My Name is Miriam, and I am DEBT FREE.

Eric and I toasting to "No Debt!"

“Wanna take a financial class?” If you’re anything like me, those words are enough to send you running and screaming in the opposite direction. About two and a half years ago, my mom, Julia, approached me about a class she and my dad were planning to take. Things were serious between my fiance, Eric, and me. With the wedding not too far off, my mom thought a financial class would be a wise choice for us. But as a 21 year old, taking one sounded about as appealing as poking myself in the eyes repeatedly. With a fork. Soaked in hot sauce. So I politely declined.

A few months later, my family was in our minivan, driving home from a vacation in Cambria, CA. My mom, ever the good influence and motivator of the family, took advantage of the captive audience and turned on one of the CDs from her financial class. UGH! Suddenly, eyes were rolling and three iPods appeared from our bags. Headphones went swiftly into our ears so we could block out the boring stuff my mom was attempting to force feed us. She turned the volume up to a nice disruptive level and let it play.

Through my music I heard a Southern voice, and an audience laughing. I turned my iPod down a notch. As this zany man spoke, I was drawn in by his humor and his matter-of-fact opinion on money. Before long, my iPod was paused, headphones still in, of course, (I couldn’t let on that I was interested!) and I was fully enthralled in the words of Dave Ramsey. A few moments later, I got a text from my 16 year old brother who was sitting behind me in the car.

Monty: Are you listening to the CD Mom is playing?

Me: LOL Yeah, are you?

Monty: Haha Yeah. He’s pretty good.

It wasn’t long before we all fessed up to Mom, and we got that satisfactory smile she is SO good at giving. I don’t know about your mom, but MY mom can say “I told you so” without any words at all.

The next four hours of the drive home, the entire family listened to CD after CD of funny man Dave Ramsey. But it was more than the humor. There was something in what he said that struck my heart so deeply. I knew that what I was hearing was pure, unadulterated truth. Things like:

“One definition of maturity is learning to delay pleasure. Children do what feels good; adults devise a plan and follow it.”

“Building wealth is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I had to know what came next. I had to know how to run the marathon of discipline that would make me debt free and eventually wealthy. So, once home from vacation, we began an informal version of the class, my parents as the leaders, Eric, me, Marj, Monty and my grandma as the pupils. Every Thursday at our family night, we turned into sponges; soaking in every wise word that proceeded from the mouth of Dave.

Dave Ramsey presents financial information in a plain yet humorous way that makes even the least financially-inclined person (me) enjoy listening and learn a ton. He breaks down an entire lifetime of financial decision making into seven baby steps. These are the steps that changed our lives:

1. Put $1000 in an emergency fund

2. Pay off all debt except the house utilizing a debt snowball (paying off your debts from smallest to largest using all extra income)

3. Three to six months expenses in savings

4. Invest 15% of your household income into retirement

5. College funding

6. Pay off your home early

7. Build wealth and GIVE!”

But Dave’s most recognizable phrase is “If you will live like no one else, then later you can LIVE like no one else.” Right now, if you choose a lifestyle free of debt, you’ll be living like no one else. Then if you make wise choices, later you’ll STILL be living like no one else because of your wealth and financial peace.

Me – the girl who had never ONCE balanced her checkbook, who missed bill due dates simply because I didn’t write them down, the girl who spent every cent on fast food and clothes before she could remember to pay her tithes – THAT GIRL would wait with GREAT anticipation for Thursday night, when we’d get to do the next Financial Peace University (FPU) lesson. My mindset on money was starting to change.

I saw change in my fiance, Eric, as well. Just before we took the class he had said to me, “Just face it, Mir, you’re ALWAYS going to have a car payment. You may as well just accept it.” Soon after that, Eric found himself in need of a car. Because going deeper into debt was not an option for us anymore, he responded to an Auto Trader ad for a 1986 Dodge Ram 50. He bought it that day – for $1,200 cash. That was two years ago. The truck has since been endearingly named “El Mejor” (“The Best” in Spanish) and we have yet to see anything significant break down. And, oh yeah, it’s all OURS.

