Thursday, May 28, 2015

Debt is Slavery

"Debt is slavery." I am not sure when this line settled into a mantra for me, but it has been in my head for a long time.

My sweet, frugal, awesome parents.
 I was raised by a very frugal parents, especially my Daddy. My entire life, I really thought that my family was "poor" by American standards because Daddy pretty much convinced me that we were. I didn't spend any time looking around at my life and realizing that I literally had everything I wanted and more. But when I would ask for more, Dad would reply, "No, we are poor." Looking back on this, it makes me laugh a little. I totally believed him and would let stuff go. 

The truth was that we were not poor, not even a little bit. True, we definitely fit the bill for an American Middle Class family, but we were not poor. Within all the incredible practices that my Daddy kept surrounding money, he taught me that I should not ever get myself into a situation where I would be in debt. He taught me from a very early age what interest was and how dangerous it is to play any games with credit cards or loans. Just because you have the money doesn't mean that you should spend the money...there are other ways to do things.

When I left for college I got my first credit card. Daddy made it absolutely clear that I would pay it off in FULL each month or I would not have one at all. He checked my statements to make sure that this was happening and I never missed a payment. I had no idea there was any other way than this. And man, am I grateful. The photo below is from Freshman year of college- haha, what a mess! That girl would have gotten into trouble without this rule.

Between Dad's insane frugality, resourceful nature and my scholarships, I managed to graduate college without any debt. It was only then, as the "real world" fast approached that my friends and I started having our first real conversations about money. I was stunned to hear so many of them reveal the enormous debt they had racked up over the last 4 years with their credit cards and was shocked by the school loans that would follow them into adulthood. Needless to admit, I was humbled by the incredible, life changing gifts that my Daddy had given me through his financial practices. 

I realize that most people have not had the option or provision and I am describing as my experience and it is very much the "norm" to leave college with debt. I am certainly not condemning that and I believe that education is worth it. I just have to be honest about where I am coming from on this subject or this post isn't going to make any sense.

When I married Joel, I was also marrying his financial situation. I think a lot of couples forget this detail when they are dreaming of white dresses and big parties. Joint income is awesome! Joint debt can be scary. Fortunately, the debt that came into our marriage were school loans only. 

Joel and I decided from the forefront that the very first thing we would do as a married couple was destroy our debt. We made a covenant that we would devote our first few years of marriage to freeing ourselves from financial slavery. The interest alone on his school loans were a bite and we just could not let the time get away from us. This debt had to be lifted off our shoulders and fast. So we came up with a plan. 

First, life presented us with a providential option. I was working full time as a Youth Director at a local church so I was set with a good job and steady income. Joel was looking for a good job since had just graduated. He had what it took to head into the corporate world or start something really impressive, but instead we made the decision that he would take a Resident Director (Coordinator) job at our university. In doing this, our living expenses would be non-existent. We would be able to pocket both our salaries and could pay off our debt faster. It wasn't glamorous and it wasn't that cool to tell our friends that we were moving back to campus to work in Residence life after we had just gotten out of college, but we did it because it was smart. 

Once we got rid of our cost of living, then we started putting all of our extra money into paying off the loans and building up our savings. We agreed that no matter what, we would put $1000 a month into the loans and $1000 a month into savings. Anything that we did not spend on general day-to-day living would also go towards the loans. 

It was interesting to experience how just making this simple plan changed our view on money so quickly. We would get really excited at the end of the month to see that we had money left over and would put it in the loans as fast as we could. When someone would give us money, if I happened to babysit, if we were sent a birthday check, all of that money went right into the loans. 

When we moved to our University, we calculated that it would take us 18 months to pay off our debt if we dedicated $1000 a month to the school loans. We were absolutely stunned that at the end of 8 months we wrote our final check towards those bad boys. 

It was really motivating when it was the two of us dedicating our time and money to making those loans go away. It was fun to look at Joel and say, "We don't need to buy that right now, let's put it towards the loans." It sort of felt like a game. In the end, that discipline, those few months of saying "no" to extras (eating out,drinking all the alcohol we wanted, travel, getting nice clothes or new cars, or basically buying anything that was not necessary), made our efforts feel like the biblical "loaves and fishes".

We might have looked classy but we were living simply

In fact, it was the Biblical community that inspired us into doing this in the first place. Joel and I were both big fans of Shane Claiborne's book called Irresistible Revolution and had devoured it before we got hitched. Claiborne started an intentional community of folks who dedicated their lives to the work of Christ. He described that anytime a new person moved into the community, they would find out if that person had any debt and then the community would pay it off to "free them". Whoever had the most debt would be the first to have it paid off. Everyone would focus their resources on that one person until the debt was gone and then move to the next person who needed it. They wanted all of their community members to be totally free from slavery to the world. We thought this was amazing and it really inspired us to pool our resources together with this level of commitment.

The day we paid off our debt, we celebrated with a big, delicious out-to-eat meal. We cheers over our wine and felt the satisfaction of that freedom. It took some sacrifices but honestly, they were minimal. Looking back on that season of our lives, I feel nothing but grateful that we took to the time to do what we did. We have been blessed for it ten times over and I don't even remember feeling deprived of anything I wanted or needed even at our most frugal moments. Actually, living simply and practicing frugality really lead to some of the freshest creativity I've ever experienced. 

I know lots of people who are in some dire situations surrounding money. I know that there are so many people out there who cannot imagine even beginning paying off the large debts that have been accumulated in their names. What I want to share with you is the experience that I have. This experience has informed me that God blesses your most feeble attempts. I believe this applies to all areas of our lives. I also believe that God is deeply involved in our financial lives, if we let Him be. Not only did our season of discipline bring us out of slavery, it also brought us closer to God's daily provision. Any extra money that came into our lives was suddenly treasured and felt like Manna from heaven, like it was hand delivered for our freedom. It seemed like the more we put towards our loans, the more that would come in. I think God wants us to be totally free. I do believe he will bless your attempts, wherever you are in the process of freeing yourself from debt. All you need to commit to is trying.

Photos from last yr of college and 1st yr of marraige

For what it is worth...and it is worth a lot to me...Debt is Slavery and I want to be free. 

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