Free From Broke has a contest encouraging readers to think about their personal finance tipping point. He wants to know, when was the moment you made the choice to take charge of your life instead of your charges taking control of you.
I must admit, I never hit rock bottom like some of the stories I’ve heard and read. But I do distinctly remember when I started to think about debt in a different way.
It was 2001. My husband and I had bought our first car together – a 2000 Chevy Lumina. We put down a couple of thousand dollars down on the 4-year loan, and because we were young and didn’t have much of a credit rating, paid a ridiculous 10.75 percent interest on the loan.
And the very next day, we had an ice dam on our roof leak into our living room.
And a few months later, our upstairs bathroom plumbing started to leak into our kitchen.
Needless to say, it was not a great time for us. Our savings was decimated by the necessary repairs, and now we had a car payment to deal with.
I was in our “new” car driving somewhere, when I heard a radio interview with Gwendolyn Gabriel, author of a book called “Become Totally Debt-Free in Five Years or Less.” I was very interested in the topic. It never occurred to me to live debt-free before. Everyone I knew had a car loan, student loan debt, a house payment. I just thought that was the way it was.
I went online and bought the book. I devoured it. I shared ideas from it with my husband, who instantly got on board with me. His parents had gone bankrupt twice, and he did not want to follow the same path.
Gabriel’s book lead me to other frugal living and personal finance books, such as The Complete Tightwad Gazette and Debt Proof Your Holidays. I couldn’t wait for Monday morning updates of The Dollar Stretcher. It totally opened my eyes to another world.
My husband I started to attack our debt. In one year, we knocked out $19,000 in debt. My husband wanted to make a career change, and since our debt repayment had given us some freedom, he quit his job and went back to graduate school. He got an assistantship, which brought in some money and health insurance for him, and earned his master’s degree in ONE year. He found a new part-time job shortly after that, and we started attacking the small amount of grad school debt.
When he finally started getting full-time work, we continued to live like he was in grad school. We piled money onto our mortgage with the goal of paying it off in 10 years (instead of 30).
We had our house half-paid off, a little bit of savings, and no other debt. And then we had a chance to get some lakeshore property on a piece of land that’s been in my family since 1946. We decided to build a house on the land. And have a baby. In the same year.
Our new mortgage was now FIVE times our old one. We had an extra mouth to feed and on top of that, a 30 mile commute (instead of a 3-mile one). And then we had twins two years later!
And as challenging as it has been to make ends meet, we love our new house and our life in the country. And we realize it would never have been possible if I hadn’t heard that radio interview.
Adopting a frugal lifestyle and learning to live with as little debt as possible has allowed us to build the life of our dreams. The day I heard that radio interview totally changed my perspective. Debt does not have to be a way of life.
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