Thursday, May 30, 2013

On why Dave Ramsey is ruining my life

Not familiar with Dave Ramsey?  He has a three-hour radio show about personal finance, urging listeners to follow his baby steps to financial freedom1, most notably by getting—and staying—out of debt.

I got hooked on his show while I worked long library shifts in college with nothing else to do, and I was itching to throw everything I had at my student loans so that the Professor and I could move onward and upward.

And then the Professor decided to go to graduate school.

In a different state.

Where we’d live on his livable-but-not-roomy stipend2.

And then we made tiny people who like to eat and wear clothes and expensive things like that.

And all of my debt-reduction schemes were reduced to so many abandoned Excel spreadsheets.

We’ve been faithful to pay on my student loans and are determined to avoid going into further debt during grad school, but my debt-reduction fervor faded and with it my penchant for listening to Uncle Dave on the radio…until recently.

For the past month, I’ve spent all of naptime listening to Dave give out advice and rail against credit cards.  I’ve made new charts.  I’ve made new goals and promises to myself.  Professor even agreed to a budget meeting before the end of the month.

A budget meeting!  With spreadsheets!   And pie charts!

But then things sort of soured:

  •  Because it seemed all too easy for people making $100K to wipe up $25K of mess.
  • Or it would be so nice to climb out of a million dollar hole…by selling a McMansion.
  • Or who wouldn’t be debt-free if they were left a six-figure inheritance from a long-lost relative?

I became bitter.  And bitter is ugly.  I coveted what others have and that’s not only sinful…it’s petty.  And small.

So, I write all of this to say…we’re nowhere near debt-free, and I’m nowhere near perfect—our life is nowhere near perfect3, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful.  And now, more for my benefit than yours, are a few things I know we’ve done right in this still-weighed-down-by-student-loans-and-academic-poverty life we lead…

{1} Even if progress is slow, we’re winning.  We’re making good choices: we don’t do credit cards and we do pay above and beyond our student loan payment every month.  I wish I could move the needle on our debt-o-meter a lot faster, but it’s moving in the right direction, and it’s never going the other way again4.

{2} Not having money means lots of time for reading.  I had so much time on my hands when Professor was working and I wasn’t (first before I had a job, then after I came home).  I spent hours reading online about frugality, the drug store game, how to save on everything.  The library has been my second home and led me to subjects beyond just straight up frugality, which leads me to…

{3} Living frugally has given me lifelong, life-changing habits and outlooks.  I started out doing crunchy-granola, hippie things—like cloth diapering and line-drying clothes—to save money.  But a lot of reading (see #2 above) has really changed my thinking on a lot of things in this world and the impact little changes can make.  I don’t think we’ll stop being “crunchy” even when if the money starts rolling in.

{4} The want machine has slowed waaaaaaaaay down.  We don’t have the money to buy everything we want on a whim, so you can bet we think long and hard about things before we plunk down cash for them.  And you know what?  Other than a bike for me5 and a backpack for Professor, this year our “fun” money has gone almost entirely to clothes and beyond-the-basics, just-for-fun food.  “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content”—so saith the King James and we’re finding it to be so very true.

And so very good.

So, yes, we don’t have a lot, and my student loan debt bothers me like an itchy sweater I can’t take off, but I wouldn’t trade the lessons we’ve learned about money, stuff, and values for anything.

P.S.  I still love Dave Ramsey to pieces…I just might need to take a break from his show again until I can get my heart in line.

1 When I read that, it sounds super cultish, but I promise it’s not.  Dave Ramsey has never hawked any Kool-Aid and there are so many ways to glean his advice without spending a dime.  Still, people love or hate the guy, so feel free to find out where you fall by visiting to see what he’s all about.
2 So technically, we didn’t always live on just that, but since we got married in 2009 when you were more likely to get bitten by a shark (in Minnesota) than get a job, we budgeted as if his stipend was our only income.
3 If I say that I used #iliveintheghetto the other day, does that explain it well enough?
A house being the only exception, and even then, we’re super picky: 15-year fixed rate, more than 20% down, no more than $100K worth of loan, and we need to be able to pay it off in ten years or less.  But we’d love to see if we could save up and pay cash…it will all depend on the feels-forever-away future.
5 I lurve that hubby of mine. :D

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Twitterature May 2013

Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy hosts a link-up each month called Twitterature: a "place to share short, casual reviews of books you’ve been reading." For your reading pleasure, here's what's been on my nightstand recently....

