by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Here’s a little quiz for a married couple.
Do you consider the money in your account:
a) Your money,
b) My money, or
c) Our money?
The correct answer: “Really, none of the above,” said Dan Coon, an accountant by profession and a member of St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village.
Over the past several years, he has helped coordinate sessions to provide insights to parishioners and others hoping to step out of debt.
“It’s God’s money,” continued Coon. “Everything you have comes from him.”
With a new calendar year opening soon, many people are making New Year’s resolutions, and getting out of debt tops many lists.
Managing money — for everyone in all stages of life — is really a matter of good stewardship, said Coon.
“We’re going to be held responsible for what we did with the gifts that God gave us during our lives when we go do this accounting at the end,” said Coon.
Picture God saying: “One of the gifts I gave you was your money. What did you do with it?”
Coon poses the question of whether someone spent their way into debt as opposed to giving to those in need.
“Part of being a successful steward of your money is not living in debt and having extra to give away to those in need,” he said.
He has worked in the past with a specifically Catholic program — “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” by Phil Lenahan through Veritas Financial Ministries — and, in recent years, has coordinated sessions of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program.
Ramsey is a nationally known financial author and speaker.
“It’s pretty rewarding. I’ll be walking out of church and see somebody who was in one of my classes,” said Coon. “They’re so excited. They want to tell me they just paid off their credit card.”
Or they saved and paid cash for a big purchase.
“That didn’t come with a burden,” said Coon of the cash purchase over credit.
When customers use credit and take a while to pay it off, companies make more money than they would on an outright purchase, he said.
Debt can snowball into an overwhelming burden for some people.
In fact, when you look at the statistics, a substantial number of couples whose marriages end in divorce cite financial stressors and arguments as the top reason, he said.
A big step toward starting to solve the debt problem, say the people who coordinate Financial Peace University sessions, is tracking where your money goes.
Ginger McCormick, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee and a Financial Peace University coordinator, knows what it feels like to break free from debt.
“I had gone through years of what 80 percent of America goes through — living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
Then she did some reassessing of her life.
“I wanted to be financially healthy,” she said.
She took part in the first session of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program offered at her parish.
“He just had a way of simplifying what I think we’ve all overcomplicated just down to the basics,” said McCormick. “And he put it in a very simple way and put it in steps — very easy steps. He called them ‘baby steps.’”
Before people start thinking about investing (which is addressed later in the program for those who are ready), it can be a matter of “Let’s get the bills paid, let’s make sure your children are eating,” said McCormick.
And it looks at whether people have the right insurance, whether they’re paying too much for certain things, and explores many ways to save money.
“He intertwines passages from the Bible on stewardship,” said McCormick.
She realized that the “peace” part of the program really rings true.
“You get used to all that stress and you don’t realize how much you’re carrying until it’s gone,” she said.
As people go through a course, watching Ramsey’s videos and using the accompanying materials, they learn to budget and to see where their money is going.
“It’s like taking care of your health,” said McCormick. “It’s like exercising. It’s like dieting. It’s a lifestyle thing. It takes exercise. It takes time.”
Tracking ‘God’s money’
Coon says that it doesn’t take a lot of time — or even a large expenditure — to wind up in debt.
“If you make $10,000 a year and you spend $10,001, you’re not living within your means,” he said.
The same thing applies even to people who make upwards of $1 million.
“If you spend more than you make, you’re upside-down,” he said. “The biggest problem is people don’t know where they spend.”
That is one of the hard parts, no matter what program you’re following, agrees McCormick.
The more “slushy” areas — gas, food, eating out, entertainment — all need to be tracked, too.
Ramsey encourages people to use cash for those things, she said.
Keeping close track can make a big difference. A simple start could be cutting out restaurant meals a few times a week.
“It’s amazing how much money people find that they can [use to] pay off debt and invest and donate,” said McCormick.
She’s proud to see the ideas rubbing off on her own children. One of her daughters, for example, uses cash and is committed to not accruing debt.
“And it’s God’s money,” said Coon, encouraging everyone to put thought into how they’re going to treat it.
“People might say, ‘I work for that. It’s not God’s money. I work for it,’” he said. “He gave you the brains and the physical ability to go to work.”