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Pet Therapy, Crate Training & An Analogy with Debt-Reduction

Introducing Kobe

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

We lost our Rocky in November – two weeks before we lost my mom. They were such great friends!

My mom was Rocky’s #1 person.

DD3 was most impacted by Rocky’s passing – especially tough as it was followed so soon by the passing of her grandmother. In the long winter ahead, she felt her double loss.

One particularly sad day in March, we were out walking when we passed by a man and his pug puppy. We stopped to “oooh” and “ahhh” and chat. DD3 knelt down, and the puppy leapt into her lap, his tail wagging in sheer joy. “You don’t know how much that lifted my soul!” she said as we walked away.

“Hmmm…” I thought.

Pet therapy

Just about an hour earlier, before meeting up with DD3, I had passed by an older woman at a bus stop who seemed to be speaking to a container on her folding wheeled grocery cart. “Would you like to see my bundle of joy?” she asked me. I stopped, and she pulled out a tiny puppy – a chihuahua I think. “She’s in training to be my companion,” the woman told me. “I’m on so many pills for depression…” We talked for a minute or two, and as her bus approached, I said, “I hope she brings you lots of comfort.” The elderly woman zipped her puppy back into her container, saying “Oh! She already does!”

Therapy pet. Sad daughter’s spirits lifted by a puppy. Was there a sign in this?

I took DD3 out for lunch, and while we were at the restaurant, I texted DH. “Let’s get a puppy.”

When we got home, I read some blogs and went to send out links on Twitter as is my custom. And what do you think was the first thing I saw on my feed? A vine showing a man who comes home to a dog jumping ecstatically into his arms. The bottom text gave this message: “Studies prove that pets are good for mental health.”

Yep. The signs were everywhere.

Our decision to get a dog

DH, who runs a business from home, was surprised by how much he missed Rocky’s constant companionship. Rocky would plunk himself down by DH while he worked, and then follow him out to the kitchen whenever he took a lunch or snack break. If DH had a power nap, so did Rocky. And if DH had to leave to run an errand, he would be assured of an enthusiastic welcome home upon his return.

When DH received my text message, it was a confirmation of something he already wanted.

May 20th, we brought home our Kobe.

On the way to his new home.

I forgot about the puppy stage …

Of course, no two puppies are alike. And there is a big difference between a puppy and an established family pet. Enter reality. The last few weeks have been crazy!! Kobe bites everything in sight, and he pees and poos all over the house.

In praise of crate training

I don’t like putting Kobe in his crate. He wants to run and play and be with his people, and I empathize with his longing for freedom when I close the door on his crate.

On the other hand, Kobe has a real resistance to doing his business outside. I can’t count the number of times we’ve walked him around our yard for that purpose with no success – only to have him do it within minutes of returning inside. Argh!! And when it rains, it’s a hopeless case! He doesn’t like the wet grass, and he’ll stand there in stubborn refusal as one of us gets soaked by the elements. No, it’s much better to pee on the mat by the front door and the upstairs landing. And the best place to poo is clearly the floor by DH’s work desk. Again – argh!!

I hit a critical point of irritation this week (not a proud moment), and I’ve completely overcome my reluctance to using that crate!

Parallels to debt-reduction

Kobe cannot handle freedom at this point. He needs us to set up super-strict parameters so that he can learn the basics of life as family pet. He sleeps in his crate. When he wakes up, I take him outside until he does his business. That means he gets to eat breakfast and then play with DD3. If DD3 needs to focus on something other than Kobe, he goes back in his crate – until DH is able to take over.

Kobe needs 100% vigilance. When we slip and give him only 96% vigilance, he’ll use that 4% to pee in the house or carry away one of our shoes to chomp on!

If I back-track to a time before our journey out of debt, I see that DH and I could not handle freedom. Financial chaos on my part and compulsive maxing out on his led to our chronic indebtedness and the chronic financial stress that went with it. We needed to set up super-strict parameters so that we could grasp the basics of personal finance and exit stress-mode. Budgets, tracking, cutting back, DIYing, steady focus …

Signs of success

It’s Saturday morning, and since starting this post, Kobe woke up. I saved my draft and went downstairs to say “Good morning!” to him. Out of the crate, into the back yard. Wet grass? Reluctance to walk on it? I got the leash and walked him around the yard. Pee! Yay! But we weren’t done yet. Around the yard again. And again. And then … Poo! It just does not get better than that!

Kobe had an equally productive walk after his breakfast, and now he’s peacefully lying down in his crate again. Some day, he’ll be able to lie at my feet while I write, and if he needs to do his business, he’ll let me know.

Likewise, DH and I have succeeded within our parameters of debt-reduction. We hope and believe that some of those strict boundaries can be replaced with more flexibility. We are well trained for our growing freedom.

Last night, Kobe was exhausted after a long walk. All pooped out – both literally and figuratively – he gave us a glimpse of the family pet he is becoming. And he is lovely – everything we could ask for.

DD2 visits us a lot more often these days.

Do you think pets are good for mental health? Have you ever crate-trained a dog? Your comments are welcome.


