that we were being prayed for weekly, and held accountable, and loved unconditionally…humbled us in a powerful / life changing way.
Creativity – After we made it through the first three months of excruciating financial surgery sans anesthesia, God began to show me more and more ways to be creative and find alternative ways to purchase things for the family. I started a Home Blessing group where I would get together with other moms and help each other out with cooking or cleaning projects. I began couponing and involved my kids in the entire process. We shopped at five different stores and saved thousands on our grocery bill, which led to my book, The Classical Couponer.
My husband sold items on eBay, taught extra guitar lessons, tutored, played gigs on the side, and continued his full time job. I menu planned, shopped at the farmers market and had every meal planned out per week.
Energy – God gave us a supernatural energy to pay down our debt, and to work hard at multiple jobs, while homeschooling all the kids. Each week we could see baby steps in the process. There were setbacks, and frustrations, but having two solid Christian men walking with us weekly gave us energy and passion to stay the course. We sold a home that we were upside down on, and had to actually PAY money to sell the house – OUCH! But we got that monkey off our back and tackled each and every debt, one at a time, using the debt snowball approach taught by Dave Ramsey.
Expectancy – We worked, prayed, cried, squirmed, and trusted God to bring an increase. When you are on the road to financial freedom, it can seem like you will never get to the end, life seems to move in slow motion when you are only able to make minimum payments on debts. After two and a half years of excruciatingly tight budgeting, God provided us a windfall. We received it the night I was in labor with our 7th child. It was God’s baby gift to me. With this windfall, we were able to call up our three credit card companies and settle with them on the accounts. NO MORE CREDIT CARD Debt!!!
As we continue along this journey of cash-only-living-below-our-means, I am expectant that one day God will allow us to shout FREEDOM and we will be 100% debt free. Until then, I am humbled and forever grateful for the love and leadership we were given. One day, we hope to be able to hold someone else’s hand and walk with them through the same restoration process.
For those moms who are on the path to financial freedom, may God give you courage and hope to Find Freedom in HIM!