“You did then what you knew how to do and when you knew better... you did better!”
When Mitch and I married in July 2003, we each brought to the marriage a sense of humor, love, and a cornucopia of debt. Neither of us knew for certain how we managed to be so far in debt, but at the same time, we knew there seemed to be a lot of Starbucks cups on the floor board of our cars. Maybe we were not “acting our wage.”
It’s true, we did spend money on impulse purchases way too much, but we also had student loans (I had only been out of divinity school for five years and had ten years of payments left); medical bills (Mitch was still paying for childhood leukemia treatments for his daughter, Dana); attorney’s fees (divorce is expensive); IRS payments (clergy should never get behind on quarterly taxes); two car leases (we will never lease again); and of course, like many other people in debt, we had incurred credit card debt.
It’s difficult to discern how we had built up such a nice pile of debt, but the reality was that we had to fix it and we had to have a plan.
So, the words, “I do,” for us, meant we would together, put ourselves on a budget and begin the process of dumping debt, not wanting to live from paycheck to paycheck anymore. In turn, it would mean, we could be the kind of givers God had created us to be.
We remained tithers throughout our “debt-dumping” process and must admit when we wrote our tithe checks each month, we wondered, “Would we be able to stretch our grocery money this month, too?” It was not a good place to be, but we knew there was light at the end of our debt tunnel.
After countless budget revisions and a lot of discipline, six years later, Mitch and I are debt free, except for our mortgage. Are we proud of our past behavior? Not so much.
Now that we know better, (as May Angelou has said) we do better. We keep ourselves on a written budget each month; and we have made peace with, even embraced, our ten and fourteen year old cars. They are almost like children to us. (Our cars have names and always need TLC.)
Once we started learning more about how to manage our finances we also realized we were not alone. Best of all, there is hope and we are living proof that even clergy can get serious with personal finances, get on a written plan and be debt free.
Now, when we write out our tithe checks, we don’t fret, stress, or worry and it is an amazing feeling. This past summer Mitch and I took an extremely lovely river cruise down the Rhine River and we paid cash for the whole trip. Amazingly, the vacation didn’t follow us home through credit card statements.
Mitch and Tammy Gieselman