I was working on a collection of my most sound financial advice, and trying to decide where best to begin when my fingers started typing me down a very different path. Everyone knows Greg and I don’t have any debt (you can read about our journey here) but not as many people know the entire story of how I got to be the ultra-focused, budget-crazed woman I am today.
Naturally, the first bug I plant in someone’s ear when they come to me for financial help is to get out of debt. Or at least start to think about a plan that could allow them to live debt-free. Because you know what I always say: “No money owed to someone else is ever your money.” It’s their money and you’re making them rich on obscene interest rates. Pitiful, pitiful. Of course to say you want to get out of debt and to actually get out of debt are two very different things. Maybe you think you don’t make enough money, or you’ve just been laid off, or you can’t work for health reasons, or the worst thing I can imagine… you have a partner unwilling to help. Or the very, very worst… you have a partner who not only doesn’t help, but willfully hinders. I couldn’t realize any of my life dreams if I had a husband who didn’t share any of them. And I would know. When I was 20 years old I ran away and married a soldier.
Yes… calm, rational, sarcastic, fiscally responsible me told my mom my long-distance boyfriend and I were going shopping at Woodland Hills Mall and instead we drove to Arkansas (no blood tests required) to elope. If that wasn’t unbelievable enough, I cried the entire way because he told me when we started dating he was talking to another girl, but he decided her dreams were too big for him so he went for me instead. Let that one sink in for a minute. Her dreams are too big, but you’re mediocre enough. I think I would’ve preferred a slap in the mouth. It gets better. We went to Pizza Hut before going to the courthouse (CLASSY) and I was crying so hard I couldn’t even order. But I still went through with it. YOUTH. It is so wasted on the young. It’s hard to rationalize a 20 year old’s mind, but looking back I knew I wanted to get away from my mother (no offense, DEB, I know you did the same thing), a boy said he loved me, and I was taught my whole life that sex and/or living together was allowed only after marriage. What a joke. Full disclosure: I would NEVER ever ever tell anyone, or especially guilt anyone into thinking they would burn in the fiery depths of hell if they chose to have premarital sex . I would encourage any youth I know to make their own informed decisions, and to practice safe sex and avoid dating losers. Sex is a basic biological need, and hopefully we’re all going to have it. Telling someone not to do it would be like saying “Hey, uhhh, why don’t you not breathe until you’re married.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Second full disclosure: I saved my virginity for him, but I was not a virgin when we got married. FIRE AND BRIMSTONE!
My life had already been changed by Dave Ramsey’s ‘Financial Peace‘ and I had paid my car off and was actively working to pay off the small amount of student loans I had accrued B.D. (before Dave). I had big dreams of living debt free and traveling. I wanted to go to Bora Bora so bad I could taste it, and even enrolled in a travel agent program to help me get there. My future husband’s dream was to buy a Nissan Aramada- a $50,000 SUV. He and I had briefly discussed his financial status before we tied the knot, and while he admitted to some debt, he assured me he was taking the necessary actions to pay them off. Another joke. The woman I am now would never have dated a man in his financial situation, let alone considered marriage. But I was young and dumb, and not at all assertive, and I liked to ignore the many, many red flags that were popping up all around us. I was in love!
