For years I never even considered financial stability something I should be concerned about. If I could make my monthly bills and minimum payments, I felt I had a handle on my money. Little did I realize I was slowly accumulating a giant pile of debt.
I started the foundation for living beyond my means when I was in college. If I wanted something, I didn’t have the cash for I relied on credit to pay for it. Hedging my bet, by assuming my future degree would bring in more income, and I would eventually catch up.
Well, my first job out of college was a slight increase over the part-time jobs I held down over my college years at a starting salary of $17,500. The problem was I never addressed the underlying issue, my behavior with money. Now with a more significant steady income, my credit card lines increased, and so did my overspending.
Sure there were promotions and raises over the next couple of years on the job, and I was now making north of $40k, but still, I never considered getting a handle on managing my money. I thought using credit to pay for things I didn’t have the cash for, and managing monthly minimum payments was a plan. I guess in a way it is, just not a very good one.
I stumble down this path for years, along the way I met my soon to be wife, we settled down and got married. We combined our finances and started a family. We talked about our hopes, dreams, and future plans, but I don’t ever remember talking about a financial plan.
Years passed, and we were blessed with three children, boy and girl twins, and a son. A marriage, three children, and a home all cost money to maintain. With no financial plan, it can get pretty unhealthy when you continue to overspend and not delay gratification. It would be okay, though. I was now earning a six-figure, $100K income, which put our family in a higher percentage than most of the United States. So we’d be okay.
I’ll never forget THE conversation when I had to tell my wife we had no money to take a summer vacation. She asked things like how and why. It was simply. We lived beyond our means for years, overspending, never paying much attention to our finances, and now our five credit cards were close to their limits. With no cash saving, and no more available credit, we had reached rock bottom, financially. $109,000 worth of consumer debt was a big hole, but it was time to get healthy
The Family Plan
Now knowing we had to change our behavior with money, we had to find answers. How could we do that? A quick internet search delivered lots of information. I zeroed in on a few personal finance blogs and a guy named Dave Ramsey. I quickly picked up some tips, and a debt eliminating technique called the debt snowball.
I read stories of how everyday people like my family used the debt snowball to get out of debt. I was hooked. I presented this information to my wife, and with some skepticism, she jumped in. We began building a plan for our money in the form of a budget. We started tracking expenses and, most importantly, defined a why.
Why did we want to get out of debt in the first place? One to never be in the rock-bottom moment with our money again, two to not stress about money when life happens, an appliance break, or an expected flat tire occurs, we wanted to have the cash for these events. More importantly, we wanted to provide better for our three children and teach them better financial habits than we ever had at their age.
Youth is on Your Side
We immediately involved our children in our budget discussions. We explained the debt mess that we had created, and with hard work and sacrifice, we could get out of it. We also wanted them to be aware of spending changes. Things that we would often say yes to, now we may have to say no altogether or way until we had saved the money to purchase it.
Surprisingly they adapted to the changes rather quickly. We began having money conversations over dinner. The key I found was to try to hit topics they were interested in talking about and weave money into it. I had success with ice cream (their favorite dessert) smartphones, and I asked them how you would like to grow up a millionaire. That’s usually an attention grabber for a teenager.
What I realized during our money conversations, were that they were not learning any of these personal financial skills in school. How could that be? It was a good thing my wife and I were making an effort at home. I thought more about it, what if we never had our rock bottom moment and increased our education on financial stability? Would our three children go off to college and not have a financial clue? What about other parents in the same position as we once were? How were their kids getting an education on money?
Kid’s most significant advantage is their age; if they can get off on the right financial foot and stay out of debt, they can open up the choices in their lives. It scares me to think about a naive seventeen or eighteen-year-old making the most significant financial decision of their lives in the choice of college and how to pay for it. They may not truly understand the long-term consequences and could very easily add to the student loan debt crisis, which stands at more than $1.3 trillion today.
That’s when I knew I had to get involved beyond just teaching my family and help others.
Financial Stability for Anyone and Everyone
I figure I might as well aim high if I was going to try to make an impact. I approached our superintendent of schools about the idea of teaching financial stability within our school district. To my surprise, my feedback was welcomed. What I came to find out working with the superintendent and board of education over the next several years is they value parent and community feedback. They want a partnership to work together to help produce better students.
Over the next three years, I worked on several committees, shaping new ideas. My goal was always to help champion financial stability, and I also realize there were other opportunities to improve critical curriculum and help teach students lifelong literacies to prepare them for adult life beyond high school.
I eventually became the chair of the financial committee within our school district, and with the help of other parents and school administrators developed a financial literacy program for our 6000 students in grades K-12. Last year we presented in front of our Board of Education and successfully won approval to kick off the program this school year. I’m still involved today, and we are excited to see the year one results.
I’m also involved as a local board member of a 501c3 coalition, which provides educations opportunities to the community. I presented a “How to Avoid Student Debt” Evening. It helped parents and students discuss ideas on how to fund college without taking on student loan debt.
Since 2015 I’ve been speaking locally at libraries to share my families get out of debt story and giving tips on how others can do the same. I have reached several hundred people with over $1.5 million in debt. I’m speaking this week as part of Financial Literacy Month.
My goal is to provide as much information to those in need as possible, and I believe it so important for our youth, our students to have this information before they begin their financial lives.
I’m happy to report my twin son and daughter are finishing up their freshmen year of college and are off to a good start, managing their money well, working part-time, and minimizing debt. My youngest son, a sophomore in high school, is already applying for scholarships and eyeing his first part-time job this summer.
This is why financial stability matters to me. I have been on both sides of it, once financially unstable, and now financially stable. I understand the benefits, the reduced stress, less worry, better communication, and relationships with my wife and children. I want others to have this success too.
Will you join me? Please share why financial stability matters to you using the hashtag #FinHealthMatters
Here are some more of my reasons why financial health matters :
- #FinHealthMatters because our students deserve a better financial education.
- #FinHealthMatters because I’ve lived in the shadow of debt.
- #FinHealthMatters because debt is a four-letter word!
- #FinHealthMatters because student debt isn’t the only answer for higher education.
- #FinHealthMatters because having a plan for my money reduces stress in my life.
- #FinHealthMatters because we use money our entire lives.
- #FinHealthMatters because our kids deserve better than living pay-check to pay-check.
- #FinHealthMatters because living in debt should not be the norm.
- #FinHealthMatters because working for 40 years shouldn’t be a goal.
- #FinHealthMatters because fear and stress should not be part of your financial plan.
- #FinHealthMatters because when your work for someone else, your job is not a guarantee.
- #FinHealthMatters because money should not be a taboo topic.
- #FinHealthMatters because giving warms my heart.
What would you add to the list?
Brian is a Dad, husband, and an IT professional by trade. A Personal Finance Blogger since 2013. Who, with his family, has successfully paid off over $100K worth of consumer debt. Now that Brian is debt-free, his mission is to help his three children prepare for their financial lives and educate others to achieved financial success. Brian is involved in his local community. As a Financial Committee Chair with the Board of Education of his local school district, he has helped successfully launch a K-12 financial literacy program in a six thousand student district.