Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Living Debt Free Forever - I Had Debt Once

When I went to college, I had enough money for the first semester, nearly. My Dad pitched in a little for books, and I had something like $2.37 to live on. The college provided meals, so all I had to worry about was laundry, which I did in the sink and line-dried. The college I went to was a small school, like 200 students or so. Most students, myself included, did not have a car. I didn't leave campus much, and when I did, I went with my generous roommate or doting husband-to-be. So, at the end of the first semester, I still had around $0.12.

My mother loaned me the money to pay for the second semester, reluctantly.

I graduated from the one year Bible certificate program and became engaged to my husband. I stayed with his family over the summer before our fall wedding.

I had worked at a chain supermarket, Hannaford's, since I was sixteen. There was a Hannaford's in the town where I was staying with Dan's family, so I transferred and was employed immediately.

My husband had been going to college for a few more years than me and had been doing volunteer work at a Christian camp over the summers. There was no job waiting for him. His family lived in a dying mill town, and most people who worked either worked at the shrinking mill, or at a nearby ski resort seasonally. He spent most of that summer looking for work, picking up any odd jobs that he could.

I got between twenty and thirty hours per week as a cashier at my job. The first $20 of each pay check went to Dan's family to pay for my food and stay. The rest was set aside to pay to my mother. I paid her in three installments. I spent no money besides paying "rent" to Dan's family and sending my mom money. When I say I spent no money, I mean $0. I didn't buy a single candy bar, nothing, because it wasn't my money. It was my mother's money until I paid it all back.

I walked to work, about a mile and a half each way. I usually had a can of vegetables for lunch. Dan's family spent less on my cans of vegetables than they did on everyone else's microwave dinners, so they didn't mind.

There was a store that I passed on the way home from work called the "Free Store." Everything in it was free. If you didn't need something, you took it there so that if someone else did need it, they could have it. I started collecting things we would need, pots and pans and dishes, and Dan's family gave me a kitchen cabinet to put my treasures in. I think every community should have a "store" like this. It took monetary donations for heat and the building was donated by an elderly lady in the community.

This is when I started my first price chart, long before I had even heard of Amy Dacyczyn, who popularized the notion. We had a Walmart, the Hannaford's where I worked, a Dollar Store, and a Rite Aid Pharmacy. I started planning how to feed my husband and I on a $100 per month for a food budget. It was quite a project for me.

Once I made my last payment to my mom, I put everything toward saving for an apartment. My husband finally got a job at the ski resort and was given a year round position. We were married November 19, 2005. We haven't been in debt since.
"But I thought you didn't believe in any debt."

I don't believe in debt. A lot of the things that I now see as wrong are things that I was once guilty of. Is that hypocrisy? No, I say that is growth.


Anna said...

So how did your parents instill such high values and a money-conscious attitude in you? Most college kids would have blown that two dollars in the first hour and spent the summer squandering their money away, while paying minimal amounts on the debt. Didn't you say you were raised in a wealthy family as well? I would love to teach my kids the kind of morals that were instilled in you. I love your attitude, that it's not your money.

autumn said...

WOW! I really enjoy your blog, it's amazing that you were so dedicated to paying back your mom. I think you're doing a really good job on living on your small budget.

We lived just like you for the first seven years of our marriage. We have five children and homeschool and we are still only living on $12 a hour but after years of living on min. wage we feel rich!!!

Keep up the good work!!

Jessica said...

It's nice that you worked so hard to pay back your mom, but if your family was wealthy, couldn't they afford to gift you the one semester of school? I know some kids might not appreciate their education if they did not pay for it themselves, but it seems as though you were the type that would. Not all kids are ungrateful and irresponsible and I would think parents who trust their kids to work hard and are able to help them with their education, would. But maybe I'm way off base here...

Emily said...

Anna, I'm thinking of starting a series of posts called "Financial Heritage" where I tell stories of the lessons I've learned from my family about money. But I think kids will pick it up if the family uses money wisely.

Jessica, my mom's side is wealthy, my dad's isn't. Her parents didn't pay for her college, and she didn't graduate but still makes around 70k/year. Only one of her siblings did graduate college, and it looks like it will be the same for her children. It was an ethics issue for her not to give me the money. I don't know if I would have worked as hard, or would now, if someone else paid my way.

Captain Cleavage said...

