Prudence Debtfree’s Final Post

It will soon be too cold for bare feet in our backyard.

  • DH = dear husband
  • DFF = debt-free friend

“You’re going to miss those people!”

Ah! Sitting down to write my final post for Prudence Debtfree, I’m weepy. “You’re going to miss those people!” DH told me earlier this week. By “those people”, he meant you – people who have been reading and commenting on my posts, encouraging us on our journey out of debt.

Where else in this world is someone going to tell you, “Congratulations!” for NOT buying the new car? And after you’ve spent a small fortune on a pair of jeans, who else but an online frugal friend is going to chastise you properly? “Ruth! You need to go shopping with me! I would have slapped you for even thinking of paying that much money for a piece of cloth with a zipper on it.” And when you’ve reached a significant milestone in debt-repayment, as we did once we’d paid off everything but the mortgage, which people are going to be happy for you and cheer you on? “Amazing accomplishment! You and the family should be proud … go kill that mortgage!”

Sharing journey to debt-freedom: IRL ripple effects

DH is right! I will miss you! Blogging about this journey has kept me accountable and has made me feel less alone in a pursuit that just isn’t talked about face to face.

At least it’s not talked about much. There is one place where I’ve shared more than I would have guessed (and where I’ve learned to filter that sharing): at work. I’m incredibly lucky in my work environment. I teach at a multi-cultural inner-city high school, and it’s a fascinating place – rich in the best sense of the word. Every week day, I am surrounded by a community of colleagues and students from around the globe who find a second home at school. Several staff members read my blog, and some have discussed their own financial situations with me.

When I sent out a request for comments about how this blog has impacted people in their own personal finances, 12 of my colleagues responded. Some of them have never struggled with debt, but most of them have. Here is what they had to say.

“How has my blog impacted you personally?”

JessieRuth has helped me in many ways, not only in finance advice, but in life advice. The moment she helped me the most happened when I was explaining all the reasons why my sister HAD to borrow money from me. Ruth responded with “Bullshit”. As someone who never swears, this really opened my eyes to how serious Ruth was being and how she was correct in her assessment of my sister’s situation. She not only helped me but my sister as well. Ruth is the best.

JesseYou have inspired me. Taught me that being in debt doesn’t have to be the status quo. Shown me that being debt-free isn’t just a dream. Challenged me to question my beliefs about how and when to spend money and made me aware of my financial blueprint. Really, it hasn’t come together for me the way it has for you, but you set me on a course that has gradually changed my life. I don’t imagine that I’ll be as dedicated to the cause as you were, and cars are still my weakness, but your success has made me so proud, jealous, and has motivated me to keep up my struggle! 

CamThe significance of your story is not, really, your story at all.  I would suggest that you brought many voices to the journey that might not have otherwise engaged in the debate about the dream of being debt free.  Many of our personal conversations revolved around the idea of “is it worth it.” We disagreed on this often. We probably still do. In the process we learned so much (I did anyway) about the things that motivate us.  The awareness that such discussion inspires is personally influential; I found myself wondering about debt, and choice, as it applied to friends,myself, my own relationships, and in the process I came to learn things I never intended; and all because of an unassuming blogger who I happened to cross paths with.  Once again: Congratulations!  You worked so hard to get here.  Enjoy it.

Kim: Your journey impacted me in that it showed me getting out of debt doesn’t need to be miserable.  Your mindset inspired me. Although I’m not in debt I have shared your attitude with two friends who are.

NadiaBy meeting with Ruth almost on a weekly basis at work, I have not only become more aware of my spending habits but have learned how when we cut down debt it has a trickle effect in all areas of life. You are indirectly forced to examine in which other areas of your life you give too much or too little. It’s all connected. I have also come to learn that your debt is also your partner’s. You’re a team and you have to help each other and be honest with each other.

DeepikaYour blog has helped me explore my own relationship with money. There were many things I could relate to. I didn’t think about new purchases or the future until my husband and I hit a roadblock when he decided to start his own business, similar to yours and DH’s situation, resulting in a huge drain to our savings that we had taken for granted. Your candor, honesty and realness have shown me that there is a way with sacrifice and commitment. It’s not always the easiest choice, but it’s so fulfilling when you know what it takes to get there. Thank you so much Ruth for such a valuable blog! 🙂

Curtis: (Fun fact: In 2015, Curtis and his wife allowed me to interview them for Fruclassity.) My wife and I were stuck in what felt like a financial limbo. After our interview we used what we learned to motivate ourselves and to attack our debt with a plan that made sense to us. We are now half a year away from killing our student debt; a feat that seemed insurmountable to us in 2015. We will soon only have our mortgage left.

ChrisWe both seemed to approach the topic of debt and savings with the same sense of frugality and perspective. What has been neat is opening up the conversation surrounding tempering expectations, measuring “wants” against “needs”, and the influence of social media on how people want to be perceived. All of it as it relates to spending habits, planned and perceived obsolescence, and the manner in which people attempt to shape their image by buying this, wearing that, eating here, vacationing there, owning this house, condo, cottage, car, etc. These were thoroughly enjoyable conversations and discussions that were initiated by different staff members in the photocopy room as a result of your blog.