Discovering the “Freedom” in Debt-Freedom

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1, DD2, DD3 = dear daughters – first, second, and third

“Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” That’s one of Olivia’s lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A very eligible young lady, Olivia discourages the advances of an equally eligible bachelor. Steadfast in her determination to remain single, she is taken aback by her sudden attraction to Cesario, her suitor’s servant. The “plague” to which she refers is romantic love – a love that turns her world upside down. But all ends well (except for a poor fellow named Malvolio).

“The plague” DH and I have caught in this last week has likewise been unexpected, sudden, powerful, and one that has turned our world upside down. And while it doesn’t involve Olivia’s particular affliction, it is a matter of the heart. Here’s the back story:

Urban dream vs. suburban reality

Ever since my late teens, I’ve wished to live in the urban centre of my city. I grew up in a west-end suburb, and every time I went downtown, I just felt more alive. I remember cycling along the canal into the urban core, looking at all of the houses that lined it, hoping that “some day” one of them would be my home.

By my late twenties, I had a teaching position in a suburb even farther west than the one of my childhood – way farther. And when I met DH, he worked in the same area, so it made sense for us to settle in the burbs. And we did.

In the years to come, career upheaval (the prologue to our debt story) would send us all over the city map in terms of where we worked, but we continued to raise our family in the suburban “dream home” we’d maxed out on. Eventually, DH started a business, and our big house became an unintended blessing. There was no need for him to rent office space; he worked from home.

DH = team suburban

DH has always known about my dream to live in an urban setting, but he has never shared it. “Streets are always under construction downtown,” he’s pointed out many times. “And why would you want an old, cramped house that’s falling apart when you can have a spacious new one?”

There’s no arguing people into wanting to live in one type of area instead of another. Rural dwellers love the open spaces of the country. Urban dwellers thrive on the pulse of the city. And suburban dwellers value the tidy order of their communities – that is, if all of the above are living where they want to live. Many of us compromise because of finances, work, family – and that’s part of life. I have certainly accepted our suburb, but DH hasn’t talked me out of my love for the urban centre – and I haven’t tried to talk him into it.

We’ve now lived in our home for 20 years, and we’re just a few months away from paying it off. We’re also within a year or two of  retirement and an empty nest. Looking ahead, DH and I haven’t had a shared vision. Against my suggestions of “some day” downsizing to a downtown condo, DH has argued that it would cost more than our house and that he doesn’t want to be “stuck in a small box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” When he has suggested downsizing to a townhouse or a condo in our area, I have been equally resistant.

So in the absence of another plan, we’ve envisioned staying put. We’ve realized that the house will seem awfully big and empty once DH dismantles his office (which takes up half of our first floor) and DD3 moves out. Perhaps in the future, visiting grandchildren would fill it. But DD1 has been studying and working on the west coast for years, and who knows where our younger two will choose to live in the days to come – let alone if any will go the route of marriage and children. In fact, for the near future, DD2 is living and working downtown – where DD3 plans to move …

DH’s surprising turn-around

Last month I told DH about a new condo development near a vegan restaurant where DD2 had treated me for Mother’s Day – not downtown, but pretty close to it. DH was receptive to a suggestion for change just at that point. He was feeling burned out from work, and the idea of moving to a place where he couldn’t possibly keep his business going appealed to him.

A week ago, we went to the sales office to check it out, and what we saw blew DH away. This was no “box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” The development has many of the positives of the suburbs that have always been a draw for him – new, tidy, open, within view of green spaces.

We have talked of almost nothing else since stopping by (twice) last weekend.

  • Which model would we get?
  • Would we need two bedrooms or three?
  • When should we plan to move?
  • How much is our house worth now?
  • What do we have to do to make our house sale-ready?
  • How long will it take DH to wind down his business?
  • Should I work an extra year?

DH is actually having a hard time sleeping with this sudden fixation. He told me today that he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about something like where the sofa should go in one of the models we’re considering. “The main reason I want to make this happen is that I’m excited to see one of your life-long dreams come true,” he said. Some men are generally sweet, but DH is not one of them. So when he says something sweet, it’s really sweet.

Friday night we drove over to the construction site, parked the car, and walked around for hours. And we felt alive.

Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Just as Shakespeare knew there was always a risk in love (“the plague” was one of several diseases he used to describe it) we know there are risks in a move based on the heart. I especially do not want to mess up financially, but I also want to live the freedom we’ve been working towards. We’re going to take this vision and go with it, and we’re going to be grounded in all that we’ve learned over the last 6 years of debt payoff.

  • We will not put money down on a condo model that is more expensive than the current worth of our home. Our plans do not involve a mortgage.
  • Though we’ve considered it, we will not buy an additional smaller unit to rent out. Again, no mortgage!
  • Our planned move is later rather than sooner. DD3 will move out of her childhood home when she’s ready (and she is ready). We’ll have time to wrap up our careers and get the house de-cluttered and sale-ready.
  • We’ve discussed worst case scenarios, and only if we’re ready to absorb them will we move forward. We’d have to commit well in advance of moving, and there are inherent risks in that kind of arrangement. House won’t sell? We sell the condo. House won’t sell for the price of the condo? I work longer.

“What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

Olivia is full of self doubt as she realizes that she has fallen in love. “I do I know not what, and fear to find / Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind.” But she knows there is something greater than herself at work, and so she lets go of doubt and is released into the abundant overflow of her heart. “Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe / What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

All ends well for Olivia. I have high hopes for the same to be true for us!

