Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Debt-Free in 2011

This week at Fair Oaks Church we will begin a 6-session growth group based on Joe Sangl’s “I Was Broke. Now I’m Not” that teaches people how to win with their money in a way that honors God. As I’ve been preparing to help lead this growth group I started thinking about my own “money story.”

My sister tells people that I still have the first dollar I ever earned. I don’t - although that would be neat if I did – I did eventually spend that dollar and the others I’d been saving up from my paper route. I’ve always been a saver. Starting with elementary-aged allowance, then to the middle-school paper route and teenaged afterschool jobs, what excited me about working was the security of the pile of money in my sock drawer, not the plans and dreams of what I was going to spend it on.

Although some may find that enviable, you have to be careful you don’t become the third servant who buries his talents (Mathew 25:14-30). I’m good at saving and it’s served me well through the financial ups and downs I’ve had, but while Joe Sangl was at Fair Oaks Church last weekend for the Financial Learning Event (and I heard him back in 2008 too), I realized that with all that I may have been doing right, I was still missing something.

He and I were talking between services and I was telling him how we are only a few months away from being 100% debt free using his snow-ball method and he asked me the simplest of questions which was followed by my dumbfounded silence. He asked, “so once you’re debt-free, what dream vacation are you going to put all that extra money toward?”

Now that question shouldn’t have been so challenging (and I think I dumbfounded Joe when I told him I had no such plans) but I haven’t saved up for a planned vacation since our honeymoon. Joe is all about using your dreams (and funding those dreams) as a financial motive for sticking to the debt-free plan. I agree it’s important but I really didn’t need that kind of motive to stick to the plan – I was born to stick to the plan – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams and goals worth saving for.

My most immediate financial goal (which is what I told Joe I’d be putting my freed up money toward instead of a vacation) is my kids’ college fund. It took my husband and I so long to get out from under our college debt that here we are in our 40’s, about to be debt free for the third time (woo hoo) but have never owned a home. We were actually on track to be funding the kids’ 529 plans at the correct pace to cover their tuition fully and have a down payment for our first home when my husband unexpectedly joined the 14.5 million unemployed in the US.

For two and a half years the money we had planned on putting toward college was used for living expenses. There was a little start on both the 529s and the home down payment but they didn’t experience the rapid growth that was planned for them. Now that we’re back to 2 incomes, we have a lot of ground to make up and it’s hard to see past that to some dream vacation.

But it did get me thinking … what are those dreams (after college, a house and retirement are covered) that I need to be working to fund? The family cafĂ© my husband and I always joke about opening some day? an Alaskan cruise? the ability to work for God full time and man part time rather than the reverse?

What are the dreams you would fund if you were debt free and financially secure?

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