A single word that used to make me instantly feel stressed and anxious, not to mention annoyed (and sometimes downright angry).
Thankfully, I’m no longer in a place where I feel those emotions when the topic of money arises, and I’m even comfortable talking about it with others. This change didn’t happen overnight or by accident though. This change took us years of education, lifestyle changes, and healthy discipline.
The second year my husband and I were married, we heard about this guy named Dave Ramsey. Upon a friend’s referral, we immediately started reading through his books, listening to his podcast, and following his social media feeds. (Don’t panic here – if you’ve already rolled your eyes at the mention of that name, please know I’m not going to talk about Dave Ramsey for an entire post, even though I really like the guy – stick with me). Over the course of a few months, we learned through varying resources about how to manage money in a way that aligned with our values. We learned that money is not good or evil, and that you don’t actually have to be “rich” to be out of debt <– life-altering mentality for me. It rocked our financial world, and we quickly learned just how much this new way could change the trajectory of our lives.
Like many things, my husband and I will likely be learning and growing in this area for the rest of our lives. We mess up, readjust, and adapt, simply because life is unpredictable and we’re people who make mistakes and have a whole lot to learn. We are not experts, but we’ve learned a lot over the past several years and have stepped into a gracious place of peace with our finances.
These are the main things that helped us find financial peace:
We Set Priorities & Understand Our “Why”
We regularly discuss the goals we have for our family as they relate to finances. We have short-term goals and long-term goals. These aren’t set in stone, as we adapt them according to arising needs and unexpected changes, and we aim big as we see fit. Personally, our main goal is to give generously and provide healthfully (for our family, yes, but largely for others in need as well). We keep our “end goals” in sight, along with short-term goals for each month and year.
A Change of Perspective
Money is not good or evil, it is a tool. It doesn’t determine our true worth as people, and it should never be a source of pride, shame, or fear.
Together, Not Separate
We chose from the get-go to have all of our money together. We don’t do separate personal accounts because we believe money is another part of our unity that requires teamwork and, above all, transparency.
(I understand this isn’t every couple’s choice, and that it can be a highly debatable point…like everything, decide on whatever honestly works for your family!)
Budget (freedom vs. restriction)
Create your budget, update your budget, respect your budget, learn from your budget…repeat! A budget is does not create restriction, a budget provides freedom. I cannot emphasize this enough. We never budgeted the first year of our marriage, and I always associated the word with stress, spending next-to-nothing, and dread. In reality, a budget tells your money where to go, there’s room to categorize however you need and see fit, and it is freeing. I’ve learned it’s so much less about how much money you have – instead, it’s about how you manage the money you have.
*side note: we use the free app EveryDollar to easily track our plans and spending.
We have a “budget meeting” every month. I know it sounds totally dorky, but it’s actually kind of fun. We pour some wine, talk about the past month and the month ahead, and it opens the floor for learning and discussion every time (not to mention a dedicated time to catch up as a couple).
A Reliable Emergency Fund
Our first plan of attack when we started revamping our financial state was to create an “emergency fund.” This is an accessible savings account dedicated to the *just in case.* The amount was much lower initially, and then after we paid off the rest of our debt, we dedicated savings to this account once again. Now it’s at an amount that cushions things such as furnace repairs, medical bills, and anything that arises unexpectedly that requires a good chunk of change. If we were to suddenly be without any income, this emergency fund would allow us to live without making any changes to our lifestyle for at least a few months. Having this account brings us peace of mind and frees us to continue on toward other financial goals. When we need to dip into this account (and we certainly do from time to time), we just spend the next month (or two or three) replacing the amount we withdrew so that it remains at the amount we see fit.
Personalized Our Plans
We learn from the experts, and then do what’s best for our family. The sooner we each stop comparing our financial situations to our friends’, the sooner we’ll find peace with money. (as with life, yes?!)
If an opportunity presents itself to give or serve someone in a financial-related way, and we’re able to do it, we don’t let “it wasn’t in this month’s budget” get in the way. My husband and I discuss it with one another and pray about it, trusting that it will be worthwhile since we are solely stewarding this money anyway, and then we go for it.
No Credit, No Debt
Again, this is a very personal choice that I realize puts me in the “weird” category, but we’ve chosen to avoid credit cards and debt. When we started revamping our financial habits that second year of marriage, we firmly believed debt was a master and we were the slaves. We spent years strictly paying off our car loan and student loans. It required sacrifices and discipline, and it was, repeatedly, one of the greatest changes we’ve made in our marriage, even when it was especially difficult. Other than our house, which we bought “the Dave Ramsey way,” we believe if we don’t have the money for it today, we don’t need to buy it today.
This one is my biggest struggle and something I’m continually working on…We live in a society where most of us have a ridiculous (embarrassing?) amount of stuff. Everyone seems to be chasing a bigger house, newer car, nicer clothes, flashier everything – more, more, more. Yuuuuck, right? I get sucked into this mindset so easily some days and I’m continually working on ridding those thoughts. It’s humbling to be reminded of all we really have, and keeping giving as our top financial priority helps keep this area in check for me. Contentment undoubtedly brings humility and peace.
Just as with implementing a new exercise routine or revamping your diet, this takes time. We’ve been at this for years, and it’s only with one tangible step at a time that we’re where we are now. There is and will always be a need for continued learning, adapting, and growing. Be encouraged that one small step at a time in the right direction really will lead you to a more peaceful financial life.