Have you ever found yourself surprised by a sudden longing – for a move or a career change … or love – that turned your world upside down? Do you see a connection between debt-freedom and these types of moves of the heart? Your comments are welcome


What If We Hadn’t Read The Total Money Makeover?

2011: a sense that we needed to change

In 2011, it was clear that our circumstances had changed for the better. After a destabilizing decade of career upheaval and financial distress, DH had started a business, and two years in, it was succeeding! What a profound and welcome relief! We could go back to normal. Better days were ahead!

But something didn’t feel right. “Normal” felt hazardous – like being in a building without a foundation – always bracing for the tip-over and crash. We didn’t ever again want to experience the financial vulnerability we so recently had lived through, and there was a chaos to our money management that we knew could lead to it.

Something other than our circumstances needed to change. We needed to change our money-management. From June of 2011-June of 2012, we paid off $16,000 in debt. Not bad. Probably our best to that point. (We weren’t tracking our debt repayment then. It was later that we looked at our numbers for that year.) 

In May of 2012, we listened to (and then read) Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. The next month, we started our journey out of debt with dramatically increased doses of clarity, focus, and hope. From June of 2012-June of 2013, we paid off $50,000 in debt – with the same income and expenses as we’d had the previous year,

What if …

In 3 months from now – in September of 2018 – we will pay off our house and be completely debt-free. The $257,400 of consumer debt, business debt, and mortgage debt that we carried 6 years ago will be gone!

If we had just continued with our correct but vague understanding that we needed to change the way we handled money, where would we be now? Of course, it’s impossible to say, but I’m going to give it a try.

In the year after June 2012, we paid off 312% more debt than we had the year before. If I apply that percentage to the years that followed, this is what I get:

  • From June 2012 – December of 2017 we brought our debt down to a $60,000 mortgage after paying off $197,000 – including all of our consumer and business debts and most our mortgage debt. We also saved up a full emergency fund (to see us through 3-6 months of income loss).
  • $197,000 is 312% of $63,000.
  • So I would estimate that if we hadn’t read Ramsey’s book, we would have brought our debt down by $63,000 to $194,000 by December of 2017.

I can only guess that it would have been made up of approximately $15,000 in consumer debt (because we wouldn’t still be driving our ’99 Dodge Caravan) + $65,000 in business debt + a $115,000 mortgage. We would certainly not have saved up an emergency fund.


Before the end of 2017, I received the first part of an inheritance that allowed us to put down the maximum annual lump sum against our mortgage. This brought our total debt down to $42,000.

I believe we would have done the same if we hadn’t been following Ramsey’s plan for debt freedom. In our alternate reality, this would have brought our mortgage down to about $97,000 and our estimated total debt down to $177,000.

Since the beginning of 2018, we’ve used the inheritance to max out on our mortgage payments – meaning that we’ve doubled up every month. This, combined with our 2nd  lump sum means a debt-free date of September 2018. We will invest almost all of the rest of the inheritance, so that for our outlook, we’ll have the freedom to retire by July of 2019.

I believe that in our alternate reality scenario, we would also have maxed out on mortgage payments, and that by September of 2018, it would have been down to around $63,000 (interest taken into account).

Would we have paid off the business debt, and our remaining consumer debt? I can’t be sure, but I doubt it. Here, my guesses are less certain. I’m basing them on the way we used to think. Ramsey’s plan involves focused intensity: knock off one debt at a time; then save up the emergency fund; followed by a split focus on investments and ramping up mortgage payments. Our own efforts to change our finances were less focused – more scattered.

I believe we would have paid off the consumer debt but not the business debt. We would have invested, and we would have spent. “Use a bit of your inheritance travel and have some fun,” a colleague said to me. “Your mom would want that.” We would have followed that advice in our alternate scenario. A family vacation. Some home improvements. But we’re not doing that (and I’m pretty sure my mom would be relieved).

Alternate reality: September 2018

Instead of being debt-free and within a year of financial freedom, this is where I think things would be in September of 2018 if we hadn’t started following Ramsey’s debt-reduction plan:

  • debts by September 2018: $120,000 (business debt & mortgage)
  •  investments from inheritance – about 50% of what we actually are investing.
  • outlook: debt-freedom / freedom to retire still several years away.

The “ether” effect

After our first 6 months of debt-reduction, I was truly baffled by our progress. It made no sense to me that we’d been able to pay off as much as we had.  “I can’t wrap my head around it.  I don’t get how it all adds up.  But it does,” I wrote at the time. DH – also incredulous – said: “It’s a thing that happens … When you go at something with passion and purpose, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

In the same way, I find myself baffled by my estimated numbers – which are reasonable, and possibly too generous to our alternate selves. It is reasonable to estimate that we would have spent $200,000 more than we actually did over the last 6 years if we hadn’t read The Total Money Makeover (considering higher debt numbers, less in savings, and less in investments).

What would we have done with all of that money?

After our first 6 months of debt-reduction, when we had put all extra income against debt, I tried to figure out what we had done with the same extra income from the year before. “Did it all float into the ether?”‘ I asked DH at the time. It had.

