We’ll walk barefoot on this grass some day . . .
DH = Dear Husband
Welcome to my new site! I’m Prudence Debtfree (no – not my real name), and I’ve been chronicling our journey out of debt on a weekly basis since June 2012. Over the past few days, as I’ve revisited all of my old posts in their move to this new site, I’ve realized that a story is unfolding. Do you remember the elements of a story from your high school English classes?
Introduction – establishes the setting, the main characters, and the major conflict
Setting: Our story is set in the present day in a prosperous suburb of a Canadian city.
Main characters: I am one of the main characters, and so is my husband, DH. Other characters include our three daughters as well as extended family, friends, and colleagues.
Major conflict: Conflicts typically fall into one of five categories:
- human vs. human
- human vs. self
- human vs. nature
- human vs. society
- human vs. the supernatural
I can’t decide if ours falls into category #2 or #4. We’re fighting our debt – a debt that added up to a total of $257,000 in June of 2012. On the one hand, we have to take responsibility for having borrowed every dollar – evidence that ours is a human vs. self conflict. On the other hand, we live in a time and place where debt is marketed so aggressively, it’s normalized. Average personal debt has skyrocketed over the last few decades, and personal bankruptcy rates along with it. So in that sense, our major conflict is human vs. society.
More on the two main characters
DH and I fit right in with this debt-ridden era. We each brought personal debt into our marriage in the early 1990s, and together, we grew our combined debt. We came into young adulthood in the 1980s when yuppies were setting the standards for trendy houses, “dressing for success”, travel, and fine dining. Not everyone bought into ever-increasing levels of consumerism and lifestyle – but we did. And that was “OK”. It was “normal”. DH had a promising career in high-tech, and I had a steady part-time teaching position. We were comfortable with our debts, and while we consistently added to them, we always made our payments.
A bit of a prologue
The story of our journey out of debt includes a prologue – a narrative of DH’s career crisis which took him out of high-tech and eventually to self-employment. There it is in one neat little sentence, but it happened over the ten years from 1999 – 2009. It involved job loss and uncertainty as one high-tech company after another failed. It involved six years of unemployment/underemployment after DH lost heart and decided to leave his career altogether. Six years of denial. Six years of uncertain direction. Six years of financial distress, marital tensions, a sense of powerlessness, and depression. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Gradually, DH singled out a line of work that was both technical and creative, and in 2009, we made the decision to invest in a home business. It worked out! We drank in the relief of DH’s success, his confident direction, his steady income. But without intention, we started spending more again. By this point, however, the landscape had changed. We’d experienced hardship. We weren’t comfortable with our debts – and they were even higher now with the business loan added in. We were getting older. We were very aware that there were no guarantees with DH’s business – or anything else. “Something” had happened before, and “something” could happen again. We couldn’t pinpoint the problem or a solution; we just knew we wanted our chaotic finances to be under control.
Rising action: Our journey out of debt begins.
In the spring of 2012, a friend of mine told me she’d like to lend us a copy of Dave Ramsey’s CD book, The Total Money Makeover. I accepted her offer without enthusiasm, and only decided to give it a listen several weeks later – out of an annoying sense of obligation. In my car on the way to work one morning in May 2012, with no expectation, I caught a vision of debt-freedom. In a sudden burst of clarity, I knew that DH and I could do this! We would discover and confront our flawed attitudes and patterns in money matters. We would open our eyes and get current with our finances. We would save a mini-emergency fund. And we would take on each of our debts, smallest to largest, with focused intensity. I got DH to listen to the CD too, and he became equally psyched. We had begun our journey out of debt.
On June 1, 2012, our debts looked like this:
Debt #1: New car debt – $8,600
Debt #2: Old car & course & dog debt – $12,800
Debt #3: Business debt – $80,800
Debt #4: Mortgage – $155,000
Grand Total: $257,200
Our progress to date
After twenty-eight months of debt-reduction, our numbers have changed:
Debt #1 – $0
Debt #2 – $0
Debt #3 – $28,800
Debt #4 – $135,000
Grand Total: $163,800
That’s $93,400 down! We’ve cut back on spending and we’ve sought out opportunities to earn more income. Our progress, while always in the right direction, has not been steady. There have been months of booming business, low expenses, and whopping debt repayments. There have been months of slow business, huge expenses and no debt repayment. It’s been humbling to acknowledge our respective money-flaws, and challenging to deal with points of disagreement. It’s been surprising to realize that money-management is connected to every aspect of life. The learning curves are sharp. But we are learning. Our daughters have a lukewarm attitude towards our new frugality at the best of times. They hate it at the worst. But each one is gaining new awareness and money-smarts. We see it. What a bonus!
“When you pay off your house and burn the mortgage, take off your shoes and walk through the backyard,” says Dave Ramsey. “The grass feels different under your feet.” I don’t know where our story will go from here, but I believe that some day, DH and I will take that barefoot walk on the grass.
There’s still a long journey ahead, and I’d love to have you join us. If you’re trying to get out of debt, you might feel alone in a culture that makes a taboo of money talk. And with thousands of ads working on you every day to buy, buy, buy because “You deserve it!” and “You only live once!” – it’s important to balance out that influence with the opposite message. That buying does not equal success or happiness. That you have more power to change your financial situation than you might think. That debt does not have to be a part of your life. I read other debt- and personal finance-blogs daily, and it’s kept me accountable, determined, inspired.
Thanks for taking the time to read my first post on this new site. On to the next step of the journey!
Comments are welcome!
I’d love to know what you have to say. Feel free to share your experience, ask questions, disagree, or advise. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)