On Friday August 20th, Eric paid my last student loan, bringing us to a status of 100% DEBT FREE. $63,408.48 in two years. Peace. It’s what everyone wants, right? When life is crazy around you, peace of mind is what keeps you able to bear it all. You cannot buy it. Not even for all the money in the world. But it comes for free when you don’t owe anything to anyone.

Nowadays, it’s interesting to ride in El Mejor. I often glance over to the guy in that convertible Mercedes and wonder -what’s his monthly payment on that car? We get to keep the money we make instead of sending it off to the car company. In this credit-driven society, so many people surround their lives with meaningless material items, and it eventually builds a cage around them. A burden of debt that they do not escape for many years, and sometimes even pass on to their children. Is that the kind of legacy you want to leave behind? Not me.

Within one year, Eric and I will be saving for our retirement.  A few years after that, we’ll be saving for our children’s college. I’ll only be about 27 at that point, but one day they will graduate from high school and step into college with ZERO LOANS. Because we planned for it. Starting now will cause the interest to compound and we’ll retire with literally millions of dollars. That’s not a guess, it’s a fact. Ya know those daydreams that begin, “If I were really rich, I would…..”. They’re fun, right? Well, try having those daydreams and saying, “WHEN I’m really rich, I’m going to……” It’s a lot more fun. I promise.

It’s true what Dave says. Building financial peace IS a marathon. There is no such thing as “get rich quick”. You have to visualize running that race… and crossing the finish line with a financial legacy that will last for generations in your family. That is what we are building towards.

HOW DO WE DO IT? You ask. How does one have the self discipline to direct every cent toward the future and not the “right now”? It takes INTENSITY. You have to start running this race as if someone is chasing you. Because someone is. You are being chased by a society that has created a mindset of debt that you will never be free from. Credit is a monster that runs our lives, our cities, our states, and even our country. It is like the jaguar at your heels, begging you to conform. To be normal. To do what feels good. To buy what you’d like because “you deserve it”.

But that is the way to financial prison!! The Bible says that the borrower is SLAVE to the lender. When you borrow, that paycheck that comes in the mail is not yours. It’s someone else’s. Every dollar you spend is actually someone else’s money! And no matter how far down you can bury that fact, it’s always there. You have to be like a gazelle. Running for your LIFE away from that lifestyle of debt that wants to catch you and swallow you up. I know this sounds dramatized, but in order to successfully change your life for the better, it requires JUST that intensity.

I’ll finish with this last story. When I was working at El Torito Grill a few years ago, I presented a man with his check after his meal and he said to me, “I’d like to pay for a few other checks as well.” Looking around the restaurant, he pointed to two mothers with their babies, an elderly couple, a few businessmen, a woman eating alone. I brought him all four checks and the man paid a few hundred dollars for all those lunches. I then had the privilege of going around to each table informing these unsuspecting people that their meal had been paid for. It still brings tears to my eyes, remembering the shock and surprise on their faces to know someone had done something so kind for them, as the man beamed anonymously at his table.

Someday, when the rest of the world is still saving and paying, scraping and owing – we will be giving. We will be that man in the restaurant, paying for others meals, simply because of the joy it brings others. The ministries that touch my heart, I will not only have the money to monetarily support them, I will have the TIME and RESOURCES to go serve WITH them. Doesn’t that sound like a great life?

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Class: 14 weeks

Debt payoff: $63,408.48  and two years

House, Retirement fund, College fund: A lifetime of saving and investing wisely

Giving like no one else: PRICELESS

Friends, everything I’ve mentioned in this post is available to you. If the destination is wealth and financial peace – you need a ROAD MAP of how to get there, otherwise you’ll get lost and never arrive. If you want to stop being captive to your debt and take control of your own destiny, read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (click the link to see where to buy it); or better yet, take his Financial Peace University class  (click the link to find a class happening near you), then start living like NO ONE ELSE! There is also a wealth of information on Dave Ramsey’s website that is available for free.

