Sunday, February 8, 2015

Financial Freedom: Neal's Side of the Story


My lovely wife has been posting our journey to financial freedom.  I wanted to share with you guys my side of the journey.

Throughout my 25 years, I have never set a budget or thought about money issues.  To further emphasize that statement let me give you this example:  I worked as an intern after my Freshman year in college and made around $6,000 over the summer.  As a college sophomore I was LOADED!! So what did I do? I blew all of that $6,000 during the first semester of my sophomore year.  Let me remind you that I didn't pay for tuition, housing, or books.  What did I buy for $6,000, you ask? A car would have made sense for the amount of money I spent, maybe even a few guns since I went to school in one of the worst parts of Hampton Roads.  Nope.  None of the above.  Scratch-off lottery tickets. That was the bane of my bank account my sophomore year of college.  Every day after class I would stop by the gas station next to my apartment and buy a $20 scratcher just because I had some money in my pocket.

Little did I know, that one act of me buying scratch-off tickets reflected how I "budgeted" my money.  For the next 3 years that's how I spent my money and that's just who I was.  I didn't mind living paycheck to paycheck because if I wanted to buy something I would and I didn't think twice about it. 

That's when my wife saved our financial state.  Annie always did a budget, but those were sort of like guidelines to me.  Kind of like the lines on an interstate, they're just recommended lanes that you should drive in.  If you drive in the lane, most of the time, you'll get from point A to point B with no problem.  If you start drifting in and out of those lanes or cross the solid lines, you'll eventually hit something.  

We started going to a church out in Washington that we loved.  One Sunday the pastor gave a sermon on tithing and mentioned that there was a class they were hosting called Financial Peace University.  My first thoughts were, "I don't need to go to a class where someone is going to tell me how and where I should spend my money."  I wanted to buy all the latest hunting gear, all the latest gadgets, stuff for my truck, and I wanted to splurge and buy stuff for my wife.  In my mind, I had already spent the next $25,000 of the money I hadn't even made yet. Why would I spend $100 to take a class that's going to tell me what to do with my money?  In hind sight, that was the best thing I could have possibly done at the time.

Well men, if you don't know this phrase already put this in the box on top of your shoulders and repeat it to yourself over and over and over and over and well, you get it.  HAPPY WIFE, HAPPY LIFE.  I bought the books and went to the class reluctantly, ONLY because I wanted to make my wife happy.  That may sound horrible, but it's the truth.  But don't worry, it gets better.

The first session wasn't all that great.  We watched a movie, filled out a workbook, and our instructor looked like one of those tree-hugging, nature-loving, "I only eat things that I grow" hippies.  I wasn't looking forward to the next 8 weeks of classes.  But that week, we had homework to do.  We had to go through our bank statement and figure out what we spent our money on and how much money we made that month.  I was blown away by the amount of money we had spent in one month alone.  I want you guys to go through your bank account right now and fill out this formI couldn't believe it but we had spent almost $300 on fast food and restaurants (this is just a guess...I don't really remember how much it was..but it was A LOT).  How can two people eat out that much? We had to have set a record.  Well this little exercise pushed me onto the Financial Peace bandwagon.

I won't go into the details of the course, because my wonderful wife has already done that in her previous posts. My main goal with this is to get you guys interested in being free from debt and to let you guys know it's not the end of the world being on a budget. I hated the thought of being "on a budget" because in my mind, it made it seem like I couldn't buy the things I wanted to buy and do the things I wanted to do.  That's as far from the truth as it could be. 

One of the major aspects of creating a budget is putting all of the money somewhere.  At the end of the month you want what you've spent to equal what you made, no more or no less.  That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy an Ipad every month if you have an extra $600 after paying the bills.  That just means if you make $2,000 a month and your bills only come up to $1,500, you have $500 left to put wherever you want.  This course makes you think like a grownup a little, but essentially I could have purchased all of the latest hunting gear, or the latest electronics, or whatever I wanted.  I may not have been married very long, but I would have had some pretty cool stuff.  The smart thing to do with that extra $500 would be to put it in a savings account for a vacation you want to take or a retirement fund, or hey here's a good one, pay off the things you've already bought that you didn't have the money for when you actually bought them.  That's pretty much all the course is designed to do, make you plan and think about where your money is going.  It's not fancy talk or a new "How to beat the system" program, it's just applying common sense, that isn't so common. 

Throughout the program, I was getting more and more interested in it.  Once we paid off Annie's student loan debt, I was hooked for sure. The small accomplishments were what made the journey exciting.  Yeah, sure, I don't have all the latest and greatest hunting accessories or fanciest gadgets, but I don't owe anyone money.  It was our decision that we wanted to pay everything off early, so we lived on what we needed and not what we wanted.  It was definitely tough for me to not go out and buy a new bow when I got tired of carrying mine around the woods.  But I knew it would be better for us if I were to keep using what I had for a while so we could pay more towards our debt.  It's worked out so far.

One more thing I want to convey, is that this is definitely something that you want an accountability partner for.  If you're married and doing this, you need the other half to be on board with this change in lifestyle.  If you're single or dating, you should find a family member or a close friend (who will tell you like it is) to help you out with sticking to your budget.  The good thing is that once you sit down to make your budget, you can make it as drastic of a change in lifestyle as you want.  If you want to live off of rice and beans so you can get rid of your credit card debt, great, more power to you!  If you want to pay off your debt at $10 a month, $100 a month, whatever you want, you can.  The accountability partner should help you out in the aspect of choosing how aggressive you want to take it and then helping you stay committed to your goal.  If you're married, both you and your spouse have to, let me say that again, HAVE TO agree on this.  The only way it worked with us, is that we met in the middle.  I wanted spending money and Annie wanted all the debt gone tomorrow.  We compromised and it kept me engaged and wanting to keep saving and paying off debt.

I called it a change in lifestyle, because that's exactly what it is.  It's not just a one time thing, at least not for us.  It has been, and will continue to be, a part of our marriage and our daily thoughts.  I thank my wife for saving us financially, and I'm hoping we can save some of you financially too. 

Thank you guys for reading this and hopefully you guys can join us so we can all "Live like no one else so later we can live and give like no one else."