Of what would that ether have consisted over the last 6 years? Again, I can only guess:

  • a new vehicle (~$25,000)
  • 10 trips (~$25,000)
  • more expensive grocery bills (~$10,000)
  • extra home improvements (~$25,000)
  • regular house-cleaning service (~$10,000)
  • higher discretionary spending on clothing, restaurants, entertainment (~$10,000)
  • more gifts and money for our children (~$15,000)
  • outsourcing repairs and other jobs that we (DH) DIY’d ($20,000)

That doesn’t add up to enough, but it’s a sampling of the many ways our money would have “floated into the ether” if we hadn’t become intentional and focused. Bottom line: Ramsey’s plan has made a staggering, life-changing difference. DH and I are so grateful for that pivotal moment in time when we chose to change direction and go a better way.

Do you have a “What if …” scenario? Are you ever baffled by the changes that focus and intention bring about? Your comments are welcome.


Bewildering Financial Leap from Debtor to Investor

DH = Dear Husband

For the first time in 6 years of blogging about debt-reduction, I’ve hit a wall. I have had several ideas for posts in the last few weeks, but they just turned into unfinished drafts.

DH and I are striding to the finish line of our journey out of debt. In  September, we’ll put the last payment against our house. The $257,400 total debt that we had in June of 2012 – including consumer debt, business debt and mortgage debt – will be GONE! So why this writer’s block?

The impact of my inheritance: an escalator analogy

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that my mother passed away in November of last year. Mom was very supportive of our commitment to become debt-free, and she was always happy about our progress. Every conversation I had with her brought about the question, “How’s the debt?” The last time I was able to give her an update, we were down to $60,000. Awkward as I find it, I can’t write about the end of our trek to debt-freedom without reference to my inheritance – which has sped up the last leg of the journey like a banned substance.

I’ve tried to come up with an analogy for it, and here’s what has come to mind: Our journey out of debt has been like a pain-staking walk up 25 flights of an underground parking lot towards the ground floor. Not only has the ascent been steep, but the stairs have actually been an escalator moving in a slow downward direction. So each step up has taken the intention necessary to go against a downward pull.

After climbing up 20 flights, and with only 5 to go, something happened. The escalator suddenly changed direction and speed, and it shot up not only to ground level, but to the 10th floor of the building above the underground parking lot. And although the escalator then slowed down to its regular pace, its direction was a gradual upward, making all future ascent that much easier.

The downward direction of the escalator below-ground represents the interest that debtors have to pay as they try to make their way out of debt. Every $1.00 of debt knocked off really means a payment of $1.10 – or more or less. But the upward direction of the escalator above-ground represents the opposite – the interest gained on each dollar invested.

Not debt-free yet – but not struggling with debt

We’ve chosen not to take on the penalty that would come with paying off our mortgage early. We’ve maximized our payments by doubling our monthly amounts and by twice putting down the full lump sum that we’re entitled to once per year. That leaves us with a small balance that will be gone in September.

So we’re not there yet, but we are no longer struggling to get out of debt.

So how can I keep writing a debt blog?

“I’m thinking of stopping now,” I said to a colleague last week – after another weekend of writer’s block. “It doesn’t feel genuine to write about getting out of debt when I have this inheritance.”

“Why don’t you write about what you’re doing to keep out of debt?” she said. “It’s a real issue, and it’s not a topic that many people write about.”

I had to agree with her about it’s being an issue in our debt-normalized society. I know more than one person who paid off the mortgage only to take on a line of credit. And it’s common for people to decide the time has come to buy a new car once they’ve paid off the old one. Yo-yo debting is for real.

The view is different above-ground

So in my last few months of blogging on this site, I’ll be writing about our adjustments to the new normal, and our proactive steps to avoid getting into debt again – because we’ve done that!

Last Friday, I met DH’s financial advisor – now our financial advisor – and DH and I talked with him for over 4 hours. How bewildering it was for me to be talking about equities and bonds! I have SO much to learn about investing.

The upshot of our meeting was that with my teacher’s pension, with DH’s and now my portfolio – and with no debt – we’ll be in a position for me to retire at the end of the next school year – exactly when my pension becomes available. DH will likely continue to run his home business on a part-time basis for another 5 years or so.

At least that’s the plan. I have the option of working for a few more years. We also have the option of selling the house and both retiring next year. The point is, we’ve got the freedom to choose – which was the vision that motivated us to start our journey out of debt in the first place. We’re not stuck anymore!

End of writer’s block?

We’ll see if this marks the end of my writer’s block. Thanks for your patience 🙂

Is it of value to write about what we’re doing to stay out of debt? Have you ever been caught up in yo-yo debting? Your comments are welcome.


Getting out of Debt Isn’t Only about Money

Our story is featured in this week 🙂 

In May of 2012, Ruth from Prudence Debt-Free received a Dave Ramsey audio book from a friend. She listened while driving to and from work. At the time, she and her husband were recovering from his job loss and the financial upheaval it brought.

But they recovered. He started a new business and she worked as a full-time teacher. Things were normal again — spending money and carrying debt. But something was different.

