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Our “A-ha” Money Moment

Submitted by on April 16, 2014 – 12:00 am 72 Comments

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Once again, in honor of Financial Literacy Month, we’ve teamed up with our good friend Shannon from over at The Heavy Purse, and a long list of others who are committed to promoting financial literacy to all of the world.  You can see last year’s post here.  Our topic for this year, Our A-ha Money Moment, begins in November of 2012.  Here’s the background:

Our story of how we “woke up” to financial literacy started, really, with Rick’s job layoff.  In spite of poor money decisions scattered throughout our marriage, we were debt free when Rick got laid off from his job in February of 2010, save for our mortgage.  At the time, we didn’t really worry much about money, and sailed through the layoff pretty painlessly, between severance pay, savings, etc.  The real trouble started when Rick got his new job seven months later.

The job he got was at a great company, however, they were only willing to start him out at 80% of his previous pay.  We knew that, since we were living paycheck to paycheck, that this would hurt, but instead of figuring out how to cut costs, we assumed we were living “frugally enough” and decided that we “had no choice” but to put the remainder of our monthly expenses on credit cards until Rick worked his way up to his former hourly wage.  Man, what a dumb decision that was!  Two years later we were dealing with a whole boatload of credit card debt.  We then made a move that, although financially wasn’t a great move, it really did change our financial lives for the better.  We bought a different home and, in the process, added more debt.

But something changed after that move.  Our former home was in an affluent suburb where keeping up with the Joneses was normal and expected.  Our new home was out in the country, far away from the influences of others.  Suddenly, we were able to see the rat race for what it truly was.  It was as if we lived on the outside, looking in at all of the chaos involved with the keeping up with the Joneses lifestyle.  We could see the uselessness of it all, the stress of it all, the silliness of it all, and we learned that it really, truly doesn’t matter how much stuff you have or what kind of stuff you have.  That it really, truly doesn’t matter what ANYONE thinks of you, aside from yourself and your God.  At that moment, we stopped caring about the opinions of others, no matter how close to us they were.

We figured out that the financial security of our family, since money affects lives on so many levels, was much more important than what people thought of us, because our financial security (or insecurity) was what would enable us to feed or not feed our children, to provide them with a home, or not be able to provide them with a home.  So in November of 2012, we made a decision; a decision that we would begin our journey to debt freedom.

We sat down, and made the frightful list of whom we owed and how much we owed them, what interest rate we were paying, the monthly payment, etc.  We also went back through the year of 2012 and tallied up what we’d spent on areas like gas, groceries and entertainment.  That was a tough week.  We came to the realization real quick that, although we thought we were being somewhat frugal (and we likely were being more frugal than many people) that we were wasting a whole lot of money.

And we realized that the only way that we were going to get ourselves out of the hole we’d dug was to hunker down and frugal it up, big time.  Was this an easy decision?  Yes, and no.  Yes, because we were desperate for financial freedom.  No, because we knew that this journey would take a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice.

We began our journey on January 1, 2013, and are now 15 months in.  It’s been a journey of many ups and downs.  There’ve been unexpected expenses, huge heating bills and emotional breakdown days.  But, we are getting out of debt.  Slower than we’d like, but we’re getting there, and that’s what matters.

My dear, dear friends, I plead with you today, if you are struggling with debt, give yourself the gift of starting – and staying – on a road to debt freedom.  The peace that you will achieve will bring you more satisfaction than anything you could ever buy.  When you get to that place when you no longer have to make decisions about life based on paying the bills, it will give you a great feeling of freedom.

I hope that by sharing this story, we have inspired and motivated those of you still simply pondering going on a journey to debt freedom.  Start today, and see what joy it brings you.

Also, head on over to Shannon’s blog for links to a whole list of other inspiring stories.  Happy Financial Literacy Month, my friends!

Have you had your “a-ha” money moment yet?  Tell us about it.

72 Comments »

  • It’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else has. It’s interesting you started to notice a difference the moment you moved. I’m glad you made the change. It must’ve been a tough decision but it looks like you’re on a great track. Thanks for sharing each week and motivating others to do the same.

    • Laurie says:

      Hey, Anthony! Yeah, it really felt as if we were looking into one of those glass globes at somebody else’s life. Super eye-opening. Thanks for the comment. Have a great day. 🙂

  • Brian says:

    Thanks for sharing Laurie! Lots of great reading to do over at the carnival. We hit rock bottom in the in the summer of 2010, maxing out all of our credit cards. Knowing we need to make a change we put our budget down on paper. $109k in debt. Fast Forward almost 4 years and we have paid off $93K of that debt. So wishing we got our act together sooner. Continued success on your journey!