LisaI have learned so much by following your journey out of debt, and I really believe that some advice you once gave me – not to overextend on a new home – has saved me from having to make a similar journey myself.  I will really miss this blog, but am so glad you made it!

LauraReading your blog has influenced me into some better habits. I now track my spending – something I never used to do. And tracking has made me realize how much I’m giving to the bank in the form of fees – something I didn’t care about previously & considered just a fact of life. I’m actually planning to switch banks because of it. Another influence from your blog comes from what you’ve said about the importance of communication with your DH. This has encouraged me to talk with my partner about our finances (which we keep more separate than you two do). I used to avoid talking with him about money, so this hasn’t been easy! It’s a big switch, and there have sometimes been heated disagreements. Then again, you’ve written about the arguments you and DH have had 🙂 I’m going to trust that it’s a good idea and not let the conflict prevent me from communicating and asking for communication. My partner’s retirement is now on the horizon – just like yours was when you started your blog. Our goals are now more specific – not vague and indefinite as they used to be.

Diana: (Fun fact: Diana helped me set up my blog when it was new. When I told her that I had chosen “Debtfree” as my last name, but that I still needed a first name – something that had to do with wisdom – she immediately suggested “Prudence”.)  When you first spoke about starting your blog, and wanted a bit of support, I was more than happy to offer the name for your alter ego.  In the past years, one of the best things was watching growth. First, the growth of everyone who came into contact with you. The number of staff members who just “dropped by” to talk about debt.  The growing sense among your coworkers that we could be smarter – elders talking about the holes they were in, younger members learning to avoid those pitfalls, and everyone agreeing that financial laundry was a dirty secret that had long needed airing.  You were that breath of fresh air, and many people now have finances that don’t stink. The second growth was yours. From “I’m not a tech person” to “my blog updates to my pseudonym’s Facebook account”, you’ve gained in confidence and followers what you’ve lost in debt. Promoting your children’s book, beginning to post as Ruth, and a hundred other little steps towards confidence were as wonderful to follow as your honest, direct, and painfully humourous takes on your own life. You have always had a strong bent towards community service, and I think that the blog has allowed you to stretch your reach beyond your closest circle.  We come to you with the adult equivalent of teen heartbreak and shattered hopes – missed payments and interest rates, and you give fair, non judgemental ear. You have become a trusted confidant, and people bring you their successes, because you have inspired them, us, to follow in your footsteps. We too, eventually, will do the debt free dance. And as Prudence is folded up and carefully stowed away, the ripples and effects that Ruth has created live on.  Thank you for my choice to cut up every credit card but one, and for the old furniture instead of the new financing plan, and for the feeling of possibilities.

JedMostly just jealousy. A lot of good intention coupled with even more inaction.

My hopes for this blog

I saved Jed’s comment for last because he is exactly the kind of person I hope this blog will continue to reach. I too felt jealous of other people’s financial discipline, confidence, and health. I too experienced the frustration of good intention followed by giving up. That doesn’t have to be the end of your story. It wasn’t the end of mine.

One of the worst side-effects of our society’s silence on the topic of debt and money management is that too many people flounder in their personal finances without a compass. When we defy the taboo and talk, we sharpen each other’s awareness of the issues surrounding debt and money in general, and we all get wiser in dealing with them.

Farewell!

This is by far the longest post I’ve ever written! It’s time to come to a close now. A big thank you to Dave Ramsey for writing the book that changed our lives! If you need a road-map to debt-freedom, read The Total Money Makeover. I’m so grateful to DFF who brought the book-CD to us when she knew we needed it.

Even in these early days of freedom from debt, we are experiencing an unexpected blossoming of exciting new ideas for the years ahead. There’s an abundance that’s bubbling up that has to do with more than just money.

I hope we never take our freedom for granted. Like all freedoms, we will need to guard over it and protect it. We’ll do this with a humble remembrance of the financial distress we’ve left behind. With gratitude for all that is opening up to us as we move forward. With the self-discipline that we’ve developed. With prudence.


As always, your comments are welcome:)


 

Celebration! Debt-Freedom AND Our 25th Anniversary

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 = dear first daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter
  • DD3 = dear third daughter

When I first read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover in the spring of 2012, I looked ahead to the grand finale as something impossibly remote. The last chapter of Ramsey’s book is about the step of wealth building – the final step, coming after the mortgage is gone. As I read it, I could not really visualize myself being there. It was sort of like trying to visualize myself acting in a movie or singing in a rock band. My imagination could produce something, but nothing very convincing.

Nevertheless I liked that chapter. “I am releasing you to have some fun with your money, because money is to be enjoyed,” said Ramsey, adding that “guilt-free enjoyment” is one of the reasons to have a Total Money Makeover. Sounded good to me!

Debt-freedom!

Last week, we crossed the finish line of our journey out of debt.

ALL GONE!!!

25th anniversary celebration

This past weekend was our time to celebrate, not only our debt freedom from the end of September, but also our 25th wedding anniversary – October 2nd.

Since our journey out of  debt began, we have marked October 2nd frugally. “DH and I celebrated our anniversary last week-end,” I wrote in October of 2014. “As the time approached, we wondered what we would do. Would we stay home for the week-end, as we had the last two years? … Or would we go away to the resort where we’d spent the two anniversaries before our journey out of debt began? Complete with massages, hot tub, pool, tennis courts, supper, and breakfast? DH was leaning towards the resort idea. ‘We didn’t really have a vacation this summer,’ he said. ‘We need to get away.’ I was reluctant. I liked the idea of a get-away, but that resort stay would cost about $800.”

