If you’ve been following us through our Deep in Debt to Debt Free series, you have probably noted we’re getting closer to sharing how we worked our way out of the immense debt we built up. But before we do, we wanted to first share with you how we started to come to our senses and realize we were in trouble. It all started on Mother’s Day in 2003. And although it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, for us in many ways it seems like an eternity ago because of the years of pain and struggle that would come. Please know we would be amiss if we didn’t share just how excited we were that amazing day. But before we spoil it for you, we thought we would just share it from each of our perspectives.
In our last article, we shared with some of the ways that we kept ourselves from even realizing we were this far in debt. It was truly a combination of each of the reasons given including our denial, our pride, our covetousness and our lack of knowledge. How did we wake up? What was it that caused us to start to see more clearly?
It was Spring of 2003. At this point, we had been married for nearly four years and we had been wanting to have a baby this whole time. The Lord finally provided and we found out on Mother’s Day 2003 that we were finally pregnant. This was one of the most exciting times in our lives and our family and friends rejoiced and celebrated with us. I want to be clear, although we’ll be sharing with you about the struggles to come, nothing could take away the joy that our little girl would bring. We truly know how much a blessing that children are from the Lord.
But…there is always a question that we are confident nearly every soon-to-be first time parent asks,”How much does a baby cost and how can we provide for this child?”
You see, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. This was always something we planned, wanted and anticipated pulling off with no problems. It was the heart’s desire for both of us since before we were even married. So here it was, Mother’s Day 2003 – the best Mother’s Day I had yet as it had a new meaning.
But after a couple of weeks of pure baby bliss came that night I will never forget. It was that night I was struggling with nausea and all the normal side effects that my mind started to race. How could we do this? Could I be a mother to my child and raise her as we had dreamed? I started thinking how exciting it was going to be to be a stay-at-home mom after all of this time! It was the plan all along, so why would those plans change? Well, I quickly reflected on a real conversation that Alex and I did finally have about our finances – I remember it vividly.
It was when we were sitting in a car dealership, just about one month after Alex got his new car. I was driving the old car (I could never and refused to learn to drive it after stalling the car in front of oncoming traffic) and decided that I wanted a new car too. Besides, I couldn’t drive his new car and I worked in a downtown law firm and it just seemed so silly for me to drive this thing to work as a professional; in other words, I had this mindset that the car was making me feel like less of a professional.
We were at the negotiating table with the salesman. Alex asked him to leave for a minute so that we could discuss this buying option. We were ready to sign on the dotted line and Alex looked at me and said “With this new car payment, you would need to keep your job.” I looked at him not quite understanding what he was saying. “Ok,” I replied without hesitation, still confused by his statement as I was in denial. He said it again but added an additional caveat, “We can’t afford all of the payments we have plus another new car payment if you quit your job. So what if we have a baby?” I understood where he was going with this now.
I sat there for a second, being a stay-at-home at home mom was my strongest desire, but it had already been some time and it appeared as if it was going to be a while before we were going to have a child. I assured him, “Well, we have at least 9 months before that happens, so I am sure we can figure it out in that time.” We discussed this briefly, then without much further ado, I had a new car.
At that moment that I remembered this, I was sitting on my bed. I had been throwing up all day from the first-trimester sickness (the most effective diet plan I have ever been on by the way ) and I was feeling even sicker than ever. My stomach hurt, I was scared, and I was starting to see clearly for the first time about our finances as I was laying there in misery……
I remember the night Cassie is recalling. I felt hopeless because my wife was experiencing morning sickness non-stop – why they call it morning sickness when it lasts all day and night was beyond my comprehension. But I felt even more hopeless because I knew we were in trouble.
As a husband, I already knew the stress and responsibility of taking on an additional financial responsibility when I got married. What do I mean? When I was single it was easy though it didn’t always seem that way. If I lost my job I could easily uproot myself and move to where I could find work. If I lost my job, I could live with myself by skipping a couple of meals if I couldn’t afford it. In other words, with myself, if I lost everything I could suck it up and make it work. But the day I married my beautiful bride, much of that changed. I knew that day that losing my job would mean more hardship because I wanted to provide for my wife. It’s one thing for me to miss a meal, but to see my wife suffering would be much more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the Lord still provides and that many have gone through hardships and survived. I’m not denying that. What I’m simply stating is how much more difficult it would be to imagine because I would be causing her pain by going through it.
So maybe you see where I am going with this. That night Cassie is referencing above is the same night that it occurred to me how much more responsibility that children would bring. I was no longer just responsible for myself, or even myself and my wife, but I was now responsible for this family. I pondered on the verse “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Tim 5:8) and started to realize just how foolish and selfish I had been. Because, if you’ve read the rest of our series then you know just how foolish and unwise we had been with our finances. Because of the debt load, it wasn’t as simple as just getting a couple of side jobs to cover expenses until I found something new. We needed every last penny of my corporate job – and hers as well – because we were already getting the payday loans. One lost paycheck would mean financial disaster for us. Just to be clear, I still remember the day (a few months before) that our Friday paychecks didn’t come until Monday because of a snowstorm and the stress that ensued that weekend because we couldn’t even make it financially an extra couple of days. Yes, we knew the pain of being a “slave to my creditor” (Prov 22:7) because of our foolish spending.
And I did think back as well to that ominous day in which we purchased the second car. But here’s the rub. While Cassie was struggling with that decision I knew there were two reasons why we got into that mess in the first place. As she mentioned, she couldn’t drive the first car we bought – honestly not caring too much if she ever learned to drive it because I wanted the car so bad. But what I was really doing was selfishly getting what I wanted. I was driving around the new car while she drove the junker. It was my selfishness that drove her desire for us to buy that car that day (when we had “the talk” about needing to keep her job to support it). But the most important reason it was my fault is because as the husband, I was officially responsible for the decision that day (and all up to that day). I had foolishly led my family into a life of pleasure and spending without considering the impact it would have. And that night, the weight of that impact was almost greater than I could bear.
We had just passed the $100K mark in our consumer debt (e.g., car loans, furniture loans, credit cards and student loans, etc). We knew Cassie couldn’t continue working full time, and especially after our child was born knew we had always dreamed of her staying home to take care of our child. But the numbers just weren’t adding up on how we make it all work. I knew we had to do something differently. But what?
A few days later we would start to form some answers to those questions (and its a secret until the next article). And although we will try to detail the struggles and frustrations, we want you to know that it will probably sound easier than it was. It will probably seem like we were working through our plan like clockwork and we could see it all unfold before us. But we don’t want you to be deceived. What we are about to detail is a summary of our lives and years of struggle, of tension and many times of “not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”. The hours of struggle would turn into days, the days into weeks, and so on. So often the ink on paper (or electronic ink) just doesn’t do justice to the pain and struggle. But we at least want to warn you to look for it. We want you to know it is real. We want you to know that when you say “I just don’t see any way out” that we’ve said the same thing. We can’t claim to be where you are at, but we can claim to know how it feels. And how that feeling of dread can affect everything you do. That is part of why we write this.
If you’re new to the series or just want to catch up, we encourage you to check out our whole Deep in Debt to Debt Free series!