Dumping Debt: Part 3

Three years ago my mom gave me Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) kit for my birthday. While I was a little skeptical, at first, I read the book and listened to the CDs on my way to and from work…and I allowed Mr. Ramsey to change my perspective on how I handled money.

So, when my boyfriend (now hubby) and I were getting serious, we watched the DVDs together. I could tell he was a little skeptical, as well. However, he gave it a try. He saved up and purchased my engagement ring with cash, and when we got married, we did so, debt-free (you can read about that here); even our honeymoon was paid in cash! During our first 7 months of marriage we worked hard at paying down our debt, which included his car and my student loan.

In November, we discovered we were pregnant! Being just one payment shy of having the hubby’s car paid off, we went ahead and made the final payment, and then pushed pause on our debt-snowball; only making a minimum payment on my student loan each month. Then, we saved during the pregnancy. We did purchase a used car, with cash, when my car went out of commission earlier this year, but then we continued to save. After this mommy and baby came home from the hospital, we used the money we’d saved to pay off the hospital bills, and put a huge chunk down on my student loan.

And on October 31st, 2017, we made our LAST student loan payment, making us DEBT FREE at last!!

Now, we’re on to Step 3, and then on to what Dave calls Step 3B, which is a down payment for a house. And guess what! YOU can do it too! It takes hard work and self-discipline, yes, but it’s possible!

Have I mentioned that after baby girl came, I left my job!? I’m now a stay-at-home mom, because we made good financial decisions based on Dave Ramsey’s principles!

Do you have any dreams or goals that you continually push aside, because your finances prevent you from chasing them? Perhaps you should check out Dave Ramsey’s FPU. You won’t regret it.

7 Baby Steps

  • Step 1: Save $1000 Emergency Fund
  • Step 2: Debt Snowball
  • Step 3: Save 3-6 months of Expenses << This is where we are now!
  • Step 4: Invest 15% of Household Income
  • Step 5: College Funding for Children
  • Step 6: Pay off House Early
  • Step 7: Build Wealth & Give!
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Babies, Budgets, & Faith

It’s currently around 2 a.m. and I’m beginning this post as I feed my 5-week-old baby girl, whom I affectionately call my Cookie Girl. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we discovered last Thanksgiving that we were expecting, and since then it’s been a challenge to write because I’ve had baby on the brain, lol. It’s no joke; once you discover you’re pregnant, that baby is all you can think about for the next few months and it’s a real challenge to discuss anything else.

Angelica&amp;Wilfredo(1of39)Pregnancy is one of the most faith-testing things I think a woman can face; at least it was for me. I’m someone who likes to plan and be in control, and pregnancy is so outside your control. Everything is completely in God’s hands. From the timing of conception, to the sex of the baby, the health of mom and baby, and to the circumstances and time of the delivery; He plans and knows every detail, leaving us with no choice but to trust Him.

I thank God for a healthy and smooth pregnancy and delivery. I know not everyone has a good experience during pregnancy. I had some nausea during the first trimester, but nothing too serious, and not until my last trimester did I have a ton of difficulty sleeping and swelling in my legs and feet. I gained a pretty healthy amount of weight by mostly sticking to foods high in protein throughout, not giving in to every craving, and drinking lots of water. And when my water broke at 5:30 a.m., in July, we were blessed to welcome a precious, healthy baby girl into our arms, just 12 hours later.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were just a payment or two shy of paying off my husband’s car. So we finished that, and then, just as Dave Ramsey suggests, we paused our baby step two–paying off debt–to save for baby.  However, while we were adding to our emergency fund, my car’s power-steering gave out on me one night, just as I was merging onto the highway. This pushed up our timeline to purchase another vehicle by a few months, and we were able to purchase a new used vehicle with cash, in May. Then we went back to putting money into our emergency fund for the rest of the pregnancy.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t as on my budget game as I should have been during this pregnancy. The biggest budget buster for us was food, since nothing ever sounded appealing to me, lol. But we did save in other ways. An area I recommend to save money on is maternity clothes. I suggest only purchasing a pair or two of maternity jeans; two pair of dress pants, if you work outside the home; two maternity shirts; two tank tops; two or three pairs of maternity leggings; and three or four maternity/nursing bras. I also picked up a few stretchy, flowy, dresses from Ross to wear as tunic tops with my leggings, and my sister sent me a few beautiful dresses she’d found on the clearance rack, as well. Dresses, leggings and tunic tops were my best friends towards the end, and I’m still wearing them post-pregnancy, since my pre-preggo pants aren’t fitting just yet.