For that anniversary, and the 3 that followed it, we ended up going camping for our get-away. Those trips came in at a fraction of the resort cost, and they were great!

We ate well during our anniversary camping get-away weekends!

“guilt-free enjoyment”

This time around, we gave ourselves permission to splurge! Not only did DH and I go to the resort – the place where we had spent our honeymoon 25 years ago – we brought our 3 daughters with us. We flew DD1 home from the west coast where she studies, and the 5 of us hit the road together.

It’s hard to say what the best part of it was. The resort itself is rustic and beautiful, the largest log structure in the world. And at this time of year, the trees  surrounding it are in full colour. Pool and spa were wonderful, and mountain biking was fun. We enjoyed delicious meals and broke out the champagne. Our daughters surprised us with a silver anniversary gift complete with speech (delivered by DD1), song (sung by DD2), and toast (given by DD3).

Fire-place in the foyer of the resort.

DH and I feel so blessed that our children like being together and being with us. They are all adults now – two having flown the nest – and it’s precious to be able to connect with them at this new level. I hope that DH and I will have many more opportunities to treat our daughters (and maybe some day their spouses and children?) to family get-aways in the years to come.

Journey out of debt: inter-generational ripple effects

“A marriage isn’t made up of big events like a 25th anniversary celebration,” DD1 said as part of her speech. “It’s made up of the small things – like checking over the receipts in your weekly budget dates, playing Exploding Kittens, cooking and eating meals together …”

Although we did splurge this weekend, I’m so glad that the frugality and effort of our journey out of debt were acknowledged in this way. DH and I can’t dictate how our commitment to debt-freedom will play out in our daughters’ lives, but we hope that it will have many positive ripple effects for them.

Right now, DD3 is at a friend’s house for a pot-luck “Friendsgiving” (It’s Thanksgiving Monday in Canada.) 2 thumbs up for free socializing! Earlier today, DH answered a request from DD2 and drove an old book case and storage unit from our house to her apartment. 2 thumbs up for the pursuit of used furniture! We see evidence of our daughters’ frugal mindfulness, and we’re SO happy about that! DH and I were well into middle age by the time we woke up to our financial reality and decided to change it. All signs indicate that our children have entered young adulthood with eyes wide open – fully awake from the get-go.

“I’m so proud of you two for all you have accomplished together,” DD3 wrote on the card the girls gave us. DD2 signed with these words: “It has been inspiring to watch you two stick together, grow together, and love one another through thick and thin.” And DD1 ended her note with, “I think you’re in for an amazing next quarter century.” I can’t help but think the same way.


Your comments are welcome.


 

 

Debt-Freedom & the Blasey Ford / Kavanaugh Hearing: Weird

 Holding up my shoes. They’re off!

  • DH = dear husband
  • DFF = debt-free friend

Friday September 28, 2018: Debt-Freedom!

We’re officially debt-free! Friday offered one last obstacle to the final step of our journey out of debt. We bank with a no-fee subsidiary of one of Canada’s big banks. Friday, of all days, its online banking was shut down! There was no brick and mortar option, so all day, we literally COULDN’T pay off our debt!!! Both bizarre and frustrating! Finally in the evening, the online bank was up and running again. It was a matter of a few clicks of the mouse. DONE!

Friday September 28, 2018: Kavanaugh hearing

I don’t know about you, but the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on allegations against Judge Kavanaugh really had an impact on me. I found myself obsessing, watching segments of the testimonies given, talking with colleagues, students, friends, family members about it. More than one woman disclosed to me either her own experience of sexual assault or that of a loved one.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony just rang so true, and it stirred the pot of confusion, shame, outrage, self-doubt, and anger on which many of us have kept the lid securely in place – often for years or even decades. My Twitter feed Friday night was a collective venting of pain, rage, and incredulity. I found this image via the Facebook posts of two friends, and I think it does a good job of capturing the burden women carry:

It’s hard to walk in confidence and freedom through that maze of mixed messages.

Plutus Awards

I eventually switched my focus on Twitter to the events of FinCon – the big annual financial convention attended internationally by bloggers, pod casters, authors of books, and leaders in all things personal finance. What a change! I had to adjust to the positive high energy and excitement that were conveyed through the tweets of those who were at FinCon18. I got the impression they were having a fantastic time.

The convention took place in Orlando Florida, and it was of particular interest to me this year because Prudence Debtfree was nominated for the Best Debt-Freedom Blog. A big thanks to those who nominated me! It was a real honour. I occupy a very small corner of the personal finance bloggosphere, and it was a big deal for me to be given a spot alongside those with much larger followings and more extensive experience in writing and blogging.

Congratulations to winners of all categories, and especially to John and David from Debt Free Guys – winners of the Best Debt-Freedom Blog.

 Hosting DFF

On Saturday night, we hosted DFF, the debt-free friend who, in the spring of 2012 came over to drop off a copy of Ramsey’s book-CD The Total Money Makeover. If she hadn’t taken that initiative, I honestly believe we’d still be deep in the red at this point – 6 1/2  years later. She’s been cheering us through our journey out of debt ever since we took off from the starting line in June of 2012, inspired by Ramsey’s book. I believe she’s read every single blog post I’ve written along the way.

