Everyone is talking about the Powerball! And by everyone, I mean me and BFF, because talking to people is the worst. I do not play the lottery, but I think I might today. After the post-eclipse single moment of togetherness, (I haven’t felt in a while in Trump’s America) it’d be nice to be a part of another cultural zeitgeist again. Plus, it’s a $2 ticket. I’ll spend $2 to have a one I two hundred million chance of winning $400 million dollars.
Even as annuity (for this it would be $10 mil the first year) that is a lot of money. What would I do with all of that? What would you do? Especially with $390 more million on the way in the coming years?! This line of thinking/daydreaming really helps me focus about my life goals. If I didn’t have to worry about money, what would I do?
It’s funny to think about but most of what I know about money comes from Jane Austen novels and Downton Abbey. I learned about annuities, investing, real estate, and net worth from watching those movies/shows. I thought unless you could get a nest egg of millions, there was no way you could live from the interest.
A couple years ago, when I first considered leaving the Navy, I started to really buckle down about money. At that time, I unrealistically thought my only options post-navy life where entry-level/min wage (definitely wrong about that!). At that time, the question was more like, “If I don’t have any money, what am I going to do?”
Getting Nowhere Fast
Most military people are complacent about money. A DFAS paycheck won’t get you rich, but if you’re promoted and you don’t have a family to support, most service members enjoy a sense of financial stability seldom found in the civilian world. It’s rare you can have a guaranteed job and a pension with benefits after 20 years. Had I retired, I would have had that at age 37. Four years from now (internal groan). Oh well, I would have been miserable, though, pension and all. I choose my choice (*Charlotte York voice*)!
Two main problems I had in the military. One, I was always impatient for the Navy to promote me and increase my pay. Two, there was always some bank willing to give me an obscene credit limit. So, despite making more money over time, the amount of revolving debt I carried negated any pay increases I had. It felt like I was always broke.
That’s not to say I was ever destitute or wildly irresponsible with money, I always paid my bills and had a reasonable amount of fun travelling and shopping. I also had the goal of buying a home, but saving 20% for a house in DC seemed impossible. Plus, being the Navy meant buying a home wasn’t a choice anyway. But as I approached 30, I became increasingly frustrated with my situation. Everyone I knew had bills and debt: school loans, car loans, credit cards. It also felt pointless to save for retirement because I was in debt, and my goal of owning my home felt out of my grasp.
Learning & Changing Lifestyles
I started to do some research, and tried to do some math. First, I figured out how much I would get if I completed military service to 20 years. I figured out how much I needed to save if I wanted to retire. I looked about how much I needed if I wanted to retire at different ages (37, 55, 60, etc). This made me realize I didn’t want to be in the military. 50% of my base pay for the rest of my life plus medical benefits was not enough to live on, and it was not worth me being physically and emotionally unhealthy for another 7-8 years. So I quit. Or I stopped delaying the inevitable. But more on that another time.
To solve those two big problems I had, being financially stagnant and carrying perpetual debt, I did two things. Two years before the end of my contract I decided:
- To adapt a minimalist lifestyle
- To never take on consumer debt again
I’ll write more about living a minimalist lifestyle another time. And really, I’m not a minimalist, more of a minimalish (just made that word up). I like stuff, it’s not like I live in an empty house. But I’m far more intentional about the things I buy, and I always try to buy quality over quantity. It’s made getting dressed easier, cooking dinner faster, and shopping far simpler. My house is easy to clean because I have zero clutter. It helps me evaluate the worth of my money, as well as the value that objects bring vs. what they cost- not only in terms of money but in time and energy.
When I decided I was through with debt, I combined my credit cards and loans, and I tried to live on the bare minimum. At the end of the month, whatever I didn’t spend I would use that pay to off my debt. One month I made a payment as little as $16.38. There were months that I would gather every spare bit of change I could find, just to add to my extra credit card payment. Even the smallest amount of traction toward being debt free gave me motivation to keep working toward that goal.
By the time I left the military (and thanks to an involuntary separation payment) I had paid off all my debt and had enough to buy a house. A huge mistake, buying an old house with little savings. My old fixer upper ate all my savings and I was back in the hole again. And there again, were the banks willing to offer financing. Le sigh. I did need running water, a running sewer, and heat, so it was necessary.
Finding A Money Guru
That is when I discovered Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. Dave Ramsey is an American businessman, author, radio host, television personality, and motivational speaker. He’s also super fiscally conservative, staunchly Christian, and HATES congress. But his financial advice is on point, even if I often disagree with his political and religious views.
First his baby steps make the most sense for me! https://www.daveramsey.com/baby-steps/?snid=start.steps. Dave Ramsey’s money plan works for everyone, regardless of how much you make or your lifestyle. I also think taking Financial Peace University is an absolute for marriage/relationships. I’ve also learned about life insurance, investing, business, and financial critical thinking from his podcast. It’s surprising how less dramatic money issues seem when someone can look at it from an objective perspective.
So now I’m working toward getting out of debt again, by budgeting and being frugal. Does it suck? Yes. But being in debt sucks too. There’s no reason to stay in a treadmill cycle of debt forever. It’s also really uplifting to think if I plan, stick to it, work hard, I could be debt free, financially secure, and live in the paid off house (when I’m still young-ish). These realizations may seem like common sense to most, but for me it was new.
Julianne now vs. Lotto-winning Julianne
My relationship with money has changed over the years, and just like any relationship I find out new things all the time. Today when I daydream about winning the Powerball, my life wouldn’t be that different. I love to work in communications, so I’d still do that. I love to cook, I love my small, easy to care for house. I’d still live in a small house, but with more land. I’d take nicer vacations and start buying name brand detergent, and pay off my family’s houses and my friends’ student loans- but generally I think I’d still do the same things. I’d be the same person, just with better smelling laundry. Good luck with the Powerball, y’all!
The whole lottery-winning day dream/losing your job nightmare is a useful tool to help people evaluate their lives. What are your goals? What’s important to you? What would you do if you won the lotto? Why is that different than what you are doing with your life now?
Awesome podcast about the Lotto
Follow Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps to Financial Peace
Baby Step 1: $1,000 cash in a beginner emergency fund
Baby Step 2: Use the debt snowball to pay off all your debt but the house
Baby Step 3: A fully funded emergency fund of 3 to 6 months of expenses
Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of your household income into retirement
Baby Step 5: Start saving for college
Baby Step 6: Pay off your home early
Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give generously
Dave Ramsey Podcast: https://www.daveramsey.com/show/archives/ (also available on iTunes).