More than 2 years ago, I bought a book at a garage sale that forever changed my life. The book was a cast-off donated to the charity garage sale I was hosting with my sorority sisters, and it immediately caught my eye as I unpacked it from one of the donation bins. The book was Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey.
I recognized the man on the cover, likely from one of my late-night, panic-induced Google binge sessions about how to pay off my student loans and have some semblance of a life. I was constantly in search of affirmation that my student loan debt wasn’t a death sentence for my future prosperity, but I was still unconvinced. I often felt hopeless about this invisible weight on my shoulders. However, I’d become good at lying to myself and swallowing the fear in the pit of my stomach that would occasionally bubble up and wreck havoc on my psyche. After all, I wasn’t the only recent graduate and young professional with student loan debt. I was “normal” but most accounts. Everyone has debt, right?
Throughout our hours of setting up for the garage sale, I kept circling back to this book. I had heard of Dave Ramsey and knew the basics of his plan to be debt-free, but I’d never delved deeper into his principles than reading some basic online articles. He was Republican, he was an evangelical Christian, and he didn’t believe in credit cards. How could I possibly relate to him? But something inside me got excited at the prospect of reading this book and finding some hope; something told me to buy this book and read it immediately.
Less than 24 hours later I had finished the book, and I felt inspired. I felt hopeful. But the book just scratched the surface, and I needed more information to keep my enthusiasm up. I spent the rest of the weekend researching financial books and hit the library for some new reading material. For weeks, I devoured financial books, from Suze Orman’s Young, Fabulous and Broke to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. I spent hours reading money-focused blogs and articles. I read more books by Dave, including The Total Money Makeover. Each book had a unique perspective with some conflicting advice—don’t ever use credit cards vs. it’s OK to use credit cards to fund your dreams while you’re young and broke—and after a few months of obsession, I felt fatigued and confused. I wasn’t convinced that anyone could deviate from “normal” and become debt-free. A life without payments? I didn’t see how it could be possible. I kicked my Dave Ramsey book under the bed and moved on.
Flash forward a few months, and that fear from the pit of my stomach had crept back up. And more debt had crept in. I’d been using credit cards since high school, always paying off my balance in full each month, but suddenly, in my third year out of college, I realized that I’d accumulated credit card debt. Student loan debt I could justify, but credit card debt? That was dumb. That was irresponsible. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I spent a few months moving my balances around to 0% credit cards, buying my time by getting rid of the interest. But that only delayed the panic. I needed a plan and needed to make a change.
I fetched that Dave Ramsey book from under my bed and nearly a year after first finding it at that garage sale, I read it again. And then I re-read The Total Money Makeover. Suddenly, it clicked that his plan had worked for millions of others, and it could work for me. It wasn’t snake oil. It wasn’t a late-night-infomercial-get-rich-quick scheme. It was practical advice based on common sense.
Thanks to Dave Ramsey, what should have been so obvious finally clicked: The only thing holding me back from paying off my debt was me. My behavior. My morning Starbucks habit. My impulsive online shopping. My lunches in the drive-through line. Changing my behavior would be the key to finally living within my means and paying off debt. There was no magic secret or quick fix; it was just common sense. And a reality check.
I began to add up the payments I owed each month—student loans, credit cards—and began to envision what I could do with that same money if I didn’t owe it to my past. I could build the future I wanted.
Since then I have paid off nearly $20,000 in debt. All because of a book I bought for $1 at a garage sale.