Graduation Day

Today, Kates and I are graduates.

Graduates of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, that is.

Now, I’ve largely been the caretaker of our finances, dutifully entering every receipt and deposit into our Microsoft Money records. I keep watch on our bank accounts like a hawk, making sure payments are clearing and always watching for questionable activity.

Have we always been fiscally responsible and avoided financial risks? Heck no. … Kates and I agree, arguably one of the biggest regrets of our married lives is a financial mistake we made several years ago, and we’ve learned from it.

Still, I’d like to think we’re more financially stable that most people.

The last 13 weeks, however, have showed we still had a lot to learn.

For the last few years, our church has offered Ramsey’s Financial Peace program to interested families. It sounded ok, but I had no interest in giving up two hours of my precious Sunday afternoons for 13 consecutive weeks. And to sit in a room and listen to other couples’ financial issues and ideas while we shared our own like we’re in some kind of support group -- yuck. No, thank you.

But in January, when the invitation came to join the new class forming for the spring, Kates pushed the idea of trying it.

I’m deep in graduate coursework, the responsibilities of my job are heavy, and my Sunday afternoons are precious. Financial Peace would be another addition to my already heavy plate. … But, clearly, we are not rich -- not that getting rich was the point of this exercise. I conceded there were things we could be doing better. And with another baby on the way, now was as good a time as ever.

Today, we completed the course. We have a certificate and piggy bank to show for it. And yes, I’m glad we did it.

The class sessions weren’t so bad and typically went like this: We’d spend the first hour or hour and a half watching a DVD of Dave giving a lecture to a huge auditorium of people – a lecture that was part serious teaching about financial behaviors and part comedic relief. If you’re not familiar with Dave Ramsey – I was not – he is quite funny. … We spent the remainder of the class sessions discussing Dave’s lecture either as a class, in small groups or as couples. Every week was a different topic – from credit cards, to 401ks, to insurance policies to budgeting to college planning.

Kates and I have a whole new outlook on handling our finances. Rather than me doing most of the work, Kates and I are doing it together. We have a better understanding of our insurance policies and will look forward to righting some of our wrongs in that arena in coming months. We’re policing our spending habits better by keeping a monthly budget, and we’re building equity.

Most fun of all, we’re on a path to becoming debt-free within the next year. … Perhaps our favorite lesson was the one about credit cards. After that one, Kates and I went on a hardcore credit card cutting binge – calling all of our credit card companies, closing whatever accounts we had open and documenting all of it on a handy dandy spreadsheet provided to us in the course. We canceled nearly 20 credit counts, about a dozen of which we forgot we had because they hadn’t been used since shortly after we were married. At the next week’s class session, Kates and I joined other couples in cutting the cards and dumping the remnants in the big glass jar.

Seriously, as grueling as it was to drive to the class some weeks, there were a lot of weeks that Kates and I got back in the car to leave with huge smiles on our faces, excited by what we learned that afternoon and pumped to implement the lesson at home.

In addition to our little graduation ceremony today, we celebrated yesterday with a class garage sale to get rid of some unneeded stuff -- and to make a little extra cash, too. Mostly, it was household stuff and clothing we wanted to part with. … And a lovely antique desk that Kates bought for her first apartment after college. We moved it to her second apartment, and then to our first apartment, and then to our first house, and then to our duplex here in The ‘Ville (… those were some days.). Its final stop with us was in our new home, in the guest room that is now being transformed into Baby 2’s room. We hated to see it go, but it was time. We no longer had room for it. … When the sale was over, we made $42, and what we didn’t sell went to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

After our successful sale yesterday afternoon, I spent most of the day working outside in our yard. We grilled burgers and corn on the cob for supper, and then I was determined to take a family drive to the lake and watch the supermoon rise. … Frankly, I didn't think it was so super, and it looks way more cool in some of the photos the media outlets are posting today.

Nonethleless, it was worth the drive and making a fun family memory. Once we got to the lake, we found a place to park, with the moon rising over the lake in front of us. Kates didn’t feel like hiking anywhere with her baby weight and stayed in the car. In the meantime, Phoebe and I walked through the 100 yards or so of tall grass to get to the lake shore and get a closer look at the moon.

It was great daddy-daughter moment. And the moon, though overrated, was pretty awesome rising over the lake.

After a few minutes, Phoebe and I ran as fast as we could back to the car, laughing all the way. ... We made the 15-minute drive home, and Phoebe was snoring by the time we pulled into our garage.

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