“So how does it feel?” she asked.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” we said.

DFF said she thought that it would hit us in the weeks to come as we experienced the absence of financial obligations.

  • No mortgage payment.
  • Non-existent credit card balance.
  • Absence of car loan.
  • Business line of credit? Nope.
  • No interest of any kind on any debt.

I know it’s true, but it’s only head knowledge right now. At one point in our conversation, DH was talking about a set of faucets at Costco that he’s thinking of buying. “But they’re $99,” he said, “so we’ll have to wait a bit.” We’ve averaged a monthly debt re-payment of over $3,000 for more than 6 years, and now that we’re free of it, we’re being cautious about a purchase of $99?! Actually, I think that’s a good thing – but it just shows that our brains have some adapting to do.

For women and allies

I’ve had trouble writing this post because rationally, I think it should be all “Wooo-hoo! We’re debt-free!” For one thing, it’s still registering. I have no doubt the “Wooo-hoo!” will happen. For another thing, the Blasey Ford / Kavanaugh testimonies are still very much on my mind.

If you are a woman who has experienced the surfacing of raw outrage with the Kavanaugh hearing, please accept my virtual hug. Let’s not allow it to end in a rage or depression that feeds on itself. I believe we’re at a watershed moment – no matter what decision is made with regards to the Supreme Court appointment. One in three women, someone told me. The force of this kind of tsunami will have an impact one way or another, and insofar as its legacy is in our hands, let’s work it through constructively and in power.

And if you are a man who recognizes the imbalance and who won’t stand by to watch it unfold in his own circle of influence, thank you. What a difference you make!

Since starting our journey out of debt in 2012, I’ve thought that in some way, I’d like to encourage, challenge, and mentor women in developing their  financial health once my own becomes strong. Maybe this is all a confirmation of that path. Time will tell.


Did the hearings have an impact on you last week? What questions are you left with? Did you attend FinCon? Your comments are welcome.


 

Our Debt-Freedom & Our 25th Anniversary

It’s hard to believe this photo was taken 25 years ago.

DH = dear husband

Our “PLOT TWIST” & its remarkable timing

Our debt-freedom SHOULD have happened the first week of September when we paid off our mortgage. But it didn’t. This summer, we stumbled at the finish line and borrowed for the first time since we began our journey out of debt in June of 2012. So we’re left with a small line of credit to pay off. It was $3,800 at the end of August, and is now down to $2,500.  Since we won’t have to put any money aside for next month’s mortgage – because we won’t have one – we should be able eliminate our debt completely at the end of this week.

I have bemoaned our backsliding more than once this month, and last week, I got a kick out of Linda’s response to it. “You had a perfect 74 month journey which is no small feat! Then PLOT TWIST. The equity line stumble just makes your story have a bit of a thrilling ending. All about perspective, right?”

How’s this for perspective? Friday September 28th will almost certainly be our day of debt-freedom. Four days later, on Tuesday October 2, DH and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Isn’t that beautiful timing? Much better than having a whole month separating the two milestones, right?

I’d say the “PLOT TWIST” that Linda pointed out is serving a purpose. It’s emphasizing the link between our financial health and the health of our relationship.

The mess and the test

Listening to the radio in my car last Sunday, I was struck by these words: “Let your mess be your message. Let your test be your testimony.”

There’s a forceful pressure in our society to present well – particularly in this era of social media. But I’m convinced that the best path is the one that lets the light in on what is imperfect. Have DH and I had a fairy tale relationship? NO! Ours is a story of messes and tests, and our journey out of debt is a clear illustration of that truth.

Mess and love

I remember once reading an article about fathers and the different levels of involvement that they have in the nurture of their babies. According to research cited in the piece, there is a positive correlation between the  extent to which a dad takes on the mess of parenting his infant – changing diapers, wiping nose drips, cleaning spit-ups – and the depth of the emotional attachment that he develops with his child. Somehow, the direct handling of poop, snot, and puke leads to love.

I believe there is a similar correlation between mess and love for adults in marriage. Fantasies of romance and a distaste for conflict lead many couples to avoid and even deny the mess of their relationships. Life has a tendency to bring garbage to the surface though – one way or another.  The force of impact from denial  colliding with re-surfacing mess is lethal to marriage. We are left with the choice to get our hands dirty dealing with the poop, snot, and puke of our relationships, or to let the mess defeat us.

Facing our mess together

As our debt-freedom and our 25th wedding anniversary approach, I feel so very grateful that my DH chose not to avoid, but to face the garbage with me. As we have focused on getting our financial act together – tracking expenditures, preparing budgets, distinguishing between wants and needs, deciding upon what to give and what not to give to our children – the issues surrounding our indebtedness – issues that have nothing to do with money – have come up time and time again.

Our day-to-day mission to reduce debt has not been romantic. It has featured a focus on infinitesimal detail as well as  plenty of conflict. But like the dad who faithfully serves his baby in all that is mundane, we have reaped a greater love by facing the refuse of our relationship as a team. Renewed affection, more laughter, increased contentment, the promise of hope and new dreams – these are the fruits of our unromantic, debt-reducing grunt work.

