Young Debt-Free Families (#9): Featuring Savvy History

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This week we are excited to share another story from a Young Debt-Free Family. The story below features Michelle from Savvy History. Michelle’s family has a lot of similarities with my family. She is a middle school teacher (same as Mrs. FP), recently celebrated paying off their mortgage, and has an interest in getting involved with rental properties in the future.

Michelle’s family paid off an incredible amount of debt in only a short period of time, with jobs that paid very average salaries. As you’ll read below, I never got the impression that they sacrificed their happiness to achieve their goals. Instead, they lived life with intention, weren’t afraid to be a little different, and were laser focused on becoming debt free.

Michelle is also super creative and musically talented. Do yourself a favor and check out her video page on Savvy History. You can thank me later. She is so good!

I don’t want to give up too much of her story, so please continue to read below to learn more about Savvy History. I hope that you find this story as inspiring as I did. 

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Young Debt-Free Families Interview with Michelle from Savvy History

1. Start by telling us about yourself. Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about your family, job situation, income level, and amount of debt paid.

I’m Michelle from the band and blog Savvy History.  I am a middle school teacher and my husband is a sound tech.  We are average earners in a rural community. We paid off our home while our jobs were unstable in order to guarantee we could continue to live in the town we love and paid off $90,000 in three years.

2. What inspired you to pay off your debt? Did you have a specific moment where you decided to make it a goal to pay off your debt?

We were in a situation where both of us had incredibly unpredictable job circumstances.  I was working at a school planning to close down in a few years due to low enrollment. My husband’s position was considered an interim position where a faculty member could bump him.  

Under these circumstances, we wanted to pay off our house before having a child.  In this way, we knew we could make life work in our community no matter what and never have to move (we are very devoted to our small community).  While our town is fantastic, like many small towns, the job market is low on average to high earning positions and we’ve always known this.  

We scaled back on investing in order to pay off our house, and while this is controversial, it really gave us peace of mind.  We didn’t compromise our emergency fund though, and we kept that up throughout the experience. Thankfully, we both have very stable work positions now, so we can get back to maxing out investments.  It’s comforting to know if anything changes, we’ve learned how to live on half our income. (At least we were able to pull this off before our child came along! Now we’re more of a ⅓ savings rate.)

3. How did you stay disciplined throughout the process to pay down your debt?

We enjoy analyzing life deeply and figuring out what makes us truly happy.  We’ve learned over the years together that a lot of activities bringing true joy to our lives don’t cost much money.  These include frequent walks, pot-lucks with friends, long talks on the deck, listening to podcasts, checking out books at the library, and going to local events.  

Essentially, we stayed disciplined by doing a lot of “stay-cations,” making the most of our artistic local community, and cultivating awesome relationships.  All of this made us very satisfied. The debt-pay-off became an afterthought once we realized we are lucky to have enough in this world and we enjoy getting creative with our savings in order to leverage artistic freedom.  We didn’t have to distract ourselves from our lives along the way because we enjoy simple pleasures.

4. Were there any apps, tools, or websites that were especially helpful in paying down debt?

I came across the FI community while googling about whether or not we should pay off our house early.  If I remember correctly, I think I came across the ChooseFI community first while trying to answer this question, and then So Money with Farnoosh Torabi.  It exploded from there until I was reading so often and so intensely I thought I might as well comment and start my own site! I retweet a lot of my favorite bloggers, so if you are interested in the people that helped us, you can check it out there.

5. What advice would you provide to other young families who are overcome by the stresses of debt?

Find simple rewards for yourself that don’t cost much along the way.  For example, since we walk our dog a lot, we reward ourselves with drives to interesting state parks and novel places when we have something we want to celebrate.  This might sound boring to some people, but it’s a reward providing a lot of motivation for us.  

Before becoming debt free, we also tried to focus on what we enjoyed in life instead of focusing on all of the things we supposedly couldn’t have.  It’s a mind game for sure. If reading money books or other people’s stories doesn’t motivate you, check out books on a different topic (like psychology or future planning).  

