One thing that has been difficult for my husband and me over the years is to save any money and pay off debts we have. A lot of it had to do with getting through graduate school, but now that we have completed that task finally, after almost five years, we are better able to focus on paying down debts, both school and non-school ones, and getting rid of all of it.
I know for both of us, it is such a relief to be focusing on it and although we have a long road to go, our goal is to be debt-free, with the exception of maybe a mortgage, in a few years.
It is a lofty goal, but when crunching the numbers is actually attainable. We are choosing not to buy another house right now since we are not so sure how long we will be around here. Instead we are renting just the space we need and using the extra money to begin chipping away at the debt.
Another challenge for us is our decision that at least for right now, I will stay home with our boys when the second one is born and even though I will do freelance work, I will focus on being home most of the time. We know if I worked, we could financially have a lot more freedom, but we also believe in the irreplaceable value of one of us being home with our kids while they are young. Sometimes it takes more creativity to make it work on one income, but even with my husband's salary and the small projects I take on, we are on the right track - just not as fast:).
Sometimes it is difficult to see friends going on great vacations or affording things we may have the income for, but we really shouldn't buy. It takes enough discipline for us to say even though we would really love to go out to eat some nights when it's been a long day, instead we are going to stay home.
It means finding free and cheap activities to do when we want to go out and really making decisions when we can splurge a little.
It also means that although we would love to visit our families every month during the year, financially we have to decide when we are coming and stick to it, barring any major emergencies.
It really means being realistic with what we can afford to do, which many people nowadays aren't.
I firmly believe this is like a diet and the best way to succeed is not to cut out everything extra completely. I know when I have done Weight Watchers, a key for my success besides prayer and support at home was to allow myself food I was really craving. When I really, really was dying for a piece of chocolate, I let myself have some. It was usually a smaller piece and I didn't eat it all day long, but it was enough to satisfy my craving. Likewise, there are things we don't need that we are allowing, like eating out once every week or two. It may be a $10 meal, but it's something my husband grew up with (many times a week) and completely asking him to cut that out isn't fair ... plus it is nice to be able to do it once in awhile:)
It is a change in lifestyle and thought. Our society constantly feeds us the messages of instant gratification - if we want it, we should have it now. The reality is the more we work to achieve or have something, the more we value it as well. I think that attitude has made us too much a 'throw-away' society in everything from the little things like disposable kitchenware to the big things like lives of those who aren't considered valuable in our society.
Even though we have spent the last five years in school, we barely had enough most of the time to make ends meet. We were not frivolous and didn't go on wild shopping sprees, but it is easy to run up debt when you also don't have any savings and emergencies happen.
One of the best things I ever bought was when I was in 6th grade. I really wanted a good stereo and a nice mountain bike. My parents told me that was nice, but they weren't going to just buy them for me.
I worked all summer and saved up enough money to buy a really good stereo system (which almost two decades later I still own and works quite well) and a bike. I spent every week of my summer working as an aide to a family down the street a few days a week. By then end of the summer, I was able to the stores and buy what I had worked so long and hard to get (my parents did contribute a bit to the bike so I could get a good lock to keep it safe and get a step up from the model I was going to buy).
I was very proud of both my bike and my stereo because when people asked me where I got them, I knew how much I worked to save up the money and buy them. I took such good care of them that my bicycle lasted me through my first two years of college as well before it was stolen from our campus.
While 'things' are definitely not my goal in life and never should be, I do want to get to a point where we don't owe all this debt and we really think before buying items we may or may not need.
The reality is so much of what we think we need, we truly don't. I know growing up we had periods of very, very little money, but God provided what we truly needed. We had times like that throughout grad school and God doesn't disappoint.
But when He gives us enough or more than enough to survive on and we are still struggling because of debt, it's important to look at what is going on and what you can do to fix the problem.
The debt to me, hinders us from being able to help provide for and help those in our society, our churches and our neighborhoods who really need it to the full extent I want to.
Credit gives us a false sense of having more than we actually do and not taking a realistic look at what we need to do to get something.
Ignoring debt does not make it go away and now that we are entering a new stage in our life where we can choose to make it go away, we are.
Please pray for us as we continue on this challenging, but very rewarding journey that we don't get discouraged and keep pushing through to make it happen. It is not fun an it takes lot of work and it is a lifestyle change. It is one that I believe is fully attainable though.