Paying off debt has been a huge part of our lives for the past two years. We are on track to be debt free this year, and I thought it’d be valuable to share some stories about our journey. It won’t be all I write about, but I’ll sprinkle these posts in over the next few months. I hope it will be encouraging, and point to the goodness of our God.
Part 1: How much? Waking up to reality
After spending the first few years of our marriage accruing student loan debt while Mike worked full time on his PhD, we made it to Charleston where Mike’s shiny new job awaited.
We felt like we’d been holding our breath, anticipating relief on many fronts when we left the dust of the Phoenix desert behind. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the road ahead would require more strength, sweat and tears than the one we’d just walked.
Student loan repayment would start in six short months. I had kept loose track of our finances before this point, knowing occasional sums of cash in our checking account were borrowed, but never looking at the overall balance.
My breath caught in my throat when I saw the balance for the first time. I couldn’t have put it into words, but at that moment, I knew in my bones that this was serious, a burden and shackle that would own us until we broke free.
My stomach sank as I watched choices and options I thought were on the table disappear.
Discouraged would be a gracious way to convey how I felt. More accurate would be cheated, angry, and self-pitying.
I felt like this was the point that things were supposed to improve, when our sacrifices would pay off. I felt entitled to a nicer place to live.
I felt angry at Mike for naively accepting these student loans right before we got married, for insisting on a newer car that came with payments.
I was mad at myself for going along without asking questions, regretful for every dollar of borrowed money we’d spent on anything but the essential.
Thankfully, I didn’t stay there long. My solution-minded side kicked in and I started looking for help.
I grew up in a financially literate environment. I didn’t shy away from mutual funds or IRA’s, but a simple budget eluded me.
I’d actually read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover about a year earlier, but dismissed most of it as not applicable to me at the time. We were treading water, and not borrowing more money was a win at that point. The idea of paying anything back felt overwhelming and impossible.
Now here we were, with a much higher income, looking the debt in the face for the first time. I dusted off The Total Money Makeover and started listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio show while I did dishes and stewed with regret.
I cried every time I heard people call in to scream that they were debt free. The numbers still seemed impossible to me. How were these people paying THAT much off in THAT short amount of time, on THAT income?
When I’m passionate about an idea, I hold onto it with a singular focus, but measure my words to Mike carefully.
He’s not obstinate or contrarian, but he treads more gingerly and looks at other sides of things more than I do. I tried to anticipate his questions and objections before asking him to change or do anything.
All I asked was that we do the home study version of Financial Peace University. I didn’t lead with, “Let’s cut up the credit cards!” or “We can’t afford to visit your family for Christmas.”
I communicated how scared and desperate I felt. I was careful not to mention that I sometimes seethed with anger, or that my trust in him was a little shaken. I didn’t want to hurt or blame him.
In October 2011, we sat together and watched the first session of FPU.
This is the first post in a series. To be continued!
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