“We were back on auto-pilot, relaxed and living the “normal” lifestyle that we missed,” says Ruth. “But something wasn’t quite right. “Normal” felt hazardous.” She found “the root of her

Click to continue reading



Journey out of Debt: Spiritual Bookends

DH = Dear Husband

Our journey out of debt, which began in June of 2012 with $257,000 owed, is almost certainly going to end in September of 2018. Debt reduction is about far more than money. It interweaves with every facet of life, including the spiritual. I’m cautious about venturing into the topic of faith on this site, but our personal story of debt-freedom would be incomplete without it.

June 2012

My Tres Dias cabin-mate

In June of 2012, DH and I took our first steps towards debt freedom. It also happened that in June of 2012, I attended a 3-day Christian retreat called Tres Dias.

To kick off the Tres Dias weekend, we all met our cabin-mates. Mine was a woman I had never met before from Toronto. We shook hands and chatted – and somehow started to talk about debt. Like DH and I, she and her husband were following Dave Ramsey’s steps to debt-freedom.

In the USA, Ramsey is far better known than he is in Canada. Of the 50 or so women involved in that Tres Dias weekend, my cabin-mate and I were almost certainly the only ones who were following Ramsey – and possibly the only ones who had ever even heard of him. In my 6 years of debt-reduction, I have never met another person face-to-face other than my Tres Dias cabin-mate who follows Ramsey.

Furthermore, nobody talks about their debts. And yet there I was talking on and on with a stranger about the mistakes each of us had made to become indebted, about how we had come to follow the same debt-reduction guru, and about the specific strategies we were each using to move forward.

Our Tres Dias theme song

Every Tres Dias weekend has its own theme song that participants and facilitators sing several times a day. Ours was Mercy Me’s God With Us. The chorus includes these words: “My heart sings a brand new song / The debt is paid / these chains are gone / Emmanuel, God with us.”

The weekend was powerful in many ways, not the least of which was in its leaving me with no doubt that in choosing to get out of debt, DH and I were doing something profoundly right. And we weren’t taking it on alone.

September 2018

Our 25th wedding anniversary

In September of 2018, we will make our last mortgage payment. October 2 will be our 25th wedding anniversary. October will be our first month ever of complete debt-freedom. Isn’t that beautiful? I find that a remarkable coincidence!

Conflict over finances is the #1 reason for divorce, and I understand why. During our years of financial stress, we came too close for comfort to the breaking point. Our journey out of debt has been something that has unified us. A friend of ours has said more than once how obvious it is that DH and I have become stronger as a couple. Our eldest daughter, who has lived away from home for many years, says that she is struck by it too.

DH and I have set the date for a combined anniversary/debt-freedom celebration at the end of September.

The publication of one of my posts

Three months ago, I was surprised to receive an email message from someone who works for Activated, an online Christian magazine. She was asking if I’d be “okay” with their publication of one of my blog posts. I was more than “okay”! I was thrilled!

It was an awkwardly titled post that I’d written 4 years ago: “Debt, Faith, Fitness, Remembrance, and Freedom“. In it, I dissected the problem I’d had with the concept of building wealth. “Where I associate debt reduction with becoming responsible, exercising discipline, and cleaning up my act,” I wrote, “I have a stubbornly ingrained (and false) association of wealth building with greed and selfishness.” I recognized that my false notions of financial health had played a part in my old self-sabotaging financial management. I wanted to put a stop to the sabotage and to pursue the freedom of strong finances.

At the time I wrote the post, we were just two years into our journey out of debt. I looked ahead to a future of debt-freedom with cautious hope:

“We’re still a long way from paying off our debt and getting our financial house in order. 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. My hope is that we will embrace it and that we’ll “stand firm” to maintain it – because I don’t like captivity. It is for freedom that we are set free. I want to live it.”

I accepted the terms of the post’s publication and asked when it would be featured. It will be published in September – the month of our last payment.

Spiritual bookends

So let’s review. In the beginning, in June of 2012:

  • The Tres Dias weekend happened the same month we began our journey out of debt. At no other time in my life have I attended an overnight Christian retreat.
  • My cabin-mate and I, who were strangers, talked about debt within minutes of meeting each other. We each followed Ramsey – who is not well known in Canada.
  • The song chosen for our Tres Dias weekend included “The debt is paid / these chains are gone” – and we sang these words multiple times per day.

And for the grand finale in September of 2018:

  • Our debt-freedom coincides with our 25th wedding anniversary. I find this profoundly symbolic.
  • In September, an article that I wrote 4 years ago about my hopes for our debt-freedom is going to be published in a Christian magazine.

I don’t think I’m making connections where none exists. They do exist. And I think they’re wonderful.

Your comments are welcome. 

Image courtesy of Jeri’s Organizing & Decluttering News

Debt, Diet, Drink: The “Why?” of Change

In last week’s post, I featured Kayt. Two years ago, Kayt:

  1. started her journey to debt-freedom
  2. switched to a plant-based diet (and started to take up running)
  3. adopted a lifestyle of sobriety

So many of us struggle to make changes in our lives. I wanted to know Kayt’s secret.

Many people say they want to change, but they have a hard time making change happen – even for one area of life. What do you think it was that enabled you and your husband to make changes in 3 areas of life at the same time?

What was the catalyst to these changes?

I can only speak for myself in this. I had been half-way on the plant-based train for a while. I had been struggling with money my entire life, with one foot on the no-debt path for years. I wanted to be a ‘runner’, but struggled so much for the first year to create a habit around that desire.

