Money Mistakes and Finding Freedom
by Candice Tolentino.
Shortly after getting married, I was given the rare opportunity to work as an expatriate in the U.S. for three years. There was a generous benefits package that came along with it. Plus, I can bring my husband and my daughter, all expenses paid. And so with a newborn in tow, we left the Philippines and settled into our second home.
It was clearly a good way to start our married life in terms of financial stability. Clearly.
However, it didn’t take long before the “entitlement” mentality worked its way into our lifestyle. We were justifying our spending, calling them “rewards” for hard work. Why wait if you can get it now through credit cards?
When my three-year expat assignment ended, we moved to Canada, bringing along with us our spending habits. And so, for the first ten years of our married life, we made a ton of financial mistakes. Huge mistakes. Costly mistakes.
I’ve since come to realize that building wealth is a matter of behavior, not income. We were once part of the majority that increased their debt in greater proportion to the increase in their income. I’m almost ashamed to admit that our family income used to be twice as much as the median family income of Canadians and yet, like many others, we were poorer than most because of debt.
So what drove us to change our behavior?
This mentality, that we need instant gratification, was so deep-seated in us that mere inspiration or motivation did not change us. Some things HAD to happen. And so they did.
First, we decided to homeschool (more on that in another post). Financially, that means 2/3 of our income gone. Second, my dear husband lost his job. Twice. In one year. And then all of a sudden, the real weight of those plastic cards came crashing down on us.
That was our turning point. We began to seek real financial freedom, one that allows us to fully trust that God is our Provider and not the credit cards. Admittedly, in certain cases, yes, a credit card can get you out of emergencies. But an honest look at our transactions for the past 12 months proved that we were swiping not because of emergencies but to avoid inconvenience. In hindsight, we know that some emergencies, a car breaking down, for example, wouldn’t be a crisis if savings had been accrued for them. Given that healthcare services here in Canada is free, I had to painfully admit that we accumulated debt that were not exactly emergency related.
While we aren’t out of the woods yet, we have consistently been reducing our debt for the past two years. Let me be very clear, IT IS HARD. We are swimming against the tide. Most people around you will not understand because we have been led to believe that debt is a part of life. But it IS possible to reduce your debt.
Ditch the credit cards and line of credit. As long as you know there is a back up, it is hard, almost impossible, to direct your behavior. What if there are real emergencies? This is where having $1,000 emergency fund to begin with comes in. Dave Ramsey recommends it as the first step in his Financial Peace University. But I won’t lie to you. This is a painful process. It almost felt like the world is going to end. No kidding. It will get worse before it gets better. But hang in there. Anything worth doing is worth sacrificing for.
Budget, budget, budget. Make no mistake. All institutions would like your money. The government, the retail store, the grocery store, the bank, the car dealership, name it. Some, like charitable institutions, will have a good reason for needing it. But most, well, their goal is to make a profit. This is not bad at all and I do believe in good business. However, if you are not deliberately telling your money where to go, these institutions will suck them out of you. They know us more than we know ourselves, unfortunately. They spend a ton of money on marketing and advertising. Go figure. THEY WANT YOUR MONEY. A budget gives you the power to say NO to them. That’s where real freedom comes from. How do you make a budget? I googled “how to make a personal budget” and there are 298 MILLION results. I’ll share what worked for us in another post. Suffice to say, you will get nowhere, I repeat, NOWHERE, without a budget.
Listen to people who have been there and done that. It was one of our dear friends who introduced us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. But that was before the events that led to our “conversion”. We’ve listened to a lot of Financial Stewardship seminars but this one made the most sense from a personal and Christian perspective. But as I’ve said above, mere inspiration and motivation did not work for us then. However, once we ditched the credit card and created a budget, we started re-listening to Dave Ramsey and this time, it achieved its purpose. Why do we listen to him? Because of this:
“I have an unusual way of looking at the world. My wife, Sharon, says I’m weird, and, truthfully, I am weird. But there’s a reason. Starting from nothing, by the time I was 26 I had a net worth of a little over a million dollars. I was making $250,000 a year. That’s more than $20,000 a month net taxable income. I was really having fun. But 98% truth is a lie. That 2% can cause big problems, especially with $4 million in real estate. I had a lot of debt — a lot of short-term debt — and I’m the idiot who signed up for the trip.
The short version of the story is that debt caused us, over the course of two and a half years of fighting it, to lose everything. We didn’t tell anyone what was going on, but if we had to do it again, we would learn from the wisdom of others who have been through it. We soon learned that we were not the only ones at the bottom. Barbie and Ken (you know, the couple who appear to be perfect — perfect clothes, perfect car, perfect house) are broke, and I don’t take financial advice from broke people anymore.’’ — Dave Ramsey
Learning from other people’s mistakes is best. Nonetheless, our own is still a great teacher. From it, we learned real freedom: not being governed by our wants and having the ability to exercise the virtues of patience and temperance. We learned how to make financial decisions that will not haunt us in the future (monthly, to be exact). We learned how to fully trust God as Primary Provider, and not the banks. Best of all, we learned how to teach our kids gratitude; for truly, they have everything that money cannot buy.