I’m a full-time outreach advocate at an insurance nonprofit and part-time law student in Nashville, Tennessee.
I’m a bearded 29. I’ve got a wife and two rad dogs, and I may or may not be a hipster. I like LPs, wear glasses, and drink coffee from a mason jar. It is what it is. I get it.
But if anything, I’m an accidental hipster.
The same can be said of my status as a debtor. There’s no killer story behind our debt. Just bad decisions: buying things we didn’t need with money we didn’t have. Like the time we went for a scenic drive and came home with a dog, or the time we bid on (and won) courtside 76ers seats at a silent auction.
One Sunday morning in September of 2010, we added up the digits and realised that between student loans, credit cards, and a car loan, we were about $US67,000 in the hole. I remember sitting there for a moment, just looking at that number. It was heavy. Even worse than when Nate Ruess left “The Format” and then “Fun.” got big on the scene.
But that morning we decided to make a change. We were going to become debt-free, and after running the numbers and putting together a budget, we realised we would be able to do it within 36 months.
Back then, we were both working entry-level jobs, and together we raked in around $US45,000 a year. So we decided to live as cheaply as possible, and just throw money at debt like it was going out of style. We settled on the snowball method, which tackles one debt at a time, and began to pay off the $US7,000 we owed on the credit cards.
Our income, less our needs (not wants — those went out the window when we realised how broke we were) meant we had about $US350 per week we could put towards debt while still contributing to retirement and saving for the house we wanted to buy before turning 30, and that’s exactly what we did.
We ate a lot of rice and beans, and a good amount of spaghetti. We learned to bake our own bread and started a garden (organic, which is admittedly a little hipster-ish). We hustled on the side — working overtime, taking gigs as secret shoppers, scouring Goodwill and flea markets for things we could sell on eBay — and put any extra money towards debt. We gave up the $US4 coffees and Sunday brunches on the east side of town. If you’re struggling with money, the coffee habit matters.
About four months later, we made the final payment on the cards. It was an accomplishment, for sure. But we still owed $US17,000 on our car, so we kept on. Our salaries went up a little. I got a promotion, and the Mrs. took a new job as an information systems analyst.
We avoided inflation creep, and didn’t let a higher income change our lifestyle. It just meant more money that could go towards debt.
About 11 months later, we managed to pay off the car. It was another victory, but there was still the albatross: between two undergrad and one graduate degree, we had about $US43,000 of student loans.
Around this time, we bought a house (a steal of a deal in the mid five figures), which lowered our monthly costs by about $US350. Combine that with the fact that we were now making some decent money (around $US70,000 combined) and had finely tuned skills in frugality, and during our best months we were able to put almost $US4,000 towards the debts.
In March of 2013, I submitted the final payment on the student loans. I didn’t go Tom Cruise on the couch or anything, but it was a great feeling. I remember sitting there, once again looking at a number — only this time it was $US0.
It wasn’t an easy process. I definitely didn’t realise how much sacrifice would be involved. We skipped vacations, holidays, and lost friends (they stop inviting you out once they learn you’re going to say “no” to $US9 craft brews). But we got a lot better at making less expensive memories, and friends with the same priorities.
About 10 months later, I started writing about my experiences on my blog, Impersonal Finance, because who doesn’t want unsolicited advice from the internet? But what I’ve really learned is that it’s not about making good money, it’s about making good decisions. You avoid your weaknesses, and play to your strengths.
We still have a mortgage (for now), and one relatively simple goal: Eventually, we are going to own our time. That’s it, and that’s what makes it worth it.
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