Our conversation today will be focused on Finances. My hope is that wherever you are in this journey that you leave this episode feeling encouraged and challenged in some capacity.
I am fully aware that this is a difficult conversation to have for many reasons. But I have to tell you that this is an area that I am not going to tiptoe around. The point of this topic being one of the five topics is because I think finances actually shouldn’t be so taboo to discuss with others. Actually, I think that part of the reason so many people struggle in this area is because we don’t talk about it. I hope this episode opens your eyes to some ways we can create, a sort of on ramp, to begin appropriate financial conversations with the people we love and care so deeply about because the truth is that some of our best friends and the people closest to us are struggling greatly with finances and we could be none the wiser.
But when you are in an unstable financial situation it can be so devastating, embarrassing, and seemingly hopeless. Especially when everyone around you seems to not have the same struggles you do.
So we are not going to shy away from this conversation. We are actually going to lean into it because there is too much at stake here.
For one...Finances are the 2nd leading cause for divorce and that’s only behind infidelity.
And actually, Let’s get a little deeper into statistics really quick from 2 different sources so we can all get on the same page. I will post all the links for the stats that I talk about in this episode in my show notes so don’t feel like you need to memorize them or write them down.
According to Dave Ramsey's research in October 2018, The average american consumer debt load was $34,055. When we talk consumer debt we are talking about credit cards, school loans, cars, etc. Not your mortgage or investments.
Millenials have acquired almost as much debt as the generation before them and they have had significantly less time to acquire it.
A recent survey from Charles Schwab, which if you’ve never heard his name - he’s a huge investor and a financial executive that is worth over 8 billion or something crazy. Anyways, he did a survey and this is what he found. Again, link in the show notes.
- 59% of American’s are living paycheck to paycheck.
- 38% of people don’t have an emergency fund at all.
- 20% of people don’t have a dime saved for retirement
- 60% of people wonder how friends can afford expensive experiences posted on social media
Isn’t that interesting?
- Only 28% of Americans have a written financial plan
- 46% have thought about a financial plan but don’t have one
- 13% have never even thought about a financial plan.
Those numbers are pretty eye-opening and I hope that they encourage you if nothing else to know that you aren’t alone. I also hope that it really spurs you on to take the next best step financially, no matter where you are, because really it’s not acceptable to live in a constant state of scarcity when we were made and created to live abundantly.
John 10:10 says this, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
So, there is a reason that debt and mismanaging our money makes us feel scared, anxious, worried, and like we have lost control. The Bible also says, “the borrower is a slave to the lender”. We don’t want to be in that place. That’s not where we were created to live. We were created to live an abundant life. And to be clear - that doesn’t mean having millions - that just means that we have the freedom of choice within our finances.
Living abundantly with your finances can mean many things, but for this point I’m talking about living below your means and building in some margin so that you aren’t constantly consumed by the financial burden of running your home and living your life, allowing you to focus on and bless those around you.
When you find yourself in a financial situation you either never thought you would be in, or maybe you got caught up in life and the hustle around you and looked up one day to find that you are in a far worse place than you had realized and there are a couple steps that you need to take.
Think about it this way. If you are driving down the highway and you realize you are going in the wrong direction...what do you do? Do you just keep going 90 mph in the wrong direction hoping it will eventually lead you to where you want to go? Or do you get off at the closest exit, turn on your GPS, put the correct destination in, and wait for it to give you the step by step directions before you start driving again? Of course, we choose the second option. And then once you have the correct directions doesn’t it only make sense to start taking those steps to start heading in the correct direction? You would be intentional to correct your mistakes and work back towards the destination you want to get to one step at a time.
This can be scary stuff but there is a way out - but you have to understand that it takes awareness, the humility to stop and get off the exit, the wisdom to know where to find the information to get you back on the right path and then the grit to take the steps to get back on track even if, and especially if, that means making some sacrifices.
The struggle here is that our culture idolizes nice things and they make everything seem “affordable”.
I know this is a $40K car...but it’s zero dollars today and you only have to pay $500 a month for 8 years.
Businesses take big-ticket items and turn it into something bite-sized so that you lose sight of the bigger picture.
The point is that It’s a slow fade, which is why one day we look up and we can be actually shocked at how we are in the paycheck to paycheck grind. And by the way, you can make a million dollars a year and still be paycheck to paycheck. So if you are in a high paying job and you bring in a lot of money….don’t fool yourself into thinking you are wealthy because you can afford nice things.
If you don’t have a margin or the ability to save or better yet bless others...news flash - you aren’t wealthy.
