Today is an important day.
I had to chronicle it.
Today, I am debt free.
This may not seem like a huge deal to you, but given my past twenty plus years, it’s a big deal to me.
I’ve written about growing up without much money. I cleaned houses and babysat as a teen. My college choice was largely based on funding. My college ended up being the perfect place for me, but I chose it because, with a combination of grants, work study, and scholarships, I could go for free. In fact, I only left college with debt because I took out loans to attend Moscow State University one summer and to take additional hours over summer session. My total college debt clocked in at under $10,000 when I graduated.
Then I went to law school. I had a need-based grant but, by and large, I took on the debt of attending Vanderbilt through school loans. Not just loans for school but also to cover living costs for those three years. And then I added in a summer study at Magdalen College at Oxford University. I graduated from law school with a neat $100,000 burden of debt.
If that weren’t enough, as a mature 21 year old making some particularly unwise decisions in law school, I suddenly felt I had to keep up with my affluent friends. Remarkably, those credit card companies will issue anyone a line of credit. I managed to accumulate four major credit cards and several store credit cards during law school.
This period of my life makes me feel incredibly stupid looking back, so I rarely mention it.
I walked into a $50,000 a year law firm job in the late ’90s (a princely sum to me at the time, more than my mother was making after decades of teaching). But I walked in on day one with close to $150,000 in debt between a new car (my first ever, a Honda Civic), law school and college loans, and credit card debt.
I did precious little besides work and eat Ramen noodles in those in early years before my salary grew and my debt dwindled.
When Bray and I married, I had paid off my credit card debt, but still had a little left on my college loan and a huge chunk left on my law school debt. We quickly eliminated my college loans and paid extra on my law school loans even as we saved, invested in our 501(k), bought a house, and acquired newer vehicles.
Then we had triplets.
While we paid faithfully every month on the school loans, it was no longer a priority to pay extra. We had to hire nannies (yes, multiple!) and see specialists and buy a bigger car.
So every month, since the fall of 1998, I have written a check to my Stafford student loan holder. Until this April.
Here is the miracle of the past year.
Even though Bray lost his job, God provided the ability for us to move the kids to the perfect private school for them, pay off both our cars, and continue to save. Very quickly after our life change, I disclosed, with a tremendous amount of guilt, I had held on to a single credit card which I used to spend on things I thought he might disapprove of. Small things, but small things add up, so I confessed I had a few thousand dollars of debt I had wrestled with eliminating for years. It took us some time to work through my dishonesty, but we did, and we eliminated secret spending. That can really submarine trust in a relationship.
We live on less, which was something we had long needed to do, but certainly the kids are well provided for. We went on a Spring Break vacation. While, as you all know from my retelling, it wasn’t extravagant, it was fun and we’d saved enough to take the kids on an adventure. They all play sports and participate in after school activities. But I buy less. We rarely eat out. We say no (well, Bray says no after I suggest it would be nice to upgrade our dryer or refrigerator, and then I realize that’s the right answer).
Finally, on Friday, we paid off the last of my law school loans!
We had an unexpected tax refund coming and we just paid the stinkin’ thing off! That means, the only outstanding debt we still have is our mortgage. And since a mortgage is an expectation of life, I am declaring April 1, 2017, debt free day!
Spending will always be a struggle for me. Luckily, God gave me a partner who is not only good with money but who holds me accountable and reminds me what is really important. So even during this challenging season, God provided abundantly more than I could ask or imagine.
I couldn’t be more grateful to have hit this milestone – hoorah!