This is one of my favorite things to talk about (as you can tell by the length of this post) so feel free to ask any questions you might have in comment form. It’s impossible to include all details of the class in one measly blog, so please ask questions!

Lastly, I have to recognize my incredible husband, Eric, the financial planner, budget writer, bill payer and motivator of our family. I was simply a rule follower. He is such a phenomenal Godly leader and I am blessed beyond words that he uses such wisdom in taking control of our great life and our finances. I love him more than words can say.

Now, go live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else!!!!

~ Mir

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sissy poo
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 13:36:17

    sissy!!! so when i first saw your post that said it was gonna take about 10 min to read i almost passed it by but then i when is saw that it was YOUR blog, i though “of course i’ll read this!” and i am so glad i did. i’m so happy for you and eric! your lives are so blessed and now you can move forward without ever being in debt again. the last part brought me to tears and i am so unbelievably thankful you are my sissy!!! ❤

    Reply

  2. Ali Adema
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 15:10:18

    Ok Miriam. I registered us for a preview class. I’m finally giving in to see what this Dave Ramsey guy is all about. =) I’ve only heard AMAZING things about him, but I have to be honest. Lukas and I kinda came to the conclusion that we already kinda do the things he talks about anyway (from what I’ve heard). Every time I’d hear anyone rave about him, I’d think, “Eh, what can we really learn from him? We’re doing pretty good now.” We don’t have credit card debt, don’t use credit cards, save up, paying off the car and student loans as soon as possible, putting away for retirement, all that good stuff, but I still think we need a long term plan. I don’t want to live just “pretty good” if we have the potential to do so much more. We have the basics down, but I think we need some guidance. When you mentioned MILLIONS, I thought, “Ok we could use a plan like that!” Haha! Anyway, I think I’m getting excited for this class. Then maybe I can finally join the Dave Ramsey fan club too! =) And by the way, the story of the man in the restaurant totally gave me a lump in my throat. That’s amazing. This was such a great post, Miriam. You hit the nail on the head about how giving back is ultimately the most important thing. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get this thing started for our family! LOL! Love ya girlie!

    Reply

  3. Theresa
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 21:10:12

    Is it a Dave Ramsey thing that you can only spend $50 a month, or was that a budget that you and Eric set for yourselves? How do you stick to only $50 a month?!?! CONGRATS on being debt free!!! 🙂

    Reply

  4. miriambernard
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 22:32:39

    Marj – I’m happy you took the 10ish minutes to read it, and didn’t pass me by! I love you so much!

    Ali – How fantastic that you and Lukas are already so financially responsible! But I agree with your comment – even if Dave Ramsey only provides you guys with a long term plan, it is so worth it. And the class is incredibly enjoyable. Well, there are a few lessons on investing that went a little over my head, but Eric LOVED them and they ARE our long term plan now. So maybe those are the bits you guys will find most useful! Let me know how you guys like the preview class!

    Theresa – Dave Ramsey’s actual plan says that literally EVERY dollar should be put toward debt payoff – meaning no spending money at all. But Eric and I found that unrealistic for our lives. We built in $100 a month each for personal purchases and eating out. That will go up a bit (to $150 maybe?) when we’re in a house, and more when we build more savings. We stick to the $100 by finding cheap places to eat and shop – finding the sales, and also, by not buying everything we want. We have to be very choosy, as you’d imagine! Lemme tell you, having so little to spend makes you SUPER thankful for the things you get to buy! We also have a miscellaneous budget for things like birthday gifts and such. Hope that helps! By the way, Eric and I are still considering teaching an FPU class, so if we do, we’ll let you know when it is!

