What I really like about blogs is you make friends you would have never otherwise made. My primary example is British Phil when people ask me for an example but I have also made friends who I’ve never gotten to meet, one of them being Jackie at The Debt Myth. (While Jackie and I have not yet climbed a mountain together, I’m sure we would do something equally epic if we ever met.)
Jackie approached a bunch of us about doing a ‘debt is not forever’ post on our blogs in solidarity this January.
Many of you know I started off my life as a personal finance blogger. I did it to force myself to learn about the topic and since starting in 2007, I’ve learned a lot about making money, spending money, saving money, and giving money. The best and most basic idea I’ve taken away from all this: don’t spend more money than you make and always put some aside.
Not Getting Into Debt In The First Place: A Mixture of Effort and Luck (like most things in life)
For several years, I made $10/hour and had to live on it. To force myself not to go into debt, I had to understand where every penny went. I kept a notebook (this is before I had a cell phone- because, you know, I couldn’t afford one!) and wrote down all my purchases for two months. I saw patterns (buying convenience food at higher prices, noticing I couldn’t walk out of TJ Maxx without buying something, etc.) and changed them. A lot of these habits still stick with me today, and I think that’s mostly a good thing.
While making $10/hour (ever since my first job actually), I’ve also had an IRA and I’ve put $25/week into it no matter what. When I was more ‘flush’ with cash ($11/hour, wohoo), I started to put $25/week into savings. I used the savings three times: twice to keep the business going and once to go to London.
I know what you’re thinking, what does spending wisely and saving money have to do with debt? Well, not much. But the main reason I was able to put money away for savings and retirement even with my modest salary is I have never had debt. This is for two reasons: 1) my parents paid for my college and 2) I’ve always paid cash for cars. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, I am lucky. But not all things remain the same.
I eventually fell in love. Gamechanger on the life level and on the finance level.
Getting Two People On One Page: Not Easy But Worth It
Derrick is very financially responsible but as a homeowner, he had some debt in a home equity line of credit.
We did Financial Peace University online together (well, most of it anyway!) within the first year of our relationship to make sure we were on the same page with finances. Regardless of how you feel about Dave Ramsey, the modules made us have conversations we would have never had otherwise. And I’d be lying if I said the first 4 months of budgeting weren’t initially painful. But we kept trying. Relationships are about compromise and it takes awhile to get there.
Almost two years later, we still do our monthly budget and pay all our bills. It is painless and takes less than an hour. (So if you are just starting this process and arguing about how much to spend on groceries, take heart, it gets better!) Since we started, we have knocked off the home equity loan entirely while cash flowing our wedding.
Our aversion to debt also dictated a lot about our wedding actually, which I get isn’t romantic but I am super proud of. Part of the reason we chose our venue, decided on a morning wedding with an open bar, etc. was because we had a set amount budgeted for the wedding and didn’t want to go over. It meant parts of it weren’t fancy but I’d say it was a memorable event I’d change very little about if I did it again. We spent on our priorities and either DIYed or let go of a lot of expectations for the rest. (See white bridesmaid dress, $5 thrift store veil, $20 Old Navy flats, and suit Derrick already owned below for examples of budgetary compromise.)
I would like to say one thing here. I have never resented Derrick for having debt while I didn’t. Not even once, not even a little. He has gotten on the ‘let’s not have debt’ path without resentment. I give him a lot of credit for that!
So while our debt didn’t even last two years of our life together, I can say I plan on our love being forever.
Onward and Upward
Since we (because it’s not just me anymore) don’t have debt, we are able to do things we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. After working hard these last two years to pay for a wedding, pay off the home equity loan, and save up 4 months of emergency expenses, Derrick now has the chance to be an entrepreneur himself. Because he’s a really talented glass blower, among other things:
(Yes, I’ll update his website with a shopping cart for his glass, once he has time to finish all the custom orders he has waiting and can make some inventory!)
All this to say debt is not forever and the best ways to deal with it are 1) little by little and 2) avoiding it when you can. I’ll link to all the other Debt Is Not Forever posts once Jackie makes the list live so you can see that my story is among the many ways to make the journey.
So take heart this new year and know at least one random woman in Maine is rooting for you to get out of and stay out of debt!