And, as far as going sober, I realized that I was allowing intoxication to validate letting my emotions dictate how I communicated, and with quite a bit of depression and bitterness that had set in after I moved from Texas, that wasn’t exactly a charming attitude. Drinking didn’t make me the person I wanted to be, it detracted from it. Drinking too much the night before meant I definitely wasn’t up for running. I would say things that I regretted – and it just wasn’t worth it while trying to build a relationship, preparing for this brand new marriage, to have such a shaky foundation.

I read a quote recently that I think is so profound, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters” by Nathaniel Emmons. I think primarily the catalyst for us to make these huge changes was that we finally stepped up, and said, “We aren’t going to make excuses anymore. We know the problem-points in our relationship, our health, our diets. We need to change.”  And then we did. And we did it by making new habits, by supporting each other, and by finding ways to make these new lifestyles really fun.

You said, “sometimes my husband and I feel so alone because we are social outliers, avoiding meat, dairy, and debt” and drink. How do you deal with this social alienation?

Have you thought of or tried different ways to connect?

I think professionally my choices not to eat meat, not to drink and not to go out to lunch/spend money frivolously have made me feel particularly outcast. I work in a boys’ club of sorts, in the architecture community. They like to ‘tease’ but it’s difficult to be mocked for things you take pretty seriously.

The first year in Atlanta was hard, but as we’ve met more people here it’s gotten better. We each connect in different ways, but we have found support in the various communities of each passion. The AA community was really supportive when we were each sorting out why alcohol had such a hold on us, and how to start rebuilding ourselves as well as our relationship.

We plugged into different vegan communities on social media, like one page called “Vegan Atlanta”, which has been really helpful in meal ideas and finding good deals, and bonding with other people over the reasons we’ve gone vegan.

And, as far as debt, we took FPU (Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University) and got a ton of support there, so much so that we have started coordinating and finished our first class as coordinators in March. We also still listen regularly to Dave Ramey’s podcast, and that helps keep us on the debt-freedom track too. We’ve also plugged into a small church community, and have actually really bonded with a few other young married couples that also are working on their debt, or who are also plant-based.

Everybody still thinks we are a little crazy from one angle or another, but we know that the decisions we make every day continue to help us become the people we want to be. The challenge now is in surrounding ourselves with people who are also trying to be their best selves.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your new lifestyle?

I think the most rewarding aspects are the progress we’ve seen, and the goals we’ve achieved. And also that we’ve gotten so much closer because we have tackled these changes together.

What goals do you and your husband have for the years ahead? 

Bryan really wants to run an ultra-marathon, and I’d really like to keep getting personal records in my half marathon times. He now has four full marathons under his belt, and I’ve got one, as well as three half marathons.

Of course, finishing our debt snowball at the end of this year is a huge goal, and after that we will build our fully-funded emergency fund and hopefully be onto Baby Steps 4, (5?) and 6 by the time he takes the Bar exam in July 2019.

I’m planning to also go back to school to get my Master’s after he finishes, and cash-flow it! We plan to continue with living plant-based and sober, although those aren’t as much goals as just lifestyle choices. I’m looking forward to a plant-based pregnancy hopefully in the next three years too!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

First, surround yourself with positive thinkers and people you admire. Rich Roll has one of our favorite podcasts, along with Dave Ramsey. Continuing to consume positive content is necessary for health and finance. And stop making excuses! I’ve worked 50+hrs/wk for the past eighteen months, spending 2-3hrs on the road in my daily commute. I spend more time in nutrition planning, finance management and fitness than most of the people I know.

I think, if there’s anything I can say that could encourage people to make a change, it’s to have a real ‘why?’ To have more than ‘I want to be skinnier’, ‘I want to be wealthy’, etc. You are making decisions to live a healthier life (physically or financially) so that you can do things you never thought you could before like running a marathon or having a college fund for your kids or paying off your house… I mean these are amazing feats!

Even the littlest goal feels amazing after you do it. I felt like I was dying during my first 10K (that’s just over 6 miles), wheezing from asthma, walking up the hills and hating myself, and my legs were sore for days. But I crossed the finish line, for the first time in my entire life, and it didn’t matter that I walked or that I was slower than everyone I knew – all that mattered at that moment was that I had done something I’d never done before.

I got the same feeling when we paid off each debt in our snowball, especially the first of two consolidated student loans, $35,000 (of my $72,000) that I’ve been carrying for almost 10 years. That victory is completely indescribable. Every weekend spent poring over the budget and every sacrifice to scrape every extra penny feels an awful lot like waking up at 4:45 to get a morning run in or passing on the free cupcakes at work. Sure, it sucks for few minutes, but the long-term benefit is completely invaluable. And those natural endorphins far outshine the satisfaction of eating junk food, sleeping in, or taking shots. Because I’m becoming the person I want to be, and my husband is too.  We are figuring out how to be good to each other, good to the planet, good to our future selves’ financial health, and good to our bodies.

Are you able to identify the “Why?” of the lifestyle changes you make? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Debt Reduction, Veganism & Sobriety

The year of their marriage, Kayt and her husband made 3 huge lifestyle changes.