My hubs and I are no longer in debt either. I think there is some debt that is excusable for example the debt of going to school or like with hubs and I the debt of hospital bills. Even with insurance I had to pay another 10,000 to the hospital after a surgery that was incrediblly needed. We are lucky that we have better insurance this time around and that our baby will be born into a debt free home.

But the debt of maxing out the credit card on frivoulus items to me is wrong and irresposible.

As john barrymore once said in one of his movies

it's all material and when you die you can't take it with you. But the love you have to give others and the happiness you created in your life that is worth more than it's weight i gold!

Jenny said...

How did you get through that time in college and while living with your soon-to-be in-laws did you manage to really spend nothing? Even with room and board being covered surely there were other incidental expenses from time to time: shampoo, feminine hygiene products, laundry soap, notebooks, a new pack of pens/pencils, etc. Is there a reason why you could not have worked part-time while in college?

While I whole-heartedly agree that there's much more to life than money and that you can't take it with you, I also think that life here is to be enjoyed and frankly, what you're describing sounds far from enjoyable. I don't need diamonds and riches, but I do need the security of knowing that I can provide my body more than a can of mushy vegetables for a meal.

Emily said...

Captain Cleavage, I agree that in times of emergency, like medical, debt can be necessary. I should have omitted the word "any."

Jenny, I brought the toiletries with me to college, enough for a year. The school I went to actually didn't allow us to work while in school. It was a strict little Bible college. The time I was paying off the debt was an enjoyable time. I was planning for a (frugal)wedding and marraige! I look back at that time fondly, and I didn't mind the mushy vegetables for a season.

Berean Wife said...


"A lot of the things that I now see as wrong are things that I was once guilty of. Is that hypocrisy? No, I say that is growth."

Oh, if we could all grow such daily.

Berean Wife

Atheist Mama said...

"...because it wasn't my money. It was my mother's money until I paid it all back."

I 10000% agree with this statement! When I had debt I didn't view my money earned as MINE...I wanted to pay who I owed and get out of debt asap and never owe again. It's really frustrating when I see people close to me blowing money on new clothes they don't need, vacations, fast food, etc. when they are up to their eyeballs in debt. Ridiculous!

And if anyone calls you out on being a hypocrite for being in debt in the past...well, they are just nuts! Once again, you are right! It's growth :)

Good for you!

BookishBelle said...

What education did you receive at Bible college? If it was just to learn about God and the Bible, couldn't you have received that at church for free?

I'm just doesn't seem like a very frugal undertaking.

Emily said...

BookishBelle, you're right, going to Bible college was not about frugality. I probably could have gotten the same depth of education from church eventually, but I became a Christian in high school and do not regret the structured learning I got from Bible college. I learned a lot. Not all decisions are about frugality, some are about pursuing dreams, and serving God with depth and wisdom is something I am constantly pursuing. Good question, though.

Emily said...

Someone asked about government student loans, if that was okay, and I deleted the comment instead of accepting. I didn't mean to, still getting used to comment moderation, so I'll still address it. Yes, I woud think they are bad and would not go that route myself. However, I don't expect others to live by my standards.

Amber said...

What about government grants like the Pell Grant (only for accredited universities and colleges though)?

Emily said...

Amber, I went to a non accredited college in Canada, so that wouldn't have worked, but I do see grants as different from debt, as you don't owe it back.

Patty said...

I'm currious about your frugal wedding and how you saved/paid for it! I was planning for a simple wedding, then received a windfal (won a contest for a free wedding).
I have mixed feelings of debt. I too viewed my parents money as theirs not mine. Same with any loan money. I did take out a car loan but only because it was 0% interest and I was earning more in my savings account. Also my husband and I bought a house. I know saving and paying cash is somewhat more economical (must factor rent costs during the saving time vs interest costs on loans) but it was right for us. Now everything I do to put more money towards the house is a savings in the long run. Do you think of buying/owning rather than renting?

Emily said...

Patty, the frugal wedding is in the FAQ, I just haven't gotten to it yet.

I think renting is wise if you don't know where you are going to live for the rest of your life, or atleast most of the rest of your life. We don't plan to rent forever, though.

Patty said...

Yeah, I'm realizing I need to read more of your blog before I comment! I like the little mobile house idea...I just fear hurricanes and tornados but I'm not sure Maine has that as your main concern. Good luck.

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