Slaves No More

I can’t possibly afford to be here.

Two years ago, I was working in communications at the University of Minnesota. I had spent six years as the president’s speechwriter and enjoyed a solid salary, stellar benefits, and the respect and friendship of several wonderful colleagues.

Nevertheless I felt adrift. The U hired a new president, and I changed jobs three times in two years—with each one less and less to my liking. I knew I needed to make a change. I thought about working for the Church, but communications positions were few and far between; most other positions required a theology or professional degree I didn’t have, and the pay and benefits couldn’t compete with a large public university.

Plus, like too many couples, Jodi and I were not smart with our money in our younger days. We never had a budget and ran up debt almost without thinking. So when the faith formation job opened up here in our home parish, my first thought was: We can’t afford it.

Unbeknownst to me, wiser minds and more faithful hearts than mine were at work. Friends and family were praying for me. And providentially, Jodi and I had attended Financial Peace University the year before. Jodi’s brother Jason followed Dave Ramsey’s program, and it changed his life—so when new parishioners Jason and Robyn Jones brought Financial Peace University here, we saw it as a sign and joined their first course. It changed our lives, too.

I won’t walk you through the entire program—instead, I’ll share one example. Ramsey insists that a zero-base budget is essential to managing your money. Every dollar you bring in is assigned a specific role. Bills. Groceries. Giving. Savings. Even monthly “blow money,” so you can treat yourself to whatever you want, no questions asked. Each month, you tell every dollar where it goes.

“At the end of the first couple months,” we were told, “you’ll feel like you got a raise.” Why? Because when you don’t assign every dollar to a specific priority, you waste money, without even knowing it.

After living paycheck to paycheck for years, we were skeptical—but sure enough, when we started the zero-base budget, we realized we were blowing an extra $500 to $1,000 a month on…nothing. We had barely covered our bills, and we had no money left and nothing to show for it except a few greasy pizza boxes and empty beverage containers. We started budgeting this way each month and realized we had been living and giving below our potential!

So when opportunity knocked here at St. Michael, we ran the numbers and discovered I could answer the call. The incredible thing is that we have the same bills as before (gas and parking went down; healthcare went up), yet everything is covered, even with less coming in.

When we speak about it, it makes no sense—where does the money come from?—but on paper it’s clear: when we track every dollar, we can see the money was there all along. When we couldn’t see it, we didn’t realize it was missing.

We aren’t debt free yet, but we’re on our way—and just getting on that path gave us the freedom to change, not just jobs, but our whole family dynamic and outlook. We make less money, and yet we are giving more to the church and other charities, enjoying ourselves more, paying off more debt more quickly—and worrying less. Although we still owe, we are no longer slaves to money. And that is a great feeling.

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