On our wedding day, my husband and I were both just out of school. Neither of us had any savings or anything of any value to bring to our marriage, but I don’t remember ever worrying about finances then. My husband had just started a new job and we had rented a small furnished cottage. We had student loans to pay off, and a car payment to make. We bought a bookcase and a sofa bed and signed up for monthly payments on them. We managed to save a small amount each month and we never accumulated a large amount of debt, but still almost every cent of every paycheck had a place to go even before the check was cashed.
Still we were happy building our new life together and didn’t feel much of a financial pinch. When our first son was born about a year later, we never questioned our decision that I should be home to care for him. Then my husband’s job transferred him to another state and we had to look for another apartment. Eventually we found something acceptable, with heat included in the rent, that was owned by a husband and wife who seemed to be very pleasant. Unfortunately they turned out to be miserly and mean and we quickly found out that they were able to control the thermostat in our apartment from their apartment next door. They kept shutting our heat off… the cold made us miserable and we were worried about the baby. After a few months we realized we couldn’t live there, so we started looking for somewhere else to live.
What we found was an almost new house. The owner had recently been paralyzed in a hunting accident and had been air lifted across the country to be with his parents. The seller offered us the opportunity to take over the owner’s first and second mortgages. Combined, the two morgages were still less than the rent on our cold apartment. We were still paying off the student loans, the car and a few other purchases we had needed for the house, like a refrigerator, washer and dryer.
A few years went by, and then my husband’s next job promotion took us back to our hometown area. By this time we had realized that being closer to family was important to us so we were eager to move, even though we were reluctant to leave our house. The real estate agent assured us that our house would sell quickly. We had managed to save enough money so we could pay cash for the three acres of land that we bought and we were quickly approved for a construction loan.
We decided on the type of house we wanted and chose a floor plan, hired a crew and the work began. This was in late March. By May, the foundation was done and the shell of the house had been built and we were already way over budget. The carpenters took much longer than they had estimated and their wages were more than double the figures they had given us. There were problems with the septic system and the original plans had to be redone. We ended up hiring someone else to work with the problems that had developed and the cost of the septic system kept going up and up. Then the drilling started on our artesian well and day after day they couldn’t find water. This, they told us, had never happened in this area where water is usually found within the first few hours of drilling. More days went by. Finally after thousands of dollars worth of drilling time we were told that it looked like they wouldn’t find water at all and that they would have to start again in another location… UNLESS we wanted them to drill for a while longer. We decided to have them go for another hundred feet and right at the end of that level they finally hit water. The well ended up costing more than three times the estimate we had been given.
The following months were rough. We had the two mortgages on the old house to pay each month, the payment on the construction loan, the student loan payments, and no money left in the construction loan, a shell of a house, and a new baby about to be born. There were many times when we wondered how we were going to keep paying all those payments, and we worried about what we would do if the months kept going by and our old house still didn’t sell. We were learning the hard way how easy it is to get into a big financial mess through no fault of your own. We had researched, gotten quotes and thought we were being so sensible about the move and the construction of our new house. What we hadn’t figured on were the pecularities of nature, or that people don’t always do what they say they will do, or even that the real estate market would be in a little slump just when we were trying to sell. In trying to be frugal, we had taken out a construction loan that allowed for enough money to cover the expenses of building the house if everything had gone along smoothly as planned… but we hadn’t allowed enough extra money for all the things that didn’t work out the way they should have.
Of course our old house did eventually sell, but not until the following January, and by that time we were determined never to be in such a tight financial situation again. Although we made almost no money from the sale of the house, not having those two mortgage payments each month gave us the opportunity to start paying off our debts. And we went after those debts with a vengeance. We started with the student loans first. Any extra money we could get our hands on, we applied to the amount of the principal on the student loans. When the student loans were paid off, we did the same thing with the car payments… and then with the construction loan. From that point on, if we couldn’t pay for something outright, we didn’t buy it. Considering that we still had the interior of our house to finish, that was difficult at times, but we had decided to try building the interior of the house ourselves. And we did.. a bit at a time as we could afford the materials. By the time our house was completely finished, it was also completely paid for.
We did go briefly into debt one more time when we started our own store. We took out as small a business loan as we thought we could manage with, and by making extra payments on the principle we paid the loan off completely in less than a year. After we made the last payment the president of the bank paid us a visit and tried to convince us to take out another loan. He just could not believe that we had started a thriving business on so little money.
It has been many years since we have had any debt. We have the monthly bills to pay like groceries, telephone and utilities, of course, and the yearly ones like taxes and insurances. If we need to make a big purchase like when an appliance needs replacing, we take the money from our emergency fund and pay the full amount at the time of purchase. We love the idea of never paying interest! We have two aging cars that we bought new and paid cash for, and my husband has kept them maintained and in good condition. The biggest problem is the way the bodies rust out from the salt that is used on the roads in winter here. We will keep them until it is no longer sensible to do so.
Being completely debt-free has given us the luxury of time. We can set our own working schedule. When we want something (although it seems that our wants are few these days), we have the money already set aside to pay for it. We can plan our life around the things that are really important to us, and enjoy our time together. Life is good!