The Cross and Cash Envelopes
My husband and I could be the poster children for the typical college graduates.
We both took five years to graduate, changed majors, and walked off with diplomas in hand and a whole lotta debt.
I know having student loans to pay back is the norm. I remember consciously making the decision to go into debt when i was seventeen and having life meetings with my parents about wanting to attend my dream, out of state university. I remember experiencing my college adventure with all its richness, pain, and glory. I remember the first time I hit "schedule payment" when the grace period came to a dreaded end.
Debt, although it's to be expected, gives me anxiety. I absolutely despise it. I feel that it's this giant ball and chain of horribleness strapped to my back. But despising something and hating something with the passion of a thousand suns doesn't help my problem. Certainly, putting off thinking about it or dealing with it gets me nowhere.
Garrett and I have been tackling the debt with a newfound intensity, and it took some gut-wrenching, soul-searching, deep-seated humility to come to a place where we can foster that intensity.
For starters, I had to come to a realization that the debt was a direct consequence of our choice to obtain our higher education, and, if given the choice, I would do it all over again. I made a 3 page list of every reason why I'm grateful we have those degrees. I included my favorite classes, professors, the life long friendships I have made, the weddings I have been in, the crazy memories, my study abroad, dancing at the World Championships in London, and my teaching job that I now have (and consequently all of the wonderful blessings that have sprung out of those two years). The list could be ten pages long.
I realized that in order to have the right attitude towards our debt, I needed to acknowledge what these payments represented and that every time I click that awful button "submit payment" it represents the best season of my life, which has given me the wings to accomplish more than I ever thought possible and laid the foundation for what I'm enjoying at the moment.
Secondly, Garrett and I both read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. We had used his budget spreadsheets before, but we had never gotten cash for our budget except for groceries. We had our budget listed out on paper, but we played a lot of games mentally with rearranging things as we went. It was easy for Garrett to really, desperately need that candy bar; it was even easier for me to pick up that cute dress at a thrift shop because it was calling my name; it was easiest for both of us to succumb to our favorite burrito shop during my first trimester hunger breakdowns. We weren't as intense about it as we could be.
Once we started paying off more than our minimum payment and saw a few loans completely disappear from our lives, something inside of us clicked. Watching a rather big loan dissolve into a lifeless pile of nothingness was an addicting feeling, and we knew right away that we wanted to be the type of people that had budget meetings every week and carried our little cash allowances around in pretty envelopes.
Because, even though facing our financial reality head on was sobering, feeling the weight of student loans being chipped away bit by bit is an exhilarating, very responsible, adult-like experience that we want to have again and again.
Complaining about our plight does nothing but drain my energy. Harnessing the reality of our situation into action and fueling our work ethic and busting ass? That is what energizes us. And we want it to keep energizing us.
It may seem cheesy, but when I think of the our little iron tight budget, I think of the cross. Living in intense self control amidst a culture that drags at me to need more and spend more is hard. Living simply and below our means in order to repay our education is humbling. We won't be able to take lots of trips or enjoy frequent lattes or order pizza in. It is sacrifice. And sacrifice reminds me of the cross, and of suffering. It's suffering to sacrifice what you want in the present in the spirit of preparing for a future. It's suffering to remain humble and live simply when your personal aesthetic yearns for an edgy loft.
Pick up your cross and follow Me.
For me, that can be translated to "pick up your cross, tackle your responsibilities, stay humble, work hard, delve into your life, be content, be happy and follow Me."
We still have work to do, and we're not perfect, but living in this intensity and focus is exactly what we need. It's work, but it's also fun work. We enjoy seeing the fruits of our labor come to fruition and we enjoy the peace that comes from knowing we did our best and the contentment that springs from simple living. We have enough.
Of course, we tell each other how great it would be if a few years down the road we could tell our kid, "Yo, your mom and dad are financial badasses and got out of debt so fast you didn't even know what the word meant." (As he trots out of the reliable used car and into his soccer camp and I drive back to our nice loft that we paid cash for with a giant powerful envelope.)
But really. It's what we are working towards. So we're picking up our crosses and cash envelopes and enjoying the ride.