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The Promised Trial

by Jason Nemrow last modified 2018-03-30 10:49

Get out of debt and it will work hard to drag you back in...

There is one thing that exemplifies "home economics" more than any other. That thing is family finance.

My mom gave me a book this past Christmas: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. I didn't think much of it, but my wife sure did.

As a couple, I have always considered us tee-totallers when it came to debt. When one of our friends, Hoyt Skabelund, became the leader of our LDS Church congregation, he took it upon himself to try to help everyone get out of debt. When Lisa and I went to see him about our finances, I think he may have been kinda disappointed: compared to others he was working with, we had very little debt and had a pretty decent interest rate on it. I guess others had nearly six-figure debts (not counting a mortgage) and we had a measely five or six thousand going. Hoyt didn't even feel much need to work us as I recall (poorly as always).

Well, we had just moved again, from Oklahoma City back to Portales, New Mexico, and moves are huge debt creators. We were up to about eleven thousand, wihch is a bit more than I am comfortable with, but it seem to be bugging Lisa even more. When we got the book, all about how you can "live like no one else" by getting and staying out of debt, Lisa insisted that we dig into the book and do the deed. As the always dutiful husband, I was beside her and, in my cranky, always skeptical way, I read along and evaluated Ramsey's ideas.

Basically, I like it. One really has to put aside whatever pride they have about their money management skills, for this is a plan that even weak-willed people should be able to follow. I don't consider either Lisa or I weak-willed particularly, but faced with the ability to get and stay out of debt, we just had never gotten around to it. Ramsey calls each part of his plan " baby steps" and apparently, that is how I personally needed to move forward to become debt-free. I am the home economist who needs to take some humbling baby steps!

Lisa and I had a war-chest and it was easy to do the first two steps. We already had (over) a thousand dollars that we could use for an emergency fund (baby step one) and we had enough money within a month to wipe out our outstanding debts (baby step two). As predicted, getting rid of our last credit card did feel liberating! It sounds petty, but Ramsey insists that you close out credit accounts and cut up the cards so that you will not be tempted to use them again. In his book and system, Ramsey predicts that such temptations will come, and he was right!

Here we are at baby step three, which is to build up savings to handle three-to-six month of expenses. We just barely got rid of the credit cards, so besides some savings we already had, we hadn't really even begun to save yet. Then came a big money trial - income taxes!

We had always been a bit on the poor side. Not destitute, mind you, but we had never had nice things to the chagrin of my wife. Lisa lived in humble circumstances as a child, sharing a tiny room with her four sisters in a berthing scheme that came straight out of a submarine. She had been denied for a long time and she didn't like the fact that we were still only a little better than scraping by. We had managed to get a big rambling house, but not much was left over to do anything nice with it. For the area, my mid-40K income was okay, but not very comfortable.

Three years back, I felt impelled to improve myself and our prospects, which involved upgrading location and skill-set. In short order, we were in the "big city" of Oklahoma City and my income was now in the mid-70K region. Our rambling house was sold through a lucrative owner-finance deal and Lisa had just sold off her part of the ancestral home, so our income for tax purposes in 2015 was almost double what it had been just two years previous. All this skewed my paycheck withholdings and I found out yesterday that we would be paying about $6000 in taxes, along with a fifty dollar fine for not being good at the alchemy of having enough money given to the government along the way. As predicted by Dave Ramsey, our first "stay out of debt permanently" trial!

I was ready to get another line of credit to pay that tax bill, but my cool-headed wife (the better-practicing, undegreed home economist) soothed my fears, despite her own, and said we would just hunker down and get through it. One can get extensions past April for paying federal taxes and we could scrape together enough to handle state taxes by April, so I think we will make it without breaking our "stay out of debt" promise to each other. It may be beans and rice for a few months, but we can do it.

I thank my mom for her inspired Christmas present and my wonderful wife for her fortitude in the face of trials. We really need other people to help us get to where we need to be!


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