Life in the Middle

We achieved a long-time-comin’ goal and now I’m afraid it’s not good enough.

On May 29th, 2020, Anthony and I wrapped up May’s budget and made our final debt payment on the student loan.

WE’RE DEBT FREE!

It was surreal. It still is to a certain extent.

We told our landlords because they were our friends first and have known about this journey of ours from the beginning.

We Face Timed our other married half friends to share the news. These friends shared their love for board games and low-key (free) hangouts, and the occasional holiday brunch splurge at a favorite diner, Awful Annie’s.

We shared the news with family and co-workers and church over the next few days.

I’m 29. Ant was days away from turning 32.

We’re still renting. (From friends, so the lower rent was a great asset in this happening when it did.) Our only credit was cut up six years ago in our tiny first apartment. We own both cars. (They’re both almost 20 years old, but they’ve been really good cars so far.)

We attended out first-ever Financial Peace University class in March of 2013. Our OG married friends were passionate about Dave Ramsey’s message and sharing it with the congregation. Ant and I were both working and taking classes part-time and planning a wedding. Life felt busy, but we joined the class regardless.

The facts and the numbers clicked with Anthony from the beginning. I clicked with the emotional side of it and the what if’s and the dreaming that the numbers and facts showed us.

July 5th, 2013 // We decided to do the next best thing to eloping: we nixed the big September wedding and told immediate family that we were getting married in like four days.

July 9, 2013 // A Tuesday night. Also, my last day at the Rocklin day program. It’s located about an hour west of the city we needed to get our marriage license from. So, right after work we traveled to the marriage license building and then drove back to my parents’ house for a little bit. My mom, sister, and I picked up the wife-half of the photographer team and headed to the church building that I was practically raised in. 30-ish people and a few cupcakes later, I was Mrs. Erler. Best. Wedding. Ever.

I’ll be honest with you, we fell out of a budgeting routine a few months before we were married. I was out of a job for almost three months, but looking for nanny gigs. Ant was working at the day program and taking at one or two classes at Sierra College.

We were as poor as church mice. We still decided to go on our honeymoon in September, a road trip of sorts around the bay area of California. Half Moon Bay to Winchester Mystery House, the San Francisco Zoo to Santa Rosa. From Santa Rosa, we would head north to and camp in the Redwoods.

However, on the morning of our first day in Santa Rosa, I read an email stating we’d pain an overdraft fee. We checked our bank account and learned a bill we’d forgotten about had been withdrawn.

We headed back home with our tails between our legs.

And that’s when we decided to budget again.

I still have those first paper budgets. October we brought home $1,062.19. I have recorded that we spent $50.81 on groceries.

We were living on love and the grace of God.

And I hear the opening line to “The Middle”: Hey, don’t write yourself off yet…

Friends of ours were apart of a food ministry that would go around to certain grocery stores and collect food that could no longer be sold in stores but wasn’t quite expired yet. We were added to their weekly drop-off rotation. When we figured out when I’d receive my first paycheck from my new job in October and realized we couldn’t make it payment-wise until then, I called the church asking for help. And they did. To this day, we’ve never forgotten their kindness.

That’s love, folks.

Gradually, steadily our income increased, as did rent and some of our expenses. For three years, Ant worked two jobs–one very part-time and one maxed out at 30 hours/week–and still attended school. We always put his classes first, even when the zero-based budget sat in the red because of tuition and textbooks and the daily parking fee.

We’ve moved three times since our first apartment in Downtown Auburn. The year-ish we spent in Rocklin was the worst. The rent was HUGE. However, this was also the period of time that Ant graduated from Sierra College, was accepted at an A&E firm as an intern, and then once the internship ended, they hired him.

We stepped into the world of what working in your field looks like, and that increase helped out so much.

And then in August 2018, we had a renewal agreement notice posted on our door one Monday, waiting for me when I arrived home from work. You can read all about that here. Long story short: they were going to increase rent from $1,178 to $1,349, and Ant was set on finding a cheaper place. I’d follow him anywhere ,and so began researching places to look. An apartment we thought we’d had in the bag fell through just a few weeks after Homeowner Friends purchased their first home with a studio unit on the property. I was reluctant, but when we sat down to do December’s budget meeting–even including the higher prorated rent and paying a new rent–we’d be set. Actually in that same month, we were able to buy our first-ever flat screen TV and pay-off the smallest student loan.

And that’s when it clicked for me.

And here we sit about a year and half from that point, and we are debt free.

The next steps: save up 3 months worth of expenses as our new emergency fund and then start saving for a house. There’s an asterisk next to that, of course. In the case of an emergency. New-to-us cars are looming on the horizon, the possibility of expanding our family, and of course the unknowns.

