Top 10 Things I learned from FPU Flex

stack of books with apple on desk

If you followed my review of the 9-week Financial Peace Flex course, you’ll know that I originally signed up for it through my church but ended up flaking out.

The good news was that I have access to it for up to a year, so I decided to go through it on my own.

The course is completely online, with videos and downloadable worksheets.  The only thing I really missed out on was meeting with a group for discussion.

I really enjoyed going through the course.  It was the first time I’ve been through Financial Peace University and I learned more than I was expecting.

Aside from the great instruction, I was so inspired to do everything I can to get out of debt so we can put more in our retirement account.  The motivating aspect alone was worth the time it took to go through it.

Now that I’ve completed the 9 weeks, I thought I’d wrap up the series with the top 10 lessons I learned from the course.  As I went back through my posts and picked these out, I realized they were more about mindset than management.

Probably because getting out of debt really starts with how we think about money, and not how we manage it.

#1 Give budgeting a chance

Like most people, it’s my nature to give up on most new things I try if it doesn’t come naturally right away.

Maybe for some stuff you try, this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of your world (think: stand-up comedy or unicycling).

But when it comes to budgeting, it’s crucial that you give it a fighting chance.

Considering that many couples are together because of the whole “opposites attract” theory, you can bet there will be some opposing behavior when it comes to managing money.

Most likely, there will be a saver and a spender making up a partnership.  This can create tension, frustration, and conflict when you sit down to look at your budget.

Here’s a heads up:  this is normal.

Just because you both don’t naturally see eye to eye on how to divvy out the moolah, that doesn’t mean budgeting together isn’t meant to be.

Go into it knowing that it will take a while, possibly a few months, for you to find your budgeting rhythm with each other.

And once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.

As well as what you missed out on by giving up on your stand-up comedy routines so soon.

#2 You don’t need to be good at math

Some people equate personal finance, investing, budgeting and getting out of debt with being highly competent with numbers.

And for those who think back on their Algebra I class and start to twitch, this can be a deterrent to learning better money management.

Well, I have great news for you:

Getting out of debt is not a mathematical problem.  It’s a behavior problem.

Unfortunately, this means you don’t get a free pass because you failed the multiplication unit in middle school.

What it does mean is that you are just as capable as the next human being of changing your relationship with money.

When you change your thoughts, when you find the motivation, then your actions will change.

It all starts with your mindset.

So don’t focus on just the numbers.  Dig a little deeper and figure out what got you in your debt hole in the first place.  What was behind all the charging and overspending?

And what is your motivation to change your situation?

Figure out those two things and you’ll be a lot farther along in crushing your debt than you may think.

#3 Be grateful, save money

This was some really good insight from Rachel Cruz, Dave’s daughter.

Basically, in order to save money, you must be content.

And in order to be content, you must be grateful for what you have.

Without gratefulness and contentment, you will really struggle with increasing your savings.

Instead, you’ll be focused on what everyone else around you has in their driveways, in their closets, and in their living rooms.  And then your own blessings seem like the crumbs at the bottom of your Cheerios box.

This leads to feelings of being “behind”, so then you start thinking you need to play catch up.  This can look like taking on monthly payments for a new boat you can’t afford.

Mark Twain once said, “Comparison is the death of joy.”  This is because it can be so damn depressing when you buy into the lie that you just don’t measure up to the Rockefellers next door.

Take a step back and think of everything you *really* need, and then compare that with everything you have.

You have much to be thankful for, my friend.

#4 You need a plan to live a dream

You can dream all you want – but without a plan, it ain’t happenin’.

Chris Hogan says to have a “dream meeting” with your spouse or partner.  My husband and I have never talked about our dream future.  I think if we did our dreams would look very different from each other!

But that’s okay.  The older I get the more I’ve settled into our differences.

He would probably enjoy doing a lot of camping.  I would want to travel to Europe.

He would want a small house on 100 acres.

I’d want a big house that we could fill with our kids’ future families.

It doesn’t matter what or whose dream it is, it’s not coming true unless you make a plan.

And, since we’re doing life together, we need to find a place to meet in the middle and go from there.

You first need to start dreaming together, so you at least have a common direction.

In fact, dream about retirement like it’s going to be the most magical time of your entire lives.

And then break it down into a plan that will get you there.

Don’t leave it to chance or the universe or hoping it just all works out.  Dreams don’t come true that way.

Figure out what needs to get done and when, and then start working towards those dreams together.

#5. Spending wisely takes awareness & intention

This was more of a reminder for me than a new lesson.  But sometimes you have to hear something again to really learn it.

A little self-awareness goes a long way in keeping your money in your pocket.  When you realize that your emotions are in the driver’s seat, it’s time to step on the brakes.

Modern day marketing is so clever that we can actually get confused between our wants and our needs.  That’s why it’s super duper important to be aware of how ads and commercials and catalogs can trigger your happy switch and cause you to go out and spend money you should be using on other, more important things – like, say, your debt.

Once you tap into that awareness, and once you acknowledge that the 50% off ad doesn’t magically turn your want into a need, you’ll be able to make more decisions with your head and not just your heart.

And when you do decide that a new refrigerator would be a wise purchase for your family, be intentional about how you actually carry that out.  Shop around, sleep on it, and fully come to terms with the opportunity cost of spending 800 smackers on a major appliance.

And always be in agreement with your spouse.

(That one might hurt, I know, but it’s important.)

