Maybe Matilda: Let's Talk About Debt

Monday, June 8, 2015

Let's Talk About Debt

Now, here's a post I feel a little strange about writing. Not because it's too tremendously personal, or because I'm embarrassed to share it. I feel a little odd posting this because I have read similar posts in the past and, depending on my state of mind at the time, I've sometimes felt sheer jealousy and bitterness in response to someone else's great news. And that's the last thing I want to make anyone feel. But the thing about blogging your life is that you can't skip over the big stuff. And this, today? Big stuff.

So I'm sharing this post today because this has been a HUGE part of our lives for the past 7 years, and a dominating force in the decisions we've made, both large and small.

I am thrilled to be able to say it: we are debt free. 

Can I get a hallelujah?!

Let me back up and give you the background:

Jeff and I met and got married as undergraduate students at BYU. We were both very lucky and blessed to be able to graduate without any debt. Compared to many universities, BYU has crazy low tuition costs. Jeff and I both had jobs, we had help from our parents, and I had a full-tuition scholarship.

Then came chiropractic school. And that debt-free life vanished. Student loans were just an immutable fact, and while we would have loved to be able to avoid them, we couldn't find a way to make that happen. So we accepted our fate and just planned to take on as little debt as we could, and pay it off as fast as possible after graduation.

Debt Free

With the exception of his first year of chiropractic school, Jeff always had a job and worked as many hours as he realistically could while still getting by in his classes. And with the exception of the last year of school when Forrest was born, I always worked, too. (And after Forrest was born, I was able to make some money from home with my Etsy shop.)

We graduated from chiropractic school in 2011 with $141,000 in debt. We immediately started paying with an income-based repayment plan, and our required payments were low enough to barely scratch the surface. We were gaining far more in interest than we were paying off each month. This went on for about 3 1/2 years, and even with our monthly payments, the interest pushed our debt up to $163,928 (and 24 cents--you can see how disturbing this debtwas to Jeff, because I asked him for the final number and he recited it to the penny).

That was awfully discouraging, to watch the debt grow and grow even as we faithfully paid on it every month. It was starting to feel like the debt would just be a part of our lives forever. We felt held back from doing things we would love to do as a couple and as a family, because how could we justify spending money on anything fun when we owed so much money to someone else?

Somewhere during those 3 1/2 years after graduation, we bought our first house (it was a short sale, and we got it for a very low price, right after the market crashed) and then started our own business (without taking out a business loan). We never made oodles of money, but we were certainly comfortable, and our income was slowly but steadily growing.

foundation chiropractic

We kept up our frugal student lifestyle, worked hard, and saved every penny we could. We started to notice that real estate prices were climbing significantly. At the suggestion of a chiropractic school buddy who is also pouring his heart and soul into crushing his student loan debts, we talked to a realtor about our house. We loved our house, of course . . . but we loved the idea of making some money on it more. We were pretty surprised at the price the realtor wanted to list our house at--it was more than we would have guessed. We realized that between the money we had saved over the past few years and the money we could potentially make on the sale of our house, we could come within a few thousand dollars of wiping out our loans entirely.

It was a no-brainer: we listed the house. Initially, we planned to use a chunk of the money we'd make on the house as a down payment on another house, and pay the remainder toward our debt. But after a few discouraging house hunting trips with the realtor that didn't turn up anything we were excited about buying, we started to wonder if buying another house wasn't the right idea at all.

Instead, why wouldn't we put all the money from the sale of our house into the loans? We'd be able to come so much closer to paying them off completely, and we could rent while we saved up for another down payment.

So that's exactly what we did.  We dumped the majority of our savings into the loans, which knocked them down to about $100K. We continued pumping money into the debt whenever we could while we waited for our house to sell, and brought it down by a few thousand more. Then our house sold, and we put every last penny from the sale straight into our debt. That left us with only a few thousand left in debt, which we paid off 100% in the first few weeks after moving.

sold house

It feels liberating to know we don't owe anyone a dime right now. Nobody else has a claim on any money we make. We're so, so glad to have lifted the burden of debt off our family, especially since we know this is something we could have easily dragged around with us for decades to come.

But I have to admit, it's actually a bit anticlimactic. That debt was our dominating decision-making force for years--we talked about it constantly, scrimped and saved and sacrificed for it, budgeted and planned around it. Then we made that final transfer and watched the balance tick down to zero and . . . nothing. We're proud, we're so glad it's over, and that we can get on with our lives without having to stress and worry about those loans, but no choir of angels descended from the heavens to sing some hallelujahs, a community-wide dance party didn't spontaneously break out in our honor, and not a single confetti cannon was shot off for the occasion. Can you believe it? Getting out of debt is a quiet triumph, I suppose.

This is the part in 'the debt-free post' where I've seen other bloggers make some sort of list of tips or advice. I'm not sure I have anything profound to share. For us, paying off those loans was a healthy mix of common sense and great timing and good fortune.

Jeff and I were both raised in families that emphasized hard work and thriftiness. It's in our blood. We have always seen eye-to-eye on financial matters, and I can't recall us ever fighting over money. (Don't read a perfect marriage into that statement--we simply fight over other things instead.)

We've lived cheap and worked hard. We never went out to eat often, or bought expensive clothes, or nice cars. So much of our stuff is secondhand--furniture, kids' clothes, household stuff, etc. Gosh, we didn't even have internet during chiropractic school because we didn't want to spend an extra $50 a month on it. To this day, 8 years into our marriage, we have not yet been on a vacation (unless you count visits to Jeff's family in PA!). We still haven't taken our honeymoon. Jeff puts every minute of his time into building his clinic. Of course we haven't been perfect budgeters, but we've always tried to spend as little as we possibly could, while saving as much as possible.

And of course, there has been some great luck, or blessings, or whatever you'd like to call it. Our parents helped us through our undergrad degrees. When we got married, their gift to us was a sensible, reliable car (which I still drive today!). We happened to be looking to buy a house when prices were at their lowest, and we happened to be thinking of selling just as they were climbing back up.

We are so, so grateful to our parents, both for the good money sense they taught us when we were kids, and for the help they've continued to give us. Now that we are out of debt, one of our biggest financial goals is to be ready and able to help Forrest and Darcy when they are struggling to pay for college, or are thinking of getting married, or are ready to buy their first house. We want to be able to help our kids financially like our parents helped us--both by teaching them to be financially savvy, and by having the means to help them when they're setting out on their own.

We'll spend the next year saving up for a down payment for our next house. We opened educational savings plans for each of the kids, as well as retirement accounts that we'll pay into each month. And we're enjoying the feeling of not owing anyone a dime.

And if you have a confetti cannon at your disposal, may I borrow it? An occasion this big absolutely demands confetti.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...