We’re Debt Free! Our Story and the Things We Learned

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This week is a truly momentous occasion in the life of my family, as in the one Dolly and I formed in June of 2016. After nineteen months of making huge payments and receiving one particularly incredible blessing, we are completely debt free! You can read Dolly’s perspective of all this on her blog.

For anyone who knows me personally, you know this is something close to my heart. I spent the first five years of my career doing web development for Dave Ramsey’s company. While there, I not only supported the business, I lived the debt-free lifestyle. Indeed, I was unbelievably blessed to finish college with no debt. The older I get, the more thankful I am for my diligent parents, academic scholarships, and God’s kindness toward me that allowed that to happen. I then saved up a down-payment over a few years, and with it I purchased my first home in January of 2015. Coincidentally, this is the exact time my now-wife Dolly entered the picture.

Over the course of our relationship that year, she slowly divulged to me that (like 71% of our generation) she had significant student loan debt. It wasn’t until we began moving toward marriage that she divulged the figure – $165,000. Altogether it was a mix of five loans (both federal and private), accrued through undergrad, grad school, and consolidations. Revealing this was a huge step in trust and intimacy for us. She saw the debt as a source of shame, especially in light of my financial position. At that same time, there was no denying it would be a huge challenge.

As a firm believer that two become one in marriage, I told Dolly that once we became husband and wife, this was our challenge to face together. It wasn’t “her problem,” it was ours. I don’t say that to garner any praise, but simply because I believe that is what the Bible teaches, and it is what my wonderful parents modeled for me. This meant having difficult budgeting discussions and decisions leading up to marriage, but we were ready to tackle it. Upon tying the knot, we began throwing huge chunks of money at the loans each month, primarily using the debt snowball method espoused by my former employer.

In these early stages, it was not uncommon to pay $2,400 toward the loans and see only $1,800 of progress. Yes, that means $600 (25%) was going toward interest every month. At this point, I really dug into the details and realized that this industry is far sleazier than I even thought possible – absolute scum. (I don’t typically curse, and I won’t here, but Dolly will tell you these guys were the only ones who could bring it out of me.) Here are some things we learned during this stage:

  • The first thing I noticed was that some of the payment plans Navient had advised Dolly to use weren’t even covering the interest accrued each month. Let that sink in; the loan company had encouraged her to make payments that would drive her deeper into debt for the rest of her life! When I pointed this out to her, she said that of course they had never mentioned that to her, and they said they were trying to help her out by offering this option.
  • Our first step was to change these payment plans, of course, but the accounts were locked into an auto-pay system that required a phone call to alter. Even though it was possible to access all account information and make one-off payments through the web, they really didn’t want you messing with the payment plans they set up for you.
  • Upon calling to change the auto-pay, Dolly was advised that payments must be set up to occur at the end of the month. We wanted to change it to early in the month to help with budgeting, but that was not an option. As I racked my brain as to why they would be so strict about something seemingly arbitrary as the payment date, it hit me…
  • Almost all loan servicing companies compound interest daily. (I’m convinced this is only because they don’t have the ability to compound it secondly.) Hence, you are not allowed to have an automatic payment occur until the absolute maximum amount of interest for the month has been squeezed out of you. Classy.
  • In another instance, when Dolly called to change her name, she mentioned in passing that it was because she was now married. Keep in mind, despite our united front against these con artists, all accounts were left solely in her name. When the worker on the call discovered she was married, he stated that they would now raise her interest rate from 5.25% to 9%. As far as we could see, there was no stipulation in the loan agreement for this, but the banks get to set the rules (and rates). That loan became our primary target to wipe out as quickly as possible. We paid most of it off with a lower-rate HELOC and finished the rest in a couple of months, sticking it to them in a minuscule fashion by denying them a few thousand in interest.
  • Although the employees in these call centers were generally pleasant, they work for truly terrible people who make them do truly terrible things as a matter of company policy. When I deride the companies, it is the higher-ups for whom I reserve the most wrath. I take no issue with anyone becoming wealthy off of a legitimate business. The executives constantly rewriting the rules to squeeze every penny from the indebted look more like payday lenders than legitimate businessmen.

