Marvelous Money: A review of Financial Peace University

17 July 2017

If you’ve ever felt like you can’t relate to my Marvelous Money posts because I’m a weirdo who loves personal finance and you’re just an average millenial trying to keep it together, I’ve got a treat for you today!

My younger sister, Kim, is one of you (ha!). John and I have had the chance to coach her on a few money things over the years, but her finances have still been a source of frustration for her. When she mentioned at Christmas that her church was holding a Financial Peace University soon and that she wanted to attend, John and I jumped at the chance to gift a seat to her and her boyfriend, Kyle. (Though we haven’t taken Dave Ramsey’s course, we have many friends who have, and know how lifechanging it can be.) My only condition? That Kim answer my questions for Em for Marvelous readers! :)

Please welcome Kim, and get ready to be inspired!

financial peace university review

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background with money.
Hi, all! My name is Kim and I am Em’s younger sister. I am also a 28-year-old physical therapist who lives in Nashville, TN and got to attend Financial Peace University at the beginning of this year with my boyfriend, Kyle. Part of the reason I relocated to Nashville from Boston (where I went to grad school) was to get a jump on my student loans by taking advantage of a more competitive market and lower cost of living, while still being able to enjoy my 20s. While I don’t consider myself financially illiterate, prior to FPU, I had never made a budget or thought about how to appropriately allocate my money, and I only had an IRA because John and Emily told me to get one – and then literally walked me through it (thanks guys!).

What was your biggest money struggle before Financial Peace University?
My biggest struggle was definitely knowing how to allocate my money appropriately. I feel like the word “budget” gets a really bad rap, and I didn’t feel so kindly towards it prior to FPU, so I didn’t do very much of it… which meant that at the end of every month I was left wondering where my money had gone and/or having to wait to get groceries/gas/etc. until I got paid again, even though I wasn’t buying extravagant things. And I definitely felt strained to make my monthly rent and loan payments, even though they were both completely affordable with my salary. And since I felt strained with my bills, there was no way I felt I could save money for the future, either.

From Kyle: I felt like I never had enough money even though I made a good amount of it. I just didn’t know what happened to it all.

Why did you decide to go to FPU? What were you hoping to get out of it?
I decided to attend FPU because my finances were more stressful that I wanted them to be and I didn’t know what to do about it (and because Em offered to gift it to me – thanks girl!). I felt like I made good money, had started an IRA early, contributed to my retirement through work and still didn’t have a sound plan or goals. I just felt queasy every time I thought about long term planning, or really money at all, especially my student loans. And, I would often make rash purchases (TARGET) that I later regretted because I thought I had the money available when I really didn’t. I hoped to figure out how to not feel stressed about my money and make it work for me in achieving my goals instead of holding me back from them.

From Kyle: I wanted to establish good financial principles to live by since I knew I wasn’t living by any principles prior.

What was your biggest takeaway from FPU? What was the most helpful or impactful thing you learned?
My biggest takeaway was learning how to budget and that you HAVE to give every dollar a name – this has been CRUCIAL, y’all! I can’t tell you how much it has changed how I approach my money and my spending habits. It also really opened my eyes to where my money goes and what I value. For instance, I recently joined a gym that I LOVE but that is much more expensive than the one I used to go to. Instead of feeling guilty about this indulgence, I redistributed my budget, acknowledging that I will have to buy less clothes and lattes to be able to afford it; but, that is a CHOICE that I consciously made that I probably wouldn’t have even thought through if I hadn’t done FPU. I either would have been even more stressed about my money OR I wouldn’t have let myself join the gym, which has been really good for my health and self-esteem.

I think my budget gives me willpower – I have literally put things down in Target since FPU that I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying prior because of my budget. Every time I do that I feel really powerful, because I know I’ll have money for the things later on that I really want or need.

From Kyle: COMPOUND INTEREST (mind blown). It has been instrumental in creating a good financial structure for my future and understanding how important it is to start investing early for retirement. Putting a name to every dollar and actually budgeting has been really eye-opening.

kyle and kim

You have talked to us and worked on your finances before. Why was FPU different or what clicked for you there?
I think the best part about FPU is how simple and accessible and easy to grasp it is. Dave is great about really breaking down each lesson, moving step by step in an organized way, and “chunking” up the weeks so you absorb each piece prior to moving on and building on what you have learned. It is very, very practical and you can walk out and immediately use what you’ve learned from Day 1, which I loved. I think the thing that was different from my conversations with you and John was how nitty-gritty and step by step it was – you have done a budget for years, so it was nice to have someone help me start from scratch (not that your budget isn’t amazing, it’s just not necessarily for beginners!).

