June 23, 2020 was an ordinary day to most but it was a day that I will remember always! The weather was steamy hot, showing all the signs of an Alabama summer. Yet, the heat was the last thing on my mind. Upon waking up that morning, I knew that day would be etched in my mind like a birthday, anniversary or graduation day for the rest of my life. It would hold a special place in our family’s history and would be a day that would be celebrated with our future grandchildren and generations to come. I knew that we would commemorate this day forever as we taught the tenets and core values of our family that would change our family tree for generations to come. You see, on that day, around 6:00 in the evening, my family sat together at a computer in our home office and paid off our last student loan! This signified the end to an intense 22 month journey of paying off $224,00!
Debt freedom would be the new foundation on which we would build the rest of our lives! Since becoming debt-free and even while on the journey, many asked “How did you all do it?” Believe me, the thought of ever paying off that much debt was overwhelming in the beginning. So overwhelming that we actually gave up. Let me tell you about it so if you feel the same, you won’t feel so ashame or alone and hopefully will find some motivation to keep going. About 16 years ago, we were sinking in debt. We had been married about a year and almost immediately afterward we set off to live the American Dream (bad move)!
Our American Dream…well nightmare
We bought a 4000 square feet home, two new cars, and even put our daughter into private school. From the outside, everything was great and we were a couple to be envied (NOT!). But on the inside, we were stressed out, having marriage problems, overworked, and exhausted. We fought all the time and for the life of me, I could not understand what about living like this was supposed to be “The dream”. Our “American Dream” resembled more of a nightmare! After crying out for the Lord to give us a way out one night, my feelers were up as I was so desperate for an escape from my newfound life! That next day, I heard this crazy guy on the radio talking about debt freedom. You guessed, Dave Ramsey! I still remember the street I was driving on as I hastingly reached for the knob to turn the radio up. Though I only caught the last five minutes of the show, I remember having such hope! I drove home and search him up and immediately joined a class at a nearby church. We were so pumped that we sold our new home and moved back into an apartment. We sold our new cars and bought ones for less that we could pay off in a few months.
Student Loans and hopelessness
We plowed through $50,000 in debt in 18 months! We paid off all of our cars, credit cards, computer loans, jewelry…all consumer debt! But were we debt-free?…sadly no! But we looked at our mountain of student loans and said no way! This was hard enough! Everybody has student loans. We will pay them off eventually. But we didn’t…for 14 years, we deferred them, put them in forbearance, whatever we could do to pretend in our minds that we were debt-free is what we did!
A few years ago, I was teaching a Financial Peace University class assisting one of the elders at our new church. I was telling our story and I remember saying, we are debt-free except for our student loans. The elder later pulled me to the side and said that I should probably change my language because we really weren’t debt-free if we still had student loans. He also said that by continuing to say it that way would make us believe it and we would be less apt to do anything about it.
I was a little offended but boy was he right! For 14 years, we had not done a thing about our student loans but paid a little extra on them here and there! On the contrary, we had begun to be very good stewards of our money, so we had been blessed with a tremendous increase in our salaries over the years. My husband and I discussed how we really needed to finish the journey that we had started and really work to become debt-free. In August of 2018, we tightened our belts and sat down to the table, and constructed a plan to eat that elephant (student loans) one bite at a time. At first, it was very difficult because I was the nerd who did the budget for all of these years. But we knew that defeating this Goliath of a task would require something different…REAL teamwork! My husband learned how to do the budget, pay the bills, and set financial goals for our family.
Working together, progress
This really evened out the load which was way different than when we did it the first time. But it also brought about a different level of accountability for me and I have to be honest, I DIDN’T LIKE IT! Because I did most of the finances in the past, I was not used to my husband actually knowing enough of what was what financially to deny any of my requests. I was very used to him saying “Sure, whatever you think, baby.” I honestly, had a love-hate relationship with those words. Love-because that meant I could have whatever I wanted (usually a vacation) and hate because deep down I knew that it probably wasn’t what I should be doing with our finances at the moment. But all of that changed when my husband became committed to our finances and getting out of debt. His answers were more like “Sure, but baby, please show where that is in the budget first.” Ughhh! And yes, I had a few tantrums, I will embarrassingly admit.
My pouting had little impact on him though. My husband just stayed as calm and kind as always, and he always reminded me that it was ok if we chose to do such and such as long as I understood and agreed that it would prolong our goals. Ughh again! Kindness with a dose of reality sucks! With my husband’s new level of engagement in our finances, something special begin to happen in our marriage.
As we worked together, I no longer felt like I was carrying the fate of the family on my shoulders any more. I slept better. I was less grouchy and moody (at least that what my family said, lol). I started to actually ENJOY my kids, my husband, my life. I felt…covered. Something about knowing that my husband knew and gave attention to the financial details of our lives made me feel covered and secure! It was something that I did not even know that I needed or longed for. And he changed too! He was a more confident and a stronger leader in our family, overall. When we discussed our family’s financial goals, I no longer felt like it was all up to me to make them happen. I knew that my new role would be to help my husband to accomplish the vision that we had set forth together. It was such a relief! I had another level of respect for my husband and by being involved, he showed his love for me in a whole new way. And guess what else! We accomplished the goal that we initially thought impossible in record time, paying off $224,000 in 22 months! There is such power and agreement in working together.
So I urge you, if you are married, work hard to get on one accord with your spouse sooner than later! Together, you will be able to accomplish things unimaginable! If you’re single, find an accountability partner, one whom you trust and respect. The bible says in Eccesiastes 4:12, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” With God in the center, you too, can stand back to back with your partner, covering all sides to defeat the enemy of debt in your life. Because with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).