These were just a few of the highlights from our first year of doing battle. Coming up on our anniversary in June of 2017, we had made decent progress down to $147,000 owed. Still, the end was nowhere in sight. Even in an ideal scenario, we were looking at another four years, and more likely five, even as we threw almost all of our “margin” each month toward the debts. On top of that, each time the Fed adjusted rates, the rates on the loans ticked up, adding months to our projected finish date.

One tired evening in July, I was mowing the lawn by streetlight. I had picked up an extra work project to put money toward the debt, and this was the first chance I had to mow in weeks. As I slogged through the humid night, I reflected how home ownership wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A thought, possibly divinely inspired, entered my mind: why don’t we sell the house? I wondered what it could be worth two years after purchase in Nashville’s booming housing market.

The next morning, I did pricing research and ran the numbers five different ways. If we sold the house for what these estimates said, we could be completely debt free in less than a year.

That evening I presented the plan to Dolly on a piece of printer paper, revealing each step of the plan line-by-line with a JoAnn Fabric flyer. “Imagine… We sell the house and walk away with this much profit… We immediately pay off this loan, this loan, and that loan… We can rent a place for this much each month and still have this much to pay toward debts… And we will have no debts in ten months.” She looked at me, nodded, and said, “I’m in. I’m in.” (I now wish I would have made an actual PowerPoint presentation, but I will treasure that piece of paper for the rest of my life.) In October, we closed on the sale, netting even more than we projected and leaving less than $20,000 left to pay.

Now here we are in January of 2018, owing not a dime to those snakes. Although we are starting over at zero, as it were, our family is free. We have options we never had before with our resources, our time, and even our calling, and for that we cannot thank God enough.

Our main takeaway and warning is clear: do not mess with these shysters. If you are beholden to them, get them out of your life as quickly as possible. Each month they get a chunk of your income is a month you are not free to steward as you see fit. When it comes to education, truly and deeply consider whether college is worth the price. Learning in any form is valuable, but I now believe there are vastly more cost-effective methods than the university system, especially in our technical age.

Never stop learning, but by all means, always live freely. You never know what paths may open up when you owe nothing to anyone.

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2017 – The Year In Review

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As I look back at this year, a few big things stand out from the goodness of daily life. My family (both my own household and beyond) has been amazingly blessed in many ways, and we don’t take that for granted. There were invigorating travels, a new nephew, job changes, and a huge blessing in the form of a home sale.

This was also our first full year of marriage, and by my measure it continued the happiness and richness of the journey we began last summer. Even as we settled into our life together, we began to look more seriously at our future plans. A big part of that will be paying off our student loans, which will free us (and our income) to pursue more of the things we hope to do. With the many joys and few challenges this year brought, I am very thankful for the gift of marriage in my life, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds in the coming years.

But that’s enough with the generalities. Here are my highlights of 2017:

  • January and into February I trained for the Hot Chocolate 15k with Dolly. While I did finish, I am older and slower than ever.
  • In February, we participated in Fast Forward with our church, Ethos. It was thirty challenging days of fasting (in various forms) which truly stretched us and reminded us of how frail and dependent we are.
  • Early in the year, Dolly was hired for a different position at Lipscomb, that of DSO (designated school official). This means working with all of the international students to ensure their paperwork is in order, and handling situations where it isn’t. She transitioned from her admissions job throughout the spring, so we had to buy a car to replace her work-provided one. Thankfully, we found a red Nissan Versa for her to match my silver one, and hopefully that was the shadiest Craigslist transaction I will ever be a part of.
  • I turned 31 in April. Not much more to say about that. Yay prime numbers.
  • At the end of May, I got to join Dolly in Los Angeles for a work conference. We stayed in Pasadena and saw lots of sights in southern CA, even though our AirBnB was 83 degrees at night.
  • June was a big travel month. We joined my family for vacation in the Smoky Mountains early in the first half, then Dolly’s parents in Savannah, GA later on.
  • In July, my sister Abby had her fourth baby, Akaius James Irvine. For those keeping score, I now have seven nieces and nephews, which is awesome.
  • That same month, I picked up a side project at work to make some extra money to put toward our debts. In the midst of those long days, I ran some numbers to see if there was any way we could speed up the arduous process of paying off the loans. In a moment of inspiration, I realized that if we sold our house, we could be out of debt in less than a year instead of the four or five years it would take otherwise. I pitched the idea to Dolly in a presentation entitled “Imagine…”, written on a sheet of printer paper. Long story short, we sold our house, we ended up renting my sister’s place (as they coincidentally moved away for a job), and we should be completely debt free by February. I will write a detailed post about that process once it’s all over.
  • August and September were a whirlwind of inspections, home repairs, and moving due to the home sale mentioned above, but a whirlwind with a great ending.
  • Along with everyone else in Nashville, we saw the total solar eclipse on August 21st. It was an other-worldly experience for sure.
  • In the fall, we resumed leading our house church through Ethos. This time, in addition to pursuing community, we are partnering with Siloam Health for the launch of an initiative called Nashville Neighbors. The program pairs church small groups with newly-arrived refugee families for six months of teaching a health-based curriculum and hopefully forming friendships along the way. We have learned a ton, and we truly love the family we have been paired with. I’d be happy to talk about it privately if anyone is interested to learn more.
  • In October, we “observed” our one year wedding anniversary with a trip to Asheville, NC. We enjoyed everything about the delightful fall travels with the exception of staying in a tiny house – fun, but not recommended for a romantic getaway.
  • In November, I got to visit The Horseshoe for my first Buckeyes football game, a gift Dolly gave me for my birthday. Although it was a rainy blowout win against Illinois, it was still a fun experience with my dad.
  • Also in November, we made the long drive to St. Petersburg, FL to enjoy Thanksgiving with Dolly’s parents. It was nice to visit and see the new house they had moved into earlier in the year.
  • Throughout the year, I read the following excellent books:
  • And encountered the following noteworthy albums:
  • Lastly, I continued growing in my career and craft at Kindful

We are excited to see what 2018 brings as we enter yet another chapter in our marriage, that of being debt free, and the possibilities that will open up for us. May God guide our decisions and hearts in the year to come.

Thoughts on “Deep Work” by Cal Newport

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With the wonderful whirlwind my life has been the past couple of years, I haven’t found quite as much time for reading as I used to. Now that things have settled, I look forward to getting into more books this year. The first on my list is Deep Work by Cal Newport, an associate professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University.

As someone whose work can often involve designing solutions to problems, I find the notion of “flow” and “deep work” intriguing. However, I am also someone who works on a team inside of a fast-paced business where serving customers’ needs is paramount to continuing our growth. These two forces can often be at odds, as Newport frequently reminds the reader.

He begins by pointing out the distracted nature of our society, and the workplace in general, which I think is obvious to most. The modern office isn’t structured for long periods of focused concentration, and especially the “open office” floor plan which is popular among tech companies. (The author displays a not-so-subtle disdain for open floor plans throughout the book.) He doesn’t spend too much time raising awareness of the problem, however. He quickly jumps to making his point by defining deep work: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

So far, so good. We all want to push ourselves and create valuable things. Soon after this, the author takes some quick turns which nearly lose me as a reader.

First he gives examples of those who have gone to extreme lengths to make space for deep work. Psychologist Karl Jung would retreat to a custom-built cabin in the woods for days at a time. Nietzsche would take extended walks each afternoon while mulling over his philosophy. Academics of today place a “do not disturb” sign on their door to keep away any distractions. Suddenly, achieving deep work does not seem realistic for my situation, and indeed for the vast majority of people.