I married a man who, come to find out, had zero dollars to his name, was two months behind on his car payments, had multiple credit card balances, including one or two he had “forgotten about”, and owed his mother $1,500. Oh, and he smoked. Nevermind the late car payments and the credit cards, I married a smoker. I want to slap every 20 year old I see, just because of their potential to be so dumb. But he loved me! Wrong. He loved being a bachelor with a live-in girlfriend. I jumped into paying off my newfound debt with a real passion, but I was met with nothing but resistance, as my new husband was too busy watching TV and playing video games to adhere to a budget. Bachelor. Girlfriend. I gave us both a $25 weekly allowance and he blew his going out to eat every single day, then bought cartons of cigarettes with OUR money. Cigarettes. With our BUDGETED. HOUSEHOLD. MONEY. Hi, has anyone ever met me? HEAD EXPLOSION. We were beyond poor. I remember going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s once and I didn’t know if we even had enough in our checking account to cover our dinner. That would’ve been what, $10? We couldn’t afford McD’s, let alone a bed. We slept on a leaky air mattress every night and woke up every morning on the floor. Oh oh oh, but we had money for cigarettes. And all that sex I was so excited about? Twice a week, and only if I begged. I was 20 years old, and a newlywed. It should’ve been the happiest time of my life. Instead I spent my days sobbing in the shower before work, unable to see a way off the deep, dark path I was headed down. Think Belle, surrounded by wolves but with no Beast to save her. When I thought things couldn’t have gotten worse, we found out he was going to be deployed to the Middle East for a year. A child bride with a deployed husband. Was that real life? It seems unbelievable. What do you suppose that bachelor with a live-in girlfriend did he before he left? Why, he maxed out another credit card on things he might “need” while he was overseas: a new TV, video games, movies, food. He filled up a foot locker with stuff, and bought it all on credit. What could I say? He was going off to potentially be killed for our country. I let him do it.
Important side note: I’m not saying the man I married was a bad guy. Sadly, he was just a typical 20-something year old American and very, very, very bad for me. In reality he was super nice, and when things were good I was happy to be his wife. But our goals and dreams were just too different, and unfortunately in a situation like ours things were hardly ever good. End side note.
When he left I moved out of our apartment and back to Oklahoma to be with my family. I sold my car to help pay our debts, and kept his because it was newer and nicer even though it wasn’t paid for. I wasn’t just going to sit around pining for a year, so I pursued one of my life dreams to go work in Yellowstone National Park for the summer. Listen up, kids: That might be the number one most important thing I ever did for myself. It took me far away from everything I was used to, and it helped guide me away from the cold, dark trail I was trekking down. Instead I got to walk through meadows filled with bison, and on soft beds of needles under lodgepole pines, and through fields of lupine and shooting stars and larkspur. I worked with like-minded people, and I got to experience new outlooks and opinions, and form lots of my own. I hiked and I camped and I partied and I saved. But most importantly, I realized that no matter what others might think of me, I had to make the right decisions for my life. My friends told me I was crazy for staying married, while my family- I want to say encouraged but I think pressured or guilted me are more appropriate terms- to remember my commitments to my husband and to God. For Christ’s sake, I was married in a courthouse in Arkansas with a belly full of pizza and mascara streaking down my face. Give me a break. I remember the exact day I went from being a military wife to not caring if I ever saw him again. He had called me while I was with my uncle and cousins from Billings and while I was trying to give them directions where to park at Old Faithful, my husband yelled at me “Can you just listen to me for a goddamn second?!” I can still hear it, I can still see where we were in the parking lot (close to the creek where I always heard a sora but never saw one). Something snapped inside me. Nope. I can’t. I was never the same.
Even though I gave up on our marriage, I didn’t give up on our finances. Soldiers make a killing tax-free while they’re deployed and by the time he got home I had paid off every debt he had ever accrued, and had socked away $15,000. Take a guess what I didn’t pay off- my effing school loans. What an idiot!! SLAP. I was there when he came back and we lived together maybe a couple of weeks to “try to make it work” before I called my brother’s wife and asked her to please come get me (remember, I no longer had a car. SLAP.) I am eternally grateful for her driving the five hours to our apartment in Kansas and loading up everything I owned to drive me back to Tulsa that same night. All my worldly possessions fit in a minivan. That was 2005. I was 21 and I never saw him again. At 33, I don’t know if I’d even recognize him.
