A Story about Money

A Story about Money

Twelve Days Of Stories at The Chino House

Don’t worry. This story has a happy ending. I feel like I owe you that much after yesterday’s story. And if you stay tuned through all twelve days, I also promise to redeem my father from Christmas Gambler to Mountain Hero. Deal?

So like I said, a happy ending.

I, myself, really enjoy happy endings, so I am going to tell you right now that at some point in this tale of financial woe, we pay off all our debts and become awash with financial freedom! Yay!

Read on, ye weary pilgrim.

A Story about Money
These two people know nothing about money.

A Story about Money

The first fight of our marriage was about money.

We were not two days into our honeymoon before I discovered that my engagement ring had been bought on credit.

I felt that I had been tricked.

It was as if I had not really been given a gift of a ring, but instead I had been swindled into a partnership in which I would have to help pay for something that I did not even pick out.

I cried and cried. I asked if the jewelry store would be willing to take it back.

Back then I was even more given to the dramatic that I am now. I was really difficult to live with.

Nowadays, I think that it is much more common to discuss important little things like, How do you feel about debt? before you actually get married.

But this was almost twenty years ago. We were young and love conquers all and such. Also, we were only engaged for a month, so some of the traditional premarital discussions got skipped in the frenzy.

After the honeymoon, we packed up and moved to Chicago where Taido had already started seminary the previous term. We moved into our tiny “Married Student Housing” apartment. It was January.

That it was January is not really important for this story, but I try not to ever miss an opportunity to point out that I moved with my husband to the coldest place I have ever lived at the coldest part of the year. It is a banner of my undying love that I find the need to wave at every possible occasion.

So, it was January.

Taido went back to school and a part time job as a security guard and I quickly acquired an exciting position in a mail room. And here is where young love really is wonderful, because even though times were tough–like really tough–we were all caught up in making a life together. We had been apart and now we were together. The novelty of sleeping in the same bed and not saying goodbye on the phone at night was enough to cover all those petty little worries about money.

But they were there. Lying like icebergs under the sea were our differences about money, the fact that we did not have much of it and the accumulation of debts that made a bill for an engagement ring look like a trip to the candy shop.

We both knew that this season of Taido’s being in graduate school was just that, a season. We knew it would one day be over, and with the end of tuition payments would perhaps also be an end to our absurdly high cost of living in Chicago.

So we did the best we could. I got a new job in a bookstore and Taido got to leave his security job to work in a children’s home where he could get more studying done at night. We paid the bills and we put our groceries on a credit card. If I thought about it, it would keep me up at night, so I tried not to think about it.

The season did finally end. Taido graduated from seminary in June of 1997.

We had no idea where we were going next, we had accumulated a mountain of debt and I was about to stop working and have a baby.

Things looked really bleak. But we were still young and in love. And in July, we became a family.

Taido spent long hours painting houses that summer, a job he had done in college. Near the end of August, he accepted a job at a church in Seattle.

Taido drove all of our stuff in a truck from Chicago to Seattle, and I flew out to meet him with Cole. A couple of months later we did something that you can’t do in the US anymore. We bought our first house without a penny to our names.  Even then it was a miracle.

And so we began a new life in a new place. It was wonderful. Taido was not working nights and there were no more exams or papers due. I stayed home with our little one and we spent Taido’s day off going on long drives to hike the emerald green forests of the Pacific Northwest.

We knew we had a big hole to climb out of financially but we felt that life was stable now, and we would naturally begin to gain on the crushing debt.

Four years and two more babies later, we realized that we were making no real headway on our debt. And what’s more, the funky loan we had to get to buy our townhouse, was at an adjustable rate, so it kept adjusting. Also, it turned out that Seattle was not really that much less expensive than Chicago.

I should admit at this point that I was taking a bit of a “head in the sand” approach to our finances. For the first seven years of our marriage, I considered my willingness to periodically spout off opinions about our financial situation as a way of helping.

My encouraging missives ran along two themes: Debt and Giving.

We should not be in debt.

Debt is evil.

We should give away more money away this year.

I know times are tight, but we are not going hungry. We should be helping the people who are.

Sometimes I would quote Proverbs:

He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done. (19:17)

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (22:7)

Poor Taido. He was too kind to quote it right back at me:

Better to live in a desert  than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. (21:19)

I think I did mention that I was (am) hard to live with.

At some point after my third baby, I awoke from my cloudy, sleep-deprived haze and realized that it was unfair to leave Taido to handle our finances and then to criticize him for things not being the way I wanted.

I think the discussion that served to wake me from this slumber revolved around a mission project I was hoping we would give some money to and his telling me that we did not have the money to give. He agreed that the cause was worthy. He just didn’t feel like we could afford it.

Between my DNA and my upbringing, I have been gifted with a childlike belief that there will always be enough to share. (See A Story about A Cookie) And what’s more, that it is when you go ahead and share before you see that there is enough, that you get to cash in on the promise of the enough-ness.

I believe that it was out of a heart of love that I said to Taido, “Has our God not always been faithful? Does He not provide everything we need? How can we withhold this money from this project?”

He agreed to give the money, and the following week, I KID YOU NOT, we received a gift for the exact amount that we had given away. It is important that I tell you that crazy stuff like that happened all the time in this story. It’s important because so far I am telling you this story like it was all about Taido and me, but the story only has a happy ending because God showed up all along the way.

This particular incident served as the impetus for conversations about our finances that we should have been having all along. We were both finally ready to do something about our debt problem and our just-getting-by problem and my head-in-the-sand problem.