  • Great post Laurie. My hubby and I were just talking the other day about how it’s amazing how “normal” we felt when we had a ton of debt and were just making minimum payments. Everyone else was doing it, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? It was when we stopped caring what others thought of us and decided that everyone else out there just lazily floating along in their sea of debt was crazy that we started to make real progress.

    • Laurie says:

      Isn’t it crazy, Dee? I’m still amazed at how many years it took us to realize that the Joneses’ are broke and not very smart. 🙂

  • Canadianbudgetbinder says:

    Never tried to keep up with the jones’s and force myself into a corner. We budget and buy only what we can afford. Modest house and modest vehicles. It may sound a little safe and boring but we are debt free.

  • Worrying about what others think can surely suck us into making some poor decisions. Best to keep our eyes focused internally, to our own goals and issues, and not on what others are doing. That’s not easy to do though in the show-off, look at me culture in which we live.

  • “The peace that you will achieve will bring you more satisfaction than anything you could ever buy.” I could not agree more Laurie! We trick ourselves into thinking stuff = happiness and it’s so eye opening when you stop that thinking and see the contentment you have by not giving into that. Great work my friend and keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

  • That was an inspiring and motivating story. I know many who are in the same mindset thinking that they are already living “frugally” and anything more would be impossible. Hopefully they are inspired by your story and learn to get on that journey to debt freedom. It is so true that you have to stop caring about the opinions of others…while I am happy with a frugal life, I do sometimes struggle with what others think of me. You guys are doing great…keep it up!

  • Brit says:

    Thank you for this post. Not only will you get to your financial freedom, but others will as well. This post is very inspiring and helpful to others. The road to financial freedom is not easy but because you have being honest and a great motivation to other you are helping others stay on track. Thank you.

    • Laurie says:

      SO glad to hear that, Brit. It is a huge goal of ours to inspire others to financial freedom. Thanks so much for your kind words today. They’ve been a huge encouragement to us!

  • No matter how many times I read through your story and get updated on your progress, I always come away inspired. Proud to have started alongside you and wishing you the best of luck as you continue making progress 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Mario, and I’m SO glad we’ve inspired you! Know that you do the same for us, and have an awesome day. 🙂

  • A huge part of us moving forward was caring less about our Jones friends and more about ourselves and our own goals. We definitely go out less and lead simpler lives, and we struggle at times, but we have a tremendous amount of pride and joy in how we now live our lives that it outweighs everything we left behind. The road is tough, but thankfully you have Rick as a great partner to travel it with!

    • Laurie says:

      “we have a tremendous amount of pride and joy in how we now live our lives that it outweighs everything we left behind”. I couldn’t agree more, Shannon. Wonderfully said, and so glad that you guys are on the track to FI too. 🙂

  • Great post Laurie. Keeping up with the Joneses put me in a bind with debt as well. I am still struggling sometimes with feelings of jealousy when I see friends, co-workers, etc with the latest and greatest of everything, but it’s getting easier.

    • Laurie says:

      And, SHNM, it will continue to get easier with time. The more months that pass on the road to financial independence, the easier it is to not struggle with feelings of jealousy, knowing that one day we’ll be in a position to spend whatever we want to spend, although I know we still won’t. 🙂

  • anna says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Laurie! I can totally relate to what you wrote about how eye-opening it was to write down expenses, and how it was a misconception of what you thought you were doing (i.e., I thought I was frugal, as well, but ended up spending twice the amount I thought I did on food). I think identifying metrics like those are key steps in money management, as well as constantly revisiting them to make sure it’s on track. You are doing such an amazing job, Laurie, and I have learned so much from you these past few months, especially with keeping motivated with whatever challenge presents itself!

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Anna!! Thanks for your kind words, my friend. We are having a very “unmotivated” (i.e. crappy attitude) kind of a week, and you’ve made my day. 🙂

  • I have a friend who I’m watching just go down that rabbit hole. We aren’t super close, so there isn’t much I can say, but it’s so hard to watch it happen. My story is similar in that things kind of started to turn bad when I was laid off and I lived like I was still employed full time and my spending reflected that. Luckily I didn’t get into too much debt because of it, but my savings took a huge hit! So proud of how far you’ve come!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, Tonya, we have loved ones like that too, and you’re so right – it’ s horrible to watch them going down that hole. In our case, we’ve mentioned things a few times, but to no avail. Every time I hear about their constant dinners out, etc., I just want to plead with them to turn things around, but it just has to be them who makes that decision. SO glad for your sake, Tonya, that you came out of your mess with no debt. The interest is excruciating!

