Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Debt Free Story




Alex and I have a very long story, and I would love to tell it to you sometime, but my real purpose today is to tell you our debt free story. I do have to give a little background, because otherwise it will seem like we’re just some people who got out of some debt. Truly, it wasn’t even that much debt to begin with, we really had some bad habits and an entitled mentality we needed to change. A lot of people already know, that we started out our lives together as pregnant teenagers, and honestly, we couldn’t even get into debt at first. However, we really had it in our heads that we wouldn’t be able to get started with our lives unless we could get credit, somehow. I expected a pretty high lifestyle from the word “go”, and was frustrated that we just couldn’t seem to get there. I think Alex was much more practical in this, yet he loved to spend just as much as I did. That was 12 years ago.

I want to give a brief chronological timeline before hand, so things aren’t too confusing:
Alex laid off from first job-April 2006
• Alex got new job, with a ton of overtime-June 2006
• We moved into a house-June 2006
• Byanca broke her arm, while we had no insurance-June 2006
• We needed to move, and we picked an expensive apartment-February 2007
• Overtime stopped-January 2008
• Moved in with my parents-October 2008
• Moved into duplex-February 2009
• Laid off from 2nd job-October 2009
• Got Current job-February 2010
• Out of Debt-January 11, 2011

Alex got laid off from his first job, and we weren’t too worried. He got a severance package, and even though we were moving into a house, we were mostly living pretty cheaply, and thought we had our finances under control. Boy, were we na├»ve. Soon after he got his brand new job, Byanca broke her arm, while we still didn’t have insurance. Plus, we decided to purchase a “high maintenance” vehicle, and we made a lot of really stupid financial decisions. Alex was getting a ton of overtime, but instead of changing how we were managing our money, we grew into that income. We soon needed to move, and moved into an expensive apartment, we would purchase whatever we wanted, and we just didn’t even stop to think about where our money was going.

Then it happened, the economy started to fall. We noticed it pretty quickly, because Alex was working as an environmental engineer in development. Still being somewhat aware of the symptoms of a lay off, we began to notice the signs. Overtime got cut off, and we were starting to struggle, plus on top of that, he was getting less and less hours at work. Alex didn’t tell me just how bad it truly was, until I started asking why he never took time off. I could also sense his stress level rise any time we had bills due. Finally, we had "the talk". He told me that he had been cashing out his Paid Time Off (PTO) just to make ends meet. Clearly, there was no way we would be able to handle a lay off if it came. We had to make some major decisions. So we did.

We broke our lease. We moved in with my parents. We cut our expenses extensively. I’m sure everyone around us thought we were crazy. Of course, we had no desire to do any of these things, but we didn’t have too many options. We are very grateful to my parents for allowing us to intrude in their lives for the three months that we were there. The goal was simple: we needed to have the money to cover the cost of breaking our lease, and save money to rent a cheaper place, which we couldn’t easily do with the move in fees and all the debt we had now racked up. It didn't take us quite as long as we thought it would, and soon after that, we found a cute, but very small duplex, which would fit our temporary needs. It was somewhat easy going into it, knowing that we would only be there for about two years, while we paid off our debt.

Eventually, the inevitable did happen, in fact, exactly one year from our move out of the expensive apartments, Alex got laid off. Luckily, we had scaled our budget down so much, that we were still able to pay off all our bills, including debts, and not be stressed. I’m so glad that we had made these changes, because it helped us to not be in a hurry to get the first job that came along. God blessed us, as we were laid off during the holidays, and many people helped us out. Alex got a job after 3 months, which was a huge blessing, and we were able to keep our expenses way low, which enabled us to really dump money into our debt.

I’m not going to lie to you, and tell you that dumping huge chunks of money into debt is an easy thing to do. I will tell you both sides of the “coin”. In one sense it is great, because you can “knock out” your debts pretty quickly, and if you’re looking to get rid of debt, I would certainly recommend getting rid of it quickly, with “gazelle intensity”, instead of slowly. However, as you get towards the end of the debt snowball, it actually gets difficult, because you are dumping huge amounts of money towards the last debt, and there were many times, when we wanted to go buy a large screen t.v. or a couple of brand new iPhones with that money instead. It took God giving us strength and wisdom to do the right thing, and Him giving us strength, when one of us was being weak. It also took God helping us to let go of the control a bit. There were many times that things came up, and we had to just allow for them to happen and not stress out, because it was going to put us behind in our plan. When it came to our being finished, God really worked it out, when we thought there was no way we would finish on time, and would have to stay in the tiny duplex a bit longer.

Anyways, I could go into the many ways God has blessed us during getting out of debt, and since then, but that really is an entirely different topic. Perhaps, I will share it later. If you’re working on getting out of debt, remember to be disciplined, and get to a point where you do things almost automatically. Also, keeping a prayer/blessing/feelings journal is a wonderful idea. I've done this for a few years now, and appreciate reading through it from time to time, reminiscing about what we were going through at the time. And with each goal that you reach, reward yourself. It doesn't have to be expensive, just something to celebrate your accomplishments. Having a group around you, who is going through the same things you are, is a really great idea too. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself, and give yourself some grace, after all-God does. I pray that this will help anyone who takes the time to read it. Thanks.



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