Taking the test

When I consider our journey out of debt against the backdrop of DH’s concurrent career upheaval, I am even more grateful. DH was a casualty of the high tech bust early in the millennium. It was a shock that rattled our foundations and that ultimately forced us to recognize the mortifying truth of our poor financial management – though we remained in denial for many years to come.

At the time, DH attended some workshops for people trying to navigate job loss and a search for new employment. One particular questionnaire that he filled out as part of a workshop tested his suitability for self-employment. DH scored in the 5th percentile. He was not a natural-born entrepreneur.

But he did it. He has now run his own small business for almost 10 years. So much that has been involved in his work has gone against the grain for DH. The risk, the multi-tasking, the indefinite hours and uncertain income have often weighed heavily upon him. It’s not something that anyone else would necessarily know or appreciate. But I do.

DH is no quitter. He has taken the prolonged challenges of a difficult situation in stride, and he has won my admiration and respect for his tenacity. It is that same tenacity that has cleared the path for our trek to debt-freedom.

Thank you, DH!

Happily ever after didn’t happen 25 years ago when we said, “I do.” And I know it won’t happen when we can finally scream, “We’re debt-freeeeeee!” But I know I am blessed to have a partner who will face the mess with me directly and honestly as it continues to surface in the years ahead. And I have every confidence that because of the content of your character, we will pass the tough tests that lie ahead. As we focus on the day-to-day, I will anticipate the fruits of our relationship. Because mess and love are intertwined – just like our lives are – and we’ve got plenty of both. On to the next 25!


Do you find it hard to deal with the mess of relationships – romantic or otherwise? Your comments are welcome.


 

Mortgage-Free…But Keeping Sandals On

Mortgage-free, but keeping my sandals on.

DH = dear husband

Mortgage-free …

“Let’s take a look at our mortgage,” DH said after the first week of September. We had made our very last payment of $1400, and I think we were hoping to see a lovely $0. DH scrolled down the page of our online account … and then back up again. “It’s gone,” he said.

I looked too, and there was no indication of a mortgage or its pay-off to be seen. There was a new line of text that said, “Take out a mortgage with us!” My guess is that it’s a promotion that the bank automatically inserts onto the pages of customers who don’t have a mortgage with them.

Wouldn’t you think that the bank would send out a little “Congratulations!” – or at least provide the satisfying visual of “$0.00”? According the Cheese_Baron, the bank doesn’t find mortgage pay-off a cause for celebration:

… but not debt-free

Our $0 mortgage was SUPPOSED to be the big “Woooo-hoo!” But we blew it. We never used debt in the 6 years and 2 months – 74 months – of our journey out of debt between June 2012 and July 2018. But in August – month #75 of a total 76 – we got ahead of ourselves and ended up with a $3,800 line of credit 🙁

Moral of the story? If you’re trying to reverse decades-long habits of poor financial management, don’t let go of your vigilance once you’ve hit debt-freedom. You’re going to need the awareness and accountability that got you this far to stay out of debt and to build on the positive side of $0.

So although the grass in our backyard beckons, we’re keeping our sandals on. We’ll take our barefoot walk once that annoying line of credit is gone. As of now, it’s down to $2,500.

The impact of healthy finances when life sucks

Although transparency is a real blog-value of mine, there are limits to what I can disclose. All I’ll say is that something really crappy has happened, and for me it has involved the fog of shock, an incredulous outrage, and a frustrated powerlessness. It has nothing to do with finances.

Great things happen whether or not you’ve got your financial act together – and so do awful things. Does financial health make a difference when life takes a nose-dive?

I think it does. It offers a buffer to absorb some of the mess that – for me at least – comes with crisis. I get less competent and more wasteful at times like this. I get drawn to band-aid comforts – like take-out – and I want to provide them for anyone else who is impacted. Poor financial health just makes tough times colder and more stressful.

There. That’s it for this week. I believe that all will be well soon.


Was there a tough time when you noticed that financial health either helped or hindered you? If you ran a bank, what would you communicate to customers who had paid off their mortgage?


 

My Old Post Is Published: A Timely Reminder

Remarkable timing

In November of 2013, I wrote a post about debt, faith, and freedom. I was surprised this past February – of 2018 – to receive an email message from the Christian magazine Activated, requesting permission to publish the article.  When told that it would be published in September, I was struck by the incredible timing involved. 

“We’re still a long way from paying off our debt …” I wrote nearly 5 years ago. “Time will tell if we maintain the discipline necessary to keep things going in a positive direction once we’re out of the red. Time will tell if we use our growing financial freedom well and generously or if we squander it foolishly.” A bit of a haunting question to be asked now – in September of 2018 – our month of complete debt-freedom.

Activated edited my original post and gave it a more succinct title:

Debt Reduction and Wealthbuilding

Reading the blogs of other people fighting debt helps me keep my resolve in focused debt reduction. As I browse articles that relate to where we’re at in our journey out of debt, I often sift out those to do with investments and savings. There is an overlap between writings on the subject of debt reduction and those on the subject of wealth building, and while I’m 100% in when it comes to eliminating debt, I struggle with the concept of building wealth. Where I associate debt reduction with becoming responsible, exercising discipline, and cleaning up my act, I have tended to associate wealth building exclusively with greed and selfishness.

