I was recently award an Excellence in Ministry grant, which goes toward debt or retirement or savings for ministers in their first five years of ministry. We have a lot of debt. It’s embarrassingly high. Most of it is mine, and all but $16,000 of it is from student loans. That $16k was a mistake we made in buying a new car.
I’ve wanted to become debt free as fast as possible since graduating seminary and since my spouse graduated college. We were making fantastic progress until last year, when not only did we have a baby but we didn’t quite set aside enough to pay our yearly taxes (the joys of being in ministry) and I made the decision to visit my 96-year-old grandfather so he could meet my spouse and my baby.
I have been on a mission since last May to pay off our credit card before the New Year. Guess what? It didn’t happen. We were close but we weren’t either. I realized in about October/November that we needed more help and more knowledge than what we had.
I started listening to Dave Ramsey. I begged my mom to buy us Financial Peace University for Christmas. It didn’t happen. Darn! But I have learned loads. On top of listening to Dave Ramsey, and eventually I’ll buy his book once we have money again haha, I was awarded this grant. Part of the grant requires me and my spouse to take four financial classes.
Last night was the last one. I learned a lot in just four classes, and I know I need to learn so much more. For us our focus has been debt, but we also need to focus on retirement. Unlike my husband, I plan on working for at least some cash until the day I die, but he would like to retire or become a stay-at-home-dad eventually.
This leads me to financial peace. I’m not surprised by the numbers of ministers who really do not know anything about finances. First, it’s not in any of our schooling, and unless we were bankers, CPAs, or finance gurus in a previous life or job, then we’re kind of left in the dust. We don’t know how to budget, we don’t know what an IRA is, and we don’t even know that there are rules for these things.
But we need to learn. The weight of even just our credit card debt causes me a crazy amount of stress. I think about it daily, probably every hour of the day that I’m not sleeping, and you know what, I probably dream about it too.
Dave Ramsey’s plan is simple and easy, sort of. Easier said than done.
Baby Step 1: save $1000 emergency fund. Well we did that in like two weeks, mostly because we already had some cash in savings.
Baby Step 2: pay off all debt except the mortgage. We don’t have a mortgage; we live in a parsonage. Advantage one. Now, I calculated how long it would take for us to pay off our debt, and it’ll be 5-6 years at the very minimum. That is a long time to only go with $1000 in an emergency fund, especially with a baby on board. So we’re modifying Dave’s plan.
This month we’ll pay off our credit card. We’re literally three weeks away from it, and the excitement building is ridiculous. I can’t even begin to explain it. If this is the feeling I get from just one debt, I can’t imagine the freedom and excitement I’ll feel from having it all paid off.
I want to point out too that becoming debt free is also a part of being a good steward to God. Being in debt means my full attention isn’t on God, it means I can’t give as much as I would like to give. It means that we struggle to make our faith our focus, and we struggle to grow spiritually. Through becoming debt free, I know our faith will grow, that our struggle will turn into joy, and that we will become better stewards, not just of our finances but of our lives.
**There are 7 Baby Steps. Find Dave Ramsey if you want info on the rest.
***Dave Ramsey is a Christian and talks about being a good steward a lot, which is why I really like him and his plan.