Start a Budget and Open the Door to a Debt Free Life

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the start a budget book While I’ve made my fair share of financial mistakes and missteps, by the grace of God, our family has also made a few wise decisions.

Right now my wife and I are positioning ourselves to pay off our house in less than 6 months.  We’ve done this while my wife has stayed home (for the last five years), and we’ve lived on less than $50,000 annual household income.  Oh, and we didn’t miss out on of all the luxuries of life.  In fact, in the last five years, we’ve vacationed in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and various places in the US and Canada.

Please don’t hear me bragging.  This has all been by the grace of God.  However, if living without debt appeals to you, I did want to share the most important tool that helped us accomplish this feat.

What is the key to becoming debt-free? Start a Budget

While there are many contributing factors, the single most important choice we made was to start a budget.

When we graduated from college, we were like a lot of young married couples.  We had a car payment and between $10,000-$15,000 in student loan debt.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any credit card debt.  After graduation, we ventured off into the great unknown – a world where we both had fulltime jobs.  The transition from living on hundreds of dollars a month to thousands is always a hard transition for young married couples.  Looking back, one of the things that really saved us a lifetime of financial stress is that we lived in a church parsonage.  As such, we didn’t have the temptation to consider buying a home that we couldn’t afford.

Once we left college, we very quickly paid off the car loan.  The decision to get a car loan was one that I automatically regretted and so it became public enemy number one.  It has now been ten years since we’ve owed anything on a car.

The problem was the student loans.  I think we had about $12,000 in student loans.  We did something foolish.  We just made minimum payments.  It was foolish for us because we knew our plan was for me to go back to school full-time.  We had also committed to making arrangements so my wife could stay home when we had kids.  During those two years when we both worked fulltime we did save, but just not intentionally.

Then it happened.

I was back in grad school full-time and my wife took a job at a private school.  Her salary was cut by 35%.  Fortunately, that was a choice we could afford to make because she loved every moment she taught at the school.  But, the way we afforded it was by cutting our lifestyle.

This was make it or break it time for our financial future.  We knew the decisions we would make during these three years (while I finished my graduate work) would be crucial.  Even though we were both working towards our masters degrees, we were going to cash flow everything.  No borrowing.  No loans.  Cash only.

We knew one important component was increasing our income, so while my wife worked full time and went to school part time, I went to school fulltime and worked part time.  At one point, I had four jobs (basketball coach, substitute teacher, secretary, and preacher).  Still, there was something missing.

I believe it was October 2003 when Dave Ramsey did his Total Money Makeover presentation in Memphis.  Somehow we managed to get $10 tickets so we went.  Once we got home, it was clear what the missing ingredient was – a budget.

We decided to start a budget.

[pullquote]We needed to start a budget so we could work as hard at home to control our expenses as we were working outside the home to continue our cash flow. [/pullquote]

Within a week we were on a budget.

Now, seven years later, I would say that starting a budget was one of the most important financial decisions we ever made. The only other decisions that had an equally important impact on our finances today included the decision that we wouldn’t borrow money for anything except to buy a house, and the decision to start investing.  I guess the decision to start a budget would be one of our top three most important financial decisions.

By the way, we still keep a budget today.

Several months ago I decided to start to write a series of books on personal finance topics.  I called the series Bite Size Personal Finance Series.  There is an ancient proverb that asks, how do you eat an elephant? The answer, of course, is one bite at a time.  In this series, I want to teach people how to get control of their finances one bite at a time.

Many months ago, I wondered what I should write the first book about, and the answer was immediately clear.  I’ll start where we started.  Surely, what was so important to us as a family would also help others.

So, I wrote a budgeting book.  Not another dry budgeting book that makes you feel guilty for previous mistakes, but one that helps to come alongside you and provides some relevant resources to help you make a budget that lasts more than a week.

The books is now completed.  It is called The Secret to a Successful Budget: Practical Advice for Making a Budget That Lasts.

Until the 31st of August, the book is 30% off.

Click here if you want more information about the book and learn how to start a budget.


  1. says

    I agree with starting a budget but the thing is you have to have more then just a budget. Building a budget around somethings that you can never plan for. Car wrecks, someone in the family gets sick or hurt or worse. Planning for the unexpected is key. At least in my opinion.

    • says


      I would suggest that a good budget will help you plan for the unexpected.

      There are really two parts of this discussion. (1) a financial plan (2) a budget.
      (1) The financial plan is includes things like saving for emergencies, paying off debt, saving for retirement.
      (2) The budget provides a structure to free up money to put towards your current goal within the financial plan.

      In my book I teach people how to set financial goals and how to use a budget to help them reach those goals.

      As an example, you might say you want to get out of debt. But, if you’re not willing to start a budget it will be hard for you to find (or create) the funds necessary to pay off debt.

      When we started budgeting every month we put money aside for ‘the unexpected’. We called it an emergency fund. We expected that something will go wrong. We’ve planned for that. We just don’t know the name of the thing – car wreck, sickness …

      Most people can’t begin to save for emergencies because they have not taken the time to set up a budget.

      Either way I can’t imagine anyone being worse off during an emergency because of a budget.

  2. says

    To my mind, if a person wants to have a debt-free life, then it’s necessary to make a budget and try to live within his/her means. I try to manage my money and make lists of purchases that I need to make, money like control, if there’s no control then there will be debts and overspendings. It’s not worth to be lazy to save money, there are lots of ways to do that. Also it’s important to set small personal goals and try to reach them. I believe that debt-free life exists and it’s never too late to start to work on it.

  3. says

    Completely agree with Valery, budgeting is one of the greatest tools you have at your disposal. if you want to live within your means, and avoid a debt trap or slide into a detrimental financial situation then you must know your money. Budgeting can help you to know exactly what you have coming in, going out and what your comittments are. When you need to make cutbacks it is important to be able to see exactly where these can be made. Budgeting is key.

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