  • I think too many people make the mistake of thinking they have no other choice and assuming they’re living “frugally enough”.

    • Laurie says:

      Stefanie, you’re so right. I’ve seen it a million times, as my eyes are even more attuned to it now that we’ve recognized it in ourselves. Here’s to hoping they recognize the sinking ships they’re on before they sink!

  • I’m so glad you and Rick managed to get going on the road to debt freedom Laurie. It really doesn’t matter about the Joneses as long as you’re doing the right thing for your family. Thanks for sharing this. Like you, I believed my hubby and I were doing the best we could and were trying to save money everywhere possible. When we sat down and worked everything out we realised that we didn’t know the meaning of living frugally!

    • Laurie says:

      “When we sat down and worked everything out, we realized we didn’t know the meaning of living frugally!”. Hayley, how true!! Isn’t it funny how many costs you can cut if you really, truly try living on necessities only? So glad to have you guys to walk this journey with. Here’s to debt freedom, my friend!

  • As always, Laurie, I love how heartfelt your posts are. This truly resonated with me, “That it really, truly doesn’t matter what ANYONE thinks of you, aside from yourself and your God. At that moment, we stopped caring about the opinions of others, no matter how close to us they were.” It’s so easy to get caught up in playing “keep up” or worrying about what others think of us. It doesn’t matter what they think. You need to take care of YOU and your family.

    When I ask people to track their spending, most assure me they are living very frugally and mindful of how they spend, even if they have consumer debt. They are always surprised when they see an actual snapshot of their spending and how much they spend on inconsequential items while not being able to buy things that they would really like. As I’ve shared before, I am so glad that you and Rick chose the hard road and decided to eliminate your debt. I know it goes more slowly than you would like some days, but you will make it! Thank you for sharing your money a-ha with us. I appreciate your support and participation!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Shannon, and thanks so much for including us in the carnival. It is such a blessing for us to be able to motivate and encourage others alongside you and the rest of the carnival members. 🙂

  • Kim says:

    It’s funny how other’s opinions can really influence our financial decisions. It’s too bad you had to learn the hard way but lots of us are in the same boat and we can only move forward from now.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s right, Kim!!! We are looking forward to being out of the “move forward” phase, and on to the wealth-building phase, like you guys are. Great job! You are an inspiration. 🙂

  • I’ve been following your story from the very beginning and I’m so proud and happy of how far you and Rick have come Laurie! I know your story is inspirational to many. The Jones are probably broke and I really hope more and more people realize that!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, my friend. It’s just awesome being able to inspire others and grow wealth alongside of you guys, GMD. Awesomeness! 🙂

  • I have been guilty of playing keep up and wanting others to try to keep up with me too. I spent lots of time wondering what people thought of me until I attended a workshop where the instructor answered that question for me – they are too busy to think about you because they are wondering what you think of them. Ahhhh…so true. That really helped me stop setting goals that weren’t my own and trying to play keep up. I realize that I only have one life and I want to enjoy it as my own, not trying to satisfy somebody else.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Tanya – that is a profound statement the instructor made!! Yes, it’s wonderful to be in the place where you’re spending on what truly matters, isn’t it? Have an awesome day, my friend. 🙂

  • Mackenzie says:

    I love, love, love the beautiful honesty of your words and your post Laurie. I am rooting for you and your family to get to the debt-free finish line! 🙂

  • My “a-ha” moment was when I realized I’d still be paying off my student loan debt when my kids started college (and I don’t even have kids). I was shocked and horrified and I knew something had to change immediately. That’s when I got serious about paying off my debt.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, we had that same shocking revelation. The thought of paying on a mortgage until you’re really, really old is definitely a wake-up call if you’ll let it be. 🙂

  • jim says:

    Laurie,
    I love your blog. We started our last debt-free journey when you did. January, 2013. Good Lord were we blind-sided. We had $25K in unexpected bills come up in the first 5 months – but we worked our asses off, sucked it up and somehow (miraculously)stayed with our plan to get out of debt once and for all. (Still not sure how we did that). Just when we took a deep breath and began to relax – wow were we hit with one illness after another – parents, kids, grand kids, selves. Ouch! We are just now turning the corner on that (and afraid to take a deep breath and relax ’cause God only knows what may happen if we do that again).