    Reply

  5. diana radoi
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 00:53:02

    Mir-
    Omg i was just thinking about going into debt, etc! and how i really need to step things up! thank you for writing all of this down! i think i will take a look into that class! 😉
    sooo proud of you that you paid everything off and had such a determination to be firm! love you!!!

    Reply

  6. Theresa
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 08:14:58

    When you mentioned the snowball effect, it piqued my interest so, I looked it up.

    “In short, you make minimum payments on all but the debt with the lowest balance. Once the low-balance debt is paid off, you add the dollars that had been going there to what you’ve been paying against the next lowest debt. And so on. The idea is to pick up steam in paying down your debts by knocking them out one by one, and piling up the payments that would have gone to each of the paid off debts in order to knock out the next one.”

    Sounds enticing, but is it a good idea? To my mind, what you should really be doing is paying down the debts with the highest interest rate, regardless of balance. It just makes intuitive sense to pay off the most costly debts first. Once the debt with the highest interest rate is paid off, add those dollars to what you’ve been paying on the debt with the next highest interest rate, and so on. This isn’t to say that Ramsey’s snowball approach isn’t worthwhile. If the first debt does get knocked out very quickly, then it may provide a psychological boost that some people may need to stick with it. But for people with sufficient self-control, I think you can do better by paying off debts from highest to lowest interest rate.

    Reply

    • miriambernard
      Aug 29, 2010 @ 10:00:49

      What a great question, Theresa! The psychological boost is the main reason Dave Ramsey instructs to organize them from smallest to largest in amount. However, he does mention in the lesson that arranging them from largest to smallest interest rate is the smartest financial choice. He suggests the other way simply because the most important thing is to FINISH your debt snowball, and historically, that is more likely when people start seeing immediate results and enjoying those little victories right away. I found those small victories to be incredibly important for us, but if you feel you’d be more at peace knowing the largest interest rate was leaving first, that’s just as great! Either way, the snowball effect still happens, and you still get to enjoy seeing debts knocked out, one by one. For Eric and I, our smallest debts were credit cards, and our largest were student loans, so they kind of arranged themselves from largest to smallest interest rates automatically. Each time we paid off a debt, we would buy a bottle of our favorite champagne (Asti Spumante – $12/bottle lol) and toast to that next step. That was a HUGE morale boost for us. When he’d walk through the door with that bottle in his hand, I got so excited! Hope that helps!! 🙂

      Reply

  7. Cristy
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 10:10:58

    Great job Miriam and Eric! This is a great blog post! Very inspiring 🙂

    Reply

  8. Julia Tavis
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 23:22:51

    Mir… I shared this link with Alex, our FPU teacher. He would like to share it with all of his FPU grads and he highly recommends that you and Eric send this to Dave. He feels that it’s such a great story, and so well-written that Dave would use it on his show.

    Reply

  9. Rebecca
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 10:31:38

    Congrats Miriam & Eric, that is very inspiring. You have set an example for your friends to follow. I remember Adriana, Ryan’s wife, once saying how their friends wanted to know how they were able to buy a house while they were so young. Budgeting & saving. Ryan and Jess both had their houses at 18 by following a NO Debt principle. Your next celebration will be owning your 3 or 4 bedroom house.

    Reply

  10. miriambernard
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 19:37:34

    Mom – that is so great that Alex wants to use my post! He is welcome to, of course. And I already sent it to Dave. I think it’s probably longer than what he’d read on his show… but who knows?

    Rebecca, thank you so much. I remember being so impressed by Ryan and Jesse’s financial responsibility when they were so young. I even recall Pastor Kincer’s “Financially Free by 33” plan, and I’m happy to announce that Eric and I achieved “Financially Free by 24 (and 26)”. But we will have a mortgage by this time next year. While that is technically considered debt, our rules are a 15 year mortgage and our monthly payment not exceeding 1/4 of our monthly take home pay. That will ensure a quick payoff. 🙂

    Reply

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