The Real Housewives of Benton County: Betsy Billman- “Money Mama”

Money, money, money! It’s that topic that can make a couple go from snuggles to sassy within seconds. It is the thing we don’t want to think or stress about, but most of us do. If I am perfectly honest, I would have to admit that I am neither horrible with money nor great with money. It is really important to me to not go into debt, but I also really lack organization and sometimes the willpower to save or invest how I would like to. I want to teach my children to be responsible humans, and money is one area where I would like them to be responsible.

I also have been thinking lately about what message we teach our children about what is important to us through how we spend our money. I have chatted with many friends/ family members through the years who are stressed about money, not feeling like there is ever enough, though we know that even people who are rich stress about money. Whether you qualify for food stamps or live in a mansion on the hill, all of us have to make decisions about how we spend our money. Some people truly barely have enough to pay for basic necessities, some people value living in a fancy house, some want to spend money on travel, or for some it’s clothes or eating organic. No matter our income… most of us have something in common. We want to manage our money better, but we don’t know where to get started! I am included in this category. I really want to do better and I need help!

This is where my dear friend Betsy comes in. Betsy is just awesome in so many ways. Betsy is loyal. She makes the best homemade whole wheat bread I have ever eaten and she has a love for eating/preparing whole foods. She is a great running partner, and she has really been there for me during some of life’s challenges. I always leave Betsy feeling uplifted and with more perspective. She always has a great scripture, talk, or spiritual thought to share. And.. she is willing to listen and hear me out without judgement.  She really is so easy to talk to and shows that she cares. The Billman family just moved to Idaho, and I am really missing this special  friend of mine!

Not only does Betsy always have great insight on life in general, but she has also given me great advice on finances and on how to teach children to be responsible. She has taken the time to really make a financial plan that works well for her family, and she follows through with her plan. I hope you will be inspired after reading this interview with Betsy! I would love for you to share your struggles and successes as well!

K-Have you always been financially responsible and organized with money? If not, when did you see the light?

B-Unfortunately I have not always been financially responsible with money! As a child I really liked having money and I babysat A LOT and probably earned a decent amount for a child. However, without any guidance, I usually spent everything I earned. As I got older I continued to work hard and continued to spend almost everything. Fortunately I didn’t make the mistake of running up any debt, so at least I was conscious of not spending more than I earned. When I got into college I had to become more responsible with my money. I was able to save for things I needed to pay for (half of my living expenses) but never could seem to save up anything for a “rainy day fund.” It wasn’t until Eric and I had been married a few years and we had started a PhD program that things started to change for me. I felt stressed about the little amount of money we had coming in and I wasn’t sure how to manage it. A friend of mine gave me the book “Financial Peace University” by Dave Ramsey and it really rang true with me. His philosophy is to spend in cash, not acquire debt of any kind (except a very conservative home mortgage), and “live like no one else so later you can live like no one else!” His principles are basic but to me it was a lot of practical sense. My goal at that point was to not take out any more student loans (we had taken a minimal amount out for the PhD) and to get better at budgeting. Spending in cash changed our financial life! It was easy to stick to and easy to see exactly where we were throughout the month. We are still primarily spending in cash almost 5 years later! Another thing Eric and I have worked on is getting on the same page, having a plan, and actually communicating about our finances. It has taken many years, but I feel like we have finally come together on our financial goals and dreams over the last year. I should say that we never really fought about money, but Eric never had a real opinion and I pretty much ran the show (I am a numbers person even though I am not a natural saver, go figure!). If feels so great to finally be working together – it has made all the difference!

Sam showing off his chore chart.

K-What is your philosophy about teaching children to be smart with money? And with chores?

B-It is critical for me to teach my kids about how to be smart with money. Dave Ramsey has a “Financial Peace Jr.” program that has worked well for us. It has lessons about how to work, save, spend and give. It also teaches about the dangers of debt. One day my 5-year-old daughter had a friend over to play and I overheard their conversation. My daughter asked her friend if she had ever heard of debt. When her friend replied “no”, my daughter went on to explain how bad it was and how you should never be in debt! It made me smile to think that my children were actually picking up on a principle I was teaching them! Yay! They have a very clear set of jobs to do each day and they are given “compensation”, not “allowance” for the work they complete. We have been using the system for over a year and it has worked so well. My kids make (mostly) mindful choices about how to spend their money and they have become much better at giving. I can tell my daughter has similar spending tendencies as me so I hope with a good foundation she can make good financial decisions in the future.

K-What are some of the most common mistakes that people make to hurt their finances?

B-I would say not being on the same page with your spouse. Like I said before, Eric and I didn’t fight over money, but I carried the burden of making most of the decisions because I knew what was going on. Now, we both have a say and we both keep each other in check. It has brought us closer in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I think another aspect that hurts people is not having a budget. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, give every dollar a name/mission at the beginning of the month so you know where every penny will go – that includes for expenses, saving, etc. Budgeting is hard work, but it does get easier. It is kind of like the concept of watching what you eat. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you are actually eating until you keep track and write it down. Small purchases add up quickly so having a budget that both you and your spouse agree on is critical!

K-What will you miss most about living in Corvallis?

B-Oh boy, what will I miss the most?? Besides my friends and the wonderful people I have met, I will miss the beauty of Corvallis. I have come to love the trees so much! I will miss being so close to the coast. The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world! I will miss all the amazing produce and living in a community that is so health-conscious. That has been such a treat! I hope to spread that vibe in Idaho:)

Sam, Zeke, and Hadley are looking happy.. because that mama of theirs has taught them well!

K-What advice do you have for a family who has the desire to make changes but is also overwhelmed by the idea of budgeting and taking control of their finances?

B-I guess I would say think about your dreams and goals. What would you do if your finances were not an issue? Then, start by just writing down what you are spending. Get an idea of where you are and where you want to be. Try making your budget for the month and then taking out the money in cash. It hurts to spend cash! Plus, when it is gone, it’s gone. And give yourself time. It takes a few months to get it right. I am not sure if that is even helpful, but that is how Eric and I gained control of our finances.

K-What else are you passionate about?

B-I really love teaching people how to do things! I learned how to make bread about 5 years ago and make it every week (for the most part) for my family to eat. I have now taught several of my friends and family members how to make bread and now they make it for their families. I just love the thought of spreading good things around. I also love deep conversation! I love to read and discuss ideas with friends and family. I just love connecting with people.

K-What brings you peace and happiness?

B-I would have to say my religious beliefs bring me the most peace and happiness. When I am on with doing the things I have come to know I should do, life just functions better. Also, my husband and children bring me so much happiness. It is the things we work hardest on that are the most satisfying. I try and remember that when things are difficult – eventually those hard things turn into some of the most treasured blessings. Close friends also bring me so much happiness – like I said before I thrive on connecting with people! And finally, being in nature and just soaking in the beauty really brings peace to my soul. I wish I had more time to sit on the beach and just breath in all the beauty!