The Hungry Years by William Leith
Body image, binge eating, and food (and other things) addiction from the rare male perspective.  Informative, sometimes bleakly dark, with a surprisingly light ending.

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale
A look inside the changing landscape of Victorian England as divorce laws changed and dirty laundry started airing on every front.  Mrs. Robinson is an interesting character, but the book drags on a bit once you get past the diary end of her story and into the courtroom.  Still, a pretty good read.

24/6 by Matthew Sleeth
A gentle call to Sabbath with personal anecdotes of life as an ER doc and the author's own downshift in life.  Light on the practical aspects (ie, Sabbath "rest" with tiny children?!), it's still a good, quick read to get you thinking about and planning for a weekly respite.

Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth
A Christian call to environmentalism, or "creation care," which I love as a term.  I'm back to recycling with a vengeance and have new perspective...although, again, the author writes from the perspective of someone with privilege, lots of options and flexibility, and life without littles: it was hard to read some parts of this book without saying, "Easy for you to say."  Still, I will be rereading this one for sure.

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth
(notice a pattern in author names here?)
Comparing good environmental practice to the ways of the Amish and how we can mimic those wise choices without bonnets or buggies.  I was glad to find I'm actually doing most of the things she recommends to live lightly on the earth, but it was still inspiration to go go "more Amish," if you will?

What have you been reading?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

For my mother

In this season of Hallmark cards, flowers, and hint-hint jewelry commercials,

5 things I loved about growing up with my mom:

Reading My mom always had a book--beside her chair in the living room, in her work bag, just beyond her nose.  She read to us, of course, but I think it was seeing her (and my dad) read that really cemented in my young, impressionable mind that reading is a worthwhile venture.  Oh, and today?  I have books in a bin in the living room, on my Nook, on my bedside table...

Birthdays Mom always made my birthday parties special: whether it was Dairy Queen cakes or water fights or a sleepover for a dozen friends (literally), Mom made it happen.  Sure there was that year all my friends were glued to one of our cows giving birth rather than partaking in actual party activities, but even Mom can't compete with real-live Discovery Channel (but boy was I frustrated that my friends were so interested in something I had seen a hundred times).

Open-door hospitality Like I said, she let me have a dozen friends stay over at a time.  Friends came and went, stayed over for days.  Cousins practically lived with us for whole summers.  Men who came to the farm to trim hooves, clip cows, or just about anything else always had a seat at the table--and there was always plenty to eat.  My mom can make any meal stretch to accommodate extra guests and can even get picky teenage boys to eat vegetables (and no, ketchup doesn't count).

TGIF and pizza This one's kind of silly, but I always looked forward to ordering pizza and watching sitcoms with my mom and brother (poor Dad was stuck milking cows...or maybe he didn't hold the same affinity for Boy Meets World?).  For whatever reason, I absolutely loved that my mom sat and watched those shows with me, laughing at the jokes and antics of Corey Matthews when I'm sure she would have rather had her nose in a book (see above) after a long week. {Additionally, I love that this has morphed into watching way too much HGTV when I come visit now.  It feels more grown up that way.}

Car talks These were occasionally awkward and there was the time we hit a deer and Mom left me alone in the car in the middle of nowhere at night while she went to search for it, but still, we talked through all kinds of things in the car and I definitely felt cared for and listened to as we drove.

These are just five things; there are so many other wonderful things about my mother--and as a parent myself, I have far more respect and admiration for her than I did when I was growing up.  And I hope I can do as good a job as she did.

Mom, I hope you clicked on the link and read this even though you're at work.  I love you.
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