Living debt free sounds pretty impossible. Living debt free before 30? Fuhgeddaboudit. Mentioned in an earlier blog post, I talked about my guilt for bringing 22 thousand dollars of debt into my marriage. It was the first real debt I had ever taken out (school loan, of course) and I was so nervous that my husband was going to resent me for putting that burden on him. He seemed so cool about it; I was confused.

Living with No Credit

Let’s start with some background information. You see, I grew up pretty poor. My mom had amazing credit though, so we always had a car that ran and presents under the Christmas tree. It wasn’t until I got older and her credit went to hell, that I began to see debt could get you in big trouble. Without credit, I could see my mom was in trouble. Without a good job, I could see she couldn’t pay off her current debts. She really had no way of saving up for a new car when the old one crapped out. Then in my own personal life, I got in trouble with credit cards and stupid boyfriends. By age 19, I learned I had to ride out a lot of my bad decisions for the better half of a decade. By age 20, I had learned cash is king.

When it was finally just me against the world, I moved into a hotel because that was the cheapest thing I could find. Even then, I couldn’t afford it. I had to find extra sources of income every single month to pay my measly $750/month rent. The hotel was amazing, right on the water inside a resort, but I still had no kitchen and no way of truly relaxing. I had no credit cards (because my credit was ruined in my teen years) to charge food when I was hungry, or gas when I had to get to work. I dealt in cash only, and it was hard.

People used to laugh that I always carried my money with me in envelopes. They were amazed I had no credit card debt, car payment, smart phone, etc. Little did I know, my stupid teenage mistakes with credit would end up putting me on a path towards financial success so early on in life. Every day of struggle to find extra money, every rent payment I made in advance to ensure I didn’t spend it on something else, and every.single.penny I picked up off the ground… All these things were molding my mindset, showing me a different path from what people around me were taking.

So Back to the Story about 22k in Debt

Eventually, I graduated from college and decided to go ahead with my Master’s. I had to take out a loan for about 22 thousand dollars to pay for the whole shebang. It was one of the most stressful decisions of my life, but I literally had no other way of paying for it. Remember the poor mom thing? Anyway, I took it out and despite all my nerves, didn’t die and ended up graduating and paying it off, making it a worthwhile investment. And isn’t that what everyone thinks about student loans? It is an investment? One of my best friends has a tremendous amount of student loan debt and he always says it is an investment in himself that no one can take away.

“I could take out a $30k loan on a car. If I didn’t pay it, they would take the car away. Or I could take out the same loan for my education. If I don’t pay it, they can’t take my degree or knowledge away. Boom. I’m justified.”–some 20 year old probably

So yeah, I’m not going to argue the education-investment thing. My point is that I justified the loan but I was still so nervous. And when I got married I was even more nervous about bringing that debt into my marriage. It got even worse when I became pregnant quickly and we realized I was not going to get a teaching job any time soon. What had I done? Took out a loan that now I wasn’t even going to have sole responsibility for? What kind of person does that?

My husband on the other hand, was less than worried about it. When I finally asked him why, he laughed and said “You have a degree and 22k in debt. I have a decent car and some clothes and over 30k in debt! Everybody has debt. Why would I be mad?”

Debt is a Modern Necessity

 

Wow. What? We don’t even own a home and we have almost 50 thousand dollars in debt? Panic attack, please go away. My husband’s words really stuck with me for months. I started to realize that the world I lived in believed that debt was a necessity. Everybody does it, right? No big deal! But for me, it was a big deal. I saw what had happened to my mother when her luck ran out and the bill collectors started knocking. That could happen to me if I didn’t work hard to keep debt down and make it a priority to pay it off.

Within the first year of our marriage, I began to notice huge differences in myself and my husband. He had no problem swiping what he wanted at the mall, while I had trouble finding anything I actually wanted…anywhere. I had lived so long on my “poor college kid” money-diet that I had a hard time seeing the value in anything at the store when I compared it to the value of the dollar. I became obsessed with eliminating our debt and within a few months we had paid off a few thousand dollars worth of credit card debt and were on our way to seeing a brand new future where debt did not have to be normal.

Okay, So It Wasn’t as Easy as I Just Made It Sound

Okay, you got me. There wasn’t a magic wand that helped us get rid of thousands in debt. I had to apply a ton of discipline on my part to stop spending my paychecks (this was still before Chelsea.) My entire paycheck went to credit cards, which meant I had to rely on my husband for anything I needed. Turns out, I wasn’t as perfect as I thought and I was making the local gas station rich from my daily purchases of mountain dew, pizza, and salt and vinegar chips. I won’t speak entirely for my husband, but I know he struggled a lot too in order to find a balance to this new lifestyle. Holy moly! Who knew life without Five Guys could be so hard?

This Post is Long. Wrap it Up, Liz

Alright, so what’s the point in telling you all this? Well, I think if you are reading this you are at least slightly interested in living a little more debt-free. Although it seems like an impossible task, this is one of the things I want from life. And I want to share my story in hopes that you share yours with me, too. From firsthand experiences to watching my mom crash and burn, I slowly learned that living debt-free is incredibly important to me. How did you learn this? How far along on your journey are you? Or have you even started? Whatever your path, I want to know about it! For me, I want to be debt free by 30. That gives me just 15 months to get rid of the any red. Are you with me?

Comment below and let me know any questions, comments, or concerns you have! They will help me in the final development stage of my budget course! Also, keep a lookout for an upcoming post on how my family eliminated over 9k in debt in just one week!  

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6 thoughts on “Living Debt Free: How I Got My Start

  1. We worked our way through over $27k in student loans. It took us 2 years of hard dedication and sacrifice, but we made it. I think if you both are on the same page and working towards a common goal, you’ll make it. I love your story and the lessons you learned at such a young age. Learning to delay gratification is a skill that more of us need to harness and start to control.

    I write about my story all the time and try to share as much as possible. I’ve actually linked my story up with my website link from the comment, I hope you will be encouraged by it as well!

    1. Delaying gratification! YES! I can’t pinpoint when I really learned the true value of that, but I know that I try very hard to keep bigger pictures in mind when working towards something. I am always working towards a good balance of nurturing my sense of adventure and disciplining my desires. I’ll check out your story right now!

  2. I can relate to your story from both the “poor mom” and the personal perspective.

    Teaching is certainly a relatively safe bet, degree-wise. But the days of all student loan debt guaranteeing a good future income have been over for at least a few years now. They lasted about five minutes longer than it took me to pay off my fairly conservative $20K in debt :-/

    Since I work for myself, my income is irregular, with bigger checks but fewer paydays. I’m mostly frugal, but it’s hard to keep that pent-up need in check when I wrap up a project and get paid for my work. It seems like so much money, but it takes weeks to earn. You’d think after years of this I’d get it sorted… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. I’m sure you are more on top of it than you think! It takes many years of discipline to purge the urge to shop or “treat yourself.” I once heard that desire was the folly of man. I try to keep that in mind when I want something that doesn’t serve a greater purpose than my own desires.

  3. I have $57k in student loans. My mindset is with the education investment bit, but I’m also in no rush because I can make minimum payments and my debt is forgiven after 10 years as a teacher. Call it selfish, but I’d rather put my money where I want it and wait the forgiveness out. So… debt free by 40 here!

    1. I agree that education is the best investment. And for teacher’s yes, the 10-year thing is the best incentive ever for teachers. I would definitely be doing what you are doing in your shoes. Teachers should be forgiven; they are public service workers!
      And debt free by 40 is an amazing accomplishment; debt free by 70 is in this modern world!

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