A few years ago, I wrote a post explaining how faulty interpretations of certain Bible passages had taken root in me long ago, leading me to associate money and rich people with all that is bad.1

It can be touchy to quote the Bible when sharing a personal issue—like personal debt—because it can alienate the listener or the reader. But debt reduction is many-layered, and leaving out the spiritual side of it gives an incomplete picture of the experience. A colleague of mine who reads my blog and who is not Christian told me last year, after reading the post mentioned above, “You’re one of the few people who can quote the Bible without leaving me angry.” That gives me

Click to continue reading


Don’t you think it’s cool this particular post, which I wrote almost 5 years ago, was published this particular month? Have you had to deal with a negative attitude towards building wealth? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of synergy-cmc.com

Prudence Debtfree Stumbles at Finish Line (Ugh!)

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD3 = dear third daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter
  • DD1 = dear first daughter

“You’re worried about what you’ll write on your blog.”

Last week, I wrote rather cryptically: “Ironically, with our total debt-freedom only weeks away, DH and I were off our game.” I then vaguely stated that “we faced our current mess. What would we do to deal with it? A mortifying thing, but we got it figured out.”

All week I’ve had a nagging stress about this “mess” in the back of my mind. “I don’t think it’s so much that you’re worried about the state of our finances,” DH said to me when I talked about it yet again. “You’re worried about what you’ll write on your blog.”

Not quite true – but partly true.

The income-tax-return-effect

One of the bad money patterns from our past that DH and I have come to recognize through the 6+ years of our journey out of debt has been what we call the income-tax-return-effect. When our children were younger, DH and I received significant income tax refunds each year. We’d do our taxes, and it would be all about the refund. “We’re going to get $1,380!” And we’d start fantasizing about what we’d buy with it. (Already this is painful to write about!)

Since we knew the money was coming, we’d go ahead and buy the things we had settled upon ahead of time – and put it on credit. And then when the money came, guess what we did. We spent it again!

A bad old pattern seeps in

DH and I allowed the income-tax-return-effect to seep back into our finances this summer. Since the beginning of 2018, I have made reference to our projected debt-freedom date of September 2018. This summer, without being aware of it, DH and I gravitated back to that “We’re going to get a tax refund!” disconnect.

I believe (though DH doesn’t) that this disconnect was compounded by the fact that I received the second – and bigger – part of my inheritance in July. It falls in the range of an average inheritance, but it is by far the most substantial amount of money we have ever dealt with. We’ve been very intentional about using it to speed up our mortgage pay-off (by 8 months) and to invest. However, I’m convinced that good intentions and even good execution have not stopped our brains from becoming a bit addled by it.

So my theory is that we unintentionally allowed the promise of debt-freedom + the knowledge that an inheritance had increased our wealth = seeping in of income-tax-return-effect. “You just got excited a little too early,” DD3 very kindly said after I’d explained it all to her.

The anatomy of our mess

What did we do this summer?

  • We rented a cottage in the Bruce Peninsula with 2 other couples for 5 days.

We hadn’t had this sort of trip for over 6 years – “this sort” meaning that we paid for our accommodation instead of staying at people’s houses. It wasn’t crazy expensive, and it was such a beautiful part of the world! I’m glad we went, and I hope we go back again. It’s just an indication that we were exiting debt-payoff mode a few months early.

  • We went camping for 10 days with DD3, DD2, and our puppy Kobe in August.

The last time we camped for any amount of time was 5 years ago – and I was racing between the park and my summer school job in the city the whole time. It was l-o-v-e-l-y to sink into the relaxation that comes with camping. And we had a great time introducing Kobe to swimming, camp fires, and tents. DH and I upgraded to cots instead of air mattresses – again, a purchase we wouldn’t have made in full-on debt-repayment mode.

  • DH doesn’t get vacation pay.

We did not take into account that DH’s income for August would be reduced by half – because he was away for half of the month.

  • We bought 2 bicycles.

DH and I had been riding bikes that were old (about 25 years), heavy, and worn. We decided that the one treat we would would give ourselves from the inheritance was the purchase new bikes. We bought them, and they’re great! But as DH pointed out last night, we spent more than the amount we gave ourselves. With lights, fenders, bells, carriers, water bottles and their holders, not to mention taxes – we ate into our budget.

  • I did a celebratory debt-free spa day with our 3 daughters.

Ever since we started our journey out of debt, I planned to treat our girls to a spa day once we were out of the red. DD1 studies out west, and we see her only 2 or 3 times a year. She came home at the end of August – so close to our debt-freedom date of September – and we decided that this would be the time to do our spa day. It was f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s, exceeding even the high expectations each of us had for the day. But it was also e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. And while I don’t want to take away from the great experience that it was, we should have waited for DD1’s first visit after we were truly debt-free.

Debt-freedom in September?

The line graph of our debt-repayment isn’t smooth. Its bumps reflect the differences in progress that we’ve achieved over the months and years. But it goes in one direction: down. We never went back into debt once we started our journey out of debt in June of 2012. Until August of 2018. (Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!)

