DH in his karate uniform.

DH = Dear husband, and I’ve mentioned him countless times in my blog for over two years. This week, he agreed to write my second midweek guest post. (My mom wrote the fist one last week.) DH earned his black belt many years ago, and I love the way he has used karate in his account of our journey out of debt.

From comfort with debt to feeling the burden

It strikes me how odd it is that through the years, I never really sensed the enormity of the debts that we carried. Twenty thousand dollars for a car. Three hundred thousand dollars for a house. Thirteen thousand dollars for … um, well, stuff. These are just numbers on a balance sheet right? A small concession to make for something that has provided us with things that we’ve used. After decades of personal debt though, the unceasing monthly payments just seemed to feel relentless. Do you want to sense the size of the debt you carry? Try paying it off in some reasonable amount of time so you can live the rest of your life debt-free. This was the first realization for me after we’d begun our journey out of debt: It’s an enormous task to eliminate owing large sums of money just to get up to zero. Once we got serious about paying it off, I finally felt the full burden of this massive pile of money we were indebted to pay. What was I ever thinking getting into such debt? And how is it that I ever felt somewhat comfortable with it? Wouldn’t I love a miracle or some great luck to pay off our debts instantly? Believe it or not, I don’t think so!

The Karate Kid

In the movie The Karate Kid (1984 version), Miyagi, the wise old karate master, agrees to take the kid Daniel (who was being bullied) under his wing and teach him the art and skill of karate. Much to Daniel’s surprise, when he shows up for training day after day, Miyagi has him sanding the deck, waxing a collection of old cars, and painting the fence and the house. Finally Daniel confronts Miyagi, saying he’s had enough of being treated like a slave doing all of this work. He was interested in learning karate, not in taking on chores. In probably the most famous scene of the movie, Miyagi responds firmly to Daniel’s confrontation and tells him to “show me sand the floor”; “now show me wax on, wax off”; “show paint the fence – up, down”; “show paint the house – side, side.” As Daniel moves his hands and arms in these now familiar motions (sanding, painting, and waxing) Miyagi begins throwing punches at him. Daniel’s arm movements end up blocking every punch.

Debt-repayment: Our training ground

In much the same way that Daniel’s chores were strengthening his arms and building in some coordinated karate moves, I believe our journey out of debt is developing our skills in financial management and adjusting our perspectives on life and money. Sure it would be nice to get to debt-freedom more quickly by winning a lottery, but in some way I believe the journey is perfectly timed to teach us much-needed lessons. Our recent wedding anniversary celebration, for example, was downgraded to a 2-day camping trip in place of an expensive overnight stay at a resort. We were being frugal, but much to my surprise and delight, the camping experience was an unmatched get-away experience of relaxation, beauty and luxury. The cost for that week-end was low, but the value was priceless.

Since our journey began, we have not reversed any debt repayment in order to pay for things. We saved for a new roof for the house a year ago rather than elect for financing. We are now putting money aside for a car that will be needed some day. The last five vehicles we bought were all new, but with a greater awareness of the value of money, we now plan to buy a used car and to pay in full when the time comes. I believe in the wisdom that says, “Never buy a new car, and never sell a used one.” I just have yet to apply it to myself.

I am anticipating that on the day that we become debt-free, it will feel strange – like a burden has been lifted – but our money practices will not change at that point. They won’t have to. Over the debt repayment training period, we will have grown away from our old money habits and already be practicing new and better ones. I think it will be a seamless transition. At that point we will be ready to win the lottery. But it will probably feel like we already have.

Comments are welcome!

If you’re not sure how to refer to my husband, you can use “DH”, “Prudence’s DH”, or “Mr. Debtfree” (“Sensei Debtfree”?)



Join the Conversation


  1. So true Sensei Debtfree. 🙂 We typically look at a purchase and break it down into a monthly payment and say we can afford it. It’s really a change in mindset and behavior. Once you do that I don’t think you can ever go back to that way of thinking. Good luck on your journey!

    1. Sensei Debtfree (aka DH) says:
      I hear you. It’s no wonder we think of purchases in terms of monthly payments. We are bombarded with that message from the world around us. Furniture seems always to be advertised as “no payments for a year”, cars are advertised with their monthly lease rates instead of their purchase price, and the common objection to “I can’t afford it” is that it’s only so much per month. I feel like my eyes are open to these ploys to suck us into debt.

  2. Oh Sensei Debtfree, the karate analogies were perfect. I so agree that a windfall of money teaches nothing. There are people who have won the lottery and lost it all because they never learned anything about money management beforehand, so they just continued their irresponsible ways, only on a much larger scale. Now that we’re out of debt and have learned over the past decade how not to get back in it, we’re ready for that windfall! 🙂

  3. I am grateful that we paid off our main house mortgage this year. However we are still have a property loan and condo unit. I am determined to pay off our balance debt.

    Financial freedom can surely achieve if we pay off our debt early. Living a debt free life is a worry free life.

  4. I love the karate kid reference. I love that scene too. It gets my kind of teary-eyed thinking about it. But yes mostly there are no quick fixes. It’s important to lay down that foundation for solid financial skills…that’s probably why most lottery winners eventually go broke. They have no solid foundation.

    1. DH says:
      Great point! Thanks for the comment, Tonya. By the way, my wife showed me your video on tips for saving money : ) Brilliant! It’s good to laugh at ourselves as we try to get our finances in order.

  5. Practice makes perfect. It takes time, practice, mistakes and learning to be good at anything in life. No one is born a financial expert, they are made over time and anyone can do it if they put in the time and effort over time.

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