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Just Dropping by... Money isn’t everything

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 February 2018

Recently, I finished my book Burn the Boats – Finding the Treasure in Marriage and Family Life. It was ready for publication when I realized I did not have a chapter on one of the most important aspects of marriage and family life: that horrible monster, finances.

Many marriages go by the wayside because couples don’t learn early the Biblical principles of managing money. Such was the case with us.

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When we first got married, Reg, my husband, handed me the checkbook and said, “Here you are; there is four thousand dollars there – you pay the bills.” “Me?” I wanted to know. “Yes, Mary took care of the finances,” he calmly replied.

My jaw dropped. I hadn’t seen that much money in one place in a long time. I was a starving graduate student and had been for the last six years. I thought, “This will be a cinch; I will have money left over.”

For a split second, I wondered if I should tell him I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook. I had a checking account, but I was on the bank-tell-me-the-balance system. That is where you round every deposit off to the nearest number, so you always have more in the bank than you think you have and wait for the bank statement at the end of the month to tell you your balance.

There were a few slip-ups when I didn’t account for the service charge or the automatic drafts, but for the most part it worked well for me.

I didn’t want to show him my checkbook. He wouldn’t understand the arrows pointing this way and that to show where I had made changes. Trying to explain my arrow graffiti when I had forgotten the code was a little too much to confess to a new husband. I thought, “Now that I am married with four thousand dollars in the checking account, what could go wrong?”

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Was I in for a big surprise. It didn’t take long for that balance to dwindle to nothing. A family of eight has needs and wants much bigger than one carefree student. There were utilities, groceries, school lunches, entertainment, house payment, gasoline, clothes and medical bills from Reg’s first wife’s cancer treatments and, of course, my student loan I had taken out my last semester of college. That began our roller coaster of family finance frustration.

Over the years, my creative financing got us into trouble. Reg has never liked debt and avoids it like the plague – but I, at first, didn’t mind it so much. At one point, I started a business so we could have more financial freedom. I thought if we could make a business pay off, I wouldn’t have to go to work. I could stay home and just be the mom.

Reg gave me a wonderful magic carpet called a credit card. He said, “You can use it for business expenses only. No food, clothes, gas and etc.” I knew enough to know credit cards could get out of hand if you spend for things you don’t need, but I didn’t know the little tricks credit cards play on unsuspecting customers. I learned that if you max out a card, you could transfer the balance to another card.

Then you have two credit cards to use. It wasn’t long before I maxed out both cards. Guess what? You can transfer both balances to a third card and have three cards to max out. I didn’t know that every time you transfer a balance, they charge you a fee on the transfer balance and add it to the debt.

I thought they were allowing me to transfer for free. Ha, ha. Joke’s on me. When I got to the end of the cards, I had boxes of inventory that wouldn’t sell and four maxed-out credit cards with a balance of $23,000 staring at me. I said, “No more.”

After the initial explosion, Reg was kind and let me learn my own lesson. I went back to teaching elementary school to pay off the mortgage we took out on our house to pay back the credit card debt. Reg understood interest on a mortgage was infinitely less than 24 percent interest on a credit card.

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I learned by experience the truth of the old adage, “Those who understand interest, collect it – and those who don’t, pay it.” And boy do they pay it.

I wish I could say, “That was the end of my financial lessons to be learned.” There was more.

We went to the car dealership – just to look. We were completely out of debt and had been for a long time. We paid the balance on the credit card every month and earned bonuses for using the card. Nice arrangement, and works well to this day. Reg wants me to go strictly cash, but that means I must track every expenditure and save boxes of receipts.

I am not good at that. The credit card keeps track, and I know where the money goes each month. I like that. Of course, you must be careful because the card can get out of hand. I monitor it daily and never transfer a balance. We don’t have one to transfer.

The car dealership: As I was saying, we went to the car dealership just to look. I needed a car. The one I had been driving was down for the count, but we weren’t ready to buy. We looked at the shiny new cars with heated seats, built-in back-up cameras and phones. The plush seats and the elegant interior, and the car drove like a charm.

The salesman said, “I can get you into this car for 399 dollars a month on a lease.” Wow. We could afford that. What is more, we would have free tune-ups and maintenance for the life of the lease. Reg wouldn’t have to get under the car and change the oil, and the dealership would have to fix anything that went wrong.

For $399 a month, that looked like a screaming deal. Reg was hesitant, but I was insistent. “This is just what we are looking for. It wouldn’t be like a debt; it would be just like rent. Lots of people rent houses then walk away.”

I could see it would be wonderful. He could see the dollar signs. We signed the lease. Our payment with the special insurance turned out to be $500 a month minus a few pennies. We had to pay $400 to register the creature, and then we had to provide our own insurance for the life of the lease at $85 a month.

Top it off, we had to pay a nearly $500 restocking fee because we didn’t buy the car at the end of the lease and 15 cents a mile for every mile we drove over the limited mileage. When we realized we had spent over $18,000 for a car we would never own, Reg said, “We just took 18 thousand dollars and flushed it down the toilet.” I said, “More like 21 thousand dollars.”

You won’t get me close to a car dealership in the future. I am a sucker for a salesman. If we need a car, Reg will do the wheeling and dealing. He can make those decisions. I will trust his judgment. Now we drive a car with no back-up camera, less elegant interior and insurance that costs $45 a month, and we can register it for $50. We feel blessed.

I realize money isn’t everything, but it sure is miserable when you waste it. Our finances have evolved to a point where Reg and I think alike when it comes to debt and spending. We guard our pennies because we know we cannot be a benefit to God’s Kingdom if we don’t have the money to share. Debt is a bridle with a harsh bit. It will turn you every which way except the way you want to go.

Paul said, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8) In other words, God will help us have what we need so we can do His work, but He expects us to be wise with the things he blesses us with, and money is one of those blessings.  end mark

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