Baby clothes are another area to save in. We realized early on that there are sooo many cute baby clothes out there that it would be very easy to go overboard. I had to remind myself, more than once, that our new baby wouldn’t need all that many clothes. Baby’s outgrow them really fast; and clothes tend to get laundered every few days anyways. Most importantly, God really instilled in me that our children are not toys or fashion accessories; Cookie Girl has been entrusted to my husband and I to raise and train for His glory, not to put on display. Besides, what would we be teaching her if we were overly concerned about her appearance? The Lord, Himself, says that it’s our hearts that matter (1 Samuel 16:7), not outside appearances, and we would do well to instill that in our children.

I thank God that He’s given us this opportunity to love, teach/train another human being about Himself. It’s quite a responsibility to raise a little person that will ultimately become a full-fledged adult. My husband and I find ourselves praying quite often for direction, and we’re only in the first few weeks! We may still be learning about this whole parenting thing, but I’d like this to be a shared experience, so intermittently I’ll bring up challenges and things we’ve learned along the way with y’all, just as I have regarding other areas of my life. I love y’all and pray that God continue to use me and this blog for His honor.

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Planning a Debt-Free Wedding 

This post has been a long time coming. For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I were engaged in December 2015, and married by May of 2016. We’d been dating for about a year and a half before he proposed, so we decided on a short engagement. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’ve been following Dave Ramsey and have been trying to pay off all my debt for the last few years, so the then fiancé and I agreed not to go overboard on the wedding.

So, how did we accomplish a beautiful wedding without going into debt? I’ll explain.

Talk About Your Goals

Before we were even engaged, W (the now hubbs) and I had discussed our financial goals. He watched the Dave Ramsey FPU videos with me and we talked about how this would work for us. Therefore, when we went to pick out that engagement ring together–lol, yes, I wanted to pick it out–he knew going in, that we weren’t going to finance it, and we had a budget in mind.

Budget

There goes that dirty little word, lol. But it’s so important! Without a budget, the sky is the limit. I’ve heard about couples who start out their marriage tens of thousands of dollars in debt because they went for the huge engagement ring, lavish wedding, and expensive honey moon; and we didn’t want to be in that boat. Especially, since we were already going into marriage with my student loan debt and his car loan (we’ll talk about this more at another time).

Here are some ways we chose to cut down on expenses.

The Ring

We shopped around a few places looking for the ring. What I originally thought I wanted, once I saw it on my finger, I wasn’t really impressed with. However, the best decision we made was to go with a local, family-owned jeweler. Their prices were much lower than the chain stores AND they had the ability to replicate any designer piece that we wanted at a fraction of the cost.

The Dress

I chose not to go overboard on the dress. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a dress A&amp;W-158that, let’s be honest, I was only going to wear once. Two of the most important take-aways during dress shopping 1) don’t knock the discount rack, and 2) don’t be afraid to try on something you think looks strange on the hanger. (That’s how I found my dress!) Also, don’t forget to include the cost of alterations, shoes, and veil, if you choose to wear one. Lastly, instead of going with the dress shop for alterations, check around for a good deal. We chose to go with a local tailor because they charged much less. (Don’t forget, you could always rent a dress if you won’t want to purchase one.)

The Guest List

It may seem like I’ve placed this in the wrong spot, but really, the size of your guest list is going to determine a lot about your wedding. When W and I were discussing our wedding plans, I originally didn’t want a wedding; I wanted to elope. Mostly, because I’m in introvert and get stressed out by crowds. Eventually, I changed my mind, but I wanted to keep the wedding as small as possible. Therefore, our guest list was less than 50 people. This meant we could choose a smaller wedding venue and had some wiggle room when it came to food and drinks.

(Disclaimer: If you go this route, don’t be surprised if people get upset with you for not inviting them to your wedding. Sadly, I have family members that refuse to talk to me because we chose not to invite extended family.)

