Ever since college I always thought I was good with money. At least, that’s what I’d tell myself in my 20s. At the age of 25 I was completely debt free! Yet, somehow managed to accumulate nearly $200,000 in debt by age 30. Most purchases were relatively normal in this day and age. A house, student loans, newer cars, wedding, a condo at the lak. Oh wait, a lake house is not normal but it happened. While getting into debt was not ideal, I really don’t regret any of it and thankfully we had the financial means to dig out. I know not everyone is as fortunate. Regardless, this is our story.
Going Nearly $200,000 in Debt
After graduating from college with a masters degree at the age of 25, I was starting life with a clean slate. I had a little bit of savings in the bank that I was able to scrape together over the years. My “college fund” was a total of $6,000 and since I never had to use it, my parents gave it to me after graduating. I had managed to save a few thousand dollars more over the years from my job waiting tables and bartending in college. So there I was at the age of 25 with no debt and a decent amount of money to start my life with.
If I could do it all over again there are definitely things I would do differently. Regardless, by my 30th birthday, we had managed to accumulate nearly $200,000 in debt. How did this happen?
Our road to accumulating this debt is not all that uncommon. There are many life events that can take place soon after graduating from college.
First was the newer car “needed” since I had a better paying job and could afford it. That, of course, came with a five figure loan.
Next was planning for a wedding. This included purchasing an engagement ring and paying for our own wedding. In total this cost us somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000. We mostly paid with savings but it still set us back financially.
Along the way Mrs. FP made the decision to go back to school to get her teaching certificate. Once she graduated we were staring at almost $50,000 in student loan debt.
Then of course we needed a home to live in. We ended up purchasing my grandparents’ old house shortly after my grandmother passed away. It was purchased below market value though we still ended up with a $100,000 mortgage and a home that needed to be completely renovated. We are still spending money renovating this house 10 years later.
And last but not least, we ended up buying a lake house with family. This also included buying a wave runner and chipping in to buy a boat. My parents paid for the down payment and for nearly 10 years we’ve split the monthly payments along with my two other brothers.
Shortly after agreeing to go in to buy the lake house we found ourselves in a bank lobby taking out a home equity loan because two bathrooms were leaking into our basement.
And yes, we went in on the lake house purchase already nearly $200,000 in debt. I’m a terrible personal finance blogger, I know.
Drowning in Debt
It was in that moment in the bank lobby back in 2011 that we decided enough was enough. It was time to face the fact that we were slowly going down a path of debt accumulation that would be difficult to unwind if we continued pressing forward. Next would have been an even bigger house and nicer cars. Instead, we made a decision that day to face our debt and begin paying it off.
Here’s the thing: besides the lake house purchase, all of those events are relatively normal in today’s society. Maybe not in the financial independence community though definitely in this day and age. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but that’s reality.
Looking back, there are some things we could have done differently to avoid debt. Though at the same time I do not regret any of these decisions. We like our home, our cars have had long lives, our wedding was memorable and one of the best times in our lives, the student debt allowed Mrs. FP to do something she loves, and some of our best family memories have been made at that lake house. In fact, last year we spent a full month of our year at the lake house.
As much as I hate debt, it has allowed us to build a life that I love.
As a personal finance blogger who writes often about my dislike of debt, it can be easy to forget that debt is necessary at times to build the life that you want. Debt has helped many move from poverty to middle or upper class after getting a college degree or starting a business. Debt also allows people to buy cars to drive to their jobs, homes for their families, or can serve as a backstop in an emergency situation. On the other hand, poorly managed debt has also resulted in bankruptcy, divorce, or losing a home.
The key is not going so far down the path to where you’re not able to dig out. I feel like we were on the brink of the point of no return in 2011. We could have continued to accumulate debt but we chose to turn things around.
It’s Okay to Be in Debt
The church I go to has a saying. “It’s okay not to be okay, it’s just not okay to stay that way.” My view on debt is similar. It’s okay to go into debt, it’s just not okay to stay in debt. At some point you have to face your debt, otherwise it can be difficult to make progress financially.
So don’t feel guilty about getting the college degree, paying for a nice wedding, or taking on a mortgage. Just be smart about it. Don’t buy a home that takes up half your take home pay, consider the state college instead of the expensive private school, or buy the gently used Honda instead of the brand new Mercedes.
Why Many People Can’t Relate to the Financial Independence Movement
I believe the average person has a difficult time relating to the financial independence movement because many of us bloggers have an unapologetic attitude against topics such as debt. We live in a bubble of frugality and high incomes that are not relatable to the vast majority of the population. Sure, some people have always been great with money and have a six figure net worth in their 20s with little to no debt. However, there are many of us who stumbled through our early years in life and had to work hard to dig out of debt. There are others who went the other way and spent money they didn’t have which destroyed their lives after divorce, job loss, or a health issue.
The more we can tell stories of what it was like early on in our debt freedom or financial independence journeys, the more people can relate. Back in 2011 when we were deep in debt, it felt like we were spiraling out of control. It made life much more stressful.
If you are reading this and don’t know where to start, leave a comment or send me an email. I want to help people who don’t know what to do next. I don’t make any money off this blog right now, so there’s no strings attached. Personal finance can be overwhelming but when you take a step back the concepts are relatively simple.
There is a fine line between making smart financial decisions and going out and living life. The answer includes being intentional with your decisions and knowing what brings you happiness, but we all know it’s never that easy. That line is different for each of us. And the reality is that not everyone cares about money as much as me or others in the personal finance community.
Thanks for reading! If you have a story to share please do so below in the comments!