They say debt can be good. That debt can be a tool.
And they say debt with low interest rates isn’t worth thinking about – just pay it every month and move on.
They say all these things – absolutes, simple judgments – and I listened.
Boy did I listen.
What I heard helped me rationalize the mounting balances of our student loan accounts as my husband, Sam, and I both worked our way through graduate programs. Instead of asking hard questions about our mindless pursuit to have our cake while also eating it, we maxed out our loans to prop up our lifestyle despite our very limited (read: absent) income.
We graduated with professional degrees and $100,000 in debt.
Still, I kept listening to Their refrain. After all, our new salaries were proof that the debt was good. Our paychecks were the perfect shield to help us ignore the growing evidence that we were going to be in this exact situation for the rest of our lives.
Do you know the situation I’m talking about?
Living paycheck to paycheck, spending more than we made, never understanding where our money went at the end of the month, believing that we couldn’t do or be anything different.
Questioning that $100,000 in debt
But, I also started to hear something different. Rising from some mysterious corner of my heart. It was subtle and soft, a little voice that asked questions rather than made judgments.
It was a voice that wasn’t afraid of words like Freedom and Choice and Creativity. A voice that urged me to bring an honest awareness to the numbers on our monthly budget. It was a voice that asked me to examine our values as we started our family, and helped me see that working to pay for the past limited our ability to dream for the future.
With time, the little voice, with its questions, became both clear and clarifying – a counter narrative to what They said. With time, I stopped listening to Them.
I started listening to my own voice and my own dreams.
Dreams to get out from under our huge monthly payment of student loans that were equal to our mortgage at the time!
Dreams to actually save for our future and our children’s future. To help our kids get through college (or start a business, or whatever their dream is) WITHOUT taking out loans like we did.
Dreams of being able to stay home with our children for their early years of life.
Dreams of buying a car with cash, and never having car payments again!
When I stopped listening to Them and started listening to my dreams, the only choice I had was to change.
Ready to change EVERYTHING
But, instead of feeling restricted or controlled, I felt empowered and inspired. Listening to the little voice inside does that. Every. Single. Time.
The choice to make the needed change started a cascade of events that included ramping up work hours, ramping down budget expenses and creatively finding ways to push a very big snowball up a very big hill to payoff our loans. I knew that it would ask a lot of me, but I had no idea how much it would ask of me. Or, how it would transform me.
As the saying goes, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
So, we did.
I went from being a mostly stay at home mama who worked 1 day a week to working 50+ hours a week and our kids having to be with a nanny when Sam and I were both working! I also took a weekend job, so that my husband could be home with the littles on the weekend, reducing our nanny-need (and expense) a few days per week. It was a way to give our littles the childhood we were wanting for them, but it was a HUGE sacrifice for Sam and I.
Then I got pregnant.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We had a 3- and a 1-year-old, and the day I found out I was pregnant with our third, I cried. I really felt like I was going to break. It was all too much.
We were in the middle of our debt payoff process. I remember coming into the kitchen every morning while my husband was cooking breakfast, and promptly running to the bathroom to puke. Why does morning sickness exist again?
I was working 50+ hour weeks as a physical therapist. I had two different jobs at the time, and I was tired. The jobs were in a nursing home AND at our large regional hospital – neither particularly gentle on a pregnant lady’s nose!
But, I kept on going anyway.
Why? Because we had our dreams.
Sam and I joked/not-joked about how we were ships in the night. We NEVER had a day off together. We’d see each other at night but we’d both be so exhausted by our schedules and raising two little kids (with a third cooking) that we’d flop into bed and fall asleep long before we were able to reconnect with each other.
But, the changes didn’t stop there.
We stopped putting money into home improvements (having a beautiful home is REALLY important to me – so this was a big sacrifice).
Our social life was turned upside down. No more dinners out. We told friends “no”. All. The. Time. As we committed our weekends to work, we lost touch with nearly all of our circle.
We created a budget. And, we lived by it. We quickly realized though, that living by a budget just wasn’t enough.
We came up for air.
After about a year of working with our heads down, we came up for air.
We were following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to the T. It was working for us. We were definitely paying off debt. We were killing it actually. Throwing upwards of $5,000/month at our debt. It was an incredible feeling.
But, we were missing something. We couldn’t see how living this way would be sustainable. Where was the passion and fulfillment for life? When we came up for air, we wondered “why are we doing this again?”
While we had our dreams, there weren’t any tangible ways to reach those dreams in our day-to-day life. We didn’t know what we actually stood for!
After a good cry, and a couple nights of reconnection, we realized we needed a North Star. We regrouped and decided it was time to define what we Value and what our ultimate, long term vision was.
So, we did. And, it all changed.
Transforming from paying off $100,000 in debt to changing our LIVES
The work became less of a chore, and more centered around what we want and what we value in life. It moved us from an external focus – our menacing debt balance – to an internal focus centered on our truths and values and dreams. While critical to start our process, an external focus is an unsustainable and shallow force. Instead, we tapped into the lasting and deep energy inside. It. Was. Amazing.
We realized we were on to something, and so did other folks. They could see our joy, our fulfillment, our freedom, and our ability to crush any goal we set our mind to.
I wanted to tell them, “it’s no big deal. Anyone can do it. Just choose.”
But, while that’s true in a sense, it minimizes the reality of the process, and its transformative potential. If you let it, the process of defining and living by a set of values will change you.
After 26 months of intense, focused work, we had a new baby girl and a zero balance on our student loans.
It was an amazing and liberating feeling. Indescribable really, and worth every bit of work and sacrifice it took to get there.
But, truly, the best part of the entire process was that we changed as people. We knew, and we know, who we are, where we’re going and what we value in life.
My goal is to help make that process smoother for you! I want to get you to your endgame (debt free scream anyone?!) sooner and with less tears. I guarantee there will be SOME tears, but I also know that if you commit to the complete process of Finding Your Greatest Worth you will accomplish your debt payoff goal.
You will emerge driven by YOUR Values and Dreams, listening to your own voice rather than what They say. You will be able to accomplish anything you set your mind to.
I’m totally rooting for you friend,
P.S. Debt is not your destiny friend. Get access to my workbooks and begin your journey towards finding beauty in your financial life NOW!