You are living at or above your means. Having a margin in your finances is a prerequisite to building wealth. Do you know why wealthy people have money? Because they don’t spend it all trying to look wealthy. They live below their means.
The goal for today’s discussion is to be informational and thought-provoking and it will be more about figuring out where you stand with finances than anything else. In my opinion, the hardest part about finances is that they are ever-changing. Unless you are on a fixed income then they are literally ever-changing and on top of that, the seasons of our life can present significant financial changes and sometimes we slip into a new season without foreseeing the financial challenges that come with it.
Our spending will look a lot different before kids than they do after. Or they look different now that you're married. Or maybe you decided to be a SAHM and they look different because your lifestyle had to change. Maybe something medical came up or there was a job loss or even a raise...whatever it may be I think it’s easy to get all flipped around and upside down if we don’t constantly have a pulse on our financial life we could end up somewhere we never meant to be.
So, my goal for this episode is simply to help you identify where you are and help to reorient you to the direction you are trying to go.
We are about to dive into 6 levels you could find yourself in when it comes to finances and I want you to think about each level I talk about and figure out where you land.
The first time I heard these 6 levels was from Mary Kay National Sales Director, Leah Lauchlan in a money class she taught on Facebook. During one of her teachings, she talked about these 6 levels - I am about to share with you - and it was The first time I had ever heard them named and put in this way. I believe Zig Ziglar started this conversation with these levels and others have branched off of it and put their own spin on it but I thought it was really powerful because if we don’t know where we are then we can’t really figure out where we need to go.
These six levels start from the “bottom” and then build upon one another. But regardless of where you fall, I want you to really listen to each of the levels for a couple of reasons.
- I want you to know what level you currently fall in, but I also want you to listen closely to the next level in your journey. Let this cast a vision of where you are headed if you stay focused, and continue to make healthy financial steps. This should motivate you to be disciplined and stick to the process because you have a goal to achieve and see the rewards of that next stage.
- I want you to listen to each level and think about the people in your life that you love the most. What level would you put them in? Is there anyone that you could encourage with some of these resources I will be giving? Is there someone in your life that may need some help restructuring their budget or even a free date night because they can’t afford a sitter - but their marriage still matters.
I don’t have the reach you guys do. But in everything we talk about in this blog, I hope you can take something away because either - when I’m talking you feel like I’m talking directly to you. Or I’m talking and I’m reminding you of someone that may need to hear this. And sure, feel free to share the podcast but what’s even more powerful is if you take the information and resources I’ve given here and sit down for a coffee with someone you have a personal relationship with and walk alongside them on their journey as a mentor.
So let’s jump in.
First, I will tell you each of the 6 levels, then I will go back and elaborate on what each one looks like and finally I will do a very quick recap of them and give you helpful resources for each level.
The six levels are Struggling, Surviving, Stable, Security, Surplus, and ultimately Significance.
Level 1 is Struggling - At this level you are in tons of consumer debt and you don’t see a way out, you have no choices and it’s hard or almost impossible to imagine financial freedom right now. In this level you are coming up short every month, maybe not even meeting basic needs and finding yourself or your family needing to rely on outside support such as food banks, or government and local community outreach programs at times.
Level 2 is Surviving - At this level, you are living paycheck to paycheck. You are just making it and while you aren’t going into debt, you aren’t adding anything to savings. You don’t have an emergency fund and are not putting anything away for retirement or a college fund for your children. When people ask everyone to bring a $10 secret Santa gift for work - this stresses you out because you need that $10 for gas this week. This is a hard stage because you are in a constant hustle.
Level 3 is Stable - At this level, you have enough cash flow to cover expenses and have a reliable income. You are able to breathe here. You have some choices for extra things like a random coffee or a monthly date night but you don’t really have any long term/short term goals. You may have a small emergency fund and some months you are able to put some money away, but other months things come up and there isn’t a ton leftover.
Level 4 is Security - At this level, you have plenty to pay bills, you are starting to have some more choices, you are consistently putting away money - maybe even an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck. You are starting to have some clear short term goals. Many people feel that this is where the sweet spot is, especially if they arrive here after the grind of the previous levels. This is where the majority of people live. Typically you have some lower payments on cars and credit cards and whatever else - but since you can pay them...it’s not an immediate stressor. You have enough to get by and enough for a simple vacation with your family and you don’t wake up stressing about money so you feel like you may have arrived here.
But there are 2 more levels.