    We’re anticipating a very financially challenging period in a couple of months – but at least this time it won’t blindside us. And you know what? We’re not panicking or even particularly stressed over it ’cause dealing with financially challenging situations is a piece of cake compared to dealing with illnesses. Tough lessons to learn and we learned ’em the hard way but oh did we ever learn a valuable life lesson (or a million) and we will never stress about money again. It simply pales in comparison.

    Good luck to all of you on your own journeys. If you ever find yourself panicking or ready to throw in the towel ask yourself how much easier it is to deal with finances than to deal with loved ones struggling with life threatening illnesses. That’ll get your head and priorities right.

    • Laurie says:

      Jim, good to hear from you!! Hope those illnesses are on their way out for you guys. Hang in there, and God bless you all!

  • FI Fighter says:

    Thanks for sharing! Yes, you can spend your entire life trying to live up and conform to someone else’s standards… I used to get a hard time from people about being too focused on saving and not living life up enough… But I knew that I had to do what was best for my own situation. These days, some of those same critics are now amazed at all the progress I’ve made and want to know how I did it… Like you, I just stopped caring about what other people thought and focused on what I needed to do.

    All the best.

    • Laurie says:

      FI Fighter, thanks so much for sharing that those same critics are now wanting advice from you. This is the type of encouragement we need to hear. People think we’re crazy now, for living how we live, but I know we’ll be glad we stuck with our plan. Thanks much!!! Have a great day. 🙂

  • I remember the day Vonnie and I added up our debt…not a good day. I also remember the first time we added up all our monthly expenses and income and saw we spent more than we made. That’s a harsh reality. I feel privileged to be following along with your and Rick’s story – and not just because you’re a fellow Minnesotan. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, although that does sweeten the pot. 🙂 Travis, nearly a foot of snow here again. Can you believe it? Thanks so much, to you and Vonnie both, for sharing your story so willingly. You are major role models for us!

  • It is an awful feeling to realize that you’re wasting so much money, isn’t it? We had a similar situation happen when we started tracking our spending.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it really is sickening. Thankfully, though, that ship has sailed and we’re on to more responsible money management. 🙂

  • Those stinkin’ Joneses. Always trying to make our lives feel insufficient. Good for you for fighting back!
    My ah-ha moment was when I was 8 or 9. My dad is fast and loose with money and it has always bothered me. He asked to borrow money from ME and I knew I needed to protect myself and the limited funds I had. I’ve been a saver ever since.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Kate. That is quite a story. Kudos to you for realizing at such a young age how important it was to be financially responsible.

  • Laurie your story really does inspire me even though we have no debt. It shows how getting real about your finances can make a huge change for the better. We’re retired and are reaping the benefits of living below our means most of our married life. We are able to travel now and enjoy our family. It’s wonderful and it would not have been possible if we had tried to keep up with the Joneses. It’s tough to ignore the social pressure, but it pays off big time. Congrats on getting your priorities straight. I’m sure you’ll get that debt paid off with your plan!

    • Laurie says:

      Maggie, that is awesome!! SO glad to hear that all of our hard work will pay off – your words seriously help to keep us on track – thank you. 🙂

  • I’m sure your story will inspire many people to become debt free. I know that once I started to track my spending that it was a big eye opener as to where our money was going. It has really made me a smarter shopper. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Laurie says:

      Same here, Raquel!!! It’s one of those roads to wealth that people think is unimportant, when in reality, it’s a huge part of success. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • Great story! Once you stop caring about other people’s opinions of your lifestyle, you can actually start living for yourself.

    My wife and I figured out that lesson as well.

    Now when I look around at the people I work with, I notice that the main difference between our finances and their finances is that they care about other’s opinions. That’s why they have brand new cars and they live above their means.

    I’m proud to be part of the debt-free crowd that doesn’t care about what others think, even if it isn’t normal.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Laurie says:

      It’s amazing, Kalen, once you have that eye-opening experience, how differently you look at other people’s stuff once you realize it’s probably mostly on credit, isn’t it? SO glad that you guys have figured out the key to wealth too – HUGE congrats to you guys, and thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • We should not listen to the opinions of other persons. They don’t owe our life. For me, I always do what makes me happy. We should live for our own life.

