WE’RE DEBT FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Except our mortgage…but that’s not until “Baby Step 6″…one step at a time people!!!)
How did we do it, you ask? Well, we took Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” through our church and the Holy Spirit really spoke to our hearts about working as a team and not being in debt (we had been in debt since we got married in 2002). In Proverbs 22:7 it says “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is SLAVE to the lender.” When you couple that verse with the one found in Romans 12:8-10, you can’t help but be convicted about debt and whether or not that inhibits you to honestly love other people without being too busy trying to earn a paycheck or being too strapped for cash to give when someone else needs it more. How freeing would it be if you could give away your time and money to other people in need at that very moment when the Lord was calling you to do something for another person? Could you even imagine what the world would look like if everyone could do that?
Romans 13:8-10 “Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.”
So, “Team Kangas” started a new chapter in our lives when we jointly decided to cut up the credit card…once we finished our 12 week “Financial Peace University” series. We then carefully planned and implement, as the Lord directed, a “blood, sweat and tears” method. We both donated plasma (the “blood” part) for as many months as we could muster up. I ran around the house like a crazy woman and sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (pretty much items we weren’t using anyway). We picked up extra work here and there to bring in more income (hence the “sweat” part). Once we got to the point where we couldn’t bring in any more income into our budget, we started the “tears” part. It took us only a few months to catch on, but we soon discovered that we could squeeeeeeeeeze more money out of our budget if we worked as a team and trimmed unnecessary expenses. We managed to do this without cutting out all the “fun” in our life!!! Most people think of a budget as just paying necessary bills and then sitting at home…staring at a blank wall. Wrong!!! You can work in as much fun a you want, but honestly the joy comes from actually paying off debt and killing that beast once and for all.
I’m not going to lie to you, I heard a quote that struck me to the core and I don’t think I could ever see life any different once I actually let the words sink into my heart. “Children want things now. Adults know how to delay gratification.” I think the biggest step we took, when we actually started this journey a year ago, was that we decided to grow-up and let the Lord show us what it looked like to be an adult. And when you’re an adult, you learn how to delay gratification…while implementing wisdom in your budget for some planned fun now and again!!!
What changes did we make? Well, we paid all our bills through online bill pay and took out cash for all of our other expenses. At the end of every month, Aaron and I would sit down and look over the income, fixed bills that we had to pay each month and then we would figure out what was left for all the other things that needed to be purchased that month. We tried to spend as little as possible so we could dump over $800 a month towards debt (so we could get rid of that bill and start working on our savings account and start building wealth instead)!!!
The first few months were really challenging, but now Aaron and I can sit down and finish our budget in less than 30 minutes. We always leave feeling refreshed, knowing that all our needs are being met, and can look forward to a month of fun activities as well. There is nothing quite like being on a team and having everyone know what’s going to happen in the month to come. (Especially in the event of an emergency when the person that pays all the bills is unable to do so…you don’t have to think about what bill needs to be paid that week…because everything has been discussed and decided and is on paper for everyone to see.)
As far as the specifics of our monthly budget…we tried to get on as many “comfort level billing” cycles as we could each month (check with your electricity/gas company and your water/sewer/garbage company to see if they offer this option…as well as any businesses that send you a monthly bill). I also shopped around for the best insurance rates (car, home, life, health, etc) and dropped a significant portion of our monthly budget just by making a few calls. We opted for the smallest garbage container and got rid of our “green bin” for yard waste. We set very specific dollar amounts for food, restaurants, gas, pets, etc and didn’t spend a dime more than we allocated for each category.
One really challenging thing was our grocery spending. During a given week, we had the freedom to write down what we wanted at the grocery store…I would shop every other week…and if it wasn’t on the list we didn’t buy it. I would often drool at a particular item and try to convince Aaron that I really wanted it and that I had just failed to put it on the list before we left the house. He would encourage me to “delay gratification” and act like an adult…and that I was free to put it on the grocery list when I got home. Most of the time I would forget what item I so desperately wanted by the time I walked through the door.
One thing I want to touch on is the topic of tithing. The Greek and Hebrew words for “tithe” literally mean “tenth” (according to Strong’s Dictionary), so the basic meaning of tithing involves giving 10% of something. I understand this can be a very touchy subject for some people, but let me give you this encouragement. While you won’t lose your salvation if you fail to give part of your income to a particular church or non-profit, you need to know that the idea of “tithing” was created for our benefit by God. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees and employers.
As far as the amount to give, that is between you and the Lord. However, there is a reference in Scripture that is a good guideline to follow…and it is this “10% of our income” that we have aimed for each month. Not once in our efforts to become debt free did we compromise this principle of tithing…and I think the Lord has richly blessed our hearts because we have been obedient to Him (notice how I didn’t say “bless our bank account”?). One concept that solidified it in my heart was the idea that if you cannot live off 90% of your income, then you cannot live off 100%. I am confident that if you sit down and look at your budget, you will see that you can make it while giving at least 10%. Read the Bible and take from it what you will…and if you tithe, do it out of love for God and not out of guilt. I do not beat people up for not tithing (because Jesus certainly did not), but let me encourage you to tithe…especially when financial times are tough.
Anyway…I just wanted to celebrate the fact that we did it!!! Through the encouragement of the Scriptures and other people, we actually paid off our debt…and we will fight to NEVER going down that path again!!! The Lord put these Scripture verses on our heart when we started, and I think they made all the difference when it was very tempting to spend beyond our means and forgo the plan that the Lord set us on.
Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Purchasing)
1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (Living Within Your Means)
Ecclesiastes 5:5 “Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” (Debt)
Proverbs 23:4–5 “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” (Work)
Psalm 62:10 “…if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Money)
Proverbs 13:11 “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” (Savings)
Malachi 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Tithing)
Did I mention that I’m so stinking excited right now…because I am!!! In all honestly, I can’t believe Aaron and I paid off $14,000 in 12 months (mostly student loans). At times is was so discouraging, but looking back it was all worth it. We are really looking forward to “Baby Step 3” starting next month…and hopefully we’ll be done with that step around this time next year!!!