The second statement I disagree with is that “shallow work” has no value. While I understand the heart of the statement, I think it is short-sighted. I cannot say that no value is produced when I give a quick answer to our support team to help placate a frustrated customer. Nor is it value-less to stop what I’m doing and assist a coworker in clearing a technical hurdle. All such actions provide value to the business I support, if not the economy as a whole. While I concede that a lot of time is misspent on simple tasks in offices everywhere, I won’t go so far as to paint all human interaction at work a waste of my time.

There is a turning point, however, when Newport begins to soften his stance, albeit slightly. He writes, “You need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life.” After this, he goes on to describe several different methods which someone may more realistically employ to achieve deep work in today’s environment. While the first few are still impractical for most (setting aside days at a time), he finally comes to what he reveals is the method that he regularly uses himself. “The journalist philosophy” involves fitting deep work into one’s schedule wherever possible as opposed to scheduling everything else around it. Indeed, it is how the author produced this very book while also churning out academic research papers.

From this point, the book makes much more sense to me. When I know that it’s realistic and beneficial to put on headphones for an hour, ignore my email, and focus on a problem, it suddenly becomes attainable, unlike making myself unreachable for one day each week. He goes on to detail specific methods which many have found helpful, and even cites the psychological research and reasoning behind them. From my perspective, these are the most useful pieces of the whole book. Even so, his view social media is particularly harsh here, and I think a more tempered view could be helpful. If it’s something you enjoy, I say “all things in moderation,” and have the self-control to set it aside, particularly when facing an intellectually challenging task.

Overall, I did enjoy Newport’s perspective and style, even if it seems extreme at places. I’m not sure why he chose to structure the book as he did – making such a hard stance for the value of deep work upfront, then backing into a more practical approach. (He is a computer science guy like me, so I suppose I can see the allure of starting with the theoretical and working down to the concrete.) He seldom presents a fact without citing a source, and the most practical and insightful pieces are all well-researched, which I thoroughly appreciate.

Ultimately, I think his position as an academic may have colored his perspective in regard to the subject. I understand that new ground won’t be broken in theoretical physics if the scientists are responding to tweets every five minutes, but few knowledge workers are in such a position. For the vast majority of people, setting their phones aside for a couple of hours will be a great benefit to their productivity at work, and that’s not a surprise to anyone. It’s actually doing it that’s the trick, and this book provides some helpful tools.

Deep Work is available on Amazon.com in both physical and Kindle editions, but don’t bother searching for it on social media.

2016 – The Year in Review

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I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about how 2016 was a terrible year. While I disagree with that assessment in general, it is particularly false in my own life. In some ways, this past year has been the one I have been waiting for the greater part of a decade.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably no secret to you that I married an incredible woman back in June. It truly served as a watershed moment for the year, positioned almost squarely in the center. Most everything before that point lay in preparation of the day, and everything since has flowed from it as we have enjoyed and grown in our new life together.

While that momentous occasion certainly defined the year, there was more detail and nuance to celebrate and reflect on. Without further adieu, the year in review.

  • January through April were saturated with wedding planning as Dolly and I nailed down all of the details for our once-in-a-lifetime celebration. This included a couple of photo shoots, preparatory counseling, and more.
  • In April, I turned thirty. While I wasn’t thrilled, surpassing that milestone was easier knowing that I would be transitioning out of bachelorhood a couple of months later.
  • Sometime in May I had the pleasure (or misfortune) of replacing the drywall in the half bathroom, damage due to a previous leak. I spent countless hours in that tiny space and learned some new skills, although the craftsmanship is mediocre at best.
  • In late may, we traveled to Florida where Dolly’s parents’ church threw us a wonderful wedding shower. The kindness of the body of Christ continues to humble me.
  • June, of course, was dominated by the wedding. There isn’t enough space to detail everything, but suffice it to say we really were blessed with the perfect day.
  • Our honeymoon to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia was nothing short of fantastic. The cooler climate was a welcome respite as we rested and explored a place neither of us had been before.
  • The rest of the summer seemed a bit of a blur as Dolly and I adjusted to our new life together, although we did go see Jim Gaffigan in August
  • In the fall, we began leading a house church through Ethos. Though I’m far from a charismatic leader, God has used the space to knit a group together.
  • In October, we took the opportunity to visit Ohio for Dolly’s fall break. In addition to visiting my grandparents, we had a stopover to explore Cincinnati, which was delightful.
  • November was defined by a two-week trip to India, my first ever. I accompanied Dolly on business for the first half, and we had a wedding ceremony with her Indian family for the second half. While I certainly felt out of my element at times, it was a great adventure that I will never forget.
  • With all of the activity and changes, my reading throughput suffered. I did read the following good books, however:
  • Similarly, my absorption of new music tailed off, especially with the dormancy of Indie Vision Music:
  • All along, I’ve continued in my role as a web engineer at Kindful where I hope to step into new opportunities in 2017.