Level 5 is Surplus - At this level, you have more than enough and you consistently have more than enough. You and others would consider yourself pretty wealthy. You have the option here to be generous without it really infringing on your ability to live the life you want to live. You can afford some luxury in your life and in your experiences at this stage and can even share this affluence with those that are in your inner circle.
Now if you are at this level I would challenge you to make sure you are stewarding the excess you have well. When you no longer need to pay a ton of attention to where your finances are going because you have such a surplus - it’s easy to start mismanaging your money or treating these blessings carelessly. You may not drop down a level at this point for making some poor decisions, because your money is most-likely working for you - but are you respecting the penny and really stewarding this wealth in a way that glorifies God? I would challenge you at this level to really ask yourself if you are telling your money where to go - or are you living in a mindset of I can do whatever I want and have whatever I want. Remember friends, it’s good to practice self-denial at times - but especially when you hit this stage.
Level 6 is Significance - At this level, you have such a large amount of surplus that you can start contributing to others - you can really start to make an impact in the world with your finances. At this point, another $5, $5000 or $5000000 dollars doesn’t really matter much. Because you have more money than you could possibly need.
So, now you can turn your focus outward and start laying down some money in ways that can make an impact that could last generations. Think about Bill Gates and his desire to eradicate Malaria. I mean...he’s making a huge impact. You don’t have to be a billionaire to hit the Significance level. It’s really more about becoming outwards focused and having the excess financial means to make a lasting impact.
Mark 9:33-35 says this,
“After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
Take it from the most significant man that’s ever lived. Significance is about servitude.
Now, I am going to go back through each of the levels and give some resource recommendations. Just a fair warning, most of the resources I am recommending today are from Dave Ramsey. Following his road map to becoming debt-free is how Justin and I got our finances in order. We have seen countless friends and family members personally change their financial situation for the better by following his process and in my opinion, he is the best and most accessible resource to go to when you are struggling with your finances. So, for the sake of some fluidity as you move through the levels - I will be heavy on the Ramsey resources in this podcast. If you don’t like Ramsey’s approach or delivery and you're struggling with your finances...what I will lovingly say is get over it because his methods work.
I told you guys in the what to expect episode that my mom and stepdad were literally on Dave Ramsey’s show and have a golden trophy of scissors cutting up a credit card sitting on their mantle to prove it. Well, they got serious about paying off debt when I was in High school so thanks to Dave Ramsey I got to experience first hand his slogan of “Living like no one else so that later, you can live like no one else.”
Although not having the latest phone, or newest fashion, or whatever my teenage mind thought I needed felt painful and even unfair at the time, their example of how simple discipline can lead to amazing transformation was such a gift I appreciated later.
Through drastic lifestyle changes, my parents paid off $68,000 of debt in about 1.5 years with 6 kids and then continued until they ultimately paid off their mortgage too in under 10 years.
They came to Justin and me after we got married and told us we needed to check out Dave Ramsey and I could not roll my eyes further back into my head.
Dave Ramsey and I were not friends.
I will post a picture on Instagram and in our Facebook group of my mom gifting me Dave Ramsey’s program for Christmas one year and I’m rolling my eyes - like seriously...this was one of my gifts????? But She knew what we needed more than I did. Dave’s process got me and my husband out of debt early in our marriage and reoriented our financial journey so we could avoid some of the poor decisions and hardships many young couples go through as they navigate their finances.
So yes, there are technically different programs and different people out there that may offer something Dave Ramsey may not. But if you are flipped all upside down or need to get tighter with finances he is the most trusted, the most accessible, and has the easiest step-by-step process out there.
Alright, so I will be giving 1-2 resources for each of these stages and if finances are an area that you are really ready to lean into then I challenge you to read one of these books over the next 5 weeks until we come back to finances.
Ok so let’s get into the resources.
For the Struggling level which is where you are coming up short every month and you don’t see a way out, I would recommend two things. First I would recommend Dave Ramsey’s podcast because well, it’s free and because he covers such a wide variety of topics on there and it’s all calls of real people asking him for advice. It’s a great way to hear a new perspective on finances. Second, I would really just say that if you are in this area - what you really should invest in is a mentor. Someone who you trust and you could be open with that has some knowledge on finances to help pull you out of the hole you are in. There is power in accountability and in someone with fresh eyes taking a look at what is happening.
For the Surviving level - remember this is the paycheck to paycheck level. I would suggest Dave Ramsey’s book called, Total Money Makeover. It’s $10 if you want to purchase it or you can rent it for free at the library. This really uncovers his step-by-step process and helps get you into a budget that works for you and your family and starts you on the financial freedom journey.
