On a warm and humid Pennsylvania summer afternoon, I was alone in the living room when my eyes fell on a book entitled Debt-Proof Living written by award-winning author Mary Hunt. I was puzzled by its presence on our bookshelf since most of our books cover topics like music, literature, theology, or fiction. Seeking desperately to understand the why behind the presence of a financial book in our home, it finally dawned on me it was a book we had acquired by pure negligence.
Three years prior, I had been a member of a book club that used to ship four to five books monthly to its members for a small fee of $1.99 per package. “Wow. What a bargain!”, you say. Well, yours truly didn’t pay close attention to the fine print stipulating the club would automatically charge full market value to the member’s account unless the whole package was returned in its entirety within four weeks. As it turns out, Debt-Proof Living was one of far too many books I had failed to return during the financially ignorant stage of my life.
Curiosity may have killed the cat but it did quite the opposite to my fiscal life. It led me to pick up the book and read what I was sure was going to be the epitome of dryness and boredom. I could not have been more mistaken! For the next several hours, I parked myself on our celadon futon and devoured this page-turner of a book until the wee hours. Upon finishing the book, I kept counting the hours until it was a decent enough time to call my pregnant wife (visiting her folks in SoCal) and share my news. My excitement about and newness to fiscal responsibility didn’t translate well at first but she and I quickly admitted we were in serious need of a money makeover. We just then and there decided we’d give some of Mary Hunt’s concepts a try:
1. Pay first; Play later.
That means, focus on helping others, then focus on securing your future, only then can you “play” with the money at your disposal. With this idea, Mary Hunt champions the 10-10-80 budgeting formula representing three main categories of money usage:
- Give 10% to charities
- Save 10% for the future
- Live on the remaining 80%
I have since learned the 10-10-80 formula is not a solid enough foundation for how we need to interact with money. However, as a newbie in the world of money management, I gratefully learned the importance and necessity to give away a percentage of my money, to save a portion of anything that comes in, and to WAIT until I have accumulated enough money before making purchases or going on trips in order to avoid debt.
2. Keep a detailed record.
I began actually balancing a checkbook the day after reading the book. For the first time, my eyes were open to scrutinize every expense and every financial decision—big or small, life-altering or mundane. A daily, detailed record, far from turning me into a miserly bean counter, brought me instead a clear picture of our financial position.
There are numerous resources available (software, online programs, apps, etc) to help track financial activities. Yet, there’s something to be said for an old yet excellent way to do it: using a pencil, a calculator, and a regular notebook that can be used as a journal, and entering what comes in (income and miscellaneous monetary gifts) and what goes out (expenses, including bills and purchases).
- Humans make mistakes (as in the case of my having forgotten to return the books to the club) but often, if you live long enough you’ll see how those very mistakes can take you to a place of freedom and abundance if you truly learn the lessons embedded in them.
- As long as there’s breath in your lungs and nostrils, it’s never too late to acquire new skills and to reject enslaving habits. Be it food, money, sex, career, and relationships, take the time to learn to say no to the habits that hamper your fruitfulness and life energy.
- “Pay first, play later” calls us to count the cost before any decision we make. Most decisions made in life are emotional in nature and motivation but, get this: every decision we make has a financial impact.
- Keeping a detailed record is akin to feeding ourselves daily. Just like the body is nourished by food, our financial IQ grows as we learn to monitor bank statements, insurance papers, investment decisions with “freedom” eyes. A detailed record provides financial accountability for every member of every household, alerts us to potential disasters, curtails any inclination to overspend, nips in the bud impending conflicts between spouses, saves time when documentation is needed for tax purposes and budget planning, and much much more.