 I received a really interesting email a couple of weeks ago. “Hey there! I just stumbled onto your blog when I pessimistically googled ‘debt-free vegans’. We too are ‘plant-powered’, living on a budget and listing to Dave Ramsey’s plan to get out of debt and live like no one else!!! … Thank you for blogging about your journey towards debt freedom, and congratulations on your venture into the plant-based lifestyle! It’s been two years of veganism and almost two years of Baby Step 2…And sometimes my husband and I feel so alone because we are social outliers, avoiding meat, dairy, and debt. We are also two-years sober, so that’s another twist that can restrict standard social engagements and connection a little bit.”

Such an interesting story! And what an engaging voice! I asked Kayt if I could interview her, and she said “Yes.” 

What was it that made you want to get out of debt?

I learned about Dave Ramsey in my early 20’s, and when I got my first ‘professional’ position that didn’t include an apron or a tray, I worked the debt snowball on my credit cards and traffic tickets…But when I looked at my $70,000 in student loans…and realized those, too, were part of “baby step 2”; I basically gave up. I never used credit cards again, but I ignored those student loans for a couple years, and got myself into a car loan to top it off.

In 2015, my fiancé and I were trying to figure out how we were going to pay for our wedding after going down to one income. Thanks to a military relocation, I had forfeited my job and had a lot of trouble finding a new one. It was then we realized that our debt payments were siphoning away our income.

I introduced Dave Ramsey’s principles to my fiancé, and we started budgeting to save for the wedding over the next eight months. Of course, by the time we cash-flowed the wedding, we were both hooked on the Dave Ramsey podcast and decided to jump in and tackle the debt altogether so that we could begin to build wealth. Ironically enough, my husband started law school a couple months after our wedding, and it is a three-year program. Our debt-payoff between my income and his GI bill looked like a 36-month process. So we were off to the races to pay off the debt with the goal of being debt-free (except the mortgage) before he graduated.

I think what aligned for us was that we finally had a new perspective on money, and we wanted to use it as a tool instead of living at the mercy of payday. We couldn’t imagine not living paycheck to paycheck – even though when we met our incomes combined were well over six figures. Having a timeline and a plan of action made all the difference for us in deciding to get out of debt.

Why did you decide to switch to a plant-based diet?

I became vegetarian in 2010 after watching Food Inc., and realizing how little I knew about what I was eating, where it came from and how it was processed.  I originally told myself I would give it 30 days, I can do anything for 30 days…And it just stuck, I felt great and really loved that no animals had to die for me to live.

I’d been vegetarian for almost 3 years when I met Bryan. He was a sky-diving Army Ranger, hardcore Harley-rider who tolerated my vegetarian fare but definitely still required his own meat-ful meals. We lived in harmony in our different preferences, and I never tried to push any of my ideals on him.

At the end of 2014, I started running for the first time since before college. I wanted to lose a little weight and look good for the wedding, even though it was a year and a half away. I started listening to podcasts in 2015 like No Meat Athlete, and started thinking maybe I could make the full switch and give up dairy…Around that time Bryan read Born to Run and Finding Ultra and decided he really wanted to run his first marathon. So in late 2015 we both started training, he was focused on his marathon and I was after my first half marathon. I went vegan “for 30 days” as a New Year’s resolution on January 1, 2016, but felt so great that I just kept at it. Bryan joined me in the plant-based lifestyle in February and we encouraged each other and held each other accountable. We feel great, we recover so incredibly quickly, and we have been able to achieve fitness goal after fitness goal!

What made you decide to stop drinking alcohol?

Our move from Austin, Texas (where we met) to Columbus, Georgia (where the military moved my fiancé at the time) was a really tough change for me. Especially because we moved to a small town that wasn’t particularly interested in hiring military spouses (hard to blame them, nobody likes high turnover). So I was pretty miserable, and what had been a mutual hobby and not that big of a deal, started to bring out the worst in me and Bryan.

We hit a catalyst mid-2015, which I don’t really want to dive into in this forum, and we took a few months apart to really focus on what we wanted for ourselves and what we wanted for each other.  We realized that alcohol had become a huge detriment for us, warping the way we treated each other. We came back together and realized that we wanted to be our best selves, and that meant alcohol didn’t have a place in our lives. I do think that this greatly impacted our fervor to pursue our fitness goals, and even though going plant-based didn’t happen until six or seven months later, all three tie into the overall goal of wanting to be our best selves and to treat our bodies well.

 How did Kayt and her husband manage to make 3 huge changes in the same year? What do they do to counteract the “social outlier” phenomenon? To find out, come back next week! In the mean time, please leave a comment for Kayt.

Are you able to take on more than one significant lifestyle change at a time? Do you find that a change in one area of life helps you to change in others too? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of pxhere

The Awkward Question of Money Talks: Part 2

DH = dear husband

“Every comment expressed disagreement with me”

Two weeks ago, I wrote about when and how to talk with friends who are clearly sabotaging their finances. Every single comment from readers expressed some form of (very respectful) disagreement with me. I really appreciated the honesty!

New (and unexpected) perceptions

I’m wrestling with this issue since it is relatively new to me. For most of my adult life, I had no clue about anyone else messing up their finances because I was too busy messing up my own. Since starting our journey out of debt 6 years ago, I’ve become aware of the fallacies in my old ways of thinking and operating financially. And there has been an unexpected side-effect: I’ve developed a new perception of the same fallacies in others. It’s not comfortable!

