Lessons learned from incurring massive debt as newlyweds

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

A reverse approach to the “doing less to build more” series today: how I wish we had spent less then to have a better quality of life now.

When we got married, I had a healthy attitude toward money. I wasn’t in love with it, afraid of it, or enslaved by it. 

That changed gradually, as my job search stretched from weeks to months. Mike was in graduate school, so anything we spent above his monthly $1200 stipend came from his student loan. We couldn’t pay rent and buy groceries without borrowing money.

People say student loans are “good” debt, because education sets you up to earn more. This argument doesn’t hold for the huge percentage of people who never graduate but still owe the money back. Even for people like Mike, who earned the degree and found a job in his field, high student loans are a huge burden.

I had no experience with debt before marriage, and I trusted the “good” debt argument. I didn’t see any other options, although looking back, there were plenty.

There was a reason I felt a pit in my stomach that first year when I bought new clothes, went to the movies, paid an excessively high cable bill, went to Starbucks, booked plane tickets, went out to dinner, and took our one year anniversary trip: we didn’t have any money.

I believe wholeheartedly in using money to enjoy life. In our case, we didn’t have the money to survive, much less enjoy life. Life is too short to be a penny pincher, but we didn’t have any pennies to pinch!

As a recent college graduate, I was also naive about my job search. In addition to foregoing some luxuries, I also wish I had gotten a job at Starbucks or as a nanny right away. I thought that I deserved a certain type of job because I had a college degree. 

I had just moved and didn’t have any friends. When I felt lonely, I called my friends or parents in California and bit my lip while the phone rang so I could sound happy when they answered even though I was on the verge of tears.

Getting a less than ideal job, even part time, would have gotten me out of the house and around people. Even a low paying job would have helped us pay the bills.

Eventually, I got a full time job that paid well but didn’t require a college degree. We no longer needed the student loan to live! Unfortunately, the money we had already borrowed and the interest already accruing continues to weigh us down.

I still don’t look back and see us as self indulgent, just naïve. We didn’t realize the high cost of paying later for what seemed at the time like reasonable expenses.

Ignoring the pit in my stomach and the reality of our bank account when we first got married has put us in a position where now money affects every. single. decision. Should we go out to dinner with friends? Visit our families for Christmas? Buy new shoes? Go to that conference?

We still do those things sometimes, but with the knowledge that we are choosing to stay in debt longer.

Debt is so culturally tolerated that we forget what a burden it is. Though I might not always see the chains, I am wearied by their weight.

I fully accept grace and I don’t beat myself up about this regularly, but I want you to know: we’re still paying for my pumpkin spice lattes and our Blockbuster membership in 2008. We aren’t going on a trip to celebrate our fifth anniversary this month because we are still paying for our first anniversary trip.

It’s a romantic idea to live for today, to live in the moment, but the cost of sacrificing tomorrow for today can be high.

I’m not suggesting that you deprive yourself of all enjoyment (we don’t, even now), but please, please count the cost. Don’t go into debt for it.

I’ve been told that I’m too hard on myself in general, and I don’t want this post to come across that way. I am past the point of regretting those early decisions, and I don’t feel guilty, ashamed or bitter.

We are where we are, and we’re moving forward with hope and thankfulness.  

I don’t have any regrets because the pain and stress incurred with the debt have left a huge impression. We might still be lackadaisically plodding along, not making any huge financial mistakes but not making great progress either.

We got into debt to pay for Mike’s education, but we’re getting a financial education out of the deal, too. 

God is redeeming our story, and we are so thankful that our real debt has already been paid.

I’ll have some more practical things to share about spending less to build more, but I wanted to share my heart first.

This post is part of a 31 day series on “doing less to build more.” To read the other posts in this series, click here.

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6 thoughts on “Lessons learned from incurring massive debt as newlyweds

  1. We became debt free about a year ago, its amazing how quickly our perspective changed once we understood debt better! Isn’t it great we learned this now instead of in 30 years!

  2. I so appreciate your honesty about this. What you’re saying is so true. Although we are not in school loan debt, we are paying the price now for poor choices we made early on in our marriage. And it doesn’t help that my husband was unemployed for 18 mos. – a recovery process we are just beginning to walk through. God has been and will continue to be faithful. Though small, we are making strides. But small turns into large with steady and consistent practice towards the goal of paying our debts. I’m so enjoying this series!

  3. I’ve been putting off going on a cash budget because I don’t want to have to say ‘no’ to myself. It’s definitely a heart issue. Thank you for the reminder! (PS- I’m also still paying for dinner dates and trips from 2008- you are not alone!!)

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