  • The only time I was in major credit card debt (major to me), was when I was in a very underpaid Americorps position. My room, board, and health insurance was covered but I was only provided $200 a month fun money. I racked up about $5,000 in credit card debt in one year! I was offered a full time job with the place I was volunteering at, still getting free room and board and health insurance, but getting about $1,500 a month instead, which was a lot more livable. I was able to pay off my credit card debt in one year and I’ve never looked back. My struggle was much easier than many, being that I was a single lady at the time and had my main expenses covered (which enabled me to put all of my paycheck towards the debt). But it taught me how great it is to be credit card debt free at the age of 23. And because of that, when I went through life in my first real office job and made $15/hr living in one of the most expensive cities in the world with $550 student loan payments on top of it, I didn’t look to credit cards to “keep up with the Jones’s”. I sucked it up and lived cheaply until my salary high enough to have some breathing room (still working on getting more but more salary will come in time).

    The amazing thing in your situation Laurie is you’ll be debt free soon and when that time comes, you won’t know what to spend your money on! that’ll be the greatest part. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Tara, I always get so excited when I hear about young people like yourself who are being so smart with their money. You’ve done an awesome job at managing your cash, Tara, and I can wait till we’re in the same debt free boat right alongside you . 🙂

  • I wrote my post about how my perspective was shaped growing up, but I would definitely say that financial ‘a-ha’ moments come in waves. Our most recent one was probably when our sewer drain-out had an issue and we thought we’d be on the hook for $7k (thankfully city was liable in our case – a rarity!). It was tough to stomach the fact that something random could go wrong and we could owe that much money, but it led my paranoid self to realize there were MANY situations where things could go wrong and we’d owe money (mainly home and auto repairs). I also think having major medical issues two years ago really opened my eyes to how dang important it is to have either a medical emergency fund or preferably an HSA. There’s no reason to NOT max out an HSA, especially if you are healthy – that’s the best time! Anyway this comment got a bit long but I really enjoyed your post and I’m glad we could both be part of the carnival.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, DC, for sharing your awesome wisdom here. Yes, financial a-ha moments definitely come in waves. Every time we learn one, we’re more and more excited for our future.

  • It’s so great to hear your story, Laurie. Interesting you were debt free after the layoff, but then a series of incidents really took you down a different path. You guys have changed so much and it’s been great to witness your progress. My a-ha moment was moving to Portland from NYC, with no job and 58k in debt to go. I didn’t know how I was going to pay it back at all. I’m glad for my sake some things have changed too!

    • Laurie says:

      You’ve done an AWESOME job at dumping your debt, Melanie – commitment with a capital “C”. So excited for both of our debt free days to come! 🙂

  • A family member of mine is struggling with debt payoff, Laurie, and I’m not finding great success at coaching him through it. I think I’m going to tell him to read your blog as I think your words might be more impactful than mine. I think, for better or worse, he also needs some sort of ‘ah-ha’ moment, maybe from a move or a job change.

    • Laurie says:

      Please send him over, DB40 – I’d love to help him. I know what it’s like to want to change and not be able to get it done, and I’d love to see what I can do. Feel free to give him the Frugal Farmer email as well, and I’ll talk to him privately if he’d rather. Hope I can help!

  • Thanks for sharing your story. Our family had a similar experience…we began to move the needle the moment we began to ignore what others thought. Before our Financial Independence (FI) journey began, we were always afraid of what other would think. Now, we are more concerned about reaching our goal of being FI (debt free and with multiple streams of income) and leaving the rat race that we could care less what other are thinking or doing. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Interesting! It’s a nice freedom, isn’t it, not keeping up with the Joneses anymore. We are loving not having that pressure. 🙂

  • I grew up in that suburban keeping up with it all environment. I quickly grew out of it, but every once in a while it creeps back in. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who does NOT think that way at all. And while he might want to spend money on what I view as superfluous PS3 games every once in a while, every time I get stressed about what someone will think of me because I’m not presenting myself this way or that he reminds me, “Who cares? If they really care about that they’re not worth our time anyways.” I’m so happy for you guys that you’re digging yourselves out; slow and steady wins the race!

    • Laurie says:

      Rick has that same attitude, FF. Isn’t it a wonderful help for when those moments comes when we start to care? Guys are so much better at keeping their emotions in check, it seems. Rick’s “who gives a crap” attitude really makes a huge impact on me for the better. Glad your hubby is the same way. 🙂

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