Below the Line

Tyler and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Class back in our 20s when we were trying to figure out bills and money and budgets and basic adulting. The course taught us some fundamental money management skills that come in handy every month, but it also taught us a killer phrase regarding productivity, sanity, worry, and stress:

Below the Line

Ramsey tells this story of his family getting out of debt, where collectors would call him constantly about collecting what was owed. He and his wife had started using a budget, and they kept a list of debts they owed on a legal pad. When they ran out of money for the month in their budget meeting, they drew a line. They paid everything they could, and everything under the line would have to wait a month.

Tyler and I say, “That’s below the line,” all the time — not because we have debt collectors hounding us. We say “Below the Line” with anything that we currently can’t give thought or attention.

For instance, we don’t need to mow our yard right now because the grass is dead, but because we live in Central Texas, the weather can never decide what to do. So, we have these random weeds in our backyard that need pulling. And they are annoying to both Tyler and me, but neither one of us has the time to do anything about those dumb weeds.

The weeds are below the line. I will add “Pulling Weeds” to my list of household tasks to tackle eventually, and I will move on with my life. I have a 25 cent spiral notebook with a list of all the things I should probably do around the house eventually. Getting those projects out of my head and onto paper allows me devote my brain to other things.

And really, that’s all “Below the Line” means for Tyler and me. If we are in the midst of a busy season or a stressful time at work for Tyler, he doesn’t have the brain capacity for home improvement decisions. That’s below the line. We write it down and move on. If we have a full calendar and get a birthday party invitation, that might be below the line for what we can accomplish that month. When we talked about Christmas Memories Our Kids Want To Do, we made a list and decided what was important. Anything else? Below the Line.

Remember that Your Line is Not The Standard

My middle son is a planner. We often have to remind him to “be in the present” because he’s always focused on the next thing down the road. Over the weekend, he and I went shopping together for the “Groceries to Avoid Going Back to the Store Until After Christmas” Trip, and I was looking for the powdered sugar I needed. In the middle of the baking aisle, my son said, “So Mom, I’m thinking for my birthday dinner that I’d like to have…”

His birthday is in January. We haven’t hit Christmas yet, and he’s already trying to plan an event that’s 3 weeks away. He’s trying to plan it while I’m grocery shopping the weekend before Christmas in the middle of the baking goods’ aisle.

Obviously, my son’s birthday is way below my line right now. I’m trying to get through Christmas and New Year’s with extended family, but for my ten year old? His birthday is at the top of his list of what he wants to think about. I’m sure finding powdered sugar was below his line.

Do I need to drop everything and say, “Let’s plan your party! Right now! Let’s go look at cake options!!!” Nope. Like I said, his party is below my line of brain capacity. My son needs to learn how to read a room when it comes to party planning.

But, I can take a deep breath and say, “Buddy, I know you are super excited for your birthday, and I can’t wait to hear all about your plans. But we just can’t decide on your dinner choices right now.” Which is what I did.

When I remember that my line is not the Standard Line of Demarcation for everyone else around me, I can see that the running list of things I need to accomplish is always below the line before relationships.

Kelly WiggainsComment