DH = Dear Husband
“How To Get out of Debt And STAY out of Debt”
Every once in a while, I come across the title of a blog post that goes something like this: “How to Get out of Debt And STAY out of Debt.” My response to such titles has always been, Why would anyone need advice on how to “STAY” out of debt once they’ve dug their way out? – and I move on, in search of a post that speaks to me.
DH and I have been on a journey out of debt for three and a half years now. Our story is a common one: Bad money habits, followed by financial crisis – in our case, a prolonged period of under-employment for DH – followed by better fortune – in our case, DH’s successful launch of a home business – and the resolve to manage better. Since June of 2012, we’ve knocked an average of $3,300 per month off of our $257,000 grand total of consumer, business, and mortgage debt, leaving us with $116,000 (mortgage only) to go. Once it’s all gone, are we really going to need advice about how to “STAY” out of debt?
Over the Christmas holidays, I set aside an afternoon to de-clutter one bedroom cupboard. It was full of “keepsakes” – everything from our daughters’ childhood works of art, to years’ worth of birthday cards, to old newspaper clippings . . . I threw out about half of it and organized the rest. The most startling find of that afternoon’s effort was a hand-written chart, taped onto two pieces of large yellow construction paper glued together, with the title, “The Slow and Painful Death of our Massive Debt: March 1994-March 1997.” Déjà vu!
I remembered that DH and I had paid off some debts early in our marriage, and I remembered that I had charted our progress. But I’d forgotten what a significant and detailed undertaking it had been. I knew it was significant at the time. I must have. I had the chart laminated, and I’d stored it as a keepsake.
- $38,614.99 of total debt
- owing in 6 different directions
- to 2 sets of parents, 2 different banks, Visa, “Government” (?)
- a 3-year effort
For 36 months, I had kept track of our progress, writing an exuberant “PAID!” for each debt overcome, and a big ∅ at the end of it all.
“Once it’s all gone, are we really going to need advice about how to ‘STAY’ out of debt?”
Clearly, our debt-slaying episode of 1994-1997 did not prevent our much more significant episode of debt-slaying from 2012 – ? The question is, why didn’t it?
1994-1997 vs. 2012 – ?
- Treating the symptom vs. treating the disease
When we paid off our debts in the ’90s, we were focused exclusively on the numbers. At no time did I ever reflect upon the bad money-management that had led to those debts. It was “normal” to be in debt. We hadn’t done anything wrong. It was all about math, and paying off the debt was the solution.
Now, we are more focused upon the underlying attitudes that got us into debt. It’s not simply a numbers game. Paying off the debt brings into focus the diseases in question: materialism, consumerism, a desire to keep up with the Joneses, and a buying into the false and ubiquitous messages of marketers to buy happiness. Paying off the debt will be the byproduct of changing ourselves – which is the real solution.
- Going through debt-repayment on our own vs. with support
When we paid off our debts in the ’90s, it was a private matter. I remember that I kept the chart in our bedroom – to avoid any chance of anyone else seeing it. No doubt we knew plenty of people who were also dealing with debt, but we never talked with them about it. At that time, the internet was not as widely used as it is today. It wasn’t used at all by me. I don’t even know if anyone blogged about debt or personal finances in the mid-’90s.
Now, we are willing to talk about our journey out of debt with just about anyone. Family members, colleagues, people at church, neighbours – even the occasional stranger will hear about our debts. I’ve actually had to learn to filter my eagerness for debt-talk. And the internet offers an online personal finance community filled with people trying to become debt-free and financially free – a community that is generous in encouraging others on the same trek.
- Debt-repayment without learning vs. eagerness to know more
In the ’90s, we didn’t think we had anything to learn. It wasn’t easy to pay off the debt, but it was a no-brainer.
This time around, we’re learning so much! We learn from people who share their experience in conversations, blog posts, and comments. We learn from books we’ve read, like Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover and Teresa Ghilarducci’s How to Retire with Enough Money. We learn from the news media, recognizing our personal debt as part of a larger societal context. Debt is not a no-brainer. There are layers of influence at work in our personal finances, and the more we learn about them, the more effectively we can deal with them.
- Arrogance vs. humility
In the ’90s, we had it made. We were a young couple with promising careers ahead of us. Our incomes were only going to go up, and if we played it right, we’d be living the life in no time.
Now, we take nothing for granted. There are no guarantees when it comes to income, health, or unexpected expenses. We are grateful when things go well, but we aren’t assured that they always will. We do the best that we can given the ups and downs of our situation, and our goal is not to “live the life”, but to live without the burden of financial stress. Experience has humbled us.
And in keeping with that acquired humility, the next time I come across a blog post title that goes something like this: “How to Get out of Debt And STAY out of Debt” . . . I’m going to read it.
Are you paying off too-much-debt for the 2nd (or 3rd) time? What do you think is the secret to getting out of debt and STAYING out of debt? Your comments are welcome.