I began my journey in personal finance in early 2013. My girlfriend Anne (now wife) and I moved in together but ignored an important fact that everyone should know about their partner: their relationship with money. We came together with very different views on money, and frankly, we were both wrong. I had a loose “idea” of how much I’d have to float in and out of my account by checking my online balance and Anne had recently come out of a lousy relationship leaving her finances in shambles.
“We rolled quarters to put gas in our cars…”
At first, we thought, “we’re fine,” but then creditors began calling her incessantly and all times of the day harassing her to pay past due bills and other debts. We did our best to appease them with whatever random amounts we could spare every week, but the pressure was debilitating. Many people would disapprove but Anne ended up claiming bankruptcy because we had a child to care for (her son, then four years old), and we could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The bankruptcy stopped the calls, but we were still VERY strapped for cash; we even rolled quarters on one occasion just to put gas in our cars.
I felt stressed all the time and often cried at night before bed, wondering when the torture would end. We could not afford to do anything, but I took comfort in one small pleasure: the internet. I aimlessly would daydream through the use of the free app Pinterest and pin things for my fantasy life onto “boards.” Then, as luck would have it, I stumbled into some blogs about budgeting while looking at recipes. I was amazed at the wealth of information people offered up for free and began eagerly reading along and agreeing, “yes, that’s us!” as I read various posts. The next day I counted the minutes until the library opened to see what else I could find. The personal finance section was relatively small, but each book represented a similar view. I read endlessly and then finally began working on our very first budget on a piece of paper.
When you’re new to budgeting, it sounds like something that is no fun and will further suck any joy out of life. I will admit that at first, our budget was a total fun sucker. Fancy cable tv? GONE! Random stops for snacks and drinks at the gas station? NOT US! Shopping trips for new clothes when we’re sad? NOPE! The budget was revealing and borderline revolting when we realized just how much money we were WASTING in an attempt to feel like “everyone else.” Our initial spending for groceries was around $600 per month. SIX. HUNDRED. DOLLARS! That’s for two adult women and a small boy! Wow, we must eat like royalty! Nope! We just did whatever, and oh, that $600 didn’t include our other favorite: fast food! This budget stuff was like exercise after sitting on your ass for ten years doing nothing, it was painful, and we hated it. We agonized over every cent spent and eliminated all of the waste we could. Any unexpected expenses would throw the whole budget off because we rode the line so closely each month. At one point, the monthly budget was so close we had only a few dollars to spare after paying all of our bills.
Pushing the Snowball Uphill
Fast forward about 3-4 years, and we had worked our way out of our slum-like shitty apartment and found ourselves in another town and with a house. We were adjusted to the budget lifestyle by then but not entirely happy. Then a co-worker introduced us to Dave Ramsey and his “Financial Peace” program. For those not familiar, the class is geared towards couples and meets once a week for several weeks to watch Dave Ramsey DVDs, discuss them, and complete mini assignments to help build basic personal finance literacy. I will say that even though I don’t follow the program as much anymore, Dave saved my marriage. Anne and I were never on the same page about money, and even though she had told me to take control, I felt like a total tyrant.
The saving grace for us lay in the use of “blow money” for each of us. The concept is simple: each person gets a small allowance of sorts at whatever frequency you choose, and they can do WHATEVER they want with THEIR blow money with no questions asked. We also made great strides with his concepts of having an emergency fund of $1,000 and using the debt snowball. The debt snowball sounds like a load of crap, but as we made progress and debts disintegrated, we began to feel lighter and lighter, so this is what “financial peace” is? We crushed about $20,000 in debt the first year of the snowball and killed 100s of dollars worth of monthly payments. What a relief!
We slowly grew away from the Ramsey fans even though the program helped so much because we didn’t feel like much fit us beyond the debt snowball portion of his plan, but we kept on our budget and continued paying down debt as prescribed. I began to loosen my grip on the budget a little, and lifestyle creep reared its ugly head. As I continue this journey, I’ve found that I need to keep myself involved in the personal finance world or begin to rationalize things like gym memberships I never use. It’s a bit like going to an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting for me. I need regular reminders to help me stay on track.
The Path to FIRE
In early 2019 I stumbled upon a new community of savvy personal finance folks linked by a common goal called FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). I hungrily devoured blogs, podcasts, and Facebook posts, intrigued by the idea that my partner and I could retire in a short 15 years instead of about 25-30 years. Financial independence is what I had been looking for, and I don’t want to wait until I’m 65-70 to retire! I’ve always been a somewhat careful spender and a saver, but this concept was just mind-blowing to me. I quickly discovered many new ideas.
Achieving financial independence is the next part of our journey, and we hope you’ll stick around for the ride.