Overall, it has been a year of transition in the very best way possible. God has gifted me with a sweet and caring wife, and I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for us.

 

 

2015 – The Year in Review

 

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By this point, I’m under no illusion that I actually maintain a blog, but this is still the best place to post this kind of thing. It’s time for my ritual “year in review” post, and it’s one for the ages.

At the end of last year, I had my eye on a beautiful woman I had been acquainted with for years. Dolly and I began dating in January, and it has gone really well so far. More on that later.

In other news, on January 20th, 2015 I became a homeowner for the first time! I also signed on the largest debt in my life, but I won’t let that little detail dampen the spirit. The quaint brick ranch in the Glencliff area of Nashville is exactly what I had been seeking for a couple of years. It’s close to work, the hardwood floors are in good shape, and I have awesome neighbors. It truly is a blessing from God, even with the added responsibilities homeownership brings.

At this point in the post I typically do a bullet-point list of highlights, so here we go! All of the other noteworthy things from 2015:

  • I started my second year of work as a web developer at Kindful. Each week pushes me to further my skills and knowledge as we serve nonprofits around the world.
  • For Lent, I once again did “40 Days of Water.” Drinking H2O as my only beverage was a good challenge of discipline, even if the spiritual aspect wasn’t as fruitful.
  • In April I had the chance to take a quick trip to West Palm Beach with my mom to see my nephew compete in gymnastics. It was a fun mother/son adventure.
  • I also I completed my third half marathon that month. I was older and slower than my previous effort five years prior, but at least I finished.
  • As our relationship deepened, Dolly and I went to visit her parents in St. Petersburg in June. It was a whirlwind trip, and I enjoyed getting to learn much more about her.
  • Sometime in the summer I finally put together a prototype for an idea I had for years. LunchCasa (beta) is a barebones tool that will tell you where to eat lunch based on your location. Now accepting investors, designers, or anyone else who could make it passable.
  • I enjoyed a great family vacation to Gatlinburg and Dollywood in late July. I hadn’t been to the classic theme park since I was a child, and it was a delightful getaway with the entire family.
  • On a plain September night, as I was driving home from dropping off Dolly, a white car sped out in front of me on Nolensville Road. Having no time to react, I crashed into them at 40 MPH. The upstanding citizens in the other vehicle fled the scene on foot, and my trusty VW Jetta was totaled. It was later replaced with a silver Nissan Versa.
  • In October, I had the joy of traveling to New York City for the first time with Dolly. It was a highlight of my year getting to explore and take in the city with the woman I love.
  • For Halloween I dressed up like Baymax from Big Hero 6, and Dolly was Hiro Hamada, the Japanese boy star of the film. It was a hit.
  • Throughout the fall I saw several memorable concerts: Norma Jean, Copeland, and Emery to name a few. I am now that old guy who only likes bands from the previous decade.
  • For the first time, I didn’t go to Ohio for Thanksgiving. Instead I joined Dolly with her family in Florida where I felt very welcome.
  • Throughout the year I read the following excellent books:
  • And I encountered these noteworthy albums:
  • Lastly, on December 19th, 2015 I asked Dolly Stang to be my wife, and she said yes! I truly can’t say how blessed I am to have a life with her, and on June 18th, 2016 we will become one.

