By Lindsey B. Goodwin
In 2013, a year when our family’s combined income put us in the top 5% of earners constituting America’s wealthy class, we found ourselves strapped for cash and debt-ridden. I had no idea that we were even considered more than middle class, as we outspent what we made each month and generally felt financially unwell. Something had to give. Our low point arrived when we sold our family home so that we could pay off our hefty credit card debt. This was not the first aha moment for us, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it was an important note in our path to financial healing.
Catalyst for Change
Fast forward to 2015 — the year of change. When I picked up Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, I could not fathom the path we’d soon embark and the behavioral changes ahead. My husband and I read the book quickly and agreed to take immediate action to stop the financial bleeding. Reading about families in much lower income brackets making radical changes and paying off debt, saving healthy emergency funds (defined as 3–6 months living expenses) and achieving financial freedom was eye-opening and inspiring. We took Dave’s steps seriously starting with the debt snowball. We dug in our heels slashing non-essentials to pay off $26,000 in consumer and student loan debt in just under a year. The excitement of removing our debt wore off quickly as we were presented with a $10,000 income tax bill near the end of 2015. After hurling a few not-so-kind words at Uncle Sam, we saved the amount owed within 3 months. The beginning of 2016 saw us paying off our tax bill with promises to ourselves to avoid future tax missteps.
A New Lifestyle
By the end of 2016, I had whittled my work schedule down to part-time, refinanced our mortgage to a 15 year fixed rate loan and we were this close to our emergency savings fund goal. Early 2017 arrived and our goals — both monetary and lifestyle — were accomplished: we had fully funded our emergency savings and I was able to leave my job completely to care for our young sons full-time. The small changes we made during our 2+ year journey to becoming consumer debt-free ultimately contributed to our lifestyle metamorphosis. This did not happen overnight and just like a crash diet, if our results had been immediate I would question their permanence .
How We Did It
I realize this bit-size account of how we changed our life makes the process sound all too easy. In all honesty it was both easy and extremely trying to look at our spending and savings habits in the mirror. Specifically we looked at each expense, debit/credit card charge and cash withdrawal individually and slashed areas that seemed high. We began using EveryDollar, the free budgeting app, to set and track our monthly expenses. After a few months we found ways to cut further expenses including cutting our cable completely — not done without a eulogy by my husband. Even seemingly small expenses saw their end on our financial chopping block. Gym memberships, cell phone service, and kids activities were all examined and cut. The most lasting changes came when replaced with a low-cost or free version such as hiking vs. gym training.
What Can You Do Today?
The first step in any life changing exercise is to step back and examine where you are today. The most valuable takeaway I’ve had through this process is to have patience. It’s a big task to look at yourself in a financial mirror and acceptance and patience go a long way. Start where you are and keep walking the path to financial wellness. Believe me, it’s worth the trouble.
This blog post originally appeared June 27, 2017 on LindseyBGoodwin.com. MetLife Foundation is a major sponsor of Financial Health Network’s ongoing consumer financial health work. Additional support for #FinHealthMatters Day and USFD provided by the Citi Foundation. To learn more about FinHealthMatters from Financial Health Network, sign up here.
By Financial Health Network on September 19, 2017.