The Venue

Living in Northern Virginia means that our area is rife with prime wedding locations.A&amp;W-348 However, most of them cost MUCH more than we wanted to spend. We decided on a small, local farm that charged by the hour to use their barn space, and we chose to have a brunch wedding. Choosing the brunch wedding meant we didn’t have to pay the costs associated with an evening wedding (i.e. extra security, clean up, lighting, etc.). The cost was soo much better than if we’d gone with one of the bigger farms, or bed-and-breakfasts, that provided a full-service wedding. And we used the picnic tables provided in the rental, so we didn’t have to rent tables and chairs!

The Caterer & Baker

A&amp;W-213My husband loves food. Like REALLY loves food. I was just telling someone today, that he’s pretty much an artist in the kitchen. I cook to eat, but when he cooks, it’s a creative experiment, lol. So, when it came to food we really had to do some research. We went with a local caterer, who provided his own staff and table linens, and worked well alongside the bakers from the cupcake shop we purchased our cupcakes from. And we ate family style! Meaning, food was passed along the table, instead of buffet style or plated. I loved it!

Photographer & DJ

We have quite a few friends who have side photography businesses, and I’m sure you do too, since it’s become much more common nowadays. I’d suggest you shop around, and check out portfolios before making your decision. Your lowest offer might not be your best, but neither might your highest. We chose to have a friend that we weren’t specifically inviting to the wedding take our photos, because we didn’t want our guests to have to work during the wedding. We also knew someone who offered DJ services, through our church, at a reasonable price. You’d be surprised how far networking and checking with your friends can take you.

Flowers & Décor

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For most weddings these two might go under separate categories, but for our wedding I’d say they went under one. First off, we didn’t have a wedding party. There were no bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, or ring bearers. Remember, we wanted to keep the cost and stress levels way down (and when you have additional people involved in the ceremony, the stress level skyrockets). I’d suggest, even if you do have a wedding party, don’t use a big flower retailer, because you’re going to pay way too much. We almost purchased our flowers through Costco, because they had good prices, but instead, we were able to find a florist who was just starting out. She gave us a great deal on my bouquet, Ws boutonniere, and our parents boutonnieres and corsages. I believe when it comes to flowers, less is more. (I think we actually ordered a little too many flowers for our table décor, lol.)

For our table settings we purchased some lace, crates, and milk bottles from the craft store and IKEA, and during the wedding ceremony our guests sat on bales of hay.

Friends & Family

Lastly, we couldn’t have had a debt-free wedding without our close friends and family. A friend did my wedding day makeup; our parents helped pay for the venue, my dress, and the flowers; and the night before the wedding, some of our friends and family helped us decorate our venue. Afterwards, they helped clean up and put everything back in order. A&amp;W-217

I just wanted to share this with you to tell you that you don’t have to go into debt to have a beautiful wedding. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that you’re marrying the one you love. As I told W before our wedding, even if everything went terribly wrong, all that mattered was that at the end of the day we’d be husband and wife.

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Birthday Confessions

Carrot Cake B-day Cake

Mmm…Carrot Cake, my fave!

I don’t know about you, but it seems that about twice a year—around my birthday and the new year—I find myself taking inventory of where I am in life and where I would like to be. With my birthday just a day away, I’ve been thinking a lot about career decisions, where I want to be in five years, what my goals are, and what it’s going to take to get there. For those who’ve been following my blog so far, you know that I’m currently on the Dave Ramsey plan and have been trying to pay my student loan off as quickly as possible. I’ve actually started looking into getting a second job to work in the evenings and on the weekends, in addition to my full-time job, just so I can have some extra money to get my loan paid off quicker.

However, these last few days, I’ve been reminded that I shouldn’t become so preoccupied with paying off this student loan that my relationships with God or other people suffer. As much as I want a second job, I also want to continue serving in my church, whether on the worship team; working with the children’s, homeless, or young adult ministries; or teaching a Wednesday night Bible study (like I planned to do in the fall); I want to serve. Not to mention the fact that I currently have the freedom to meet a friend after work to study the Word on Monday evenings, attend a ladies Bible study at my friend Cori’s house on Friday nights, and spend some quality time with my boyfriend on the weekends. 😉