Do you think it’s only for Christians?
Absolutely NOT!! There are definitely Christian overtones and supportive Bible verses, but at its heart, FPU is just simple, sound financial advice that everyone needs and can relate to, regardless of your faith.

If a reader was on the fence about going to FPU, what would you say to her?
GO! Give it a shot and if you don’t like it you never have to go back. But I think you’ll find value even from the first lesson. It has been one of the best things I have done for my personal development this year and has drastically improved my life.

What are you most excited about for the future?
BUYING A CAR I WON’T HAVE A PAYMENT ON! I never would have thought it was a possibility before FPU, but I’m doing it next week. Also the continued freedom and security and calm I feel about my money and my budget. And, as Kyle would say, compound interest!!!

kim and em

What’s been your biggest lifestyle change since FPU?
After FPU, I was feeling all sorts of “gazelle intense” (a term Dave uses to encourage people to ferociously attack their goals) and got a second job as a PRN (or “as needed”) physical therapist in a local hospital. Now, I won’t lie and say that it’s fun giving up some weekends to work. BUT, it puts me significantly closer to being able to pay off my loans, gives me added value as a well-rounded PT down the road, and has been a welcome challenge to my brain. And I know that in the end, it will be worth it to “live like no one else so you can live (and give) like no one else.”

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I know it feels like I only talked about the benefits of budgeting with FPU but that’s just because that is the step I am on – there is so much more to it than that! My biggest financial goal right now is paying off my student loans in full so that I can move forward to investing, retirement, saving for my kids’ college futures and GIVING BACK. Since Dave is all about streamlining the process and working step by step, I’m not thinking about those things yet – but when I do get there, I will know what to do, or at least what questions to ask to move forward towards those new financial goals.

Friends, doesn’t this interview just make your heart swell? I’m so proud of and excited for Kim!! Any other FPU graduates in the room? What was your favorite takeaway? Or does Kim’s review make you want to attend? You can find one in your area here, if you’d like!

P.S. Kim did indeed buy that car with cash last month! Yeah girl!!

Master camping packing list

13 July 2017

Curious about camping but concerned about your creature comforts? Do like we do and bring it all! :) We keep this master packing list in a Google Doc that’s shared between the two families, and we mark things off as we pack them so we’re as efficient as possible. The only thing that’s not really covered on here is food, which we handle separately, splitting up the meals between us.

Download the list here. I hope you find it helpful, and happy camping!!

P.S. More camping posts:
Camping with babies (lots of tips for family camping!)
Our first camping trip
Our last camping trip before babies
A few of our favorite camping supplies
My perspective shift on camping

Camping with toddlers

11 July 2017

Our family has a lot of traditions, but one that I look forward to most is camping with our friends the Rays. Camping scratches all of my itches: unhurried time with friends, space for deep conversation, natural beauty, fresh air, yummy food, no technological distractions, and adventure. If any of those speaks to your soul, I’d encourage you to give camping a try, kids or no kids!!

I know the thought of camping as a family can be overwhelming, but truly, you can do it! I hope these photos help convince you :) Most are by the talented Nancy Ray, with a few from my phone camera!

camping tees

adventure tees

What a cutie!!!

custom camping tees

This was our fifth year in a row camping together, so we surprised the Rays with matching custom tees from Zazzle!

swimming hole

peonies and camping

stone mountain

This year, we chose Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina as our destination. It was great! There was less shade than at other campgrounds we’ve visited, so we opted to borrow a pop-up canopy from our neighbor, which was so helpful.

eating breakfast

Will and Milly

best friends forever

BFFs :) We did two separate hikes at the park on Saturday – one to a waterfall and one to an overlook – and the girls fell asleep in their packs on both!

Stone Mountain State Park

scenes from camping

waterfall swimming

camping sunset

And now for the question you’re all wondering: did the girls sleep? The answer: YES! They both slept through the night both nights, hallelujah!

