Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Dave Ramsey shaped our family's finances

When Brian and I were engaged we began to realize how differently we approached money. I was a saver and he was a spender, I was the nerd, he was the free spirit. Although this had been a concern while we were dating, it never really was an issue that needed to be addressed while our finances were still separate. But good, honest marriage preparation has a tendency to bring these issues out of the closet. One day my boss mentioned that there was going to be Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes starting on the campus where I worked. I grew up listening to Dave in the car with my Dad as he drove me to class on his way to work. Immediately I knew this was something that Brian and I needed to do.

When I told him about it, however, he was not enthused. He said it was too expensive (so I paid the $100 to take away that excuse) he said it was too big a time commitment when we were both working full time (one night a week for 13 weeks). Finally, I decided to press hard. I told him it was really important to me and asked if he would do it for me? He relented. To this day I still think that was the best 100 bucks I ever spent and Brian has thanked me over and over for dragging him to that first class. After the first session, we were both hooked. Everything Dave said made sense and we had so much fun while we were learning! Looking back, we consider Financial Peace University one of the best practical things we did to prepare for marriage.

But things began to change dramatically in our relationship before the course was even over. For the first time, we had written individual budgets. I felt a sense of peace when I finally knew exactly where I stood financially.   Neither one of us made much money and like many brand new college grads, thought we didn't have enough money to make a budget, but having a written game plan for the month was like getting a pay raise.  We were amazed how earmarking where each penny would be spent before the month began kept us disciplined in our purchases and prioritize our needs and wants. It was so important for us to get on the same page while our finances were separate in order to make the transition to marriage and joint accounts smooth. Because of FPU, it was an easy and exciting transition for us.

As a married couple, we implement the lessons of FPU every day. I carry an envelope system for our cash categories. Before the beginning of each month, we use Dave Ramsey's Monthly Cash Flow Form to plan and prioritize our budget. Over the course of the month, we have frequent discussions to keep each other up to date on where we are. Now we take pride in finding big big bargains on our usual purchases and clever ways to enjoy a night out.  The knowledge gained from FPU has guided us in making the biggest decisions and kept us on track when facing small temptations.

At a time when the number one cause of divorce is money fights, we have been blessed with financial peace. Because of Dave, we have long term goals and patience to sacrifice to get there. I no longer worry about money. Although we still live on a tight budget, I don't worry anymore about money. I know right where we are, where we are going and we have an emergency fund for the things we can't predict.

One day while in prayer, I realized that fear about money is not a fruit of the Spirit and in fact can hold us back from our duty to be good stewards of the money God has trusted us with. How can I use it for His glory if I don't even know where it is going or have a plan for how I can get to a point where I am more free to bless others with it? Our goal is not to become wealthy so we can buy anything we want or do anything we like, but rather to become financially secure so that we can provide for the needs of our family and then be the instruments of the Lord in whatever work He has for us.

That's why we're living like no one else, so that later, we can live like no one else!

For those of you wanting to know more, Dave's Total Money Makeover is a must read!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

NFP: Licit or Illicit?

I am far behind in my blogging due to travel and end of the school year busyness. Hopefully, things will settle down in the next week or so and I can get into the swing of things again. In the meantime...

For those of you who haven't seen my husband's blog, here is a great sample on a topic close to our hearts and probably many of yours as well:

NFP: Licit or Illicit?

Within the Church, there is a great battle raging.  This battle is truly for the heart of the Church and centers around sexual morality and ethics.  It is the battle between those Catholics who feel it is moral to use artificial birth control and those who stand behind the teachings of the Church on this topic.  In recent years, with the support of many wonderful priests and bishops, the tide is turning where more and more individuals are turning their hearts back to the teaching of the Church and rejecting artificial birth control as an intrinsic evil.

Yet, this is not the only struggle on this topic.  As Natural Family Planning instructors for the Couple to Couple League, my wife and I have encountered on several instances individuals and families within the Church who claim NFP to be no better than artificial birth control.  These people are good people who obviously seek to do God's work and support the Church, yet in their animosity towards NFP, they do great harm.  This harm stems from a rejection of the Church's teaching on the use of NFP.  I realize that for some of these people, it can be very difficult because they have been on the defensive within the Church itself for the past 40 years in regards to so many issues.   It would seem that they do not know what they can believe anymore and so some turn to the time before the tumult, namely the pre-Vatican II era.  And yet, in doing so, they lose so much of the rich development in the understanding of sexual ethics that has come from John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the need for orthodox Catholics to better understand the relationship of man and woman in response to a culture hostile to God's design for sex.  

In this smaller conflict, there is a need for proper catechesis. It is a matter of reminding these families that the Church's teachign truly does trump all, and in this case, NFP is licit.  Below is the beginning of a post written on the topic that does a thorough job of laying out the case for NFP in the heart of the Church.  I encourage you to read it, and if the Lord calls you to, send it to anyone who you think may benefit from its message.

Let’s talk about, sex, artificial birth control (ABC) and Natural Family Planning (NFP).  Let’s focus specifically on the licitness of NFP.  The things that follow here assume the Catholic position on ABC.  I understand that some who come here may not share our beliefs.  This is not about “convincing” non-Catholics of anything.  This is what you might call an “internal discussion.”  This is a discussion for those of us who are Catholic and who agree that ABC is morally wrong.  That is the foundation.  If this isn’t you, you may find this writing to be boring or even ridiculous.  That’s okay, you can just close the window and come back another time to see pictures of GarinĂ­on or to see what is happening in our daily life.  Whether you stick around or not, this will be a very, very long entry.
Throughout the years, I’ve been exposed to a many, many, many conversations regarding Natural Family Planning.  I guess that comes with being Catholic, having a large family and being a certified NFP instructor (now retired!)  It has come up again recently in a couple of different venues.   I often find it frustrating to have conversations about this because people tend to be passionate about their position to the point of not being able to consider or hear anything else.  I also find that it is hard to fully “argue” your position in these types of conversations.  (That fact that it’s taking 3100+ words here might explain part of that!)
Sometimes in these conversations the question is trying to get to the heart of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, birth control, and what it all means.  Often, it boiled down to questioning the licitness of using NFP at all.  Many have wondered if using NFP shows a desire for control that is not an appropriate response to God’s creative prerogative, and is therefore just as evil as contraception.  This is what I’ve got on my mind today.  Let me say right upfront that while I do not criticize the people who are asking these questions (for in my experience, most truly appear to be seeking) I find the suggestion itself (that NFP is always wrong) to be, well, hogwash.
The conversations I was a part of or was exposed over the years to took all kinds of twists and turns and some of the things that were said or implied were mind-boggling to me.  Some of these things seemed a bit extreme.
I have heard or read more times than I can remember that since ABC and NFP have the same “end goal” in mind, (avoiding pregnancy) either both are valid or both are invalid.  This argument is put forth by those who reject the Church’s teaching against ABC as well as those who reject NFP along with ABC.  The problem with that line of thinking, in my opinion, is that it confuses the issue.  The problem with it is that it assumes that seeking to avoid pregnancy is always evil in all circumstances.  If that were true, then I would have to agree that no matter how you violate that, it is evil.  But avoiding pregnancy for a good (sufficient/grave/serious) reason is not evil.  The problem enters with the how.  It comes down to the meaning and purpose of sex and to the natural law regarding human sexuality
As I observed these conversations and took it all in, particularly over the past 15+ years, I kept coming back to one, single question:
Does no one read the catechism?