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6. What was the most challenging part in your journey to become debt-free?

Being different.  (That’s why I think finance is more of a mind game than a numbers game at times).  My husband and I have always been slightly (or extremely) different compared to our family and social groups on certain issues.  Low spending is something we do discretely and still get noticed for. We’re not trying to stand out or change anyone else, but we have found our behavior to be confusing at times.  We have good intentions and a basic desire for a simple life not focused on consumerism. We don’t know why this is offensive to some people, especially since we don’t even talk about it (except online of course!)

7. How has becoming debt-free changed your family’s life? How do you expect it will impact your family’s life going forward?

We can focus on investing now without the stress of needing to figure out how to make more.  At one time in our lives, we were so unstable financially we thought it would be irresponsible for us to have children.  We feel really lucky now to have the option to try for a second child if we choose.

Also, I can create my art and songs without caring whether other people like it or not.  It’s been very creatively rewarding to have this mindset!

8. What are future plans for your family after becoming debt free?

It sounds crazy right now, but we might take on debt again in the form of a rental property.  I’m trying to not be fanatic about taking on debt for brief amounts of time to leverage our overall situation.  The rental would only be once our children are in grade school and if the right property comes along.

9. Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?

We are pursuing it casually and aiming for 55 as we are lucky to have finally both found careers we enjoy.  We may not be high earners, but we are walking a nice middle ground where we can enjoy our lives while saving along the way.

10. Where can we learn more about your story?

You can learn more about us at http://savvyhistory.com/ and we post frequently on https://twitter.com/savvyhistory and on Instagram.

Thanks again to Michelle at Savvy History for being willing to share her family’s story. If you are a debt free family and would like to share your story please reach out to us as we’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

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6 Comments

  1. Yet another great interview in this series!

    I particularly related to this comment: “a lot of activities bringing true joy to our lives don’t cost much money. These include frequent walks, pot-lucks with friends, long talks on the deck, listening to podcasts, checking out books at the library, and going to local events.”

    Savvy History, you’ve summed up all my favourite activities in this one sentence!

    I was also really intrigued by your comments about people being offended in regards to your financial choices, despite the fact that you and your husband aren’t super vocal about it. I have found we get the same reaction, even though we don’t talk about it in our personal lives unless someone asks us. I equate it to people being annoyed with me because I’m vegetarian, even though I would never try to convince someone to eat the same way, or suggest what dietary approach is right for them. It’s as though the mere action of choosing to pursue a less mainstream path is, in and of itself, offensive.

    It’s a response that’s puzzled me for quite some time. Now you’ve got me thinking about it, I need to find a book that addresses this topic so I can analyze it a bit more!

    1. Talking about personal finance and financial independence can be challenging. It can come off as bragging without proper context. Kind of like CrossFit or being a vegan (lol). Either way, I do feel strongly about spreading this message, we just need to have the proper context to do it! Thanks for commenting.

    2. I’m discovering we are very similar PhiaFreedom. I was a vegetarian once. I wasn’t vocal about it, I tried to make sure it didn’t cause trouble for anyone else, etc. You are right! It’s very similar but I’ve never made that connection. Sometimes I’m annoying just by default of being me and being strict with myself. I’m not as worried about it anymore, but when I wanted to be “liked” more I was! Getting older is great!

  2. Great interview! I love her emphasis on community, and that being the motivating driver for them to pay off the house so they wouldn’t be forced to move. Often we get lost in the numbers game and forget the things that matter the most in life – relationship and health. Prioritizing relationship with her community and make financial decisions to support is worthy of celebration on its own!

    1. Hello Wendy! Our community drives so many of our beliefs and desires in life. I’m challenged right now to think about how semi-anonymous blogging matches up with my love of my local town. I’m working out a couple of ideas on how to bridge the two but it’s not easy! I’m worried I’m not as involved locally while I do this, however, so I want to stay in touch with “both worlds.”

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