Our ’99 Dodge Caravan has seen better days, but it’s still driving.

DH = Dear Husband

Ramsey’s indicator of financial wisdom

In May of 2012, I read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover – the book that inspired us to start our journey out of debt. I remember a section in which Ramsey describes something that to me seemed strange.

  • You are out of the debt trap.
  • With enough money on hand, you look at something you’ve been wanting to buy.
  • You choose not to buy it.

I was annoyed by that image. With an eye-rolling attitude, I thought, “Why would you choose not to buy something you wanted if you were debt-free and had the money to buy it?” I couldn’t understand why, according to Ramsey, such odd behaviour was an indicator of financial wisdom.

1999: Purchase of van on credit

Our Dodge Caravan just passed its 19th birthday. When we bought it in February of 1999, I was eight months pregnant with our 3rd child, and the mini-van era of our growing family began. Of course we borrowed to buy the van – because that’s what we did for all large purchases.

2009: Couldn’t afford to replace it

By year 10, our van had become a source of embarrassment for our 3 daughters. Their friends’ parents drove much newer and cooler vehicles. But there was no way we were going to replace it. In 2009, we were just coming out of a 6-year limbo in DH’s career – and still living its resulting financial distress. Although DH started a promising new business that year, we had no idea if it would fly. Much to our children’s mortification, we kept driving the van.

2012: Journey out of debt = No new car in budget

When it became clear that DH’s new business was succeeding, we felt a great relief! No more money crunch! We could go back to normal living!

But as we did “normal” – with more restaurant meals, a bit of travel, a new car for me … – we felt uneasy. Something didn’t feel right.

I first listened to the CD version of The Total Money Makeover after a friend had loaned it to me, and a light went on. “We’re in too much debt!” I realized. DH was likewise convinced, and the two of us became psyched to become debt-free!

So although we were no longer in the financial-crunch mode that we’d been in before, we were on fire to pay off our debts, and there was no room in our “gazelle intense” budget to replace our then 14-year-old van. Sorry kids!

2016: When only a 5-figure mortgage was left …

In the fall of 2016, over 4 years into our journey out of debt, we reached a significant milestone. Of our original grand total $257,000 in consumer, business, and mortgage debt, only the mortgage remained. And that mortgage had crossed the $100,000 line! From 6 to 5 figures! It was a great feeling! The finish line was in sight!

In the throes of this celebration, DH pulled up in our driveway one day driving a new Dodge Journey.

I knew that our then 17-year-old van could die any day and that DH wanted to replace it, when the day came, with a Dodge Journey. “This is just a test drive!” he insisted when I was clearly less than thrilled. It was a whole year later when he admitted, “That was a close call.”

A 5-figure debt is definitely better than a 6-figure debt, but we were going for 0 figures. We kept driving our old van.

And now?

A few days ago, DH approached me with a print-out from a used car business in our city. (Notice we’re planning to buy used now.) A 2016 Dodge Journey was available. Extremely low mileage. Almost 40% off the cost for new. We could pay for it outright without postponing our debt-freedom date of September this year.

There were good reasons to go for it.

  • The van can’t last much longer.
  • This is exactly the kind of gently-used vehicle we plan to get as a replacement.
  • There is something to be said for buying proactively – in advance of the van dying.

On the other hand …

  • The van is not giving us any trouble.
  • If it did suddenly die, there would be no panic to buy immediately. We’d be a one-car family for a while, and we’d wait for the right used car to come along again.

We’re still driving the van.

Does this mean we’ve reached financial wisdom?

We’re within spitting distance of debt-freedom. We want a new-to-us vehicle. We can afford one that is just what we’re looking for. But we’re choosing not to.

How did this happen? How did I go from an eye-rolling, “Why would you choose not to buy …” to actually choosing not to buy? And how did DH go from a celebratory “test-drive” to agreeing with me in choosing not to buy? Have we reached that elusive state of financial wisdom Ramsey writes about?

Well, have we? Your comments are welcome.


Join the Conversation


  1. Congratulations! Yes you have achieved financial wisdom status. Job well done. Dave Ramsey’s advice followed is truly life and family tree changing! I’m so happy for you and your family.

    As a long time reader, first time commenter, I love your blog! It’s so timely with my stage of life. It’s blatant truth of the struggle of eliminating debt, living life and all its hills and valleys is always such a motivator to me.

    Your insight on life as a parent of young adult Millennials and all the twists in navigating the transition into adult child/parent relationship dynamics is something rarely found in blogs. You are quite the communicator, teacher & reassuring comrade.

    On your intro page it’s mentioned that your blog was of your journey to being debt free. You have so much more than just that to offer. I hope your blog will continue past that fast approaching debt free scream finish line!

    1. Wow, Linda! You have seriously just made my day! Maybe my week:) It has been my goal all along to present the debt pay-off process with real honesty – including the good, the bad, and the ugly. A big part of it has certainly been the fact that money management impacts every area of life – including parenting. Your comment offers real validation. Thank you so much for that!

      1. You are so very welcomed! It’s thrilling and humbling to know my long overdue thank you for your awesome blog means so much. 🙂

    1. If there is discipline involved, it feels like it’s come of its own accord. There wasn’t a whole lot of willpower involved – which I think indicates a real shift. Thank you, Gary:)

  2. Yes, financial wisdom, but I believe its more of the overall changes you’ve made in your money mindset, your behavior with money. No quick, rash decision that we need it now, and more deliberate thinking on how to spend money now. 🙂

    1. I think you’re right in saying our mindset has changed. There used to be a whole lot of “rash decision” in my spending, and now there is more “deliberate thinking” – in fact, that’s my new normal. I hope this change sticks!

  3. I think that state is called contentment, and you and your DH have reached it. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Nancy. The timing of your comment is funny because I got so angry with DH yesterday. A bit of a deficit of contentment just at this time I’d say. But it’s true that we are content with that old van for as long as it’s working. New and shiny does not mean happiness.

  4. What a cool story, not so much because you chose not to buy, because it shows such deep change and progress! I’d say you’ve definitely gained financial wisdom.

    Neil did replace his vehicle before absolutely necessary last year, but that was because he came by a $200 car with much less rust than his vehicle at the time. Net cost after repairs and selling the old car was $50. He preferred the older car but it was also a wise choice IMO.

    1. “a $200 car with much less rust than his vehicle at the time” I love it! You two are living high, aren’t you:) You’re at a whole other level of frugal – and it does sound like a wise choice. We’re planning to replace the van with a gently-used vehicle, and our car (in a few years) with a 7-9 year old car – inspired by your husband’s post about the “sweet spot” of cars that are about 9 years old.

  5. I remember when I used to dream of what we would do if we won the lottery. I imagined we would take off for the Bahamas and sip little umbrella drinks while talking about what to do next. Interestingly, that doesn’t sound appealing anymore. Just being home, where we were always trying to get away from, is our happy place. I still have no desire to make big purchases, not because we can’t, but because our priorities have shifted dramatically. It sounds like we may be in the same boat Ms. Prudence. Welcome aboard? 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kay. Happy to be on board! I do still like the idea of travel, but more likely a great road trip across Canada and the U.S. than a fancy resort vacation. (Of course, I do want to hike in Britain and Europe too …) But travel will be the exception. I look forward to being able to spend more time at home – just doing life. And if we’re driving an antique van, so be it!

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