Financial Literacy: Communication and Teamwork Are Vital to Success

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Preface:  Today I’m taking part in the Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival hosted by Shannon at The Heavy Purse.  Once you’ve finished here, click here and check out the list of other great posts by my fellow bloggers also participating in the carnival!

Sitting in a chair facing a filled to capacity movie theater, the question that popped into my head was, “How did I get here?”

I was one of three customers invited to the headquarters of CareOne Debt Relief Services in Maryland in September of 2012. They were holding an employee recognition event, and wanted to have a few customers attend as well.   I hadn’t learned that we were to be invited on stage to be part of the program until moments before we walked into the theater.  I thought maybe my friends were kidding with me, until I walked into the theater and saw three chairs had been placed in the center of the stage.  I took my seat in the front row, leaned back and waited for the event to begin.

“Travis is going to fall asleep,” said one of my friends from CareOne.

It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, as at the time it was well known that I was surviving on a miniscule amount of sleep.  I opened my eyes briefly and smiled, but in this case my friend was off the mark.  It was one of those very rare moments in life when you absolutely know that you are having an experience that will be remembered for the rest of your life.  I was simply soaking in every second of what was happening to me.  I remember “Home” by Phillip Phillips playing in a loop over the theater’s sound system.  I can still hear my friend Suzanne laughing down the row.  I remember the conversation my fellow customers, Monica and Katie, were having in the seats beside me about how Monica was about to make the last payment to her debt management plan.

I also remember the question “Travis, how much debt did you have when you enrolled in your debt management plan?” slapping me in the face as I sat on the stage.  I froze for a moment and looked out at the hundreds of faces looking back at me.

“How did I get here?” I asked myself.

Stage

The answer goes all the way back to the day my wife and I got married.  We didn’t communicate about our finances at all.  Over the course of thirteen years we racked up $109,000 of credit card debt due to constant overspending and my refusal to involve my wife in our finances.  I found a way to continue to keep us (barely) afloat through supplementing our income with credit cards.  Eventually our finances reached a crisis and we sought help through a debt relief program.  At the time of the event, we were over three years into our five year program.  We had paid off over $60K of that debt, and had slashed our monthly bills, but our communication with each other was still not where it needed to be, and quite frankly we didn’t know how to fix it.

“One hundred and nine thousand dollars,” I answered.  A collective gasp rippled through the audience.

For someone that has was desperately searching for an answer to  a communication problem, there was something very empowering about admitting to a packed theater of strangers that I had racked up $109,000 of credit card debt.

A memory from a month prior surged through my consciousness.  I had been preparing for a two week business trip to India.  I don’t normally travel for work, so my wife was understandably concerned about having me be away.  She had been concerned about handling all of the household responsibilities on her own.  She was sad that I would be away from her and our children for two weeks. She was also concerned about our finances.  Even at that time she had no idea what bills were paid on what dates.  She didn’t know how much discretionary funds she would have available while I was away.

We sat down with a calendar, and wrote down when income would be coming in, and when bills were due.  We created a detailed spending plan for the two weeks I would be gone.  We withdrew cash and put it in envelopes for the day to day spending.  It was the very first time my wife and I did a complete budget together.

As the gasp from the crowd trailed into a whisper, and then into silence, I looked again at the faces in the crowd.

“How did I get here?” I asked myself again.

I got here by not communicating with my wife.  I got here by not working as a team with the person I love most in life.   Sitting on a stage in front of video cameras and a crowd of strangers I had admitted to my financial failures.

“How I could I do this, but find it difficult to communicate with my wife?” I asked myself.

Empowered by what had just occurred, I realized I had the skills to communicate openly and effectively.  Combining that with the memory of our teamwork prior to my trip to India, I knew that we had all the tools necessary to manage our finances successfully.  Now, all we had to do was execute.  When I returned home, we used what we had done a month earlier as a foundation for the budgeting and financial communication model that we use today.  In love, and in life, Vonnie and I are a team.

We couldn’t be successful any other way.

About Travis

28 Responses to “Financial Literacy: Communication and Teamwork Are Vital to Success”

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  1. What a great lesson Travis! Communication and teamwork are huge for the married couple. I know our financial lives didn’t really begin to take off until we sat down and openly and honestly communicated with one another. I wish we had done it sooner…would have avoided a lot of heartache.

    • Travis says:

      I suspect that you would agree that not only are your finances stronger….but so is your marriage? I would definitely say that for my situation. Thanks for your comment, Brian!

  2. Great story Travis. Keys to our success have been communication and team as well! Continued success!

  3. I know you’ve mentioned CareOne often in the past and I can see why. Any program that can help you tame that sort of debt has to be a good one. I think it’s easy for one spouse to just do all the finances and not spend the extra time sitting down with the other spouse and actually going over things. I know I’ve fallen into that trap before, and it’s something I (and probably most couples) need to work on.