Ray family camping

family camping

If you’re interested in camping but not sure where to start, stay tuned! Later this week I’m sharing the master packing list we use every time. And check out these past posts:

Camping with babies (lots of tips for family camping!)
Our first camping trip
Our last camping trip before babies
A few of our favorite camping supplies
My perspective shift on camping

7 Tips for 2017 Graduates

5 July 2017

I LOVE that there are college gals and grandmas alike who read Em for Marvelous, since I love learning from people both younger and older than me! I was tickled pink when one of the requests I received in my survey earlier this year was for a post about my advice for new college graduates. Since our 2017 graduates are just beginning to settle into life off-campus, I thought now would be a perfect time to offer a few thoughts. Here goes, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

1. Start now. At 22ish, your adult life is in many ways a blank slate, so fill it with as many good habits as you possibly can. It is SO much easier to start well than to have to break a bad habit later on, whether the habit is drinking soda every day, being a couch potato, or racking up credit card debt.

2. Join a church. This tip is mostly for folks who are already Christian (but if you’re not Christian and curious, I would definitely recommend visiting a few churches to see what you think!). Instead of waiting until you have kids to find a church home, find one now! It is so important (and can also just be so fun and lifegiving!) to have a church family, especially if you are far away from your actual family. Churches in general have a bad rap on programming for young adults, but from what I’ve seen many of them are really trying to turn that reputation around with a greater focus on and cool ideas for 20 somethings. Give the local church a chance. I loved Val’s thoughts about this here, and wrote a bit more about finding a church myself.

3. Revel in your scrappy season. I recently looked back at a few photos of our first apartment and was reminded how frugally we lived in that season. We didn’t have a washer or dryer. Our mattress was on the floor. There was more than one table made out of a cardboard box :) But it was fine! Your early twenties are the PERFECT time to live below your means, because your peers are mostly doing the same (which means less pressure to keep up with the Joneses).

And don’t just tolerate this season, but EMBRACE it! Get fired up knowing that you are getting ahead by living below your means now. Buy things off Craigslist when you need them. Learn to cook a few cheap and healthy meals. Pack your lunch. Seek out free entertainment. And remember this:

People think of whatever they were raised in as the baseline for a decent life. In other words, they think they are supposed to start where their parents ended up. But your parents took decades to attain the lifestyle that you now think you’re supposed to reach in your mid-30s at the latest. (Megan McArdle)

4. Don’t be afraid to find your mate. Friends, I’m not going to go all Princeton Mom on you. But as someone who was happy to get married at 25, I guess all I’m trying to say is if the right person comes along, don’t be afraid to get serious. And perhaps don’t just “wait until the right person comes along,” but spend time actively pursuing that right person. Being married to John is the greatest blessing of my life, and I’m glad we’ve gotten to grow up and experience so much of life together.

5. Start saving money. If you haven’t already read my thoughts about the magic of compound interest, go do so now. Time is the most powerful part of the building-wealth equation, and it’s the ONLY part you can never make up. Wealth gives you freedom – freedom to give generously, freedom to retire early, freedom to visit your family, freedom to travel the world, freedom to save all the pets, freedom to _______ (fill in the blank with whatever matters most to you). It’s a good thing.

6. Learn how to use money. If your history with money is rocky at best and I’m making you nervous with all this money talk, know that you can flip the script inside your own head right this minute. Decide you’re going to be a smart money person from this point on, and then do something about it! (Trust me, few things feel as good as feeling in control of your financial situation.)

A few places to start? Consider signing up for Financial Peace University* (or read Total Money Makeover). Learn how to spend money. Pay off credit card debt and never get it again. Sign up for eBates. Work to get the three big purchases right. Read this post by Ben Carlson. Read all of my past Marvelous Money posts :)

7. Don’t think you have to move away. Or at least, place a value on living near your family like everything else as you weigh options for your post-college life. If you haven’t read this post yet, you might find it a bit chilling – I did. I think our generation is so transient, mobile, and “connected” that we sometimes forget that settling down near our families and/or where we grew up is a worthy option — after all, even if we live across the country, we can still FaceTime, right? It seems like a no-brainer to follow an opportunity, and that giving up an opportunity to stay near one’s family might be looked down upon. To be honest, I didn’t think much about the long-term possibility of never living near my family again when I moved away at 22. Would I do it again? Almost certainly. But I don’t think I thought about it quite enough at the time, and I want to make sure you have that option.

Is anyone surprised that three of my seven tips involve money? No? :) Friends, I would LOVE to hear if any of my thoughts resonate with you, or if you have any piece of advice (big or little) for our new grads or early twenty-somethings! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

*If you’re curious about FPU, sit tight! I have a post you will love coming soon.