Our journey to debt free living has been a slow go with a mix of ups and downs, up until the last two months. While we've been equipped with the knowledge to be successful, we chose to pursue other priorities, none of which we regret, but more on that later. I'll give you a brief before snapshot broken down into post-college/before kids and then talk about our present journey in this post.
I believe to a certain extent that you are a product of your environment and circumstances. Both Michael and I grew up in middle-class families, blessed by parents that taught us the value of money, importance of tithing and saving, delayed gratification, and work ethic. Our parents faithfulness in all aspects of their life, including finances, provided both of us a strong start to adulthood. Michael graduated college without debt, and myself very little student loans (less than $7,000). Considering 1 in 4 Americans are paying off student loans, equivalent to 44 million Americans totaling $1.5 trillion in student debt according to a recent article by CNBC, that number is meager. To say we were lucky is a gross understatement. We are indebted to our parents for giving us the gift of early financial freedom and desire to continue that legacy with our kids. Post-college we married young, moved to the suburbs, took on a steep mortgage (no down-payment required thanks to a USDA loan, only $495 appraisal fee), a car payment, dined out regularly and vacationed when we wanted. We essentially lived paycheck to paycheck, not to mention started a catering business while working full time and adjusting to married life. We had it all chasing the American dream. After two years living the suburban farm life (there's days I miss our chickens and fresh eggs, not to mention the farm vibes, even pre-Magnolia Farm I had the ambitions of painting her white), we decided it was time for our next adventure.
We sold our house and downsized to a 600 sq ft condo in Seattle. We continued our comfortable lifestyle in the city, but never sacrificed tithing and contributing to our 401k. Fast forward to 2015 after selling our little Queen Anne condo we moved back to the suburbs situated just north of Seattle. Learning from past experiences we were able to put a decent down payment on our house and made sure our mortgage was less than 1/3 of our take home pay. At the time we paid a hefty car payment ($490 a month--ick) and had some medical bills (roughly $6,000) that we were working on paying down. I also stopped working at 5 months pregnant with Oliver. Growing up with mom always at home was something Michael and I both valued and knew we desired to raise our family similarly.
Wins: Please know I'm sharing this from a place of vulnerability, learning from our past mistakes, and as a source of motivation and encouragement that you too can do it!
-Car payment paid off early ($40,000 in 4 years gone, yay!)
-No more medical bills
-Zero credit card debt (with the exception of our monthly bills to gain air miles which we pay off every month)
-Becoming a stay at home mama and one income family
-Tithing and contributing to our 401k
-Saved $3,000 toward our rainy day fund (Dave Ramsey baby step #1 recommends $1000)
-Oliver has an education 529 plan with a solid $10,000 to start
-Saving toward 6 months income emergency fund
-Saving toward our sinking funds
-Adopting the cash envelope system
-I attribute the biggest change to my positive mindset shift which translated to action
Learning opportunities: We carry a small HELOC (home equity loan locked in at a higher interest rate than our mortgage) to finance our kitchen and bathroom remodel and yard updates. As a stay at home mama living small and minimally I probably spend 80% of my time in the kitchen (because let's be honest, breakfast prep/feed/cleanup in time for mid-morning snack then lunch prep/feed/cleanup then post nap snack ready for dinner prep/feed/cleanup to start the day for the next meal shenaningans #truth). When calculating the usage and enjoyment value I don't regret any of the renovations, but we are both motivated to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible (roughly 9 years). After reviewing our budget, our estimated debt pay off date is August 24, 2027, a 40th birthday gift to myself (estimated at $370,000 combined HELOC + mortgage, financial freedom = priceless!). That date seems distant, but presently working toward refining our cash budget, monthly expenses, sinking funds, and learning to live frugally within our means.
In the past we've enjoyed multiple trips to Europe, tropical vacations and a plethora of experiences over things. Michael and I both decided to put our love of travel on hold and aggressively pay down our mortgage and HELOC while raising young kids. The budget will ebb and flow based on jobs, necessary house projects (gotta love a 1941 cape cod!), location, and life phase, but we are committed. Now that we have a huge accountability source, it's even more motivating to achieve our debt pay-off date (thanks friends!). Stay tuned as we navigate this journey together!