Every Christmas of my childhood, my grandmother baked this amazing carrot cake. Not one of those Betty Crocker box mixes mind you, but from scratch! I can still remember standing on a stool at the kitchen counter and “helping” her. Sometimes she let me add in some of the ingredients, but my main job was to lick the beaters. (That was back before raw eggs could kill a kid!) It was a holiday tradition that ranked right up there with decorating the tree and composing my letter to Santa. My grandmother’s been gone now for over 26 years, but all those memories come flooding back each time I bake that carrot cake for my family. (and yes, I still lick the beaters!) It’s always a big hit and I’m usually showered with compliments and praise. I just smile and say,”Thanks, I’m glad you like it.” But I know I really can’t take much credit…I just followed the recipe!
A recipe is simply a proven set of instructions which, when followed precisely, will consistently produce a desired result. You could eat a dish prepared by a world-class chef in a five-star restaurant, and if you had their recipe, with a little practice you could duplicate the exact same meal! I’ve always heard if you want to be successful at something, just find someone who’s been successful at it and do what they did. When you think about it, we can find a “recipe” for almost anything we want to accomplish in life. I’d like to share one of my favorites with you. (and no, it’s not for carrot cake!)
Whether we like to admit it or not, money is one of the most important things in our life. We spend the largest percentage of our lives working to acquire it, yet we never seem to have enough of it. Financial problems are the number one cause of divorce, and one of the greatest sources of the stress, anxiety, fear and depression that we face. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it sure comes in handy for all other purchases! When asked, most people would say that being financially secure is one of their biggest goals in life. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a recipe for that?
Have you ever asked someone for a recipe and they replied, “I just throw in a little pinch of this and a dash of that”? That’s how I used to handle my finances. No standard of measurement. No instructions. No plan. I just made it up as I went along, and then wondered why I kept getting stale Hostess Twinkies instead of carrot cake! Seemed like I was always short on one key ingredient: more money! My recipe called for 4 cups and all I had was a teaspoon full. Sound familiar? Eventually, I developed a taste for Twinkies, and accepted that this was just as good as it gets. And after all, weren’t there a lot of people who can’t even afford Twinkies? I should be grateful! And so I was, until…
About 18 months ago, I came down with a bad case of truck envy! A friend of mine had just bought a new Ford F-150 crew cab. Suddenly my old ’97 Ford Ranger (for which I had been formally grateful!) now seemed like a piece of junk. Sure it got the job done, but didn’t I deserve something a little nicer? I convinced myself and my wife, but there was one problem: We couldn’t afford another monthly payment. Even though I had a pretty good job, and we were able to pay the bills, there just wasn’t any money left at the end of the month.
I had heard of this guy named Dave Ramsey, and something called the “debt snowball” that could help you pay off debt faster. It sounded worth checking out, so I borrowed a copy of Dave’s book “The Total Money Makeover” from a friend, and started listening to his daily radio show. Man did I get more than I bargained for! I just wanted a truck, not to completely change my whole way of thinking about personal finance! As he detailed all the common mistakes most people make with handling money, I realized I had made them all! The book then laid out the “Seven Baby Steps”, a proven plan based on biblical principles and common sense, which, for over 20 years has helped millions of people get out of debt, build wealth, and retire with dignity. I knew right away I had a new recipe that would work! My wife (who wondered what took me so long to figure this out!) was immediately on the same page, and we started out on what has become a life changing journey. Here are a few of the main “ingredients” we learned to add to the mix:
- Long Term Thinking: One reason we live paycheck to paycheck is that’s often about as far into the future as we look. If we wanted to get ahead, we had to start thinking ahead! All those “fuzzy” goals we were “going to get to some day” had to become a crystal clear vision and target for our future. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!
- Agreeing on a Budget: This isn’t the curse word I thought it was! Budgeting is simply telling your money where to go instead of having to wonder where it went. Once we started putting it on paper, deducting our monthly expenses from our income, it was like getting a raise! I couldn’t believe how much we wasted by simply not paying attention. Now we had some ammo to start attacking our debt with!
- Self Discipline: One of the best quotes I heard from Dave Ramsey was, “The nobility of your goals must outweigh you daily desires.” We subjected each purchase to this test: do we need it, or do we just want it? One of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews, defines discipline as “being willing to do something you really don’t want to do in order to get something you’d really like to have.” Delaying gratification isn’t telling yourself no, it’s just saying no for now.
Through constant communication, being intentional, staying focused and sticking to the plan, we were able to become 100% debt free in 17 months! We’ve been able to put some money aside for emergencies, and will soon start our retirement investing. The most valuable benefit we’ve received can’t be measured with a dollar sign. No longer limited by our old way of thinking, the level of what we believe can be possible has increased dramatically. We get to dream again! And just in case you think I’m bragging here, please remember…we just followed the recipe!
Of all the “things I wish I’d known back then,” this one’s pretty high on the list. I can only imagine where we would be if I had this information 20 years ago. Can you imagine where you could be in 20 years if you start now? Dare to dream a little! It might not be “easy as pie” but financial peace can be a piece of cake if you’ve got a good recipe!
If you’re struggling in this area, I hope this has been a help and encouragement to you. For more information, I’d recommend going to http://www.daveramsey.com to order a copy of “The Total Money Makeover.” The Dave Ramsey Show podcast is also available free on iTunes. If you have any questions or feedback please leave a comment, or feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you, and promise to reply asap! Thanks so much for spending a little of your time here with me!