I was on my way to work last week, listening to the last segments of Dave Ramsey’s audio book, The Total Money Makeover, and I found myself crying. He was describing what he calls “the pinnacle point”. At this point, the tough battle of debt repayment has ended, the practice of diligent saving has reached a place where money saved acquires more wealth than does income earned, and financial freedom has been realized. He compared it to a ride he frequently took as a child on his one-speed bicycle up a very steep hill – each push on the pedal a focused effort; the impossibility of the incline requiring him to crisscross the road for a gradual ascent; progress measured by the slow c-l-i-c-k, c-l-i-c-k, c-l-i-c-k of the baseball card stuck into his spokes . . . And then finally, that last push at the summit. From the pinnacle point, he could see the easier road ahead. It sloped downwards. Effort gave way to anticipation, and exhaustion became exhilaration as he took his reward.
I was surprised by my tears. Debt repayment, after all, is dull. It’s all about practicality and numbers and detail and doing without and being sensible. But here was Ramsey presenting it as something life-giving. I allowed myself a vision on that car ride to work last week. In my mind, I fast-forwarded to the day my husband and I would make our last mortgage payment, and we’d be completely debt-free. It was glorious! I’ve known for years that our debt load has been a burden, but I didn’t realize how life-sucking that burden was until I envisioned it gone.
I want to remain anonymous, so I’ll refer to my husband as DH (dear husband), and I’ll use other codes for other key players in this aspect of my life. DH is as captivated by Ramsey’s vision of freedom from debt as I am. It is rare that we are on the same page when it comes to money matters, so we’re taking hold of this inspired unity, and we’re committed to going with it. We will begin our journey out of debt in June, and we’re preparing for it. It’s time for details. It’s time for numbers. I’m psyched!
Let me begin with some numbers to give context to the starting point of our journey:
49 – That’s how old I’ll be in a little over a month.
53 – That’s how old DH is.
3 – That’s how many daughters we have. (I will refer to them as DD1, DD2, and DD3.)
10 – That’s about how many years I have to go in my teaching career before I retire.
16 – That’s how many years DH was employed as an engineer in hi-tech.
10 – That’s how many years it’s been since DH became a casualty of the hi-tech bust.
50% – That’s the percentage of our household income that we lost after DH’s hi-tech career ended.
3 – That’s the number of years it’s been since DH bought a franchise.
Ramsey advises to expect the unexpected and to prepare for it. We didn’t. DH’s career crisis hit us very hard in every way, including, of course, financially. It’s taken ten years to reach a new normal, and our household income is still significantly lower than it was before the hi-tech bust. We’re in a position now that’s so different from the one I envisioned as a young woman. I imagined that we’d coast through our 50s with the ease of prosperity, the satisfaction of well-established careers, and the dignity of being in a position to give back to our church and community. Instead, we are financially tight, putting a lot of time and effort into making DH’s new career succeed, giving very little in terms of time and money. And we’re in debt. Far too much debt for people our age.
So we’re going to start our journey. According to my rough calculations, it will take just over five years for us to get there. But I’m not very good at math, and I know that the unexpected will happen, so I’m not committed to the timing – just the direction of the journey: out of debt. I plan to post once per week and to use real numbers to mark our progress. Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers International, discovered that she could more successfully lose weight when she shared the experience with others. I hope that by sharing our effort to lose debt, I’ll increase our chances of success and offer support to others on the same quest.
The pinnacle point beckons, and we’re ready to take on the uphill challenge.