I’ll start by sharing that this is not Amanda writing. This is Chris, and I am excitedly sharing my inaugural blog post!
$21,291. This is how much debt I took on to get a master’s degree from Loyola University Chicago. And today, we paid off that amount in full. This is after paying on this loan since March 2011. In case you are wondering, that is $1182.83 per month for 18 months.
I write this not to brag about the excessive amounts of money we have. In fact, our situation is quite the opposite. Our total yearly income is similar to that of a couple who both work in the not for profit, education world (oh wait…we both actually do work in this field). For those of you who work in similarly lucrative areas (like ours), you know how much we make. And you know it’s not a lot. 🙂
I also don’t write this to boast about our excellent financial management strategies and self-discipline. We’ve screwed up a ton and are not perfect examples of what it looks like to be financially responsible. Trust me.
And while we’re still not 100% debt free, this first big step in the process makes a big statement about how determined we are to release ourselves from these burdens.
So why do I choose to announce this type of news such a public forum?
The first is that I believe with discipline it IS possible to become debt free. Regardless of how paltry one’s income is. We’ve seen a multitude of people our age who are in situations similar to ours.
The second is to ruminate publically about the tension between higher education debt and a “liberal arts education”. This post will explore reason #1 only.
So, lets do this.
Some of you who know me well may challenge me by saying, “But Chris, you were an RD for 4 years. Of course you were able to pay off all of that debt!”. Partially true. But not really. If you know how much Amanda and I did NOT pay on debt or save during the first 2 years of RD’ing, you would see that we had to make radical cuts and changes to be able to do this. And considering the amount of debt we had (and still have), 4 years of RD’ing was not the panacea for this.
Amanda’s mother passed away in the summer of 2009. This event caused us to dramatically alter the way we thought about finances and stewardship. It caused us to think differently about debt and the way it affects marriages. It forced us to make personal changes so that we could survive financially. Most of all, however, it inspired us to start the journey of debt-reduction in an effort to be able to give to God more freely. Our financial decisions in the first three years of post-college life were already proving to hold us back from giving as freely as we felt God desired us to. What would have happened had we continued on the same irresponsible path? This question was too scary to think about. We wanted to start a new journey.
The journey was very simple. You have to know that simple does NOT imply effortless. We employed (almost exclusively) Dave Ramsey’s principles of financial management. While I disagree with a lot (and maybe even a majority) of Dave’s opinions on public policy and human behavior (no, people are not always poor because “they” are lazy and want to live off the government forever)—I LOVE his practical techniques for reducing debt and living frugally. His teachings of frugality truly do give people more room to give freely. And for this, I’ll forever be thankful. Making these teachings even more prominent for me were the countless stories I heard that eerily resembled ours.
In July I went back to the camp Amanda and I got married at (and the same camp Amanda grew up in). As we saw more and more of our twenty-something friends, we realized our story was the same as theirs. They loved their college experience. And now they were in a load of debt (along with extra debt from car loans and credit cards in some situations). The hopelessness I hear from some people I care deeply about is discouraging because these situations are NOT hopeless. It is rare for me to meet someone my age these days who is not in a situation like ours. Something needs to be done about this.
Let me end this post with two final thoughts…
1) We are the quintessential twenty-something couple who took on a significant amount of debt and were partially prevented from living out our full callings in part because of the debt. It IS possible to get out of debt. It is not easy, but it is possible. We’re still working to make this a reality in our own lives.
2) While I am a staunch debt antagonist, I would never give back my experiences at Loyola or Spring Arbor University. I am still trying to reconcile the dissonance in my own mind over debt and the significant, life-altering things that my education has provided me.
In my next post, I will share musings on why I would still choose to take out Stafford loans for my education at Loyola and Spring Arbor. I will also attempt to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory realities.
And finally…I know this blog-post is so not-fun. Especially compared to Amanda’s posts. This is also the reason I’ve waited so long to post on here. My posts will almost always be boring. 🙂