Thursday, December 18, 2014
Freedom from Debt
It's been some months back that I wrote a statement in a post, "I'm frugal because living debt free is a whole lot more than just not owing someone money." At the time Angela asked if I'd expound on that idea in a blog post. It's taken me quite a long while, and I apologize for that, but I want to take the time now to address it. Many will be looking at their finances this time of year and begin making resolutions and plans for next year. Even those who choose NOT to make resolutions will no doubt be looking at their finances because we all do at this time year. It's partly media driven and partly driven by the season of plenty and sometimes overwhelming abundance or regret we've just experienced with Christmas.
I've started this post a number of times, and I've scratched every single one because they related more to the how and why we were in debt in the first place rather than the real core of the matter: why being debt free has changed my life. Many of you without a doubt already understand why you are in debt and you understand very well how you got there. But you might not be aware of why living debt free will improve your life.
So let me give a quick history. John and I came together 23 years ago. Five kids between the two of us and both reeling from divorces and a major accident (mine) that devastated us financially, we started over from scratch with nothing but hungry mouths and a desire to make a life for all of us. In the midst of our debt days, going to the mailbox was a pain, quite literally, as each day brought a bill or two or three. We didn't live paycheck to paycheck at that time. We relied on our meager savings, credit cards and two paychecks, plus any windfalls that came our way and the ends still strained, never quite meeting.
Everyday we sacrificed something. We went without, we postponed, we adjusted to a negative of some sort, we suffered some privation in order to get through the day. Mind you all, in our depth of debt we were not nearly so bad off as many folks. Our mortgage was modest, we had a car payment that was about the same as the mortgage, we had a couple of small loans and we had credit card debts that were about at the national average. We also had three school aged children and all the necessities that go along with kids. They grow overnight, they require certain things for school, they get sick and need medication or doctor. We never said, "My child deserves the best, the name brand, the popular thing...". We are still talking basic necessities. We had jobs that paid very modest wages. I look back and am shocked at how well we managed on what we made.
I've told the story of how we became debt free. It began with the impossible idea of it. One day John looked at me and said "What would it be like to be debt free?" It truly blew my mind. I could no more imagine debt free than I could the face of God. I shook my head, mute. We'd already determined that I'd be a stay at home mom/wife after we'd realized that staying at home was far less expensive than working. My wages never covered the basics of transportation, insurance, gasoline and clothing, much less child care. So by the time we had this conversation, we were living on one income. I'd trimmed and cut and made do and done without to the point that there was nothing else to do. How on earth could we pay off debt when we could barely manage payments? But that crazy idea somehow grew into a belief that we could and we could do it on one income.
And so we began to pay off first one bill, then another. We had setbacks, we had discouragements, we had struggles, but we did it. One, two, three, four...Every windfall that came into our home no matter how large or how small went towards debt. Every extra bit of overtime or earning I made from eBay went towards our debt. When we struggled hardest we'd scrape together $5 or $10 and sow it as a seed into a ministry or church that we'd heard was determined to retire their debt. We believe very much in 'sowing a seed towards your need.' In time we'd have a small breakthrough, enough to keep us on the course. That came as a challenge to raise $1000 in a three month period. It was shocking how easy it was to do so!
Our last debt was our mortgage. It was paid off in a truly wonderful and unexpected way. I've shared that story before and won't go into it again, but it was miraculous. Ten years of hard work and we had at last reached the pinnacle of achievement. We were debt free. We owed no man.
What happened when we got debt free? We discovered the absolute peace of ownership. From that day forward no one could ever threaten to take away what we had because we'd missed a payment. We found when a repair was needed on home or car, we were able to do it. Maintenance issues that arose were taken care of and we were able to be good stewards of our vehicles, furnishings, our home. When we needed to make a major repair or two, like the year we replaced both the roof on our home and the heat pump within a month of each other, we were able to negotiate a line of credit rather than take out a personal loan. That meant we did not have to put up any security for the loan. We were in control of what we spent and the rate at which it was repaid and we controlled how much interest we paid. Our credit was decent all along but it is at a level now that we should never be turned down for a reasonable loan should we need it. We gained some power rather than being at the mercy of a bank or financial institution and their control.
We finally had an amount of money to put into savings each month and as our balance grew it too gave us added peace of mind. Mind you, we are not trusting in our money. Our trust is in God who brought about the circumstances that allowed us to be where we are now. A bank can fail, funds can disappear through thievery...but were the money gone, we'd still be debt free. How do we know this? Because six years of no pay increases and a 'raise' that actually lowered our salary because we lost a benefit we'd had before occurred and yet we held our own. We are too aware that what little we've saved over the last five years or so has not put us in a position to retire. But it has put us in the mindset that if we can manage to get debt free, we can most surely manage retirement on a budgeted amount. Freedom from debt has given us a sense of our ability to make a way where none appears to be possible.
Freedom from debt allows us to make choices we couldn't have made in the past. We can choose to go on vacation or we can choose to make a major purchase. We choose how we will pay for those and at what rate. We're not likely to use our line of credit for a vacation for instance, but we will use it to improve our home in some way that will increase the livability of it for our future years.
Being debt free has allowed us to improve our diets. When we were ridden with debt we used potatoes and rice and pastas to stretch our diets. I would not say we eat more meat now, but we eat better meats that are leaner and better sources of protein than we were able to eat before. We are able to buy good fruits and vegetables that provide our nutrient needs better than those we ate before. I am stronger and healthier than I have been in many years. The freedom from stress has also helped improve our health and it has also improved our sleep at night. This too has allowed our immune systems to reboot as God intended them to do.
Being debt free means that I have the opportunity to truly devote myself to my home and home making which I have said all along is a vocation in itself. Just last night we discussed our future. I mentioned that I could go back to work if needed should certain changes occur. John said a prayer last night at bedtime that really touched my heart. "I don't want her to have to go back to work, Lord. I enjoy having her here at home where she belongs. Only if You see the need of her being elsewhere do we want her to go..." If we were heavily loaded with debt at present staying home would not even be an option. Now it is and going to work outside my home is a matter of ministry not necessity.
Being debt free means that as others sit about at my husband's job and complain of their overall tiredness because they are working three jobs or more, my husband sits quietly and says nothing. He has time to rest between shifts. His job is difficult with a high rate of ill health, injury and suicide. Yes, suicide. Because of the release from debt, he has less stress to deal with...he can better handle the stress related to his job, he has down time to allow him to recover from the trauma and drama he sees in his work.
And there's a certain pride in his voice that I've heard time and again when someone asks him how many jobs he works and where does his wife work. "I only work one job," he'll say, "and my wife is at home." Years ago, I watched as a friend's wife made the comment that she couldn't afford to stay home because her husband didn't make enough money. He hung his head in shame...My husband will never have to hang his head ashamed of his ability to provide because we've determined we will live on what we have and live well and live debt free.
Retirement looks possible in two years or five years or seven, however long John wants to work. Had we still carried a mortgage he could not have possibly retired until after he was well into his 70's. Instead of years of tedium ahead at this point, my husband truly can look ahead to his retirement years and other possibilities of how he might spend his time.
We've learned to never say that something is impossible. We say instead that it's not an option at the moment, because all things are possible. It is a fact that we were not aware of when we were burdened with debt.
That's what I wanted to impart when I said freedom from debt was more than just not owing money. It has changed our lives in many positive ways and eliminated negatives that we could not have overcome if we had remained where we were.