In September, we will pay off the last of our mortgage: $1,400. But will we be debt-free? Because of our summer self-sabotage – even after a mad scramble to throw all available reserve money  at our bills – our line of credit sits at $3,800. (U-G-H-!)

DH and I had our budget date last night. We plugged our numbers into the new and improved spreadsheet he designed last week … and it looks like we’ll be able to cover it! The dream of debt-freedom in September is still alive! I wasn’t expecting that, and we certainly don’t deserve it. 3 things are working for us:

  1. August was a 3-pay month for me, so we’ve got the money to cover the remaining mortgage without dipping into September’s income.
  2. We have been maxing out our monthly mortgage payments at $3,000, so the lower payment this month is significant.
  3. We don’t need to keep any income from this month in reserve for October’s mortgage payment – because we won’t have one!

If DH has a good business month, we might pay off the line of credit before the end of September. Otherwise, my 2nd pay of the month – the last Friday of September – will do the trick.

Transparency

“You don’t need to write about it,” DH said to me last night – knowing how mortified I am by the whole thing.

I considered that option, but decided against it. Could I really let out a virtual debt-free scream when we’d paid off the mortgage – even though we’d dug into our line of credit? No. When I started this blog, I committed to honesty – to giving a genuine account of the good, the bad, and the ugly of debt-reduction for us.

I would never have guessed that we would make such a colossal mistake so close to the finish line! But we have. And I think there’s value in knowing that the forces that kept us in chronic debt for so long are still waiting in the wings – ready to attack once we think we’ve arrived. DH and I were dumbfounded. “We can’t take our eyes off our money,” he said.  “It so easily gets out of control. We have to stay vigilant.” Amen to that.


Can you believe this?! Have you ever sabotaged yourself in reaching a goal SO close to the finish line? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of flickr

Debt-Freedom & Back to Basics: Budget Dates

DH = dear husband

It was 3:12 am one early morning last week, and I’d woken up. By 3:40, it was clear that sleep just wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I reached over in the dark to pick up the novel I had almost finished reading, and I walked out of the room as quietly as possible – not wanting to disturb DH’s sound slumber.

When I turned on the lamp by the guest room bed, I realized I’d brought the wrong book. Instead of The High Mountains of Portugal by Jann Martel, I had Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover in my hands. It’s the book that gave us the wake-up call, the inspiration, and the steps that DH and I needed to get ourselves out of chronic debt. We had both listened to the CD version and read the print version in May of 2012, and now that we were approaching total debt-freedom in September of 2018, I had taken the book out again – a sort of “This is how it all started” looking back thing – and clearly left it beside my novel.

Would I go back and get the right book? I decided not to. I continued re-reading Ramsey’s book from where I’d left off.

Budget basics

“Most people concentrate on the urgent in our culture,” I read in chapter 4. “We worry about our health and focus on our money only after they’re gone … John Maxwell has the best quote on budgeting I have ever heard … ‘A budget is people telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went.’ You have to make your money behave, and a written plan is the whip and chair for the money tamer.”

And then from one of the featured testimonials towards the end of the chapter, “We have made budgeting and planning our future together enjoyable and fun. It’s like dating again!”

Time to go back to the basics

I don’t know what time it was when I turned off the lamp and sleep finally came to me, but I do know that before drifting off, I recognized that I hadn’t reached for the “wrong book” after all. Ironically, with our total debt-freedom only weeks away, DH and I were off our game. Was it a case of summer vacation sending our money-smarts on vacation too? Or were we getting sloppy and complacent because the finish line was just around the corner? We needed to get back to basics.

Sure enough, in the days to come, DH made reference to the abysmal state of our finances.  Ugh! This was all too familiar – the speechless incredulity at how much money was leaving our account and how little was left. As if we were bystanders to it all and not the ones in control of it! Hadn’t we been dealing with this very issue for the past 6+ years? Why the resurgence of what we absolutely didn’t want? “A budget is people telling money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” What were we doing “wondering where it went”?

Our history of “budget date” fails

I think that at some unspoken level, DH and I figured we had “graduated” out of the need to budget. But clearly we hadn’t. Clearly, we still needed the “whip and chair” of a written plan – a “money tamer” vigilance.

“I want us to meet tonight,” I said to DH Thursday afternoon. “We need a budget date. What time works for you?” DH accepted, and 8:30 was to be our time. A bit of a stiff interaction, but “budget date” was probably a trigger for us both – because we’d never managed to make the “date” part happen.

In 2015, 3 years into our journey out of debt, I wrote a post about my frustration with our “budget dates”: “We knew this was going to be a ‘clean up the mess’ budget meeting. And it ended up being – well – messy. I won’t go into details, but at a particularly low point, I said, ‘Now you’re just being an a**hole.’  As soon as we had finished with the budget, I marched upstairs in stony silence to get ready for church (the irony does not escape me), and when DH came up to do the same, we just looked at each other and laughed. When will we get this budget meeting thing right?!”

Getting it right

Thursday evening, I wanted things to be different. Budget dates of the past had always involved us huddling over a computer spreadsheet in DH’s office space. This time, there would be no computer, and we would meet in our living room. I poured two drinks. I dimmed the lights and lit a candle. DH chuckled when he saw it all, but he sat down like a good sport … and we stared at each other awkwardly.