    • Travis says:

      It’s a GREAT program DC, and the sad thing is many people who struggle with debt don’t know they have options like a DMP. I know I didn’t until I went hunting around the internet. There’s NO REASON people should struggle their entire lifetime with debt – if people are willing to do some work to improve their financial literacy, there’s programs to help them get their lives back on track!

  4. Kim says:

    I think you and Vonnie are such an inspiration. When I met you guys and Fincon, I was just blown away at how in sync you were and how excited you were about where you were headed. I think most people in your situation would have thrown in the towel and likely ended up divorced. I love how you owned your mistakes, overcame them, and are now helping others to do the same. Sky’s the limit now, right?

  5. Great story Travis, thanks so much for sharing! The easy thing would’ve been to give up and not deal with it and you did quite the opposite my friend. 🙂 I think it can be so easy in a marriage to see things slip by and develop into a pattern. We’ve all been there and it takes honesty and working together as a team to own up to it, grow together and move on with the lessons learned.

    • Travis says:

      I’m not one to shy away from responsibility John..We just needed a little help in being shown the path to follow. Once we had a way out, nothing was going to stop us. 🙂

  6. Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Travis! My hubby and I communicate about everything under the sun, but until a few years ago, though, we did not spend a lot of time communicating about money. We just didn’t make it a priority in our lives and now that we talk about it all the time, it’s amazing how much we can keep each other “in check” and work together on our financial health.

    • Travis says:

      Sounds a lot like us, Shannon…our marriage was great in every way except our finances. That put a HUGE strain on our relationship! Now that we’re in sync financially as well, our marriage is a well oiled machine. 🙂

  7. Mackenzie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Travis; it is such an inspiration to me. I love how you and your wife are now a communicating whole lotta awesomeness, and that you wrote: “In love, and in life, Vonnie and I are a team”.

    • Travis says:

      It’s true, Mackenzie – she’s my very best friend, and I cannot imagine my life without her. We’re in this thing called marriage for the long haul!

  8. Great story Travis! It still blows my mind what you were able to accomplish when you put your mind to it. Congrats to team “Tronnie” 🙂

  9. I have to admit this made me a bit teary-eyed, Travis. I see this so often. Couples who clearly love one another but are not communicating with each other about their finances and it’s destroying their marriage. I am so glad you realized what you needed to do to not only save your financial life but also make your marriage even stronger. You and Vonnie seem like an unstoppable couple today and you’re really showing your kids how parents work as a team. Love that too! Thank you for sharing your money a-ha as part of the Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival. I appreciate your participation!

    • Travis says:

      YES! If I can make an eye or two water, then I’ve accomplished my goal. 🙂 We ARE unstoppable! Thank YOU for including me in the carnival – this post is one that I’ve had rolling around in my head for awhile, but just couldn’t figure out the best application or how to finish it. The carnival finally gave me what I needed to make it go. Thanks for dropping in!

  10. Travis, I’d like to know where we are taught to communicate well with our spouses! It is all too common. I’d like to blame men for being so afraid to communicate, but we women have plenty to learn about it too. It’s a 2-way street and too often we are all running around the block to avoid it. I love that you were able to show Vonnie how you handled the money. We all need a “come to Jesus” moment like that! Great job!

    • Travis says:

      Oh, so I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get that manual in the mail?? LOL. Communication takes two – even today it’s not always easy, but with just a little nudge from either of us, we keep going. Thanks for your support, Maggie!

  11. Wow, that is quite the moment- on stage, in the spotlight.

    • Travis says:

      Yeah, no kidding, Stefanie – I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I’m glad my friends didn’t tell me that we would be going on stage until right before hand – otherwise I probably would have ran far, far away. LOL.

  12. anna says:

    I absolutely loved your last paragraph, very sweet and true. I agree that communication with frequent discussions is key, and hope to constantly have that in my marriage. Thanks for sharing, Travis!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks, Anna!!!! I sometimes think how things would have been different if we had started right from the beginning…..but then again, our experiences make us who we are. We are where we are because of what we went through – and I wouldn’t change where we are for anything. 🙂

  13. Travis, this is awesome, and you are SO right. Not only does this tactic work for successful finances, but for a successful marriage in general. You two have “got it goin’ on”. Excellent work, my friends!

    • Travis says:

      Strong finances, strong marriage = smile on my face, Laurie. PLUS we’re entering Spring, which is my favorite season of the year. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any better than this. 🙂

  14. Wow, thanks for sharing your powerful story, Travis. I am sure that your marriage is stronger for having faced the debt and conquered it together. I think having people like you who are willing to stand up and admit how much debt you had and how you got out of it is a real inspiration- to those who were in attendance that day, as well as to those of us reading along in the blogosphere.

    • Travis says:

      Our marriage has never been stronger, Dee…..we feel like our relationship as well as our finances have such a solid foundation after going through this. I was honored to be at the event on that day – it also gave me a chance to thank all the people in the organization that made it possible to kick our debt to the curb!

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