Financial Heartbreak that Led to FreedomJan 24, 2023
Originally published Feb 26, 2016
Have you experienced Financial Heartbreak? Have your dreams been crushed because of lost income? What does becoming debt-free have to do with marriage? Considering finances cause approximately 45% of couples' arguments, we believe it is a necessary subject to address. Finances are typically something we keep private. It's easy to let things get out of control because there's no accountability, especially if your spouse is not involved.
7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10: 7 -9 NIV
TWO BECOME ONE
Did you marry with the premise of the idea of, "becoming one flesh?" We believe in combining all your resources when you get married. When my husband, Russ, and I married, I had a house full of furniture to bring into the marriage and he had an alarm clock and a lazy boy chair. How can you say no to a heather green puffy 1980s lazy boy chair when it's only one of two items he's bringing into the marriage?! I've been trying to get rid of that lazy boy chair for 15 years now and I'm the same person who has our handyman fix the chair when it breaks...because it is so freakin old, but I digress.
LIVING ON THE EDGE
Before we were married, Russ was living with his Mama and working for a firm that unfortunately went under. Russ was pretty clear I wasn't marrying him for his money. When we started looking for houses, we knew in order to qualify it would be based on my salary. I made a generous salary but not one that justified a $750,000 home.
With Russ' background in the mortgage industry, we called up one of his buddies and ran the numbers. Yep, we qualified for the mac daddy house and we would do it as a 100% interest loan. So we bought the house of our dreams on the golf course with a pool. All 7,300 square feet!! Crazy, you say? Bat crazy is what we were. Within months the mortgage jumped 40%, nearly doubling our already hefty mortgage. We fell deep into financial heartbreak.
Sure, you can keep your finances a secret from everyone but when things go wrong, financial woes have a way of becoming very public. Within two years we were moving out of a home we thought we would live in for the next 20 years. Not only did we have to move but we had to bring money to the closing. It was an incredibly humbling time. God was stripping away what we thought was a success and brought us to our knees, literally. We moved out of our dream home into a house with $90,000 in debt.
THE LOVE FOG
A year before I was engaged I had my own debt, approximately $10,000 (student loans and credit cards) plus a mortgage. I was determined to be debt free before we got married. Because I had a lot of financial margin I was able to pay off the debt pretty quickly. I expected to feel a sense of accomplishment but what I didn't expect was how free I felt. I don't remember feeling weighed down by my debt but then again I hadn't been debt free since I started college, almost 15 years prior. It made quite an impact on me to feel so free! Thankfully, Russ and I shared the same hope and dream of paying off our house quickly. So how we bought into a home way outside our means is beyond me. I blame it on the love fog. You know that mushy gushy time where nothing has to make sense but each other. Love would pay the bills.
So we downsized into the neighborhood of our dreams in 2006 (the same neighborhood with Russ' children) but far from the house of our dreams. None of Russ' deals at work were closing. It would be another 10 months before things started to shift. Previously at the dream home, one of Russ' good friends had come over to pour into us some desperately needed wisdom. Along with the wisdom, he said a "great harvest" was coming. I wasn't comfortable with someone suggesting something so grandiose while we were drowning. Our hopes and dreams had been dashed and hanging this prophetic suggestion in front of us seemed almost cruel.
GOD WAS PROTECTING, NOT PREVENTING
Within 10 months of moving into our smaller home, Russ' deals started to close and close and close. We used the Crown/Moneywise system and started to chip away at our credit cards and slowly paid off the $90,000 debt and then once the cards were paid off, we turned the credit card allotment towards the mortgage. During this time we significantly pulled back on any luxury, small or large, purchases until we paid off the mortgage. I can't tell you how many outfits, furniture items, and landscaping ideas I wanted to purchase but in order to make this debt go away it was going to take sacrificial discipline. Fast forward years later, we paid off our last mortgage payment. Never have I been so grateful. We live with a zero balance every month and enjoy tithing more of our money to causes that are near and dear to our hearts. No longer do we purchase anything that cannot be paid off at the end of the month.
FINANCIAL HABITS LEARNED THE HARD WAY
Interestingly enough the piece of advice that started us on the straight and narrow was to start saving. We were tithing and paying our bills but we had no savings to speak of. We also were not tracking our expenses. Something we have finally done every weekend for the past 2 years. It "only" took us 10 years to get this habit into motion. This is probably our least favorite thing to do but one that keeps us both accountable to each other. It's a task we both do together. I pull up our accounts (bank, credit cards, club) and list off the amounts while Russ inputs them onto a spreadsheet. There is software that can automate this process but we have found it insightful to do it together. Sometimes these "insights" cause arguments. Marriage is so easy.
WANT TO GET OUT OF DEBT?
The 3 most effective ways for us to get out of debt were to (and in this order):
- Tithe - you've heard to tithe 10%. If that's too much, start lower but start. You've also heard tithing is designated to the church. The church is not just a building, "the church" is our community. Find a non-profit and tithe to a cause near and dear to your heart.
- Save - you'll never crawl out of your debt hole if surprise financial setbacks keep attacking your checking account. This seems so obvious, but we were not saving anything after tithing.
- Pay - obviously we need to pay our bills but other categories like shopping (clothes, makeup, furniture, misc) and entertainment are put on hold. This takes serious discipline. Have an accountability partner, not your spouse, to keep you on track. Once you pay off the smaller debts, combine the efforts on attacking the larger debts. Yes, it will feel like a huge sacrifice but you either do it now or later. "Later Debt" seems to always hang over your head because there is never a plan of attack.
The cumulative approach of paying down debt, just like exercising, is not fun on a daily basis. It's only when you've been diligent over time will you see the progress. Start small. Just get started with a plan in mind. Speaking from experience, the discipline is so worth the peace of mind. Don't you want to feel free?!
Learn new communication skills you can immediately apply in your marriage and some harder skills (with practice) that will transform your marriage.