With a pointed effort to reach that essential balance between civility and transparency, I said that I first wanted to discuss the long-term. We’d been following a plan, and we were close to enjoying the culminating success of it – with our September mortgage payoff only weeks away –  and we needed a new plan for the next chapter. We laid out our priorities:

  •  continued investment for retirement
  • filling up our emergency fund (depleted from the recent demise of our ’99 Dodge Caravan and subsequent purchase of a new-to-us vehicle)
  • a full-on sale-prep-reno plan for our home over the next few years
  • more generous giving
  • more discretionary money for us

We decided upon the basics of our budget moving forward on all counts. It was good to give dollar-amount definition to everything!

Next, we faced our current mess. What would we do to deal with it? A mortifying thing, but we got it figured out. Throughout our discussions, I remained on the look-out for rising tensions, and when they surfaced, I very intentionally avoided reaction – instead choosing to respond with both respect and strength. DH must have done the same – because neither of us gave way to irritation, and we capped it all off with a toast to our future.

That’s verging on romantic, isn’t it? Is it possible that we’ve finally got it right? And that included in the future we toasted will be bona fide budget dates?


Do you keep a written budget? Have you ever thought you had “graduated” from the need to keep a budget? Have you ever tried a budget date? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of The Blue Diamond Gallery

Prudence Debtfree’s Debt-Reduction Graph

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

Producing my graph

“If you had kept a spreadsheet of our debts month-by-month, you could have produced a graph in a few seconds,” DH told me earlier today. But I have not keep a spreadsheet. Instead, I’ve written dozens of updates on our debt-reduction progress. And these are interspersed through 277 posts that I’ve written for this blog over the last 6 years and 3 months. So it took a lot longer than mere seconds to produce my graph.

For several days, I’ve been digging deep into the archives of Prudence Debt-Free: One Couple’s Journey out of Debt. In my efforts to pin down an account of our debt totals for the 76 months of our trek to debt-freedom, I spent hours filling up 10 pages with dates and numbers. After that, it was a matter of bribing DH (with food) to take my data and make the graph.

4 of the 10 pages of notes I took

If this graph could tell its story …

2012

After a very encouraging start in June of 2012, we had to put our debt-repayment on hold for September and October. DH had been to a conference in the U.S. and he had suffered a gall bladder attack. He’d had to give a deposit of $2,500 for his few hours in a hospital, with another $3,000+ owing. It took weeks to sort out the insurance coverage.

Everything settled in our favour with the insurance, and our financial stars aligned to allow us to pay off a lot all at once. November brought us to the end of our consumer debt ($21,400). DH’s over-the-top business in December allowed us to pay $10,000 off of our business debt ($80,800).

2013

Our debt-payoff rate decreased through most of 2013.  We had to save for a new roof, and in the spring, DH’s business slowed down. I had to learn patience on both fronts, and the big victory of the year was that for the first time in our lives, we paid for a big purchase – the roof – with money on hand.

2014

After having paid for the roof, we were eager to speed up payments against our huge business debt. Our rate of repayment increased overall, but there was nothing smooth about it. A month of great income and low expenses would be followed by a month of slow business and vet bills. One month, we paid a whopping $5,000 off the business debt. For two months, we couldn’t pay off anything. It was a bumpy ride through 2014, and as our attitudes did some re-shaping, we began to recognize in ourselves a draw towards greater simplicity and minimalism.

2015

The bumps of 2014 continued into the first half of 2015, but then … we paid off the business debt! We were debt-free except for the mortgage! From June of 2015, our debt-repayment pace became smoother and slower. Why slower? 3 reasons:

  1. We saved up for renovations that DH did near the end of the year.
  2. We supported DD2 financially in moving out of the house and closer to her university and track facilities. We did this for 2 years – from July of 2015-June of 2017.
  3. In following Dave Ramsey’s steps, we started to save for our big emergency fund. (Just 2 months ago, our e-fund allowed us to buy a new-to-us car with money on hand when our ’99 Dodge Caravan bit the dust.)

2016

I found it difficult to get excited about the slower progress we were making now that we were dividing our financial focus between savings and debt-repayment. I had been more motivated when it had all been about taking down the debt. As 2016 started, my resolution was to hold steady – like a plank – and to keep strong in all aspects of our financial efforts.

Our big mile-stone for the year was in going from a 6-figure debt to a 5-figure debt. From our original total debt of $257,000, we had less than $100,000 to pay off! I could see the finish line on the horizon!

2017

Our debt-repayment continued steadily in 2017, but DH and I found ourselves shifting towards a greater appreciation for investing. Now that our big emergency fund had been saved, we were investing 15% of our gross income (as per Ramsey’s plan).

My mother’s health started to decline in the spring of 2017. She passed away in November after living a long and full life. Her final illness was mercifully brief, and she was surrounded by all 5 of her children at the end.

2018

The inheritance that I received has sped up the last leg of our journey to debt-freedom. We were aiming for a debt-free date of June 2019, but that date moved up to September of 2018. We were able to make 2 lump sum payments against our mortgage to bring it down sharply – without incurring a penalty.

In 3 short weeks, our mortgage – and the last of our debt – will be down to $0. Our journey out of debt is almost over.


If you are paying off debt, how do you keep track of your progress? Are you aiming for a specific debt-free date? Your comments are welcome.