So it truly has been a big and life-changing year in my world. So much has happened, but next year will be even better. I am so thankful for the life God has given me. Here’s to 2016.

2014 – The Year In Review

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As I was driving back to Nashville a couple of days ago, I was thinking about what I would write in this ritual blog post. Honestly, I couldn’t come up with much. On the surface, 2014 wasn’t as exciting as some recent years. I didn’t leave the United States, and I barely left the state of Tennessee. Still, it was a year of great change for me professionally, and a reflective look tells me that my life is headed in the right direction, even if I’m not always conscious of it. So, here’s what happened in the past year.

  • Early in the year, I made the hard decision to leave my longtime job working for Dave Ramsey and join a startup called Kindful. Since I began in March, it has been a wonderful nine months of challenges and growth doing web development for a smaller company that serves the nonprofit sector.
  • In March, I got my fourth tattoo, a moth on my inner bicep. It’s my first piece that isn’t text-based, and if you want the meaning, I guess you’ll just have to ask.
  • Early in the summer I connected with a great new group of friends through Ethos. Though the group drifted as time wore on, some of the friendships I formed there have continued to be some of my deepest.
  • From June into July, I came the closest I’ve ever come to buying a house. Unfortunately, needed repairs pushed it out of my price range, and the search continued.
  • Around the 4th of July, I did my most extensive traveling of the year. I completed a road trip to West Virginia and back though Ohio to Nashville. It was good to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in years, as well as have some quality time with my grandparents and parents.
  • I bought a bike for the first time in August. I hadn’t owned one since I was a child, and it has proven to be a good way to mix exercise and exploration. I look forward to using it more.
  • On a similar note, I sold my electric guitar. Music has become less and less a part of my life over the past five years.
  • Throughout the fall I went on some dates. I learned some things.
  • In October, I welcomed a new niece for the first time in four years. Marielle Patrice Irvine is the sweetest little thing, and she kind of looks like I did as an infant.
  • Along the way I encountered the following excellent music:
    • Lastsleep and The Night God Slept by Silent Planet
    • The Urgency by Saving Grace
    • Everything by Ólafur Arnalds
    • Heroes and Ghosts and the self-titled LP by This Patch of Sky (my favorite band discovery of the year)
    • Lowborn, the farewell album from Anberlin
    • Ixora by Copeland (probably my album of the year)
    • Becoming Who We Are by Kings Kaleidoscope
  • And I read the following interesting books:
    • Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright
    • Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield
    • The End of Money by David Wolman
    • To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm
    • You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan
  • In more recent news, I am in the process of buying a house I found in December. It’s far from a done deal, but it may just work out. Coincidentally, it is literally across the street from the house mentioned above. Maybe God wants me in that neighborhood for some reason (Acts 17:26).
  • Most of all, as I retrospectively look at 2014, I realize that the friendships I have in my life now are the deepest and most encouraging I’ve ever had. Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this year that, on the surface, may not have been too flashy or exciting.

All in all, even if 2014 didn’t seem to have as much adventure as years in the recent past, it was full of growth and change. Life is progressing, and the year to come looks incredibly bright. Most importantly, may Christ expand his kingdom through me in 2015, regardless of whether my life goes the way I want it to.

My Cashless Month

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Back in July, I read The End of Money, a book about phasing out physical currency in the developed world. The author gives numerous reasons that he believes it’s in everyone’s best interest to go ahead and shift to using cash as little as possible. As one who tries to implement truth and practicality whenever I encounter it, I was intrigued. For me, there could hardly be a larger shift in the handling of my day-to-day finances; I’ve been using a cash-based envelope system for my entire adult life. Could I make the jump to transacting and tracking all of my expenditures electronically? Would it be that much more convenient and helpful? I decided to try it for a couple of months.