For the Stable level - which is when you are no longer in that paycheck to paycheck grind which is a blessing, but you still aren’t putting as much away as you would like to be, and you aren’t giving as generously as you would like to be either. I would recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) program which is around $130 and it is typically held through a church and intended for both you and your spouse to attend together. It is a 9-week program with training videos and a workbook for you guys to work through. It covers topics from getting out of debt, common insurance questions, retirement, building wealth and so much more. I have taught Financial Peace University and the videos are WONDERFUL. They are very engaging and packed with so much value.
I would also recommend the book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This book is very interesting and is about Robert’s two dads—his real father (which was the poor dad) and the father of his best friend (which was the rich dad)—and the ways in which both men shaped his thoughts about money and investing.
For the Security level where you are not worrying about money as much because you have some savings and excess, but you really want to start building wealth and aren’t quite sure how to do that. I would recommend 2 books. One is The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J Stanley and William D Danko. This book talks about the surprising secrets of millionaires today and how they live day-to-day. This book debunks myths that millionaires are all walking around in $5,000 suits and driving Porches. It really shows the simple way most millionaires actually live built around modesty, discipline, and generosity.
The second book I would recommend at this stage is Smart Money, Smart Kids from Rachel Cruze. This book is by far the best book I’ve read when it comes to teaching your kids about money because it is filled with practical ideas that are so simple to implement for all ages.
At the Surplus level which is where we have a lot of excess, no debt, maybe even no mortgage at this point and really at the point of being able to give abundantly and build wealth. At this level, I would recommend, Thou Shall Prosper. It is written by a Jewish Rabbi Daniel Lapin and it’s all about the 10 commandments of building wealth. His main point is that building wealth is biblical and really if you are creating something of value to people and people are paying for it all while keeping your integrity then more power to you.
The second book I would suggest is Every Day Millionaires by Chris Hogan. This book is based on the largest study EVER conducted on 10,000 U.S. millionaires. You’ll learn that building wealth has almost NOTHING to do with your income or your background. It debunks myths such as Rich people have high-paying jobs when the truth is that Many millionaires surveyed NEVER made six figures in a year.
So the last level is Significance. This is where you become outwards focused and you really have the financial means to throw down on something big that will last for generations. If you are at this point - let's face it, you got there because you have lived in these resources and likely many others, and have put the teachings into practice in your life - You should probably be telling me what resources I should check out! But either way - for this level I would suggest Dave Ramsey’s book, The Legacy Journey. This is similar to financial peace but it’s more focused on investing, estate planning, and building generational wealth.
So Those are quick and easy resources for someone who wants to be thinking about leveling up when it comes to their finances.
I know it’s so taboo to talk about money in today's culture, but if we don’t start the conversation, share our struggles and successes, and encourage one another through the journey, then while you may be able to have success, someone you love, your sister or your friend could be sitting next to you with a brave face hiding the pain, stress, and anxiety of being paralyzed by their finances. They could be headed face-first into a collapsing marriage due to financial ruin and all they need is someone they love, someone they trust, to come alongside them, show them God’s love and grace, and teaching them the steps to overcome and move beyond these challenges.
Going back to that survey I was talking about earlier let me read you some percentages from each generation that will spend more than they can afford just to do stuff with friends.
GenZ - 41%
Millenials - 48%
Genx - is still 31%
Boomers - 16%
Let’s throw out a scenario here. Let’s say you and 2 girlfriends have a monthly girls night where you go all out with dinner and drinks, the whole 9. And let’s just say each of those nights you spend on average $50-$100. And for you - it’s the best night. You don’t have a care in the world. You have budgeted for this night and are paying with a debit card that is linked to your checking account and it is all good. But your best friend. Your best friend that is sitting right across from you on that same night. That friend that you just talked about all the things with from their marriage, to their kids, to their jobs, their struggles, frustrations, things they are really proud of and everything in between. Your best friend is paying with a credit card that is almost maxed out because she just wants to be a part of these dinners. She just wants to have the girls night with you even though she can’t afford it. But you would never know. You would never know because we don’t have those conversations with each other.
But if you KNEW. If you knew they were either trying to get out of debt or were just stuck and didn’t know how to get out of debt and how stressful that situation was… would you care if you just went and grabbed a $4 coffee instead of a $50 dinner and drinks every week or month? Of course, not. You just want her company.
So, once you’ve started drinking the kool-aid and are making smart money choices - let us not leave our friends and family behind - or pressure them to be a part of pricey outings just to be apart of things.
