This article was written by Sami Womack from A Sunny Side Up Life and has been republished with her permission.
We were drowning. I thought we must be the only family who was struggling to keep up. The overwhelming stress had become normal. Paydays came and went, but there was never anything to show for it. Our seemingly perfect life was crumbling all around us. Our lives were flying by so fast that it felt like we were stuck on a never ending treadmill. There was never enough money to get ahead.
When I thought about the first 7 years of our adult lives and how we had spent our money, all I saw was debt. Credit cards, medical bills, delinquent taxes, 3 pieces of real estate, a $900 a month truck payment, bad credit scores, and no savings...that’s what we had to show for 7 years of hard work. That’s it.
I thought family life would be easier than this. I thought my husband having a great job with an above-average income would guarantee us a great life. We spent our dating years dreaming about our future. We’d live in a gorgeous house, we’d have a few kids, he’d work, I’d stay home, and we’d live the American dream. And here we were living it, but it felt more like a nightmare than a dream. What were we doing wrong? Why couldn’t we get our act together?
I wasn’t asking for much. I didn’t want a mansion or a yacht. I didn’t expect designer clothes or a fancy sports car. I just wanted the “normal” stuff. I wanted a house I could be proud of, dinners out whenever I felt like it, cute clothes for my kids, and to pay the bills on time. I didn’t feel like we were living an out-of-control lifestyle. In fact, I was certain everything we were doing was normal because everyone around us was living the exact same way. We felt like we must be doing something wrong, because we were trying so hard, and still failing.
We started to question the norm. We started to pay attention. All around us were people who had accepted struggle as a necessary part of life. All around us was “Thank God it’s Friday!” “Well, I mean...everyone has a car payment.” “Oh well, I’ll just charge it.” and my favorite of all… “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” What!?!
Life’s a bitch….and then you die?
How could this be our life? This couldn’t be it? I wanted to do more than just struggle...and then one day die! I had dreams! I wanted to travel, I wanted to send my babies to college with no worries, I wanted my husband to retire while he could still walk, I wanted more out of my life than to just get through it! But how? This treadmill that had become our life was moving so fast. If I stopped running for even a split second I knew I’d fall flat on my face, but I was tired. I was done. I couldn’t run anymore. I felt lost and broken.
God had promised me abundant life. Well, where was it, because this sure wasn’t it! It wasn’t like we just had a rough month, or happened to over-spend every once in awhile. It was never ending. There was no light at the end of our tunnel. There was no tough-it-out for a few more years. This was our life. Save for retirement? Ha! We just wanted to keep food on the table!
We hit rock bottom, and we hit it hard. It was dark and it was cold. My husband and I held tight to each other because that’s all we really could do. We were lost with no map to show us which road to take or where to turn.
One day I had finally had enough of survival mode. What I did next became a catalyst moment in my family’s life. That day changed our entire future.
We hit pause. We decided to stop running. We stopped letting life just happen to us, and we took control.
I grabbed my computer and logged on to our online banking. Overdraft fees, $5 here, $10 there, charges for things I didn’t even remember buying. Everything was so disorganized. Guessing how much we had left for groceries, never knowing what was still pending, or what would be taken out next. I had avoided digging in deeper for long enough.
I needed to know where our money had really been going. I went back through the last 3 months of our spending. I cried when I saw all our financial mistakes written on that notebook paper. I grouped up the purchases into categories – gas, groceries, restaurants, etc. This brought our areas of overspending out into the light and helped me know where I needed to cut back.
We almost completely stopped going out to eat, we started packing our snacks while we ran errands, we opted for family game nights instead of nights out, we stayed home more, and basically just learned how to slow down our life. We found a light of hope.
After the first month, I realized that there was power in knowing. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is worse than the reality of the truth. Once I shed some light on how out of control our money really was…I actually felt better. I still wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but I had at least decided to stop playing the victim. I stepped up and took responsibility for our situation. We got ourselves into this mess...and we’d get ourselves out! I had struck motivation!
We were shocked at how easy setting up and following a budget really was, and over the next few months we got better and better at telling our money where to go. We set up a plan for paying off our $490,000 worth of debt. We got serious about our new lifestyle. We kept our heads low and minded our own business for awhile. We ditched our living-for-the-weekend mentality and started working with some real goals in mind.
We sat down as a couple and wrote down our dreams on a goals sheet. We boldly wrote down our debt-free goal date. Then several items we’d love to buy one day in cash. This felt silly at first, like two big kids writing a letter to Santa Claus, but it ended up being one our biggest sources of motivation and a great way for us to stay connected as a couple.
We kept pushing through our mountain of debt. We had a third baby and found a whole new level of motivation. Our family was complete, and we were now going on the motivation of giving our family a bright future.
We felt free. We felt in control. We were off the treadmill. Our life was quiet, calm, and full of hope.
(Note: I’ve put together a bonus resource at the end of this article that will help your family get started on this journey to financial freedom.)
Today, almost 3 years later, we’ve paid off $225,000 in debt, and the only thing left is our home! Our budget is simple and painless now. It only takes about 15 minutes every payday to plan out how we’ll spend our money, and then we spend the rest of our life just living! We don’t worry about money, and we don’t pray for payday.
We spend less than we make, and actually live more comfortably now on 60% of our income, than we ever dreamed of living before. We have 5 months worth of living expenses saved. And that goals list I mentioned earlier...we’re crushing it! All while keeping 3 kids fed, and 2 of them in diapers!
“A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.” -Dave Ramsey
Budgeting is the reason we’ve been so successful with our money. We stopped leaving something as important as our future to chance. We got intentional with our spending, our goals, and our entire life.
At first, I hated the word “budget” because I thought it meant never having fun again, and constantly living with a worksheet in my hand. The truth is, budgeting isn’t just about worksheets and paying off debt. Budgeting is simply being intentional with your money, and not letting life just happen to you.
It’s about getting out of survival mode and regaining your freedom. It’s more planning, and less worrying. It’s more joy, and less stress. It’s more being prepared, and less being panicked.
When we’re raising our family we can’t just fly through life anymore. We have babies to raise, dreams to chase, and a life to enjoy. We only get one shot at this life, we shouldn’t spend it scraping by in survival mode.
I believe young families need a budget more than anyone.
If you’re ready to make some changes that will lead your family to financial freedom, and make survival mode a distant memory, I’ve put together a simple 5-day free email course to help you get started on your journey.
I want this life of freedom for you! I want you to know that you don’t have to struggle and live in never ending survival mode. I want you to see the light at the end of your tunnel. I want you to have hope. I want you to get off the treadmill, chase your dreams, and discover the abundant life that is waiting for you!
Sami Womack is a budgeting coach, and the blogger behind A Sunny Side Up Life. Her passion is inspiring women to live abundant lives through budgeting, intentional living, and positive thinking. She offers a jump start into budgeting with her free 5-day email course. Sami is the wife of her high school sweetheart, Daniel. They homeschool their three daughters, and call East Texas home.
I've found her story to be truly inspiring and filled with great advise based on hands-on experience. What do you think of Sami's story? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.