| Baby Steps |

Baby Steps: Part 7 of 10

“We’re done,” Nat said, “We officially owe zero dollars to zero people!”


April 2018

The bank teller blinked at us, a confused look on her face.

“Ma’am… you’re here to what?” she asked me, her voice wavering with disbelief.

“We’re here to pay off our mortgage,” I said, a wide grin on my face. “Is a check all right?”

“We were going to do it online,” Nat added, “but we thought this was a cause for celebration, so we came in person.”

We’d been working through the Baby Steps, putting away 15 percent of our income toward retirement (Baby Step 4), saving each month for fertility treatments (our version of Baby Step 5), and directing the rest of our money toward our mortgage payments (Baby Step 6). And we saw clear help from Above; Nat got a new job in February that came with a pay increase. We kept our spending low in order to reach our goals, and finally, here we were.

In a matter of minutes, our final mortgage payment was processed, and we were handed a folder of documents stating that we had paid off the loan. We walked into the spring air with tears in our eyes.

“We’re done,” Nat said, “We officially owe zero dollars to zero people!”

“Baruch Hashem. It should stay that way.”

“Amen!” he responded. “Meet you at home?” We had both rushed to the bank after work, so we’d arrived in separate cars.

“Sure,” I said, and got into the driver’s seat of Lola while Nat climbed into Pierre.

Ping! My phone chirped with a new message. I buckled my seat belt, checked the screen, and saw an email from Nat’s grandmother in Florida.

I’d love your recipe for that pesto chicken we had over Passover… it was so tender!

I made a mental note to write back to her as I put my phone away and turned the key. As I drove home, I thought about how this year’s Pesach had been so much less stressful than in past years. Nat and I had used a budgeting technique called the sinking fund to break up the cost of the chag into smaller chunks and save throughout the year, to make Pesach less financially overwhelming. I’d also fine-tuned my Pesach menu to reflect our new frugal attitudes, and shared cooking duties with my mother-in-law to help lighten the load.

I pulled into the parking lot of our condo, turned off the car, and walked through the front door. Nat was standing in the dining room, looking around our home transfixed.

“It feels different, doesn’t it?” Nat asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Dave was right.” We smiled at each other.

Dave Ramsey’s books and lectures often talk about a home feeling different when it’s paid off. I felt it now — our condo felt, somehow, more solid than it had when we left for work that morning. More personal. More homey.

“Have you heard back from the clinic today?” Nat asked. We were on our fourth round of fertility treatments, so getting calls from nurses in the late afternoon was now a regular occurrence.

“Not yet,” I said. “That’s odd. They usually call by now… I suppose I was so excited about paying off the mortgage that it slipped my mind.”

“Of course, today was a big day. And speaking of slippery minds, I’ll grab the mail real quick before I forget,” noted Nat, and he ducked into the hall toward our mailbox.

I sat down at the dining room table and pulled out my laptop. I emailed Nat’s grandmother a link to the chicken recipe, then glanced up as I heard soft laughter. Nat entered our condo, holding a small stack of envelopes and chuckling.

“You know, honey, I just don’t think you’re popular enough,” he said sarcastically.

“Ah,” I noted. I knew what the envelopes were. “More graduation party invitations?”

“Yep,” answered Nat, dropping the mail next to me on the table.

I flipped through the stack, opening the invitations and seeing my students’ names and faces. I was in my third year of teaching at an inner-city public high school, and many of my seniors were hosting parties to mark their upcoming graduations. While most of the events were on Shabbos, I enjoyed celebrating with my students whenever I was able.

“Looks like we’ll be buying a lot of towels this year,” I said.

One budgeting trick I had developed was to give a “signature” gift for most occasions, something modest, practical, and consistent. For weddings, it was a set of measuring cups. For my seniors? Each one received a fluffy towel in the color of the college they’d be attending in the fall — it was always appreciated and didn’t break the bank.

“Do you think your students just invite you for the towel at this point?” Nat mused.

“Nah, they love me. The towel is just a perk,” I retorted, winking. “I’ll get a head start on buying them now. I think we’ve got room in the gift fund.”

In addition to breaking up the cost of Pesach and other chagim, Nat and I had also started sinking funds to pay for gifts and other yearly expenses, such as car registration and home repairs. We kept these savings in separate bank accounts, and I quickly checked the balance on the account marked “Gifts” before opening a browser tab for Amazon.

After adding the appropriately hued towels to my cart, I was about to check out when I noticed an image on the bottom of my laptop’s screen. The words “You May Like” appeared above a picture of a shiny steel immersion blender. Without thinking twice, I added one to my cart, then clicked the check-out button.

I took a look at the order total. The towels would be covered by our sinking fund. The $40 immersion blender? That would come out of our monthly budget. I quickly opened our budget spreadsheet, then frowned as I saw that we only had $20 left in the category marked “Home Buys.” My internal debate fired up its engine:

It’s almost the end of the month and this is not an emergency. It can wait until May.

It’s just $20 over your budget. Come on… live a little!

What does the Post-it say?

I glanced at the corner of my computer screen, where a sticky note had “sleep on it” scrawled in Nat’s pointy handwriting — a reminder to pause before making online purchases. I sighed, moved the immersion blender out of my cart, and checked out. Standing up and closing my laptop, I noticed a missed call from our doctor’s office.

I checked the time — 5:30 p.m. I could still catch the nurse before the office shut down for the night. I rushed to call back, and she picked up on the second ring. “Hi,” I said. “I’m glad I caught you before you closed up shop.”

“I’m glad you were able to call in,” she began. “But I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. We got the results back from your latest treatment, and it’s all negative again. I’m so sorry, Helen.”

The room swam in front of me. I choked out a thank-you and hung up the phone. I found Nat, told him the news, and soon we both had tears in our eyes for the second time that day.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 864)

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