Being somewhat tech-savvy, I first sought out the right tool for the job, ultimately landing on Mint.com due to its good reviews and easy-to-use mobile app. Within a few days, I had connected all of my accounts with their read-only system, even my HSA which I never check due to the credit union’s subpar online banking. I have to admit that it was quite nice to see a full financial picture in one place for the first time. Prior to integrating with Mint, I had to log into four or five different sites to check balances, and if I actually cared to sum any of the figures, that was up to me. With Mint’s mobile app, I could easily see daily fluctuations in retirement accounts (for better or worse), and their basic analytics even showed that my portfolio has drastically underperformed the major indexes this year, a fact that I would never spend the time to unearth myself. So far so good. This cashless thing may work out.

When it came time to port my budget over to Mint, however, is when I felt the first friction. Perhaps rightfully so, everything in Mint revolves around “the month.” Budgets are created for the upcoming month with expected income declared and expenses divvied into numerous categories. This may work fine for someone who gets paid bi-monthly, but I currently receive my paycheck every two weeks, meaning my income will seldom, if ever, fall at the beginning and end of the month. Because their system of tracking expenses focuses on staying “in the green,” I would start off in the red immediately. You don’t get paid until the 6th this month, but you spent $10 at Chipotle on the 2nd? You, sir, are in the red, regardless of the balance in your checking account. To say this is annoying is putting it lightly. Though it would be a foundational shift to their system, allowing users to set budgets for specified date ranges would make a world of difference. In my case, it would make the tool actually useful.

The other hurdle I encountered in using Mint was the delay in posting transactions. When spending cash, it is literally instant; you can see the bills dwindling in your wallet each time you visit the grocery store or a coffee shop. With today’s financial network (which stems from the 1970’s), it often takes three or four days for “credit” transactions to clear. This is a big problem for someone trying to make the most of their income. Unless one wants to keep a tally of expenses in his head (which defeats the purpose), there’s a tendency to be overly-cautious or overly-carless. Frankly, I took the latter approach. Once the mess of delayed transactions in Mint seemed too difficult to reconcile and untangle, I kept telling myself I would figure it out later. That time never came, and I still haven’t fully pored through bank statements to assess the damage done. Suffice it to say, I know that I overspent considerably on restaurants and other social fun.

A final consideration, one which Wolman mentioned in his book, is that spontaneous generosity is seldom possible. Were I to come across someone selling a street paper or in need of a couple dollars, I was effectively powerless to help. It became all too easy to give the calloused response, “I don’t have any cash. Sorry.” While I try to be judicious in giving money to strangers, I found my heart becoming hard due to not even having to wrestle with the thought. In a sense, carrying no cash distanced me even further from those in need, shutting down the conversation before it could even begin. “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15-16). Coupled with the reckless spending I fell into, I did not like who I was becoming. Swiping my card all over the place and budgeting via mobile app, I became too hip, self-indulged, and uncaring.

So where does this leave me? As of my last payday, I made the ritual trek to an ATM and withdrew the cash I would need for the next two weeks. Ultimately, my attempts to go cashless left me feeling out of control, both in the sense that it was too easy to spend carelessly, and in the sense that I invested much more time managing money day-to-day, my finances effectively controlling me. I have returned to my trusty Google Docs spreadsheet whereby I spend five minutes each payday allotting funds, withdraw the necessary cash, and have few worries as I open my wallet for the next couple of weeks. Simple? Sure. But it works, and ultimately, going cashless did not work for me.

Until financial systems are advanced enough to eliminate transactional lag, until there is a well-integrated budgeting tool which is flexible enough to fit any situation, and until those in desperate circumstances are able to deal in money electronically, I will likely be carrying cash. The truth is that I have always done a hybrid system, paying many bills online and being paid via direct deposit, and I imagine that most people do. At this stage in the game, it doesn’t make sense to be an extremist and eliminate cash, even if that’s where society ultimately ends up.