Several years ago my husband and I fell into the gloomy and dark pit of debt. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy. We were in our twenties, newly married, and new to the idea of paying for our own expenses. Each of us was a few years removed from college. We were accustomed to dorm living and the infamous part time campus job. We were even subsidized by our parents and student loans. So when it came to moving out on our own after graduation, we were in trouble. I think we were like many young couples, both then and now. We were excited, in debt, and ready to spend money. The only problem was- much of the money we had/spent wasn’t ours.
This is where our debt started and we learned many lessons as a result. To recap our history, my husband and I ran into a number of unfortunate events after college. We were forced to replace the roof on our old home. We were also surprised by the expense of needing to travel to Europe and attend a grandparent’s funeral. These unexpected expenses got topped by a 30 year home mortgage, and student loans. The sudden rush of financial bills caused us to panic and spiral into a financial hardship that tested our endurance and strength as a couple.
Instead of panicking, signing up for credit cards, and utilizing extremely expensive credit to pay our bills, we made a commitment and plan. We decided that our life in debt could be temporary instead of permanent. We committed to finding help with our finances. We educated ourselves and determined we needed to consolidate our debt because we had too much. After reviewing debt consolidation companies, we found one that fit our needs. After consolidating, we developed a month by month plan to pay for our expenses. The plan also outlined a way to cut down on things we didn’t need to be spending money on. We completely cut cable tv, internet, clothe money, and extra spending money. We also cut down on grocery money (started cooking) and sold one car. Let’s just say we felt like the Flintstones living in the 21st century.
Eventually we started to pay off our debt. We learned some lessons I want to share. First, we learned that happiness is not money. Sounds cliché … I know, but it’s true. If anything, we had more fun without money. When you don’t have any money, you start to shift your priority to other things- things that have more importance in life- like spending time in conversation and learning about one another. Another thing we learned is that earning money and paying off debt is hard- don’t take a dollar for granted. Finally, we learned one last thing, the importance of saving.
Saving money is important because it provides a financial crash zone. A small crash zone in a car can save your life. So we applied the same idea to our finances. Having some extra money to cushion the blow of unexpected expenses really helped. In a weird kind of way, items that use to break and cost us money stopped breaking. It’s funny how when you are prepared for the worse, the worse doesn’t happen. Even if things did break, it didn’t frustrate us when they did. We believed this was because when we had money to either replace or repair the problem, it wasn’t such a big stressor in our life. Think about it, when you don’t have money to replace your refrigerator when it breaks, it costs you in several ways. First, you panic emotionally because you don’t want to borrow money, and then second, you panic financially. You aren’t just losing a refrigerator, you are losing all the food that was stored in it. This costs a lot.
If you are a young couple or a young individual…please…please… please… learn from our mistakes. Know that debt is real. Know that people are more important than money and fun can exist without it. Understand the importance of saving, and how it impacts your financial and emotional health in the long run.