Monday, May 21, 2012

on debt + dave ramsey, part i.

{print available from Amy Rice}

We’ve been looking for a new place to live.

Our lease is up in August, and although we have loved our time in our little townhome, we’re ready for a change. There’s something about a house that feels like adulthood to me, and on top of that romantic ideology, there’s also the landlord and the maintenance issues and the lack of space and the lack of yard. It’s time, we think, for an upgrade, even if it’s just a small one.

I don’t talk about finances much on the blog, mostly because I hate talking about finances. I know money is a necessity in this life, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Sure, I like buying things, like giving things away. But money mostly just makes me mad. You might find it ironic, then, that I married someone who happens to be an attorney.

Let me explain something to you, because I think there is a common misconception both inside and outside the legal field: Some attorneys are loaded, and some are not. (Also? Some are arrogant jerks — I actually know a lot — but some are not.)

My husband is not a loaded attorney. He is also not a jerk.

Basically, what I am telling you is this: Yes, my husband is a lawyer. No, we are not rolling in the dough. We are also not living in a box. When you think of me, think middle class thoughts. Financially speaking, that’s probably what we are (in America, anyway). We are average, middle class people, living an average, middle class life (financially-speaking).

We are also trying hard to be wise, to be good stewards of what we’ve been given.

Right before we were married, Jordan’s dad sent us to hear Dave Ramsey at the Birmingham Civic Center. If you haven’t heard of Dave Ramsey, he’s a Southern wealth and finance guru. The irony is he doesn’t actually say anything groundbreaking. Instead, he gets paid a lot of money to give you the advice your grandpa would give you, only he does it with a slight twang and a biting sense of humor. He’s basically become a millionaire for doling out advice to people who are not millionaires at all.

After going to his conference, we took his Financial Peace University at our church. You know what? I thought it was pretty good. I like what Dave has to say about debt and saving. I’m a little more hesitant, I think, on Dave’s ideas about wealth and retirement. (My feelings can be summed up by this not-at-all-brief anecdote: When I was a little girl, my favorite board game was the game of Life. My mom had the older version she grew up with as a kid, and I loved it. I loved putting pegs in the cars and stopping to have all these great achievements. I loved seeing what career I would get and how many children I would have. When the end of the game finally rolled around, “retiring” players had to choose between Countryside Acres and Millionaire Estates. I can’t even really remember the point of that decision; instead, all I remember is that I never, ever chose Millionaire Estates. I hated Millionaire Estates. It sounded boring. In my mind, the people that retired there were probably mean, grouchy, and selfish. So I chose Countryside Acres every single time. I’m pretty sure Dave Ramsey would choose Millionaire Estates without hesitation, and that’s probably the best way to tell you how Dave and I differ. Also? This blog post.)

Jordan and I chose to get married while Jordan was still in law school. Thankfully, I had a full-time job, which meant we didn’t need to live on Jordan’s student loans (we lived very, very frugally). Instead, his loans paid only for school, and as a result, he graduated without nearly as much debt as many of his peers. We are so grateful for that blessing, and because God gave me that very first job, we believe we may have Jordan’s entire student loan paid off by next year.

Of course, life changes. A year is a long way away, and you can never be too sure what might happen between now and then. For now, though, I am grateful that we could potentially be debt-free just three or so years after Jordan’s law school graduation. What a burden lifted that will be!

Imagine, then, my disappointment, when last week while looking for a rental home (we have personally made the decision not to buy until all of our loans are paid in full), a landlord tried to convince me to rent a home far, far out of my price range.


Because a) my husband is an attorney, which means — and I quote — we can “afford anything we want,” and b) what’s a few more thousand in loans?

Finances are a family’s personal business. I’m sure there are many people who wonder why Jordan and I don’t just buy a house already, start building up equity and that kind of thing. That’s fine. There’s a part of me that would like to do that too. But for our little family, renting makes more sense. That’s a personal decision we’ve reached. I do not like when people tell me what to do, and I do not like when a millionaire tells me I should just take out more loans, loans my husband and I have — with the grace of God — worked very hard to pay off.

This landlord told me if there’s one piece of advice he would go back and tell his younger self, it would be to borrow more money. To live a little. To stop eating frozen pizzas and Ramen and to go out to fine restaurants. To live in nice houses.

This landlord is a wealthy doctor, so perhaps, for him, that’s wise advice.

