Friday, February 26, 2016

Let's stop demonizing debt


There have been several times where I have encountered opinions from others that debt is not just wrong, but immoral. I remember struggling with this a lot, particularly in our last year of law school. Not only had we recently taken on an auto-loan for a used minivan to replace our 1992 Honda Accord, but we were also still in law school and essentially living on federal loans, the part-time job my husband had as a clerk, and tax returns.

We hadn't always been in debt. In fact, when we first were married, I found out that my husband still had over $18,000 in loans from his time in seminary. I was working part-time as a nanny, and we both made sacrifices so that we could put as much of my salary as possible toward his loans. We found out we were pregnant 4 months after getting married, and by the time that our son had arrived 9 months later, that debt was gone. After that, I wanted to stay home with my son, and we managed to live debt-free, including our used cars, in a very high cost of living area as our family grew and we relied on his low private school teacher's salary. But as time went on, we realized that rent and gas was not getting any cheaper, and his salary was not keeping up. Even though we had an emergency fund, it felt like it kept taking hits as our used vehicles had problems.

My husband began to consider graduate school, and then law school since he felt it would provide more opportunities than academia. We prayed and searched for schools that would offer the best education for the best scholarship in the lowest cost of living area, and finally found our school. Getting a law degree for $5,000 a year in tuition was a great deal in our book, but there was no way we could afford to pay for that and support our family without loans. So after many discussions, I agreed that if we wanted to move forward, we would have to apply for loans.

I don't write this post to justify our debt. I could have worked, but with three small boys ages 4 and under, one of them 3 months old, it felt hard for me to consider working while dealing with the added pressures of a husband in law school. I know that other moms have done it, and I wish I had sometimes, but I didn't. And I don't like our debt at all.

That said, our debt allowed us to make a career change that would not have otherwise been possible. If we had tried to save up for law school, my husband probably would have been over 50 by the time he was ready to attend (he was 42 when he started).

Don't get me wrong - I think anyone considering taking on loans should be very very careful and ask themselves if this is the best way to go about it. My whole blog is based on the fact that we now have a lot of debt to pay off, and now we have four children and a mortgage.

I do write this post, however, to counter the voices out there that go beyond disagreeing with debt and instead vilify it.  Paying off debt is hard enough without being made to feel ashamed for the decisions you have made.

In the future, of course, I hope that we can avoid taking out loans for anything other than a house. Because our mortgage interest is so low, once we pay off our debt the first thing we do will not be to pay off our home, but rather put more into retirement because of our ages. But I will look forward to paying off the student loans because it will give us more freedom to make decisions with our disposable income.

4 comments:

  1. Hey there-

    Just a quick note to let you know that the $200 kitchen makeover photo (which looks awesome!) doesn't appear to be linked to the post. It's not clickable for me.

    Kristen (The Frugal Girl)

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    1. Thanks so much - I didn't check that link because it was a featured post option on Blogger, but I've since corrected it, so it should link through. Thanks for visiting - I loved checking out your blog today!

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  2. Hello! I found your blog through Stephanie's six figures under and also through Brandy's Prudent Homemaker! My family is in a similar boat. I was single at 28 and working an entry level job. My plan was to be married and have kids by then, but it was not to be, I decided to go to grad school. One semester into the program I met my future husband and found out he (at almost 30) had decided to go back to school to be a veterinarian! We both took out student loans. We only took out federal loans and had no car loans or credit loans, When our first child was born a year later I decided to be a stay-at-home mom (not a very popular decisions among my peers) and finished grad school a year later. Sometimes it's embarrassing to say that out loud like I wasted all that money to "just stay home?" But it's right for us. I struggled with postpartum depression and needed to be with my children to help me heal and cope. My husband just finished vet school this past May and we are up to our eyeballs in student debt, but I don't think we would have done anything different. Your blog is inspiring to me!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! I am a stay-at-home mom too, so I understand the pressure, but it sounds like you did the right thing in taking care of yourself and your family first. And at least you can say that you finished grad school - even if you don't use your degree directly, it will always be an asset because it has trained you to think in a different way.

      When you first graduate, the debt can feel really overwhelming. Fortunately, with federal loans there are a number of options for paying them back that can work with the budget that you have so that the stress level isn't too high. If you stick with it you will start to make progress and eventually you gain traction as income grows and interest drops. I'm sure that Stephanie's blog as well as Brandy's will give you tons of ideas for making that happen :). Thanks for commenting!

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