We are 29 and 32. We have no debt.

The night we made our last payment, I stayed up until 1 in the morning looking through past EveryDollar budgets, our very first paper budgets, and our old check registers so I could find as many possible accurate payment amounts as possible.

$57,602.74.

The first four credit card payments are a guesstimate because I can’t look up that payment history and we didn’t make a trip to the bank to see if they still had record of it.

The beginning amount I have written down is $44,146.78.

If I say we started this journey mid-March of 2013, the first class of Financial Peace University, it took 7 years, 2 months, and 8 days.

Our story is incredible.

Everyone is excited for us. They’ve seen how hard we’ve worked to achieve this. My co-workers laugh with me at my money issues. (I had a freak-out moment when we bought that flat screen TV. It used to be really hard for me to buy Folgers Black Silk coffee grounds because it wasn’t cost effective. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for years on my lunch breaks because lunch meat–from the deli!–broke the grocery budget until about a year and and a half ago. Thank you Ant’s career!)

A long-time friend, Monica, took us out to dinner about a week and a half to celebrate. It wasn’t the celebration I’d imagined because of COVID-19, but it was a great dinner. The rules were; it had to be a fancy restaurant and we had to dress up. My sister, brother-in-law, and 6-month old nephew came. We chose Monkey Cat, in Downtown Auburn. I think it was the first time Ant and it had been out to eat since COVID hit, and it was so refreshing to be out. Most of us ordered dessert. (We never make it to dessert at restaurants.)

Incredible.

However, just as incredible is the doubt and insecurity that I allow to surround our story, this journey in particular.

I filled out the application to do our debt free scream at the Dave Ramsey office just a few days after the dinner celebration.

I have dreamed since the beginning that Ant and I would road trip cross country to Tennessee, making a great vacation out of this huge milestone.

Dave Ramsey’s office receives a huge volume of these requests, on-air and in-person screams.

And, as is typical, they only respond to the people or couples they can accommodate.

I’m terrified our story isn’t good enough. What if they look at the total amount of debt we paid off and how long it took us, think it took “too long”, and pass our application up.

I know, on a logical level–as in I understand the meaning of the words I can’t control what they think about our story. I can’t control what they do with our request.

That has never once stopped emotion from showing up in my everyday life. I worry about everything that is within and outside of my control. It’s not limited to this event.

I’m terrified the dream to talk to Dave Ramsey, be on the radio show that I listened to every day for years until I changed jobs and work hours, won’t be seen.

And so, little blog, I turned to you.

Because this is what I do as a writer. There’s been a lot to internalize and grieve lately, and I’ve internalized and grieved it all. COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter…movement?, the protests and riots, the violence, all the social media posts, etc. Thankfully, conversations with Ant and a handful of friends have helped, and the poems I’ve been writing recently have been helping too.

I share this with you today because dreams do come true, goals and milestones can be accomplished. Your entire circle of people can be proud of you and celebrate with you.

We’re in the 11th week of the office’s 10 to 12 week response time, and while the fear of not being accepted has lessened, it’s still not gone completely. It’s not a button that can be pressed and suddenly the doubt and insecurity and the what ifs are gone. Time has definitely helped to heal this one.

And so here we are, a huge, incredible goal accomplished. While I hold my breath to hear about another dream. The two can co-exist. I can sit in the middle of the one’s joy and the anticipation of this other one.

It’s a cliffhanger ending, folks, and even though I wrote these words, God’s the author and I have no idea what this next scene looks like.*

Here’s to joy and celebration, love, and anticipation all still constant and active amidst the political, social, and medical unrest these days.

It just takes some time. Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything will be okay…

Have you ever experienced a two-fold dream or achievement? How do you accept the range of emotions that come with achieving one and waiting for the other?

*We do have a back-up plan, and it’s a pretty darn good one =)

P.S. Listen to Jimmy Eat World song “The Middle” here and Audrey Assad’s cover here.


Writing Process Notes:

// 6-13-2020: 1 hour, 10 mins. Writing Desk. Hobbit Hole noises. “litery” written after submitting our in-person debt free scream application. Word Count: 1,775.

8-23-2020

// after church, like 1 or 2pm. reread it and edited some of it. Maybe like half an hour, at the dining or room table, listening to Ben Rector’s “Complete Collection” playlist on Spotify. Uploaded photos to laptop.

// approx. 7:15ish pm. came back to it after napping, Dice Forge (I won!), dinner and an episode of Dr. Pol. Added the photos, some light editing. still listening to Ben Rector’s “Complete Collection” playlist. Words: 1,981 TOTAL. Today: 206.

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