next level living: Kim's story
Hello! I’m so excited to be here, and grateful to Mandy for allowing me to contribute to this series! When she asked, my first instinct was to write about money - not because it is the most comfortable or glamorous topic, but because I know how much investing in my own finances and money management has changed my life. If you’re about to stop reading because talking about money makes you uncomfortable, stay with me!
A year and a half ago, I was lucky enough to be gifted attendance to a Dave Ramsey course called Financial Peace University by my sister, an outspoken advocate for sound personal finances. At the conclusion of the 9-week course, the way I managed my money had completely shifted for the better, and this change in planning and perspective has dramatically lessened the stress and worry that had previously plagued me.
To be clear, I am a physical therapist, and one of the reasons I chose my current career was how little math it required - I am not here to tell you which stocks to invest in, or how to diversify your portfolio, or even that you need any of those things. My hope is to convey some small part of the freedom that investing in my finances has given me to invest in other, more important, parts of my life. My approach to finances is fairly straightforward: set up simple systems that don’t require much upkeep, AND organize those systems so that my money works for me and reflects my priorities.
For me, this starts with a monthly budget, which was one of the fundamentals of the course I attended. Looking back, I am honestly shocked at how I ever survived without one, and the thought of not having one now literally makes me cringe. If you’ve never made a budget before, the thought might seem daunting - or maybe you’re worried that it will feel restrictive, or that it won’t allow you to live life like you want to.
I can say with full certainty, however, that both of these worries could not be further from the truth - when I started consistently following a budget, I literally felt like I had gotten a raise. As John Maxwell says, “A budget is simply telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Forcing you to put a name to every dollar means you are consciously making a choice, every time you allot money to a person, activity, or thing, that THAT is more important than anything else. One of the best things about having a budget is that it not only allows me to be more prepared for the month ahead, but it also forces me to prioritize what is important to me - it forces me to choose, at the beginning of the month, what to invest in.
My priorities are pretty clear: pay off my student loan debt (my only current debt), save or spend money to travel to be with those I love and to see the world, and contribute to my church and other worthy causes. The clarity of my priorities has made decisions that could have been heart wrenching a little easier, such as saying no to travelling to two out of state bachelorette parties in order to attend the (also out of state) weddings; putting down the candles (it’s always candles, fam) at Target; and working overtime on the weekends to make extra payments toward my debt.
While all of that may seem restrictive, it actually allows me greater freedom. Having dollar amounts set out ahead of time gives me freedom to spend my money without guilt, instead of just saving it. For instance, if I notice that I still have money leftover in my “dinner and drinks” category at the end of the month, I love secretly buying my friends drinks, or snapping up a pair of shoes I’ve been eyeing if there’s money in my “miscellaneous” category. Budgeting not just for the big stuff but also the things that seem minor (pedicures with friends, candles, dinners out) allows for both balance and responsibility. When I follow my budget, I never wonder if I’ll have enough to pay rent, and I can be generous (and have fun!) without feeling guilty.
While budgeting is an amazing day-to-day tool, I also want to briefly touch on the long game. The whole point of having a budget and paying off your debt as fast as humanly possible -- “living like no one else so you can live like no one else” -- is so that when you get to a debt-free, comfortable place of wealth, you can help those you love and the causes that are important to you thrive. This is your WHY, and it has to be big and incredibly important to you. No one saves money just for the fun of it; delayed gratification is often a hard pill to swallow.
In my case, my love for my future children, my concern for the next generation, and the responsibility I feel to set up my family and the Island my family loves well is big enough to live a disciplined life now. One of my Church’s seven tenets is generosity, as expressed in Timothy 1: 18-19: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” Through this passage, it’s easy to see that the goal is never just to become rich or be regarded as someone who is good with money - the goal is to live a life that is truly life!!
How great would it feel if you were so comfortable with your finances that you could offer to pay a substantial amount of your granddaughter’s down payment and, instead of bequeathing it in a will, actually visit the house you helped her buy (as is happening with a girlfriend of mine right now)? Or, if you could send your children money not because they are desperate enough to ask for it, but because you love them and want to be able help them thrive right where they are (as my parents have recently been able to do)? What if you could support a refugee, or friend who is going through a rough time, or sponsor a kid going on a life-changing trip, or adopt a baby (or whatever it is that you’ve always wanted to do, but believe you can’t because it costs too much)?
Getting to a place of financial freedom means you have the comfort and opportunity to do the things that set your soul on fire. Instead of just keeping your head above water, you can rise to the “next level of living,” where you can make a significant difference in someone’s life.
When I am most frustrated about putting more than my rent toward student loan debt (that’s painful, y’all), or saving for something far in the future, or tithing, one of the most powerful reminders for me is this: it’s all God’s money - I’m just managing it. My fist, which wants so badly to clench around “my” money, relaxes almost instantly when I remember that I am just his steward, not the mastermind. With open hands, I’m able to truly invest in the things that matter to me -- and ultimately, to Him. This is Kingdom work, y’all, and it starts with you.