February 4, 2021
Caleb’s grandfather gave us a piece of advice that we haven’t followed. It wasn’t because we didn’t try. We did! His grandfather gave us excellent advice! But, advice from anyone is difficult to follow when you have no real foundational reason for doing so.
I remember standing in our apartment in St. Paul and looking at our computer. How did we want to spend our paychecks? We had bills to pay but were only concerned about the upcoming bills that were due. There was a pile of student debt we had yet to address. Caleb and I were still in school, so the student loans seemed irrelevant at the time and went ignored. We wanted to have a decent date night every week. We had already prioritized THAT. Well, that and groceries. But, we didn’t have a budget and didn’t know how to properly approach one. Then, Caleb’s grandfather’s advice would come into play, and we’d squirm with conviction.
“Put 10% in savings and give 10% away,” we’d suggest to each other.
Um. Yeah, I guess we should. But, is there anything else we need first?
We had no emotional attachment to his words of advice other than that they were Grandpa’s. We didn’t have a savings goal. Giving to the church happened when we had a few extra bills in the wallet. Wouldn’t you hem and haw over this decision, too?
Maybe you have.
In the end, we’d feet guilty that we WEREN’T following Grandpa’s advice. We KNEW his advice was sound. From his perspective and experience, it worked. We believed him and so we wanted to give and save, too. We knew there was more living our life than just working from paycheck to paycheck. But, that’s all we knew how to do and we believed that we couldn’t afford to make saving and giving a priority. Twenty percent of two small paychecks is a LOT to set aside and give away. We just didn’t always feel comfortable doing that.
Why? Because, we had no invested reason to do so.
A few years later, we were still living paycheck to paycheck. Caleb had just graduated from seminary. That spring, we accepted a church call to Texas. We were SO excited. But, we were SO in debt, too! The giant moving truck full of stuff we didn’t really need headed south with us and a lot of hope and faith (and a whole lot of naïve immaturity). What did we find there?
We found lots of lovely and loving people, and we discovered a whole lot of beautiful weather. We also learned the truth: it doesn’t matter where you live or even what you’re doing. Debt is SUPER hard and ridiculously limiting.
For three years, Caleb had to work a second job while I stayed home with the kids. We had new expenses. I had just given birth to our second child. We had medical bills to pay. Thankfully, at just the right time, Caleb found a Godly man (a musician!!) to work with who hired him to repair wheel rims in the city of Austin (something Caleb never saw himself doing). But, he was working with rims more than he was spending time at church. And, just to pay the bills! We tried to buy a house, but thank GOD it fell through. The bank said we couldn’t afford it. The Larsons couldn’t settle down because our debt-to-income-ratio was outrageous, leaving us feeling like nomads and not at all permanent. In limbo.
If you don’t think money has any real effect on your ministry, think again.
Our ministry to others suffered because of it. Caleb and I were tired, lonely, and stressed ALL THE TIME. We were SO in debt that we couldn’t stay focused on what really needed our attention: the church and the people in it. He and I sometimes wonder how this life, the call, the journey to Texas would have looked if we’d been debt-free from the very beginning: if we’d been FREE to serve without the stress and fear of money.
Friends, debt truly IS the thief of joy, the robber of peace, and the chains that keep us from doing SO much with our lives. Yes, Caleb and I both know that we still brought value to our church and to the lives of the people living there. My goodness, they brought TREMENDOUS value to us! And we don’t regret for a minute our time in Texas. We know that God blesses us and works through and in us wherever we are, despite our mistakes. BUT, we also know that our time in that beautiful city might have been different if we hadn’t had such a huge responsibility to all of that student loan debt.
Try living your life or doing ANY job or filling ANY role chained to a chair of monetary obligation, to OWING somebody else. You can probably work a little. Maybe even “well” to a certain degree, but dear Lord…it’s hard in every imaginable way.
In our last year of Texas, Caleb hosted Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey at our church. I remember sitting in a chair at the table with our workbook, tears in my eyes. For the first time IN MY LIFE I felt like someone was giving me real, true, honest direction with our money. And, it hit hard for both of us: we’d been managing our money the wrong way our entire married life.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like our parents didn’t try. They worked so hard and provided so much for us. They encouraged us to learn the value of working, to get a job, and to save. But, I know that my own mom and dad had so many of their own financial issues to deal with that they couldn’t fully give what they didn’t have: financial peace.
And they would even tell you that themselves.
What I was missing the most was a REASON to stay out of debt and a REASON to save. “Someday you might need the money” or “someday you might want to buy something big” didn’t help me. My brain doesn’t works that way. “Sometime” or “something” didn’t make sense to me. I needed (and still need) attainable goals written down that excite me. I want a specific place to go, a purposeful road to travel, and a destination to get to. I’m wired this way. My parents probably attempted to teach me some of this. Listening isn’t always a priority when you’re young, living on allowance. And, I had no visual motivation to keep me going.
(Consider this, parents, when teaching your kids about money: visuals are so important. For parenting help with money, see this amazing information here!)