#6. Don’t underestimate insurance

Insurance is one of those things we pay a lot of money for but not too sure what we’re getting in return.

We tend to growl when we have to pay premiums, but breathe a sigh of relief when the unexpected happens and we realize we’re covered.

Going through this course helped me appreciate the protection and security that insurance can provide.

It also opened my eyes to how important a good policy is to keep from losing everything.

From your home to your health to your wealth, insurance is absolutely necessary to reduce the risks that life inevitably brings.

Many people will forego certain types of insurance to save money, and occasionally this is wise.  But, for the most part, your best bet is to make sure you have enough coverage to protect you against misfortunes you can’t handle on your own.

Having financial freedom requires two things:  building wealth, and protecting wealth.  One is just as important as the other.

Don’t put off getting the insurance you need to make sure you’re protected.

#7 Investing does not need to be complicated

I am a finance major, and I’m still confused by financial investing.

Thankfully, Dave lays it out simply so it’s easy to understand.

What I learned through this course is that I don’t need to be intimidated by investment terminology, options, and strategies.  It doesn’t need to be complicated.

Dave gives solid advice about what to invest in and how much, but even if you decide to try your own approach, the key is to keep it simple, slow and steady.

This means to create an investment plan that is easy to understand and manage.  Then, don’t mess with it.

Your portfolio balance will fluctuate, but over time, history has shown that you will experience positive returns.  Then all you need to do is let compound interest do the heavy lifting.

#8 You can minimize debt and buy a home

My husband and I have purchased 3 homes in our marriage.

We’ve always chosen 30-year, adjustable-rate mortgages and had a payment that equaled at least 30% of our monthly income.

In other words, we did it totally wrong.

But, we just did what most do.  Our #1 objective was getting the biggest house with the lowest payment.  Isn’t that what everyone wants?

In my mind, I believed that because our home was where we spent the majority of our time, where we’d raise our kids and build forever memories, that the personal and emotional benefits outweighed whatever long-term cost we would accept.

Basically, I stuck my head in the sand and ignored how our home loan was affecting our financial future.

Now that I’m older, I wish we’d done it differently.  I wish we knew about Dave’s advice to only accept a 15-year fixed mortgage so the payment was less than 25% of our monthly income.

This is the way to minimize debt and buy a home.

But now that I know better, I’ll do better.  Whenever we downsize our current house, I’ll make our financial goals more important than the size of our next home.

#9 Financial success does not always mean financial peace

When I think of financial freedom (a phrase I really like to use), I imagine a debt-free lifestyle with the income that allows me to pursue the passions I have in life.  This includes traveling, learning, and giving.

I guess I could equate it to the highest level of financial success that I could attain.

What I’ve never really thought about is how financial peace fits into the picture.

I think we all want peace, but I don’t hear or read much about it being a goal for most people.  I’m guessing we probably assume that if we have lots of money and no debt, then peace will inevitably happen.  No worries = lotsa peace, right?

But actually, it’s more than that. Because once you reach a certain level of financial success, then the worry is you might lose it.  So you hold onto it tightly.  You work more, save more, invest more.

So you’re successful, but you’re not peaceful.

And when you don’t experience peace along with financial success, then you’ve missed the whole point.

In order to have peace, we need to be givers.  We must release our tight grip and let our hands be open, so we can both receive and give of the money and resources we’re blessed with.

This is how you experience true financial peace.

Don’t forget there’s more to financial success than a fat savings account.  If we build our dream life but then keep it all to ourselves, we’ll never experience the peace that comes with giving.

#10 It’s never too late

My husband and I have been married for over 23 years, and we’ve never been on a budget (until recently, that is).  We’d never talked about our finances together, or planned our financial future, or talked about our financial dreams.

We both turned 50 this year.

If you relate to what I’m saying, hear me now:  it’s never too late.

Too late for what, you may ask?

Too late to get out of debt.

Too late to build a decent retirement.

Too late to change your mindset, make a U-turn, flip the switch.

Too late to go for your dreams.

You may feel like you just waited too long, and now you’re screwed.

Let me give you some perspective that helped me when I received it:

How you manage your money today will affect how you’ll spend your money when you retire.  You can manage it wisely, or you can blow it off.  Retirement doesn’t care, because it’s coming either way.

In other words, I can either be 65 with no savings, or 65 with some savings.  Unless I get a call from God to come home, I’m turning 65 regardless.  May as well do what I can with the time I have left to make it the best 65 possible, right?

If you’ve blown it off your whole life and now you’ve got 10 years until retirement, then no, you probably won’t be living like the Beverly Hillbillies.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your prospects by starting today.

This isn’t a contest.  Comparing yourself to where others are at won’t help you get any farther than you already are.

Wherever you’re at in life, start there.  Just start.

Because if you never start, then there’s a 100% chance you won’t reach your goals.

Give yourself a fighting chance.  You deserve it!

In a nutshell

Obviously, I’ve learned some pretty important lessons from FPU Flex.

And like I said in the beginning, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with practical application.  Most of this stuff is about changing your thinking.

When you decide you’re not going to settle for broke and stressed anymore, you’ll be ready to change direction.

When you realize how your habits and your thinking have sabotaged the dreams you have, you’ll make a change.

It all starts with your thoughts, so tap into your self-awareness and start making small adjustments.

Take back control, stop focusing on your mistakes, and breathe new life into your vision for your future.

You can do it!

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Top 10 Things I learned from FPU Flex

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