Now that I’ve been on the blogosphere for a year, I thought that it was about time to open up about my financial journey. It is fairly new and I have a long way to go, but the last few years have been absolutely amazing and I feel compelled to start sharing in this capacity. So on Fridays, I’ve decided that the theme will be “financial.” (Yes of course I had to use alliteration, one of my favorite authorish things!)
One could say that my financial journey began almost eight years ago, when I took out loans for my college education. Needless to say, I did not understand what “one hundred thousand dollars” meant at 18 years old – all I wanted was to pursue my dream of attending a prestigious music conservatory! Each year I added to my debt, getting a fabulous education yet digging myself into a bigger and bigger financial hole. (The one smart thing I did was finish college studies a semester early and took a paid internship for my last senior semester.) I graduated in May 2009 (my diploma is still rolled up and tied with its original silk ribbons), and in a few months, my loans’ grace periods would end. Thankfully, I had secured a full-time, paid job near my hometown, starting in August. I sat down with my dad and figured out what I could pay each month on my two private loans, two federal loans….oh yes, and of course I had to take out a loan for a brand new car!
My job began and so did the monthly loan payments, and I paid the minimum like any good working graduate would do. I made sure I didn’t overdraft my checking account and only used my credit card when I had money in my checking….because you know, those Power Rewards were pretty powerful! (Read my sarcasm here.) Life was fine! I had a job, I was living at home so I could have bigger minimum debt payments, and I even had some spending money leftover.
March 2010 is when I met The Warrior, and we began talking about financial matters fairly early in our relationship, and I was glad to be transparent. However, we were not quite on the same page yet. I distinctly remember this part of a financial conversation, which occurred sometime in the summer of that year:
The Warrior: “You know, you could pay off all your loans in five or six years.”
Me: “Yeah? Hm, that would be cool.” Thinking, Uuuuhhhh, I like your positive outlook and that would be awesome…but that is just not realistic, dude. I’m on a 20 year payment plan!
The Warrior: “Yeah, I know you could do it.”
He had faith in me before I even realized I had the ability to have that faith. But the trick was that I had to discover this for myself. I had to want it, I had to completely own it….and sometimes, in order for this to happen, one has to endure hard knocks. In October 2010, I was forced to resign from my job due to an unjust situation, and it was a very tough, emotional time for me. One of the worst things about it, of course, was that I lost most of my income. At the time, I was also teaching about 20 violin students, and that kept me afloat during the next four months. I was able to keep paying my debts, but I had to lower some of the minimum payments. I had also accrued almost $2,000 of credit card debt. Recently, I figured out that with all the interest, my total debt load at the beginning of my working career was about $140,000.
Losing one’s job is a pretty terrible, traumatic thing, but it wasn’t for naught. I was hired for a more desirable position at a great organization, and I learned true gratitude for having a job. This was now February 2011 and I was back on my feet….but I still wasn’t fighting for a better financial position in my life.
In May 2011, I decided to check out the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, kind of on a whim. I had heard friends in college talk about him, but never gave him much thought. However, I read his book in about three days. I completely devoured it and wanted more! So this is what being financially free was all about! This was what The Warrior was talking about when he said “you could pay off all your loans in five or six years.” What he said really WAS realistic….other people in America were accomplishing amazing feats with their money, so why couldn’t I be one of them?
I resolved to do a financial examination of conscience right away, and I determined that I could finish paying my credit card off within the next couple weeks. On May 25, 2011 I completely paid it off and canceled it, and a couple weeks later when I received my official letter from the bank, I triumphantly cut up my card into tiny pieces! Never again! It was an awesome feeling and I wanted to feel that again with another victory! I made my first budget in June, and merely by making a budget and tracking every single dollar, I felt like I gave myself a raise. I was also determined to find other avenues of income. Selling stuff I didn’t need was a good first step!
On June 10, I paid off my federal Perkins loan, which was another victorious boost! I could do this, I really could! My next goal was to pay off my car by the end of the year….and on December 3, I did just that! This past September 10, 2012 I paid off my federal Direct loan. Now I have the two private loans to kill, and one of them should be paid off by October of this year.
That is, in a nutshell, how I got to where I am now. But it WAS NOT EASY. I had to examine myself and objectively judge where I was financially….and the truth was that I was TERRIBLY mediocre. Sure, I wasn’t delinquent on my payments….but where was I going, really? I was merely plodding along. I had no momentum. I had no motivation to improve. I had no financial aspirations except to keep paying the minimum required.
But eventually, I got knocked in the head by the Total Money Makeover concept and knew that being mediocre was NOT an option, if I wanted to be successful and debt-free. I had been engaged, by that time, for six months, and The Warrior and I had already talked about where finances needed to be by the time we got married. I also knew we would be paying for most of the wedding. So there was my motivation – I wanted to marry my hero, my true love! How could I get to that goal faster?
The Warrior has also been my inspiration throughout this entire process. He has completely supported me in my efforts, even when my extra work keeps me super-busy and I’m not on Skype very often. When he deployed to Afghanistan, my goal was to make as much extra money possible while he was away….I achieved that, and even now I have kept that momentum going and am even busier (and making more money!) than I was a year ago. When he tells me that he is proud of me….well, that makes every sacrifice I’ve made SO worth it.
It IS possible to live in financial freedom. Debt is NOT an inevitable part of life. God did not intend for us to be indebted to one another. He wants us to be free! I am tired of being “slave to the lender” and I have my eye on the prize and will not let it out of my sight, ever. I am sure that you, whoever you are reading this, have a totally different situation than me. Maybe you have more debt, maybe you have less. Maybe you haven’t had your financial epiphany yet, or perhaps you’re looking for an extra kick in the pants. It is my goal, in future posts, to begin sharing concrete ways in which to win with money….by sharing what I have done, perhaps others can apply those basic principles to specific circumstances. I have no certification in financial counseling, but I do have real-life experience, and I want to share that with others.
There definitely is a faith part of finances, and I found that was the other, very vital piece of the puzzle, besides my own motivation and work. In closing, and in meditation for next time, I’d like to share these words from the Christian band Kutless, the beginning of their song “What Faith Can Do”:
“Everybody falls sometimes. Gotta find the strength to rise from the ashes, and make a new beginning.
Anyone can feel the ache, you think it’s more than you can take. But you’re stronger, stronger than you know.
Don’t you give up now, the sun will soon be shining. You’ve gotta face the clouds to find the silver lining.”