Caleb and I never really dreamed about our future. I’m not certain we ever discussed “attainable dreams” nor what that meant. Wishes, yes, but not realistic dreams. We didn’t talk about plausible circumstances that could “someday be.” Caleb and I achieved our dream of getting married to someone who loved Jesus. We also wanted to have children (THAT is a story for another day). But, we hadn’t thought beyond just that, aside from the dream of wanting to go back to our honeymoon location again with a pile of cash to pretend we didn’t need to be adults for awhile. Believe it or not, our inability to dream together showed up in our marriage. Our laziness at planning and communicating about money came into play REALLY quick! Trust me: dreaming* is vital.
*Not to be done alone.
OUCH, that thing called communication. We learned fast that we should never leave money out of the equation when it comes to practicing healthy communication. We still fail at this, and we always remember fast why it should be a top priority in our every day life.
In our weak attempt to communicate well, I think sometimes Caleb and I still don’t fully know what we want our lives to look like. BUT, Financial Peace University gave us some serious direction. Dave simply told us this: “If you live like no one else, later you can live and GIVE like no one else.”
Caleb and I weren’t living. Not really. We pretended to. Often. We’d sometimes spend more than we made. We’d buy certain brands or do certain things because it’s what we wanted, not because it’s what we could afford. And, it was HARD. We weren’t big credit card users, but the mentality was still there: do whatever you can to get what you want and rely on the plastic for emergencies.
And make sure you check and re-check your bank account before you buy something, only to make certain that nothing bounces.
Yikes. How miserable. And stressful.
After the FPU class with our church, we finally had a game plan. Dave was our instructor who had a HUGE amount of painful experience (anybody who thinks he’s just a rich man out to get richer from people like us have never taken the class and SHOULD hear his Christ-like heart for his family and our country). We had friends in our class who wanted the same thing we did. Oh, I STILL miss Eddie and Wendy! We also learned how to talk about money! We now know the difference between a free-spirit and a nerd! It was so invigorating, inspiring and down-right empowering to be told that WE GOT THIS!
It makes me want to take the class all over again.
Tell yourself this again (hear me, please!):
“If you live like no one else, later you can live and GIVE like no one else.”
First and foremost, Caleb and I knew we wanted freedom from our debt. We could see the repercussions of OWING playing out in our every day lives. We didn’t like it. Second, we wanted to be able to live the way WE chose to, not in the way a bank told us we could or could not live. Last, and most importantly, we want to be able to GIVE so generously that people and non-profits would thrive in a way that would make someone say, “Wow! Look at what God is doing!”
See? THAT’S the kicker. GOD is doing and will continue to do the work, whether we can afford to be a part of it or not. But, I WANT to be a part of it!! Why? Because, all we have is His! Nothing we have belongs to us. Our possessions, our livelihood, our children, not even our spouse.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26)
Managing our money well is not ultimately about you and me. We are stewards. Remember? Remember the Steward of Gondor in “The Return of the King” by J. R. R. Tolkien? Nothing in that beautiful, creative kingdom belonged to the steward. And the return of the king was inevitable. The steward was only managing what wasn’t his. Everything belonged to the One King who not only deserved it but was coming back for it. Soon.
We TOO are managers! And this is how Caleb and I want to view everything we have from now on.
Sure, we’d love to be debt free so we can upgrade our home and move on. Absolutely, we’d love to be able to pay for all of our kids’ activity fees without a second glance at the price. I know, I’d love to be able to walk into Target and buy ALL of the Magnolia Jo-Jo Gaines candles because they smell SO GOOD. Who doesn’t want to be able to shop, invest, and give without a second thought?
But, here’s the thing. Living well and managing money responsibly DOES take a lot of thought and consideration. The more you have the more important it is to be diligent about working within a budget, planning for the future, and investing in your financial legacy. NONE of this, I repeat NONE of this, happens by accident. Just because you have more doesn’t mean that you nor I get to quit the smart stuff.
What is all of this really about? Caleb and I want to pay off our debt so we have the freedom to give freely to the charities and churches of our choice, without hesitation. We’d love to be able to buy someone a car when they really need one. Wouldn’t you love to be able to bless your family members? Would you like to provide and support ministry opportunities your children feel called to be a part of or support ALL of your alma maters?
Caleb and I both love our children very much. THEY are currently debt free. It isn’t because WE are (we have a LONG way to go). It’s because they are being equipped with the knowledge WE wish we’d had from the very beginning. And, we will do everything in our power to teach them why this is such a cherished and empowering gift.
Yes, our journey is bumpy. We’ve failed, kicked ourselves over silly things, cried many tears of disappointment and sat in subdued silence at the taxes we owe. We’ve made stupid choices. And, we just bought a house (ouch). But, we’ve made some good decisions, too! We are FAR from living in that apartment long ago. We are different people now. Together, we save consistently because now we know why and what it’s for. Caleb and I TOGETHER are able to give more than we ever have. And always, together, he and I will pursue what is good and right.
We want to be free from this burden of debt in order to do just that.
Come with us.
I want to welcome you into this journey, into all of our messy attempt at it, so you can learn why and how to do this too! As a photographer, my mission is to serve and love my clients and be an example to them! I want young, newly married couples to see how this works. Maybe they can feel how this feels. I want them to be free!
Come with me! And I will share with you why this matters so much, and why the journey is TOTALLY worth it.
OH, LOOK AT THIS!
Brides, want to plan a debt-free wedding? Check this out!
Photographers, check out Amy and Jordan! They have such a heart for the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace journey! And they’re KILLING it in the industry!
May Jesus bless you with an abundance of real JOY!