Over the next month, our evenings were spent digging through the piles of accumulated statements, bills, requests for money and receipts. I resolved to become more involved with the finances now that I was done having babies. (ahem, another story)

During my hiatus from paying attention to anything financial, a little invention called Online Bill Pay had become a part of our world, and I had thus far refused to learn how to work this new-fangled way of doing money. Additionally, our checkbook was now on the computer instead of in a register. It now seems so funny to me how much I resisted these changes because today if a situation requires that I actually write a paper check, I become indignant at the inconvenience.

But back then, the clicking and signing into accounts with passwords I couldn’t keep straight were threatening to undue me.  But I was more determined than ever before to figure out this puzzle.

I became obsessed.

I started reading books about money and watching that show on PBS about finance while I was nursing. I printed out all the verses in the Bible that had anything to do with money and posted them all over our family room/office.  I posed about three thousand questions to our friends who I considered to be Very Smart About Money. They did crazy things like Budget and Plan. And even Save.

Taido created Budget Worksheets in Excel that I played with constantly, trying to hit the right balance between spending, giving, saving and paying off debt.

Once a month I sat down and paid all the bills and analyzed all our data. I would take those numbers and get down on my knees and beg God to take away all our debt.

Just give us one big sweeping amount of money, God. And we’ll pay it all off and then we will be happy givers and savers forever and ever, amen!

We did not get to pay off all our debt in one blow. We set a goal of paying it off in five years. We actually paid it off in three.


By being obsessed. If someone with a fraction of natural financial knowledge applied the amount of energy that I did during those years to finances, they would probably be rolling in money by the end of it. That is just true. I’ve always hated it but it’s been true all my life. I had to study so hard and fight for better than average marks in school, while my brother and sister excelled in academics without even trying. My sister can still recite all of our ACT scores and mine sits well below hers and Peter’s, though I took the test more times than the both of them put together.

But friends, I am living proof that even a small brain is capable of great obsession.

I had two goals. I wanted to pay off debt and I wanted to give more money away.

Every time we sat down with our budget, I was asking what we could change to increase those two numbers. The paying down number and the giving number. We were giving ten percent of our income away and I wanted to be giving twenty.

And I was willing to eat beans and rice to make it happen. We cut whatever we could . We drove one car. We did not have cable. We did not eat out. We did not shop. If I thought about buying something, I would ask myself if I would rather be $20 closer to paying off my debt or have this new purse. If I would keep wearing this coat instead of buying a new one, could I afford to buy a coat for someone else? Because I was obsessed, it was not often that I could be knocked off of my mantra to Pay Off Debt, Give More Away.

I was constantly moving money around and transferring our debt to multiple zero introductory rate credit cards to get ahead by a few months without paying interest. I had a calendar just for writing down payment reminders and warnings that it was time to move the money again. Anytime we received any kind of money that was unplanned, a gift or a tax refund, we would give a portion of it away and then send the rest straight to the credit cards.

I’m pretty sure that at times my obsession was even unhealthy. Even an idol.

My salvation was that I was humbled by how long we had been living on borrowed money.

Also, Taido is the steady sea to my spurting fountain. In this project, as in all things in our marriage, he would talk me down from my craziest moments. It is because of him that we were still able to actually Have Some Fun in the midst of my obsession. We still went camping and had birthday parties and other things that were in danger of being cut by my budget axe.

The years it took us to pay off our debt were not without some setbacks. Taido changed jobs. We moved back to Arkansas. We tried to rent out our townhouse in order to cover some of the loss of moving and starting over, but then our tenant set the townhouse on fire.

Still throughout the changes, the obsession was not forgotten.  And in addition to wanting to be out of debt, we were determined not to incur any new debt. Besides our house in Arkansas, we did not finance anything else. We intentionally moved within walking distance of the elementary school our kids would attend and the church where Taido would work, so we could get by with one car. Once we were moved into our new house, we pulled our Budget Worksheets back out and asked ourselves those same questions.

Where can we cut so we can pay off more debt and give more away?

When Taido got a raise, we divided it between those numbers. Even while we were paying off debt, I would fight to increase our giving, even if it was just by a half of a percent.

In the long run, our move to back to Arkansas meant a decent cut in cost of living so we were able to gain on our debt a little faster than we had originally planned.

Our friends who were Very Smart About Money turned out to be very smart about a lot of things, and they encouraged us to plan and dream beyond the point of actually paying off our debt.  Taido and I had never done anything special for our anniversary, so we decided that after we paid off our debt, we would save money in order to take a trip together.

In 2002, after our move back to Arkansas, we set a goal of going to Italy for our ten year anniversary.

In the spring of 2004, we received our usual tax refund check. After we gave some of it away, we used the rest of it to pay off the last of our debt. We had about a hundred dollars leftover which we spent on having a Debt Free Party with our kids. They were still very young, but we wanted to mark the occasion in some way.

The following December, Taido and I celebrated our ten year anniversary in Italy.

Over the next nine years, we remodeled our kitchen, discovered that we were not quite done having babies, took two more trips to Europe, bought a new car without financing it and increased our giving percentage to 20 percent of our income. Oh, and I went on my first cruise.

I feel like I want to tack on some little disclaimer saying that we are not rich people or tell you that in Arkansas we never moved from our three bedroom, 1800 square foot house because I don’t want you to get the wrong impression when I say that we achieved “financial freedom.”

But the truth is that we are rich.

Even now, both of us jobless and living in Scotland, and starting back where we began our marriage in 1994, with Taido in school. We are not young anymore, but we are still in love.

We have been so very blessed. We are still eating a lot of beans and rice, but right this minute, we are debt free. And every month, by the grace of God and because of the generosity of others, we still get to ask ourselves, “What can we save and what can we give away?”





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