Five months after Rachel Cruze was born, her parents, Dave and Sharon Ramsey, filed for bankruptcy.
It goes without saying our parents determine the environments we grow up in. Their decisions are the place-setters of our childhood, and their examples, at the very least, inform the values and knowledge with which we enter adulthood. Bankruptcy is a harrowing decision, but more detrimental is the stranglehold it’s designed to help us escape: debt. The choices that Cruze’s parents would make from that moment on would ultimately predicate the way she looked at money and foreshadow what she dedicates her life to.
You have probably heard of Dave Ramsey. He recovered financially, went on to be a popular radio show host and author and advising people on their money, and built Ramsey Solutions, a platform of financial advice. His three children lived through it all: The Ramseys vowed to never be in debt again. “Vacation” wasn’t in their vocabulary. Shopping consisted of consignment sales. “My parents made so many sacrifices,” Cruze says.
She was raised through an adolescence of financial savvy, and saw it resonate with people as she sometimes traveled with her father as he spoke in front of large crowds. Once, when she was 15, her father was trying to articulate to an audience how to teach their children about money, and who better to share her experiences than his own daughter? “The first time I spoke in front of an audience it was in front of about 8,000 people,” Cruze says. “Public speaking is not everyone’s favorite thing, so the fact that I actually enjoyed it was a huge lightbulb moment for me.”
When she went off to college, she saw how often her friends and classmates would casually commit to decisions that would result in debt, the thing that had become so taboo in her house growing up. “They had no clue the mistakes they were making today were going to affect them for possibly decades to come,” Cruze says.
Eventually, she realized she could be the bridge between the values and lessons that her father preached and the obstacles facing her generation. She co-wrote a book with her father called Smart Money, Smart Kids. And where her dad reached his audience on the radio, she reaches them through YouTube videos and her podcast, The Rachel Cruze Show.
Her advice is more than just passed-down knowledge, though. She’s very aware of the obstacles that people today face while trying to save money. Think about shopping now versus in 1995: If you want to own something, you can, in all likelihood, purchase it in far less time than you’ve spent reading this article. And businesses aren’t passive, either. They invade the phone in your hand and manage to reach you in your downtime. “It’s just crazy how quickly you can buy things, even via Instagram and Facebook,” Cruze says. “I’m seeing people get deeper and deeper into debt.”
Cruze says that people fall into the trap of seeing financial troubles as hopeless, and she wants to reinsert hope back into their lives. Saving money is a habit-forming endeavor. “Personal finance is 80 percent behavior,” she says. “It’s only 20 percent knowledge.” Setting boundaries is important. There’s trauma and guilt to large financial mistakes, and just setting a weekly budget can trigger negative thoughts about money.
Debt has become alarmingly normalized in our society. Escaping it means financial freedom, which sadly, many people in this country have never actually experienced. Cruze likens this to changing your family tree for generations.
Talking about money can be taboo. People don’t like to come across as being defined by money, which would be fine if money didn’t have the ability to limit our lifestyles and hamstring our futures. Money may not define us, but it’s worth noticing how people can get a glimpse of how we define ourselves through our money habits. “What you value, what you fear, what you dream, all are reflected by how you handle money,” Cruze says. “When you do a budget you get to say, ‘I am doing my life with intentionality.’ ”
Cruze just had her third child last year. Her kids won’t have to live through the desperate sacrifices that Cruze and her two siblings experienced. But as a busy career and a growing family fill up her now unpredictable schedule, she knows that the one thing she can keep under her control is her financial decisions. She wants to helps others take the same control.
Don’t Forget to Celebrate
Personal finance expert Rachel Cruze advises people on a budget to set small rewards and make plans for fun once a week. The anticipation and planning can be part of the joy.
Wealth doesn’t happen overnight, so let yourself be happy in the present. Don’t focus on what saving is keeping you from doing. Instead, proactively plan to have a good time.
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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Illustrations by Hanane Kai