Let me take you back to the ‘beginning’. I finished high school and decided to stay home for another year and go to community college. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go to college, nor did I know what field I’d like to focus on, besides just a basic business degree. I had a good job that was flexible and allowed me to work 3 days/week and still crank out about 30 hours/week, while I went to class on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday. In hindsight, this was such a great idea that I didn’t even realize at the time. Why was it a good idea? Because it saved me about $20,000 in more school debt.
After 1 year of community college, I was itching to get out of dodge and go experience life on my own and have a college experience. Unfortunately, there was a price tag involved and concluded with me living extremely beyond my means. My parents were never very upfront with how much money they had available to support my college education. One day, I was telling my dad that I was considering Baylor University and he said “I can’t afford that.” My internal response was “well, what can you afford?”. That’s when I decided to go “all in” and move forward on attending Baylor, even though my parents weren’t going to give any financial support, and I clearly didn’t have the money saved. My rationale was: I will get a good job (read: better than I would from a public school) by going to school there, and be able to pay off my loans anyway, so it should work out in the wash. Man, was I wrong. Now, the value of public and private schools is a discussion for another day, so we’ll “parking lot” that one.
So, long story short, I was accepted to Baylor University, and resolved in my heart that I would owe a lot of money when I finished school. Like the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind. I would always “joke” about the fact that I would be finishing school with nearly $80,000 in loans, which may have been my way to protect myself about the real issue and how horrible I knew the situation was.
Unfortunately, I did not do a good job of budgeting my money. I was one of those types that just tried not to spend money. That never works out well though because $3 at Wendy’s over and over again for all your meals clearly ends up being more expensive than just buying groceries. Heck, do you know how cheap sweet potatoes are, and how great of a meal they are? I probably borrowed a lot more money than I needed to. And if I would have budgeted better, I could have been seen that a part time job would have made a huge difference all throughout school to help pay rent or food.
I did end up getting a part time job my senior year, as I became less involved in my fraternity and realized that I really needed some extra cash to “stop the bleeding”. I saw the loan balances rising and it was starting to freak me out. My senior year I actually maxed out the allowed amount of money that I could borrow through private loans. My dad stepped in and co-signed on a Parent Plus loan for me.
After 3 years and a few summer schools sessions, I graduated with a BBA in Information Systems and International Business, and a balance of nearly $80,000. It’s my guess that about $10,000 of that was interest. For a year of so, I only paid the interest, because it took me some time to get a good stable job in my desired field. All in all, it was about a year and a half before I landed the job that I would stay in for the next (almost) 6 years.
I married the greatest woman on this earth in 2007. I’ll never forget the feeling of talking to her after she logged into my loan accounts online to make the payments (I was overseas and had limited access to internet). She added up the balances and they were still sitting around $80,000. She was overwhelmed. I was somewhat naive. That’s when the switch flipped for me. I didn’t want us to carry this in our marriage. I really hated coming into marriage with the burden at all. It is said that you become one when you get married, which includes finances. It was really hard for me to have a good conscience about saying “our” debt instead of “my” debt.
Shortly after getting married, someone gave me some Dave Ramsey FPU material, and I was immediately hooked. It was what I needed. Up to that point, I knew we needed a budget. But that was as far as I could take it. Dave’s principles and teaching helped me lead us and get our money in order. I was not perfect though. I definitely screwed up a few times. My biggest mistake was telling Sarah what we were doing instead of why we were doing it. It would have made it easier for her because I had these goals of paying off debt, saving money, saving for retirement, etc etc. But all she experienced was me living and dying by the budget and saying that we couldn’t spend money. Honestly, it was hard. Really hard.
It was also hard when Sarah wanted to be free to change jobs, not work full-time, or at least be doing something that she enjoys. I wanted that for her too. Debt makes that hard to accomplish sometimes. I always felt so heavy and scared about that huge debt payment and later on, the snowball. Little by little, we paid off some of the smaller loan balances and experienced some wins. We gained momentum. We grew together. We had cheap date nights, ate at home a lot of nights (Sarah’s cooking is better than almist any restaurant), and did our best to shut off our “want meters”.
We started attacking our debt in early 2008. 3 years later, we were in the home stretch. I think we were closing in on $10,000 left. We could see the finish line. It’s really crazy looking back, but I did the math and we were “giving” 30% of our take home pay to Sallie Mae. That just isn’t right! I made the payment manually every month, because I wanted to be aware of what we were working towards.
In April 2011, we became debt free . Sarah clicked the “Submit Payment” button on the website. And it was a glorious moment that I will never forget. I honestly felt surreal - we had been waiting for the day for so long! A couple months later, we even had the opportunity to be on the radio with Dave Ramsey and share our story .
I look forward to sharing more about our journey with paying of debt, budgeting, and personal finance.