And I want to talk to both sides of this very briefly. First, if you are on the side where you are stretching yourself to keep up with your best friends...girl, I challenge you to speak up. Suggest something different. Suggest having dinner at home together or just go get some coffee. And not to sound cliche but if they are really your best friends then they just want you - they could care less about the atmosphere - it will be okay.
And if you are on the side of having excess. I would challenge you to listen to what your people aren’t saying. Listen when they seem hesitant to agree to a pricey outing or restaurant. Listen when they suggest a place that has some options for pricing so they have some control over what they spend EVEN if you REALLY love whatever expensive restaurant you usually go to.
Ok, so hopefully you have somewhat of an idea of where you are. Typically in order to up-level you need to take a hard look at yourself and your finances, reorient yourselves and make some decisions.
And again, I want to remind you that this topic is first about you getting yourself situated with money and back on track...but it’s also to hopefully make you stop and look around at some of the closest people to you and start having those beginner money conversations.
That could look as simple as calling up your friend and saying, hey girl. Quick question, do you still have student loans? I have been struggling with all of this student debt and am trying to figure out a plan/strategy to get this paid off. Since student loans are so prevalent she will likely then feel comfortable sharing her similar situation and you all can begin talking about strategies, setting goals, and figuring out how you can help one another stay accountable. I only use that example because the majority of people have student loans so the topic is less taboo and can ease finances into a conversation in a non-abrasive way.
Another easy situation would be if you are out with a girlfriend shopping and when she asks why you aren’t getting many things, you could you say, "ehhhh I kinda went a little overboard on my credit card this last year and I’m really working to pay it off". I mean those situations are so normal. Unfortunate. But normal. You saying that may free her to be like, oh my gosh me too and she may even put her stuff back! And BOOM...conversation starter.
We all want those raw and real friendships that push us to be better. But are we willing to be vulnerable in those relationships?
Are you sitting across from your favorite person in the world and have no idea that she is just in over her head? I am not saying you need to know more than what’s appropriate in anyone’s financial situation - but let’s stop acting like everything is fine, when in reality - things may not be fine. Maybe then, the people in our friend group would be able to breathe a sigh of relief, feeling like they are finally being seen and that the people that love them the most aren’t unknowingly their greatest source of pressure financially.
So let’s talk about one of the most impactful things you can do to take back control of your finances.
Over the next 5 weeks, I want you to track what you are spending. I don’t need you to make a budget or even cut expenses. We aren’t there yet. I just want you to track what you are spending. There are a couple of ways to do this.
- You can literally bring a notebook around and any time you spend money - write it down. You could use the notes app on your phone as well.
- You can use an app like Mint.Com where you basically link all your cards up to this free software and it breaks down your spending into categories. This is probably the easiest method as it does the work for you, however, unless you are taking the time to evaluate and look back at the patterns, it can be a little less effective.
Tracking leads to awareness and awareness leads to change.
So, if you feel the pull to reign it in with your spending over these next 5 weeks then go for it. But my only goal for you is to track your money for the next month. And just a heads up...this can be awkwardly eye-opening. We typically lose control because we nickel and dime ourselves to death with small purchases. It isn’t usually the big purchases that put us under.
Justin and I did this when we first got married and both had good incomes, no kids and pretty much no expenses and we got our cards loaded into Mint.com and you guys - we spent almost $1600 on going out to eat in ONE month. We basically lived in a constant date night mode at Red Robin, Chipotle, Don Pablos and whatever else. We knew we spent a lot on going out to eat but that was a huge eye-opener and it was kind of embarrassing.
Dave Ramsey also has an app called, “Every Dollar” that will track your spending as well. So if you are ready to get off the exit, turn that GPS on and get going in the right direction - tracking is your goal until we get together again in 5 weeks.
If you are struggling with finances I hope this gave you some encouragement, if you are doing well with finances I hope this encouraged you to keep stewarding your money well and to also open your eyes to those around you who may not be quite where you are and gave you some ideas on how you could support them?
One of my favorite quotes is this,
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
Let’s be that safe place.
And don’t forget as you go into this week whatever goal you are crushing or whatever area you are struggling with -
you are already enough.
If you would like a simple budget sheet that I have created to break down your spending into specific categories I feel it makes it easier for the next step which is creating a budget, head on over to www.SimsArrows.com and sign up for the legacy through motherhood email list. If you are already signed up - you will automatically get an email with this in it for this week.
Don’t forget to follow me on IG and hop into the Facebook group called, The Legacy Through Motherhood community with Stephanie Sims.
I am so excited to continue to walk this journey with you to help you find your grit while completely covering you in grace.