I would like to introduce you to my friends Mike and Connie. After retiring from the Air Force, they felt the calling to go into couples and marriage ministry. Unless you have a weekly syndicated worship program, you probably don’t make a whole lot of money in ministry. This is certainly the case for Mike and Connie. But in making their career choices, they have had to make other choices to keep everything in financial balance. This is one reason I found them in the cozy little double-wide trailer they call home. They have heard all of the comments and stereotypes about people living in mobile homes. But hang on for the rest of the story as you may be surprised what they have where.
In our classes, we talk a lot about setting goals and prioritizing those goals. As much as we may wish otherwise, we simply don’t usually have money to live out every last dream we may have. So what’s really important to you? Mike and Connie have been very intentional about identifying those priorities.
It started back in the mid-70’s. They were living paycheck to paycheck and running up the credit cards while only making minimum payments. Things began to change however one Sunday morning when their pastor gave a sermon about tithing. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, tithing in its purest form is giving the first 10% of your income in offerings.
Mike and Connie were convicted, but also very aware of reality. While they were not going to be able to afford anywhere near 10%, they did make a commitment where they were able to start. But what came along with that commitment was an attention to their finances that they hadn’t had before. They began to prioritize and budget other expenses around their home as well. Within 6 weeks they went from living paycheck to paycheck to having money left over at the end of the month.
So how did they do it? They evaluated every expense they faced. Any extra money went to paying off their credit cards. They committed to living within their income, only buying what they could afford without adding to their credit card debt. Then they got creative with ways to save, including choosing a trailer house over a traditional stick-built home.
“We knew the trailer wasn’t an investment, but it was a place to live that was paid for,” Connie explained. She added, “We can live adequately.”
For those of you making significant mortgage payments, surely you can understand the attractiveness of no monthly payment. And in having no monthly mortgage payment, Mike and Connie have been able to update and improve their home. I have to say, sitting in their dining room for our conversation, it was really quite easy to forget you were even in one of those stereotyped double-wides. It was nice.
Referring to living on such a limited income (they budgeted for Mike’s Air Force retirement income only), Mike explained, “We don’t know how we did it, but we were happy as can be.”
As our conversation continued, it was clear that they did not let their happiness be dictated by the value of their material possessions. That “didn’t mean we didn’t have fun. We did stuff that didn’t cost anything.” Referring to contentment, Mike explained, “The amount of money doesn’t determine how well you live. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It’s how you handle it.”
So where has all of this responsible living gotten them? They continue to live off of Mike’s retirement fund, but work additional jobs to pay for additional expenses they may want to take on. Connie is about to retire from her part-time job at church. Currently, they are meeting all of their expenses, giving 20% of their income to their church and other missions. And then there is that two-stall garage out beside the double-wide.
In being so vigilant about living within their means, Mike and Connie have certainly gotten to the point where they have room for extras as well. While they have taken on a small loan, they also have a plan to pay it off ahead of schedule. When it is paid off in less than a year, Mike and Connie will own, free and clear, that shiny new Corvette parked in the garage next to their trailer house.
How’s that for a contradiction to the stereotype?
Mike and Connie are pretty candid about how they have been able to arrive where they are. As I talked with them, a few points became very clear.
1. You have to have a plan and that plan has to include living within your income.
2. There is more to life than money and stuff.
3. Moment by moment it won’t always be fun or easy, but the big picture sure is better.
4. You have to work as a team, both in planning and accountability.
As we closed our conversation, it was clear that, even with what most of us would consider a very limited income, Mike and Connie are truly happy. Looking from the outside in, I truly admire where they are in life. Sure, they have their home paid for, a beautiful Corvette in the garage, and are less than a year from being debt free. But more than that, they are happy. They are active. They have a wonderful network of family and friends and continue to make those around them happy. And running through it all they have their faith.
In the end, Connie closed it with perhaps the shortest and yet most profound statement that could be made. With smile on her lips and a twinkle in her eye, she closed by saying, “We are just very blessed.”
If you feel your dreams are beyond your reach, the Center for Financial Resources counselors can help you with a plan to achieve those dreams. It may take time and effort. It may not always be fun or painless, but we can help you put a plan together. So the only questions are – what do you want and where do you want it? Let us help you plan the answer.
written by Breck Miller