Luckily for me, when members of the military divorce, soldiers are required to pay their ex a monthly stipend until the divorce is final, or so I was told. I also got half of our $15,000 savings so I was able to pay cash for another car- a Subaru Forester I found on eBay- and pay off my school loans, and that summer I went back to work in Yellowstone where I started dating someone else who didn’t have any debt but definitely wasn’t for me. In total I spent three summers working in Yellowstone, and two winters at Grand Targhee ski resort before said BF and I went to Alaska where I met and worked with, but obviously didn’t date Greg. The summer in Alaska made me realize (again) that no matter what, I had to make the best decisions for my life. I said goodbye to the boyfriend and my seasonal career and flew back to Tulsa to pursue a degree in nursing. Financially I crushed it in Alaska (in 2007 my high yield savings account paid 5% interest!) and between that, serving full time at the Rib Crib in Sand Springs, and some help from the Creek Nation, I was able to pay cash for my RN degree from Tulsa Community College. BF and I briefly rekindled in Tulsa, but broke up again before I got into the program. During nursing school I swore off all men, and worked and studied and saved, and during every break I took an awesome vacation to help retain my sanity. In 2009 during my first summer break I took a solo 10,000 mile road trip around the country to collect my last of all 50 states. The following Christmas break I went to Germany, Austria Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and the UK. The summer of 2010 I took a cultural nursing class in Ecuador, then traveled to Peru and Machu Picchu. Later that same summer I went to Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. To celebrate my graduation I bought myself $100 worth of SmartWool socks and went on another epic road trip to California and back, hitting up all the national parks along the way and spending New Years in Vegas. I was able to do all that, debt-free because I worked and saved and didn’t have some guy dragging me down. It was glorious. I loved being single.
After I became a nurse I kept up the vacationing- I took a cruise with my family and went to France on a whim, and to California and Montana and back to Vegas- and I lifted my man-ban. I dated around and had a great time but (no offense to Oklahoma men), it didn’t take me long to realize no one was going to fit the impossible bill I’d created in regards to a future partner. I was looking for a manly man who loved adventure, was outdoorsy, had a passport and a job, but didn’t mind not working, and most importantly… didn’t owe a single penny to anyone else. I was looking for Greg Warcken.
The summer we met he and I had both just gotten back from New Zealand, where we had both been backpacking at the same time. Isn’t that cute? I was down there with my best friend hiking for a month and she and I got to realize my French Polynesia dream together on our way home. We swam in the ocean every day until the clouds rolled in, then we explored the local town and rode bikes around Moorea. That was my first international trip aside from Canada and I was hooked. Greg’s first international trip (outside of Canada which definitely doesn’t count for a North Dakotan) was to Antarctica where he drove a forklift and was nearly kicked off the continent for refusing to work Superbowl Sunday when his Bears were playing. What a stud. He was a heavy machine operator. He grew up on a farm. He had his class-A CDL. He had worked in Yellowstone for a summer, and at Vail for three winters, and in Alaska for seven summers. He was hot, and even-keeled. That’s the thing that impressed me most about him. I knew every time I saw him, he would be the exact same as the last time I saw him – fun and funny and positive and happy. He would laugh and tell jokes and he was always in a good mood. He had a beard.
After Alaska, and especially nursing school, I kept a close eye on his facebook adventures. I started telling my friends and family and coworkers about him. I saw when he went hiking, and snowboarding, and when he ran marathons. I told everyone about his epic trip from Hawaii to French Polynesia to Australia to New Zealand. And I told people he was the man I was going to marry. Mind you, we hadn’t seen each other, or even spoken, since 2007, but that didn’t matter. In 2012, I went skiing at Red Lodge, Montana, and when I updated my status about it my number one dream crush (Greg) commented and asked what the snow conditions were like. Thanks to my sassy retort, he private messaged me (I squealed like a little girl) and after an hour and a half messaging back on forth on FB, he dropped what he was doing in Fargo, North Dakota and drove over 600 miles to Billings, Montana that very night to “see about a girl”. That’s what he told his brother in case he wondered where he had gone. Through no fault of my own, I missed my flight home the next day and that night we went on a proper date and we talked about our life dreams and when Greg told me his retirement plan was to be a National Park campground host I knew I was a goner. Greg drove me and my now sister-in-law Amber to the airport the next day and he and I made plans for him to fly to Oklahoma to see me in a couple of weeks. Greg says when he drove away he knew he was leaving the girl he was going to marry. That was February 2012 and we were married August 10, 2013. I am so fortunate to be married to the man of, and who shares, my dreams.
