The ghost of debt past

The Kansas City skyline, circa June 2005, atop the building where I first called Dave Ramsey.

Come with me on a journey back in time.

In August 2005, I called into “The Dave Ramsey Show.” I was the last caller of the hour. I was 30 years old, Amy and I had been married for just over two years, we were renting, had two incomes, and no kids.

We had almost $68,200 in debt, and our combined income was $62,000.

In some ways, we realized that was a lot of debt compared to our income. Just think about it: all of our combined debt totalled more than we made in a year by more than $6,000. After taxes and the interest on that debt, the mountain seemed insurmountable.

We had read Dave’s book, “The Total Money Makeover,” and things started to make sense. We were just starting to learn how to budget, and taking the baby steps (no pun intended) in getting our financial house in order.

I was feeling overwhelmed. How in the world were we going to pay off all this debt? I decided to give Dave a call, and see if he had any motivation. Dave is really good at psychology, if your mind is open enough to hear, and not just listen.

This is a recording of that call.

As you can tell, I was quite nervous talking to him. Dave can be a little intimidating. To some, it’s off-putting. He told me what I needed to hear. Unfortunately, I was only listening to what he had to say.

Here are some key takeaways from talking to Dave 12 years ago:

  • I thought we were “going hardcore on the budget.” The reality is we weren’t, or I would have known exactly how much we were putting on debt each month.
  • I used my wife as an excuse to not work an extra job to pay down the debt. This was yet another time where Amy and I weren’t on the same page about attacking this.
  • “(Dave): I don’t want to go eight years in this.” Oh Dave, I’m so sorry. It’s 12 years later and we’re still not done.
  • Dave said we should increase our intensity, and increase our momentum to speed up getting out of debt. Oops.
  • Dave said I should focus on making my web design interest into something more profitable. I did a little, but I didn’t go all in like I could have.
  • “If you move into a house you buy, with a $58,000 student loan, Murphy will be your guest in the spare bedroom. It’s a Murphy magnet, buying a house with a big pile of debt. ‘Cause everything that can go wrong will the first year, and then you’ll find yourself in a mess.” He was batting 1,000 on that one.

I dug up this clip when we were getting ready to sell our house in 2016. Then, it hit me. It was more than a decade later, and we hadn’t made any progress. We violated everything he warned out.

He was right about everything.

Fast-forward to July 2016. Our house now sold, we moved back into a rental. I was starting a job on Aug. 1 that had regular pay, benefits, and a decent income. I told Amy about digging up the clip, and we agreed that it was time to stop messing around. We had used having kids as an excuse. We bought a house that ate all of our money, but now we were done living there. I hadn’t worked an extra job aside from a little web development here and there since 2004. It was time to get serious; really serious.

In September 2016, we went through Financial Peace University. Then, we started throwing large amounts at our debt, more than we ever had before. But, we were still holding back a little.

In December of 2017, I started playing around with our budget. I began dreaming again. I began to have hope. I could see that if we cut a bunch of things, if we really doubled down on this, we could be debt free in 2018.

I showed Amy. She understood it would be hard, but she bought in.

This is why I’m a little bit nuts right now. I’m on fire to take care of this once and for all. I’m done messing around. We have pussyfooted around this debt for so long, it’s like it has become another family member.

But now, things are different. The extras in our life, they’re gone. I’m starting a side job in a few weeks. Our fridge is a shrine of empowerment, filled with artifacts to keep us going. On the side of the fridge is our debt payoff spreadsheet, my contract with Amy, and a bit of a spiritual promise, which I’ll write about in a future post.

And of course, we have the Debt Chain for the kids.

We are not trying to get out of debt. We are getting out of debt. I believe that we will win.

And, we will.

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