Guest Post: Ashley from The Nerdy Blogger

Friday, June 27, 2014

   Today I'm posting my very first guest post! I asked my friend Ashley from The Nerdy Blogger to share her story about reaching debt freedom and financial peace. To learn more about Ashley you can go to her blog The Nerdy Blogger.   You can also check her out on Facebook.

   Here we go!

I’m an odd duck.

I always have been, but one of the things that makes me a particularly odd duck is invisible on the outside. My husband, Ryan, and I are debt free. No, we’re not billionaires. No, we aren’t trust fund babies with cash coming out our ears. We’re a young married couple in our late twenties. I’m a self-employed writer, a part-time graduate student, and I have 2 side jobs. Ryan works as a pizza delivery driver and is a part-time student as well. How did we get there? Well, it’s an interesting and convoluted story. We aren’t debt free because we’re crazy brilliant and have always made the best decisions. We are debt free because we have chosen to maintain that lifestyle from the beginning.


Our journey to being debt-free began when I started driving in high school. I had inherited my mom’s ’95 Camry, that had a non-functional tape deck, no CD player, and this was before the advent of the mp3 player, but it did have a radio. I tuned in to my local Christian station, which played Dave Ramsey Money Minutes about the time I’d drive to class in the morning. I began learning about how to be organized with money. I quickly became convinced that debt was not something I wanted to have in my life. I started college shortly after that. My mom worked at the college I attended, largely so I could attend college debt free. My mom’s tuition benefits didn’t cover my textbooks, but I got a scholarship and I worked two part-time jobs to help cover that expense. I met my husband later in college. His school was funded by scholarships and generous family members. We both left that school debt free. A few years after graduation, we got married, and moved to Charlotte to start our lives together.

Marriage and Money

One of the best ways to start your marriage is with some solid premarital counseling. We chose to take Financial Peace University (FPU). Ryan and I both had a fair handle on money. We never spent money we didn’t have. We tried not to buy things beyond what we really needed with the exception of the occasional splurge. However, even with this great start to our marriage, FPU really helped put hands and feet on our good habits to really rev up our savings and helped us to be mindful of our spending. Having this good foundation has made all the difference. We seldom argue about money and when we do, we play fair.

Rough Spots in the Road

A little over a year into our marriage, I found myself in dire need of a job change. I was making more money than I’d ever had in my life and I was completely miserable. My degree was in English, not retail management, which is where I found myself. I was running 3 bookstores, had no time for family or relaxation, and was plagued with constant anxiety. The job was attacking my mental, spiritual, and especially my physical health. After much prayer, counsel, and reading some great books on career (Quitter by Jon Acuff and 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller), Ryan and I decided the best thing I could do was quit. However, this decision was not made lightly. Here are the main reasons we decided that we could do this.
  1. We have no kids.
  2. We have no debt.
  3. We had a fully funded emergency fund of 6 months’ worth of expenses.

Had any of these 3 factors been different, I would have toughed it out while finding something of comparable income. But because we had those 3 factors in place, I was able to quit and do something a little more daring, something I’d desired to do for a long time—I became a writer. I started writing freelance and gradually began to build up a steady writing business. Being debt free allows you options. I am so grateful that we had these options.

Stupid Tax and Potholes

While building my writing business, as with any new business, I was underemployed. We also had done some miscalculation on Ryan’s anticipated income, so our budget was incorrect. This meant we had to dip into our emergency fund to cover expenses. I also made the mistake of keeping my regular health insurance through COBRA after quitting my job. We only asked around at one place to comparison shop—mistake number one. We were told that we had the best deal available—mistake number two. This, my friends, is called stupid tax. I had COBRA from October 2012 through June 2013, a mistake that probably cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of $2700 of our emergency savings. We finally woke up in June and realized how unsustainable this was and visited a Dave Ramsey Endorsed Local Provider for health insurance. Our broker helped us choose the best plan for me, saving us around $300 a month!

Once we could finally breathe on that front, we realized that if I couldn’t find more writing work soon, I would have to pick up a part-time job outside of my writing. I was living in a little bit of a fantasy world, and just knew that I would never have to do that, despite the dwindling numbers in our emergency fund staring me in the face.

I was wrong.