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But even now… nothing makes me go from zero to 130 as when I hear of someone’s partner hindering a path to financial freedom, and therefore a path to someone’s life dreams. I have a physical response to it, like I want to puke or hit someone. When I get really fired up about it I’ll start shaking and sweating. I don’t doubt I have some mild ptsd from my first marriage, which is why I never speak of it. Plenty of people know about it, but I rarely tell anyone new. I can’t stand where my mind goes when I think back on those days crying in the shower. Even though I’ve been there, I cannot imagine my husband, my partner, the person I’m supposed to trust most in the world, knowingly destroying our goals, our plans, and our dreams by living beyond his means. I can’t stand frivolous behavior in a man; I won’t tolerate it. When someone tells me their partner refuses to get on the same financial page, and continues to live a life of debt and insecurity and stress and air mattresses that won’t even stay inflated overnight I can only say two things: Get them on board or get out. Someone who would choose insecurity over a relationship doesn’t deserve that relationship. Can’t agree on your life dreams and goals? What’s the point of the relationship?
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As much as I want to SLAP my younger self, I know she is the exact reason I’m able to enjoy the life I have today. I took a rocky road, and I went through a few dudes to get here, but I found the one I was looking for, and aside from blogging about my past, I don’t ever have to look back.
That said, while I have the unbelievable privilege to be married to the best man I’ve ever met, I will readily (and very embarrassingly) admit I haven’t always treated Greg with the respect he deserves. A friend called me out on it last summer and while it felt like a punch to the gut, I was so glad she did. It made me rethink my entire person, and I have made a conscious effort not to be that wife anymore. I think I have improved immensely in just a few months, but obviously I’m still not perfect. Just a few days ago I got irrationally mad at him for washing our towels with our clothes. Who does that? But I stayed calm and just asked that he wash them separately from now on. But wait a minute, what a jerk! What I meant to say was “Thanks for doing the laundry after you get off work so I don’t have to worry about it. Thank you for having a job. You’re so handsome and funny and tall. I love you! Thank you for marrying me.”
Gregory is completely, utterly, and without fail a good person. He is humble and kind, and he works hard, and he loves to make me laugh and he loves when I make him laugh, and he loves to scare me and hates when I scare him, and he’s always happy, and he’s handsome and fun and positive, and he’s fit and healthy, and he loves to help people, and he thinks his dad is the best man he’s ever met, and he cries when he sees anything involving a sick or disabled kid, and… how much time have you got? I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like, or all out love Greg. You could throw him in a room full of strangers and he could have a meaningful conversation with, and relate to every one of them, and all of them would leave thinking they’d found a new best friend. Honestly, he’s like a happy dog. The best part being he is always happy to see me. If I locked him in a trunk for 12 hours and he’d come out like “I don’t know what happened there, but thanks for letting me out. I missed you!” But more importantly than all of those great, grand, wonderful things, Greg and I share a life plan, and he contributes to this marriage and our goals. Of course we share many common dreams- travel, adventure, sleeping in Walmart parking lots, early retirement- and he has never once hindered our plan to get there. Instead he chooses to contribute any way he can- with things as simple as bringing me a receipt or posting on Job Spotter, to picking up extra shifts or working in San Jose for a month earning more $/hr and thousands of Hilton points. He has given me the financial reins because I love budgeting and planning, but I always ask his opinion and let him know exactly what I’m doing. I show him our accounts and we talk about our future, and we think of other steps we could take to make our retirement dream a reality, or possibly earlier(!) than we’d originally hoped. Greg is my husband, my lover, my best friend, and the exact definition of a partner: a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits. He is my dream man.
My old boss and mentor, Phil, told me a story of two girls, each swimming across the sea to the land of their dreams. One girl’s partner was beside her in a rowboat shouting encouragement and offering refreshments. The other’s was an anchor tied to her ankle. Who do you think made it across? The one whose sweet husband hikes ahead to find a campsite, then comes back for her pack when she’s too tired to keep going. I get to be married to that guy.
If you’re thinking you’d like to get out of debt, or set some savings aside, or start planning for retirement, and/or live the life of your dreams, do your best to find (or create) and, most importantly, be a fiscally-minded partner.