Where to start? Start looking at our bank statements and see what we could have cut out this month, how much do we actually make and how much interest are we being charged on each credit card and loan and write it down so it stares us in the face. Make a spreadsheet or have a notebook and write every bill you can find down. Start understanding how much interest is involved with each debt. Knowledge is power. When we know exactly where we stand financially, then we can get to work.
In our 20’s in the 1980’s, my husband and I both got our educations. Craig went on to get an MBA and it was an expensive degree. The school, back then, capped our student loans at $100,000.00:
$100,000 in 1989 → $221,020.10 in 2021
Both sets of our parents had been children during the Great Depression. They had all worked really hard to succeed in their lives. We had both been taught to work hard, but neither my husband or I had been taught about avoiding debt or how or why saving is important. I didn’t know how to pay off a student loan that big, with one income.
I started looking around, trying to figure out how paying off debt is done. One Sunday, while reading Parade Magazine which was included in the Sunday paper, I saw a woman on the cover with her large family. She had started a newsletter about being thrifty which she called The Tightwad Gazette. Intrigued, I subscribed for $1.00 an issue. Starting in the early 90’s with Amy Dacyczyn’s newsletter that was mailed to me every month, I learned how to become thrifty. Amy was a super saver–-extreme measures were taken because she wanted a large family(in her fifth pregnancy she had twins), a paid off New England Historic home with a barn attached, and to live only on her husband’s $20,000.00 ($$44,243.55 in 2021 dollars) yearly pension from the military. That was a tall order.
Amy taught me that you need to change your mindset, that bigger and better stuff doesn’t always make you happy and that all the consumerism was just a marketing ploy. She taught me to wake up and enjoy simple things like gardening, how to save money on clothes and furniture, and about debt traps. She taught the old adage, “Reduce, reuse, recycle”.
Amy taught me the importance of saving money by actually cooking a meal. Then I learned how magical the time was around the table eating that home cooked food. She taught me to be more creative with our resources, so we didn’t feel deprived during those ten years of student loan debt repayment. She taught me what contentment looks like, instead of having a brand-new car, that having no debt and fewer things felt really peaceful. It took us ten long years to pay off those student loans.
Amy Dacyczyn’s thrifty advice helped us pay off that huge loan, but we still had debt. I hadn’t grasped the incredible peace there is when you have no debt. I was willing to sacrifice to pay off student debt, but then we wanted to live a little. Because of this idea of “we have worked hard, we deserve it” we still racked up debt.
Next post: Avoid debt–the act of not mortgaging our futures.