It was more comfortable to be able to join in the defeated complaint-fest and say things like, “I know! Life is so expensive!” or “It’s never going to be the ‘right time’ to buy it. So just buy it!”

Now, I find myself dealing with thoughts like, “It really isn’t the right time to buy it. Please don’t.” These are not comfortable thoughts! They reek of judgment. I don’t want to be that person! But I can’t pretend that I don’t notice what I now do notice.

What to do? Seeking advice

So what is the best thing to do when someone you care about is managing their money in a self-destructive way? Let’s start by taking a look at what all of those people who disagreed with me had to say.

Tonya: ” … but the thing is for me, I don’t know the whole of anyone’s situation. Unless I thought they were going to do major harm to themselves or someone else, it’s really none of my business. I can feel concerned, but for the sake of my friendship, all I feel I should do is be there for them if anyone reaches out to me and/or lead by example … I’m not saying I never think judgmental thoughts. I definitely do, but I try to shake them off and keep them to myself.”

Brian: ” … It does bother me when I see family and friend make, what I deem unwise financial decisions, but like it’s been said sometimes I don’t have the complete picture. My usual approach now is to try and bait the conversation with our failures, and now success to see if they will bite, and ask “how”, and then I know I have a willing participant.”

Laurie: “Sometimes it’s necessary for a person to hit bottom before they acquire the willingness to change. If you want to inspire others to adopt good money management, the best thing you can do is to be a power of example. If a person wants what you have, they will ask about your experience.”

Kay: “I think the key is being able to express your beliefs without being preachy and telling someone what they should do. Telling them what you did or do can be a model if that’s what they want. But some people seem to enjoy the thrill of the oncoming bus. Those are the ones we need to pray for the most.

Abigail: “I’m never comfortable talking to people about how they spend their money … By and large people seem to get by. Even if they struggle a bit at times. I just don’t feel comfortable risking friendships … by talking about something that rarely goes well … If they didn’t want my input, I’d leave it at that.”

Revanche: “Some people have to be hit by the bus to stop walking in front of the bus. Some people get hit by the bus repeatedly and will KEEP WALKING IN FRONT OF THE BUS. Some people hear a bus coming down the road, remember that near miss or seeing their friend hit by the bus and step ten feet back … The people who want to learn use what I’ve already put out there and then ask me for nuanced advice. The ones who don’t already know me well and want me to answer really basic simple questions without doing any digging are often the ones who don’t intend to learn. They just want you to fix it for them.”

Hiro: “… I try to be cognizant of when they’re looking for advice and when they’re just whining about their own situation, and try to give advice when they’re looking for it, and laugh it off when they aren’t. It’s an iffy line, but we’re all adults … And I hate to be the preachy friend! Especially since I obviously don’t have everything figured out either!”

Kalie: “…It’s also invaluable to recognize I don’t know everything and my way of doing things is not best for everyone …  If I’m super close and very concerned, I’ll speak up no matter what. If I’m super close and it’s a mild concern, I will decide based on the other person’s openness and if they’re asking for help/looking for solutions. If I’m not very close, the person’s interest in seeking help is a bigger factor.”

Moving forward

It’s clear that many people are disturbed by the poor financial practices of their friends. It’s also clear that these people want to help more often than they’re welcome to help. To avoid being right but ineffective, here are some pointers to follow, based on the comments above:

  • Start with the humble truth that you don’t know everything and that it’s not your place to preach.
  • Try to discern whether your friend wants guidance or simply the chance to vent.
  • Don’t engage in the topic if the person just wants to complain.
  • Wait for your friend to ask the question before giving the answer.
  • To avoid being confrontational, instead of giving an answer, consider asking questions to encourage your friend to think about his/her situation and motivations.
  • Openly provide the example of your personal experience, sharing both mistakes and triumphs – but only if your friend is receptive.
  • Ask, “Are you open to some advice about that?” before offering it.
  • Let your friend be the one to move the conversation deeper or to cut it off.
  • Be there if and when your friend reaches out to you, but do not enable or “rescue” him/her.
  • Accept the fact there’s nothing you can say or do to stop someone from descending to rock bottom.
  • Only in the case of a really close friend about whom you are very concerned is it wise to initiate the conversation. Even though you might have the best of intentions, recognize that you’re risking your friendship by doing so.

Do you agree with these pointers? Are there any that you would add? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Pexels

Financially Parenting Strong-Willed Teens

I wrote this post for Brian at Debt Discipline as part of his series on financial literacy.

I wasn’t a “teachable” teen

Sometimes I read parenting articles that offer pointers on teaching teens about financial management – and I find myself shaking my head. I’m not convinced that good financial management can be “taught” in a linear, rational way to teens – at least not all of them.

Take me, for example. Wind the clock back a few decades, and see me as a teen, begging my parents for yet another advance on my monthly allowance. With every hesitation on their part, with every effort to explain to me that I needed to be more careful about how I spent the money, my begging would escalate – to whining, to exasperation, to wounded anger.

Every time I succeeded. I got my advance – which once again I spent too quickly. Rinse repeat.

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