Six years ago, Jeremy and I signed up for a money class at church mostly because a bunch of our friends were doing it too. We were pretty broke, and had quite a bit of debt, so we figured it didn't hurt to get a few ideas. Well, that particular class -- Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University -- hit us right where we needed it. It was the right information, at the right time, with the right people, and in a way that really connected with us. Taking that class put us on a more firm trajectory toward...well, financial peace. We gained a new vocabulary, new tools, and a fire in our belly to change our lives. We sat in that class living paycheck to paycheck with balances on six credit cards (a few overdue, if we're getting real honest), a vehicle payment, and a chunk of student loan debt. Today, we made the final payment on the final student loan and can greet 2017 debt free.
It's been a long and in some ways a circuitous journey. These six years have contained career changes, two major moves (one halfway across the country), and two kids. We've had our moments of focus and some times where we've chosen to be a bit more lax. We've learned to communicate better over money, and can honestly say that it's gotten to be less and less of a relationship stressor. We're on the same team, have the same goals, and that is such a good thing for us.
Paying our debt off wasn't an easy thing. We had to make sacrifices, cut corners, work long hours, and make tough choices. We've become more aquainted with delayed gratification. I'm not saying that to pat ourselves on the back, just to acknowledge that it wasn't something that just "happened." Sometimes we made choices that looked different than everyone around us. Fortunately, we also had friends walking the same road. Having support in our community was crucial to helping us stay the course and not get discouraged. They understood when we chose not to go out to eat, or go on vacation with them, or hire a babysitter to go out to the movies. They cheered us on, shared their own tips and advice, and gave us hope as we watched them experience their own debt-free journey.
I say all this for a couple of reasons: first, I'm just excited. Being debt free is an amazing feeling. A little surreal still, but amazing. Second, I know that lifestyle changes particularly with money are not as simple as "just". There's rarely an easy fix, no cut and dried solution. If you are struggling, I get it, and I hope 2017 brings a light, some clarity, and a little hope. Third, I know this journey is not over. I'm looking at a lifetime of being intentional with my money. A lifetime of deliberate choices to stay out of debt and to model good financial behavior for my kids. Most importantly, a lifetime of honoring God with the way I handle money. Being generous, ethical, and wise. Of approaching money with an open hand, knowing that what I have could be gone any second, and that when I have a penny to share, I should.
So I end this year grateful, hopeful, and a whole lot lighter.