Courtney and I had an interesting conversation yesterday that led to some new insights into our relationship with each other and even with money. We’ve been Dave Ramsey fans for about three years now, and in that time, we’ve done a lot of incredible things. The biggest success is that we’ve paid down over $40,000 of debt to the point that all we really have left is the mortgage. That, more than anything, is what has made life imminently possible for us during the recent recession. In fact, we’ve thrived when many have not.
In short, Dave Ramsey has been good for us.
On the other hand, though, we realized that we’ve gone too far in some ways. We’ve been so focused on getting out of debt and being responsible with our money that we’ve largely forgotten how to have fun. How to live life. I don’t blame Dave Ramsey for that; rather, I blame the over-zealousness that both Courtney and I have had to be debt free and past all this.
I was talking with a friend about how frustrated I was sometimes that life seemed to be moving so slowly and especially how it seemed like we never enjoyed anything anymore. He pointed out that he and his wife regularly and intentionally spend money in ways that, while not necessarily wasteful, are surely outside of the relative strictness of our plan. And it dawned on me that that was essential.
To be fair, Dave Ramsey has always recommended that you include a Blow Money category in your budgets. This is money that is unattached to any strings, any expectations, or any rules. It’s literally money to blow. My first understanding of the term was that it was money to blow, as in waste. Of course, Courtney and I both saw that as bad and limited our Blow Money budget to only $10 a month. And we’ve done that for over three years now.
But yesterday the light bulb went off. Blow money isn’t money to waste; it’s money to release the inevitable pressure of living a life that asks you to wait, asks you to put certain things first, and asks you to delay pleasure. Our frustration comes not from our successes, but rather the lack of celebrations. The lack of doing those things that let us step back, take a deep breath, and attack again. We’ve never been lazy with our finances, but to say that we’ve plateaued a time or two would be an understatement.
The Japan Earthquake and nuclear crisis paints a picture for me–Each reactor is surrounded by a containment vessel, which is designed to hold the radiation in. However, when the pressure in the vessel reaches a critical point, the vessel vents some of the pressure, which prevents a major disaster even if it does release a minimal amount of radiation. I see us working the same way. Our financial containment vessel is strong and has managed to hold in the pressure of what we are doing for over three years now, but we’re at the point of needing to release something. And we can do that without blowing the whole thing.
To put it all in perspective, we sat down last night and talked about how long it’s been since we’ve done things as a family:
- Go to the movies–We’ve been twice in the last three years as a family (both times in the last six months). Granted, we wouldn’t have gone anyway until Myron was old enough to enjoy it.
- Go out to eat–Four times in the last year. Granted, it’s harder with Courtney’s sugar allergy, but still.
- Go on a real vacation–Four years. Granted, Myron again, but… four years?
None of those things are essential to happiness or salvation, true, but they can be done in ways that are healthy, constructive, and beneficial for our family. Most importantly, they are a productive step back from the difficulty of what we are doing.
Last night, for the first impromptu time in three years, I loaded up the family in the car, and we went out to eat. It was fun. It cost $35. I spent half the time being annoyed at myself that we could buy half-a-week of groceries with that money and the rest of the time beating those thoughts back. But it sure was nice to release some pressure last night.
Come the new month, we’ll find a fatter, if only a little bit, Blow Money envelope. It’ll slow down some of our goals and progress a bit, but it’ll make the eventual accomplishment of the same all the more likely.
In your own financial goals and efforts, make sure you plan for you.