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!

Add Your Comment

All comments are moderated... your email address will not be published.

Talk to me! :o)

Comments

orneryswife

We are in the process of paying off our debts, and at our current rate will just have the house left in another year. I like the idea of living simply like you do, but my husband is not quite there yet. I am patient though. someday!

Thanks for the neat story, it is encouraging to read about people who have gone where we want to go!
TM

Jon in France

Debt is just pernicious. We are fortunate that at a relatively early age we are free of debt, save for a small amount “owned” by our business that is secured on assets well away from anything personal.

Having a business debt in France makes a lot of sense for the tax regimes but personal debt here is strictly controlled and difficult to come by.

I used to think that that was short-sighted and just bad buisness sense when the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying consumer led booming growth. Now I see that they might have a point…

Jean

Can you tell us more about becoming debt-free? Did you keep any money in savings or apply it all to your loans? How long did it take you to become completely debt-free … specifically to pay off your student loans and car loans? Thanks!!

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Jean, actually, I have some future posts planned that will cover these subjects. Thanks for your interest!

Amanda

Hello!

Thank you for sharing your story. My fiancee and I are getting married next Saturday, and have worked to not only pay cash for the wedding and honeymoon, but also pay down our debts. We will have both of our consumer debts paid off by July of this year, and then it will be the rest of my student loans to tackle. Then we will just have the mortgage. By July, it will have taken us about a year of focused efforts on the debts to have paid off $20,000, plus to have paid for the wedding/honeymoon with cash. Then I have $9,000 left in student loans (down from $42,000 just 4 years ago!).

Such a great feeling to know we will be debt-free!

Amy

Thanks for your post. I so hope that someday we can be debt free. My dh owes an insane amount of student loans, I feel like we will die before they are ever paid in full. :-(

Diana in BGKY

I have a similar story. When I bought my first house for $85,000 in 1995, I owed more than $10,000 in credit card debt and had a new car that I’d borrowed about $10,000 for a few months before (mine had been in an accident and was a total loss). I’d put $5,000 toward the car and paid only closing fees on the house. Then the furnace went out, and I limped through the winter–which can still be harsh, even in Nashville. I put a new system in, as cheaply as possible (thank goodness I found someone reliable through a friend). He was about to put a water heater in for me when the bottom came out of mine. I’d bought one on a credit card with no balance and paid it off in three months. That was when I said enough. I started to pay my car off. Though it would have made sense to pay off the credit cards first, I wanted the car paid off. The one that was wrecked was a month from being paid off, and I wanted my car to be mine only. It was in the spring of 1998. After that, I took the car payment and extra payments and put that toward my credit card. Throughout this time I moved balances to lower and no-interest cards, taking advantage of the offers a good credit rating gave me. I paid those off in the spring of 1999. I’d decided to move out of a larger city and to a smaller city near my family. I put the car up for sale and made money on that, though it was four-months later. To save money, I lived at my mom’s (in a room with four cats) and commuted (less a commute than the old house). When I bought the new house, in 1999, I vowed to pay it off. With no credit card debt and no car payment, I made extra payments every month. With every raise, I allowed myself a treat of some kind from the first paycheck, then the additional money went toward the house. In 2004, I paid off my house. Then I saved enough money to work part-time for three years and pursue my dream. I’m back to full-time work, but still pursuing and still debt free. I am back in school, paying for it as I go. But I’ve always done that, even as a young adult. And I have a B.S., two masters, and now am working toward a third. There are many great things about being debt free, but the amazing thing that few people tell you about is the buying power you get. Things cost what they cost, not the cost plus interest. I hope to never carry a credit card balance again and will only go into debt if I need something that is imperative to my life or future.

Kari

I can relate to so much of what you have said on your blog in different articles. I too grew up in a small town in Northern New England, (Mass.) I did not stay, however, but have carried my “New England Values and Work Ethic” with me. I would love to find about 3-5 acres somewhere and live the kind of life that is lived simply on that much land. I have always done what you said about learning how to do something. I just jump in and work at it until I get it right. People always say they do not understand how I do all the things that I do. I just do. My husband is not of the same mind, however. He likes to buy things and he hates to build or repair things. We are not rich, we both still work, even though I am at full retirement age and I do the saving and the simple life things and he goes along for the ride most of the time as long as he does not have to do the repairs and building. That is OK, he is a good oposite for me. Keeps me in check. He reminds me to enjoy life and not work all the time at something.

NWO

I had debt, consumer debt buying rubbish I didnt need, by the time I paid it off, I didnt even have most of the stuff that got me there in the first place. I could always afford my debt but it stopped me making choices. My whole ethos towards consumer spending has totally changed now, it is a case of do I need it or do I want it, can I make do or mend (or often borrow ie tools) before I spend, to the extent that I am almost at the stage of being able to work part time and have the same lifestyle. Debt is like a form of self submitting slavery and its not for me ever gain