Debt Is Not Forever

Debt is not forever.

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.

Tower Bridge was really close to where we stayed, and kind of what I was expecting London Bridge to look like.

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.)

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

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!

2014 Year In Review

As the year rounds to a close, we thought it would be fun to check in with everyone at Breaking Even Communications about their year. Here’s what we done, learned, and look forward to in 2015:

John Swinconeck

Can you handle how cute John's new baby Sophie is?

Can you handle how cute John’s new baby Sophie is?

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
What hasn’t been the coolest part of my year? Any other time, I’d say that, hands-down, returning to Maine was the best. Reconnecting with great friends after a four year absence, and getting back to the way life should be. Except that this was the year my baby daughter was born, and as wonderful as it is to be back here, the arrival of the latest Swinconeck trumps everything else.

Now that I think about it, she’s the first Maine native in the family. What more could I ask for?

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Getting more active as an official part of Breaking Even’s staff tops the list. I get to work (albeit remotely) with great folks with diverse professional backgrounds. We’re a scrappy bunch carving out a niche in the small business landscape, and I think we’re pretty darn unique for our corner of New England.

Now, if you asked me what the most interesting part of my professional year was, I’d say it was the amount of time I spent exploring Pinterest. I’m a white dude in his late 30s who thinks that Hulk Hogan is still kind of cool. I still test the limits as to how many PopRocks I can put in my mouth at once. Bathroom humor to me is very much a fine art. I ponder belly button lint. So, to explore a branch of social media filled with Etsy-esque crafts, recipes, inspirational quotes and DIY projects is an eye-opener in the best possible way. #IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations)

What are you looking forward to next year?
I say more opportunities to explore outliers on social media. I’m looking forward to applying some of my photojournalism talents in an educational setting.
I’m looking forward expanding my skill set, delving further into Pinterest, further into Google + and maybe, just maybe, finally getting a tablet.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
I actually got married this year, something I never thought I’d do! We had a great day and being married is so far seriously way better than I thought it would be. Apparently, I can commit.

Also, this is the first year I’ve lost 0.0 pounds and I’m actually perfectly fine with that. I’ve gotten way healthier: two standing walking dates with friends a week, a weekly yoga class, way better eating. I have energy, I feel healthy, I realize that is what’s more important than the number on the tag inside my pants (and I get that I say that every year but every year, I mean it more than ever.)

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
January 1, 2014, Breaking Even was just me. December 31, 2014, there are two of us full time (Kassie and I) and two of us part time (John and Leslie). We’ve scaled up pretty fast and it’s been fun to finally get to have time to work on operations/getting more efficient now that we have a strong team in place. I would say a big part of the thinking big has been having an accountability partner and actively working towards goals I set in place all year long. As someone who usually drops resolutions by February 1, this was a vast improvement, even if I didn’t personally execute everything I aimed for.

What are you looking forward to next year?
I did some goal setting and am working on both personal and professional goals this year (last year was all business). Professionally, I want to work on systems/documentation as a main goal of the business. (Sam Carpenter of Working The System has changed my life!) But this year for the first time in six years, I am actively setting personal goals too, like finally finishing editing my novel I wrote two years ago and seeing if I can get it published. We’ll see. 🙂

Kassandra Strout

Only Kassie could look this happy after PRing in a marathon.

Only Kassie could look this happy after PRing in a marathon.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
2014 was one of my biggest years ever (actually a little nervous that I peaked this year!). Running-wise, I had a great year and surprised myself with both marathons (it was also the first year I tried a spring and a fall marathon). Admittedly, the spring race didn’t end as smoothly as I’d have liked, but every run teaches you something. Even if that something is “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Another cool part of the year was committing more time to exploring the area. I found some beautiful places and spent my time with some beautiful people.

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Being asked to join the Breaking Even team was definitely the coolest part of my year :). My learning curve had an aggressive slant: from the more technical part of things, like learning how websites work, to the marketing part of things, like writing, which I love, there has been a lot of professional growth taking place in the past year!

For the sake of the readers, I’ll commit to just ONE cool thing: Tech Thursday. Getting in front of the camera is still daunting, but it is always good to get out of your comfort zone once in awhile! Video editing was also my ideal challenge: working with the raw footage and realizing that there’s at least a million ways that the video COULD be cut. The videos weren’t highly produced or anything, but they brought a good deal of joy and a sense of accomplishment to my days. Seeing the support/encouragement from the online community was definitely a motivator, too!

What are you looking forward to next year?
In my personal life, I’m looking forward to seeing how much further I can push myself with running. I’ve signed up for the Sugarloaf Marathon in May, so far that’s my biggest plan for 2015. I also have a list of books to read and some old writing projects in the works to tackle. Finally, travelling more. Visiting new places is exciting, and it also helps me appreciate where I am in a more meaningful way.

Leslie Fournier

Leslie custom designed and built this cool barn/home and now gets to have her horses closeby.

Leslie custom designed and built this cool barn/home and now gets to have her horses closeby.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
This year has been relatively quiet for me on a personal level, which I’m thankful for after the previous few years of major change, particularly building a new home/barn and moving. It’s been our first full year on ‘the land” as we still call it and there’s a sense of finally getting into the stride of things. When I say home/barn I could say barn/home as we now live above our horses in a barn… which is definitely cool (to me anyway). The best little part of the year was riding my horse Brenna again after almost 2 years.. a small milestone for both of us.

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Definitely the coolest part of my year professionally was finally connecting with Nicole and becoming part of the (wonderful) Breaking Even team. Doing web design and development had brought me back to my creative roots and I am loving every minute of it. It’s especially exciting to be challenged with learning the latest design techniques through Illustrator and Photoshop, and bring the resulting ideas to fruition through Wordpress and Joomla. Yeah.. I am really loving Joomla.

What are you looking forward to next year?
There’s a lot of excitement for new projects at Breaking Even. Also, I’ll be going live with the rebuild of my hobby/boutique web site which will feel like a major accomplishment. Finally I’ll be beginning a new adventure exploring and sharing ideas about barn home design, which brings my professional and personal goals closer together. Next year looks very bright indeed…

A Look Back At 2012

2012 was quite a year, so we decided to make a picture capturing all of the big things that happened.

Happy New Year everybody!2012review3

Breaking Even Takes On National Novel Writing Month

What to say in 50,000 words? Guess we better think of something!

What to say in 50,000 words? Guess we better think of something!

They say every day you should do something that scares you. What if you dedicated a whole month to it?

Alice and I, beyond working together, happen to be really good friends. When I told her last month that, after reading The Happiness Project, I wanted to tackle National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo for short), she agreed to join me. It’s the first year for both of us, though Alice actually has some novel writing experience, which I’m pretty jealous of at the moment.

We decided as a non-work but good life experience we’d tackle this novel month together. This will get us thinking more creatively and ideally make us better at our day jobs.

These past few weeks we’ve been reading helpful books (like No Plot, No Problem), writing down character and story ideas, and hoping we can writing 50,000 words in 30 days while business trips, Thanksgiving, regular work, and life continue to happen.

Thanks for your support (asking us ‘How is the novel going?’ is great for support and accountability) and maybe, someday in the future, you’ll see our novels on a bookshelf.

But until typing ‘The End’, I begin this project completely terrified. 🙂