But for me? It’s terrible advice. It’s rude and insensitive, and it made me angry.

I’m not a financial guru. Jordan and I follow Dave Ramey’s principles fairly well, but we’re not really avid followers. We’re just trying to get rid of our debt. Ideally, we’d like to live average financial lives, but give above-averagely. I don’t want Millionaire Estates; I want Countryside Acres, and I want the money we do earn to make a difference.

I won’t tell other people what to do with their money.

But I will tell you that borrowing more money in order to eat at nice restaurants and live in large homes doesn’t make sense to me. I know I’m only 26; I know life has a lot left to teach me.

One day, though, when I’m offering advice to the next generation, I don’t think I’m going to tell them to borrow more money.

Instead, I think I’m going to tell them to be wise, to weigh the pros and cons, to live within their means — however that looks and in whatever ways possible.

Maybe that means you buy more groceries than take-out. (In the first years of our marriage, it meant shopping at Wal-mart instead of at Publix, a decision that nearly was the death of me.) Maybe it means you stop online shopping (or stop shopping altogether). Maybe you visit the library instead of the bookstore.

However it looks, I want you to know you’re not alone. If you’re trying to be wise with your money, my hat’s off to you. It’s not easy, especially when other people tell you what you should do and how you should do it.

Personal finance is just that: personal. I don’t have any advice except this, which I think applies to more than just finances: Don’t listen too much to outside voices. Know whose voice you love and respect, and trust that. Know what’s best for you and your family, and do that.

I know it sounds a bit carefree, but I think it all works out in the end.


Lindsey Marie Greene said...

Hi Annie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on finances even if it was not your favorite thing to do. I took FPU and feel there is a lot of freedom there, but what I have been learning is that surrendering all aspects of my life is what it's about. Not becoming a crazy frugal twenty-something walking around in shoes with holes in them (unless that's my preference). I recently felt God nudge me to go back to school and that means more student loans. This is a Dave NO NO for sure. I can't ignore this nudge. At the same time this doesn't mean I get to be financially irresponsible. Thank you for reminding that "it all works out in the end." I'm listening to God and working on surrendering my financial life more and more. I don't need a mansion. I just want a home that's filled with love and laughter and God.

Sabrina said...

Love your thoughts here Annie. In many ways you are like my mama (unconventional wife of an unconventional lawyer). Growing up, our funds were definitely not children's business, and my mama was very tightlipped about the earnings. It was not always easy as you said with people making ALL types of assumptions about how much money a lawyer makes. Keep on finding what works best for you all. And being thankful to God for Jordan's talents and your own. You are a wise and lovely lady!

Annie said...


As my brother and I grew older and started handling our own money, my parents got more open about their finances - which they certainly didn't have to do - to share with us how they spent their money and saved and so on.

My mother's best advice is to, as she calls it, hide money from herself. She has a sub-account in her savings where she stocks money away and pretends it isn't there. It's come in handy for all sorts of things. I haven't used this much, mostly because I don't have a lot of money to save in the first place. But when I start making more money, I definitely plan to do this.

Right now I don't live on a whole lot, but I don't want Millionaire Estates either. And I believe wholeheartedly, in marked contrast to your landlord, that everyone needs a season where they live on sandwiches and pasta, where buying music off iTunes is a rare but happy event, where you cut cable and Internet because it's more worth it to go places and do other things. That's where I am right now, and there are some times I chafe at it, but mostly, I love it. I have learned so much more about what I really NEED, about God's provision, about living simply.

I apologize for the novel of a comment, especially since it's not the first I've left you. I'm looking forward to more of your thoughts on this.

Shanna | said...

When I originally read this post, I remember thinking I needed to keep thinking about it, and then we went on vacation, and four of us were in the car discussing something about money or success, and this post came up in conversation. I think you're hitting on something really good here that could be so much better clarified in Dave Ramsey-ology (I say clarified because I want to believe DR would agree with this, too, but he hasn't focused on it in his teachings).

Last night we were reading in Luke about the poor widow who gives her last two mites, and I kept thinking, how would this square up with "live like no one else so you can live like no one else"? How do I reconcile the idea of saving saving saving in order to give later (out of abundance!) with this poor widow who gave out of her poverty?

All that to say, you stirred up some good questions in my (and my friends' hearts) with this post, and I'm glad you wrote it.