Murphy knocked on our door in September—pothole number one. As I mentioned before, we don’t have any children, but we do have two cats. Luna and Oliver, while furry, are like children to us. Oliver, our baby boy, got really sick about 10:30pm on a Saturday night in late September 2013. With our regular vet closed, I had to take him to the Emergency Animal Hospital. If he had gotten sick on a weekday, it probably would have been half the cost. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened. In fact, if I had waited until first thing Monday morning to take Oliver to the vet, he very likely could have died. Oliver had a blocked bladder, something that can be fatal if left untreated for more than 24-48 hours. The procedure saved our baby boy, but came very close to emptying our emergency fund. The total came up to around $850. We got Oliver home on Monday morning and noticed after a few hours that he just didn’t seem right. We took the precaution of calling our regular vet and they said to bring him by so he could be observed for the day. We did and later that day, they recommended that they keep him overnight. Long story short, Oliver ended up spending the rest of week in the vet’s office because his bladder became blocked again—pothole number two. The projected amount for his stay and treatment was greater than the remaining amount in our emergency fund. I knew my parents had an account set up for me back home that they had continued to put money into, though I had long left the nest. I had to do a pride-shattering thing.

I called my dad.

My parents graciously wired the money to my bank account. Thankfully, the actual cost of Oliver’s stay at the vet was much less than they originally projected because he recovered so quickly. The total was around $650. However, even with the lower amount due, I knew we had to quickly get our emergency fund back in place because now I realized we were not immune to emergencies.

Even through rough times, God’s hand has never ceased to provide, though it’s not always in a way that I would imagine or prefer. The day we took Oliver back to our regular vet, Ryan’s best friend Zak called me and asked if I needed a part-time job. Zak had no idea that Oliver, his fur nephew, had even been sick. I was able to start the job the next week. The best part was that I was making more money an hour at this job than I did as a manager. The Lord will provide.

Despite getting the great new job, we knew we had to go a step further to help fix our emergency fund. The job would only help to solve our income problem. Earlier in 2013, we had purchased tickets to attend a conference that had changed our lives over the past two years—Hutchmoot. Total cost on tickets for the both of us was around $579. We ended up selling those tickets in order to give our emergency savings a boost. This was a wise decision. About a week after that, we got another visit from Murphy—pothole number three.

As I stated previously, Ryan works as a pizza delivery driver. Thanks to the help of a car savvy friend, we realized that Ryan was in desperate need of 2 more tires for his car. We were able to replace those, but it ended up costing us around $350. Thankfully, we had the money in savings to cover it, but still, a smaller number in the emergency fund is a scary thing. We worked hard and kept putting money back in savings, regardless of how small.

About 2 weeks after that in late October, I was getting back in my car after a trip to the grocery store and realized to my horror that the steel was starting to show through on one of my tires. I went to the shop and learned that I had to get 3 tires. This trip to the tire shop cost nearly $400 and emptied out the rest of our emergency savings—pothole number four. Remember what I said about God providing? A friend in the bookstore business called me and asked if I could use a part-time job. Ryan and I had been praying for more work for me—didn’t God know that I meant writing work? However, when God provides, it is not always what we might imagine. I took the job and it proved to be a blessing. I hustled and worked my way through November, bringing in more money to help boost up our savings again and completely solved our income deficit. 

Then in December, we got hit with potholes five and six. Ryan’s car had previously been in his mother’s name. We had done the paperwork to have the car transferred to his name, but didn’t realize it would cost us nearly $250 to title it in our county. No problem, we had the cash to do it. Then 2 days after that, Ryan’s car started making a horrendous noise. We took it to our mechanic and discovered he needed new front brakes immediately—pothole number five. We sold a few things to get the cash to pay for his brake job. I found out that I needed rear brakes shortly after that—pothole six. No big deal, right? I was about to be paid from one of my part-time jobs. I had my check set up on direct deposit so it would be right in my bank account. I go the next day to look at my account. It’s not there. I emailed my employer and she didn’t know anything about it either. Later that day a company wide e-mail was sent out, explaining that there was a delay with direct deposits and I would be paid on the 12th of the month, rather than the 10th, as usual. Because of the delay, I ended up having to take time off from work to get my brakes done, rather than have them done on my day off, so I had to absorb some opportunity cost.

Despite all these potholes, we were able to persevere. Even when we had to empty out our emergency fund, we never borrowed money. We were able to work out our problems by selling things, working extra, and waiting. Could the expense be put off, even for just one more day? If the answer was yes, it got delayed. Sometimes this meant we stretched things out a little longer than we should have. We got creative with dinner and made unusual dishes with what we had on hand. (If I had my own restaurant, it would be called the Second Chance Buffet. Or maybe a cooking show called Luxury Leftovers). We sold things on eBay, traded them in at our local used book/movie/music shop, and bought nothing extra. We gathered up every bit of spare change we found in the couch and dropped it off at the coin counter at our bank. It did get a little scary at times, but we held on to God and to each other. He got us through each time and it built up our relationship, knowing we can weather the storms of life together.

We are still working to recover our fully funded emergency fund, but we know that we will meet our goals through hard work and discipline. You can do it, too.

How do you get past unexpected problems with your money? Share your story of how you got through the tough times.



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