Now, will I continue to look for other ways to increase my income? Absolutely! But I still want to be able to serve, minister, and foster the relationships that God has placed in my life, as well. This just means that I have to trust that God will open a door and make this a reality. Trust and patience have always been difficult for control freak me. I want to devise my own plans and create my own way, but God says it’s His job to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re going or planning, or even if you’re like me–working on your debt snowball–don’t forget that all this is for His glory and we’re to honor Him in all that we do. Nothing is more important than Him and the calling He’s placed on each of our lives to point the world towards Him. Don’t let any other goals, people, or objects distract you from Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a, NLT)

Dumping Debt: Part 2

It’s been a while, since I’ve posted anything, much less regarding how my debt-free journey is going. I’d been slowly chipping away at my credit card and student loan debt, but what really made a huge dent thus far is that I received a refund earlier in the year (primarily because I’ve been paying interest towards my student loans) and my mom graciously surprised me with some money she’d been saving for me.

These two unexpected gifts allowed me to completely pay off my credit card (woohoo!) and the smallest of my 3 student loans. Most of the second to smallest student loan has also been paid off (it should be gone by the end of this month), leaving just the largest of the 3 loans. This means that I’ve paid off $3270.20 in credit card debt and $4011.72 in student loan debt within the last year!

That’s a lot of money! I could only imagine what I could have done with this $7281.92 if I didn’t have these debts.

Goals

For me, this journey to becoming debt free is important because I want to be in a place where I can give freely and generously. There has been many a time when I’ve wanted to help someone or bless a cause, financially, and have been unable to do so because of debt. One day, I want to be able to offer services to aid and bless those around me. With this goal in mind, it’s easier for me to give up the things I want now, so that I can be in a better position to serve later.

What goals do you have for your future? Can being debt-free help you reach those goals?

Whatever you do, be sure to create a plan! Like Zig Ziglar says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Be intentional with your finances and your time.

7 Baby Steps

  • Step 1: Save $1000 Emergency Fund
  • Step 2: Debt Snowball << This is where I am!
  • Step 3: Save 3-6 months of Expenses
  • Step 4: Invest 15% of Household Income
  • Step 5: College Funding for Children
  • Step 6: Pay off House Early
  • Step 7: Build Wealth & Give!

And remember, the 7 Baby Steps really begin when you create a budget (and stick to it)!  Two great applications that I personally use to help me create a budget are the new Dave Ramsey application Every Dollar and Mvelopes. I can’t use Every Dollar on my phone, since it’s only available for iPhones, so I use the Mvelopes app for my Android. Be sure to check them out and tell me what you think!

Dumping Debt: Part 1

I’ve been a little hesitant to write this post, not because I don’t want to share this information with you, but because the Internet is swamped with this info. So, at the risk of sounding redundant, here goes…

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from UNCW in 2009, I left school without any school debt. I’d lived at home and worked my way through school; therefore, I paid off my small personal loans as I made money working through school. However, when I returned to school in 2011 for my Master’s in Human Services Counseling, I was working full time, and although I began while still living at home, I got a little rambunctious and prideful and moved into my own apartment while earning my M.A. I began to take out student loans for school, and even put a little on my credit card—books, new computer, a bloggie camera that I needed for a class—on top of this, during the summer I put a trip to Puerto Rico on my credit card, when a friend got married there. Yeah, I know, bad idea!

So, where am I going with this? Well, last year my mother gave me Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Kit for my 30th birthday. At first, I thought “really?!” Hahahaha, but once I started reading the book I realized the man made great sense! He breaks everything down into steps…

7 Baby Steps

  • Step 1: Save $1000 Emergency Fund
  • Step 2: Debt Snowball
  • Step 3: Save 3-6 months of Expenses
  • Step 4: Invest 15% of Household Income
  • Step 5: College Funding for Children
  • Step 6: Pay off House Early
  • Step 7: Build Wealth & Give!

So far, I’m still on Baby Step 2. I think I’ll be here for a little while, but I’m already proud of myself for creating and sticking to a monthly budget, not using my credit card for Christmas gifts (that was a big one for me, because I’d been doing it for the last couple of Christmases), and already having paid $446.48 towards lowing my credit card bill since I’ve started. I’m slowly but surely getting there. If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey or Financial Peace University (FPU) please be sure to check them out. I’ve added the book for FPU to my suggested reading list on my Resources link.