What would you do to get out of debt?

Jason and I are still saddled with college debt. If I had a penny for every time we talked about strategies and magic fixes to get rid of our college debt, well, I wouldn't be talking about our college debt anymore!

We have no debt except for our college debt. We don't have car payments, credit cards or anything else weighing us down. Credit card debt causes a complete shut-down for  me so I don't mess with it. But this college debt that we have carried with us for the entirety of our marriage is like a brick that sits on my chest daily. And then every time we bring it up to discuss it, it is as if a small child is jumping up and down on that brick.

And I am ready to do something radical to pay it down.

But first, here are a couple analogies to outline my financial attitude and relationship with money as context for this post: 
  • If my financial outlook had a name, it would be Scrooge. 
  • If my financial attitude was a car, it would be a 1982 Honda Accord. 
  • My attitude toward money is just like my attitude toward candy: You can never have too much. But too much could kill you.
  • If money was planted in a garden, it would be like lettuce. Growing in abundance but always being plucked away and eaten by the rabbits and deer before you get a chance to grab it.
  • If I could sum up my attitude on debt in animal form, turtle for sure. He has his home on his back and conserves his energy by walking slow. Wicked smart.
Okay so those were a little dramatic. But I stand by them.

I have a finite attitude toward the acquisition of money. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. I have to consciously remind myself that there will be more. When I was 15, I started working. Since I lived at home, my expenses were covered. Food, gas, insurance, etc. I had to pay for any extras like clothes, eating out, movies, etc. But even then, my mom liked to spoil me and loved shopping. So I was pretty well covered.

I started working, collected paychecks, and dropped them in my bank account. After a couple years, I had $6,000 in a bank account and had no idea that it had grown that much! I forgot to spend it. And had a really hard time spending it on anything so it just continued to grow.

I decided to get an apartment, buy my own car, and took a 2-week trip to Cyprus, Greece.  And even then, I had $2,000 leftover after all that.

Fast-forward to 2003 and I needed to make a change. My life was in shambles and my career had stalled out. I had spent the last 3 1/2 years slowly adding credits to my general studies degree at the local community college. It was now or never: Either college or the same old crap that was my life.

I chose college and decided that the debt was worth it. I met Jason 5 days after starting at Franciscan University and will always be grateful for that. And whenever I get really frustrated at the financial setback of college loan debt, I have to look back on my experience and give thanks. I had the most amazing college experience.

Grabbing a beer at Urs, the local bar in Gaming, Austria where students could wind down after classes

Somewhere in Italy waiting for our train

Taking a stroll down the Boardwalk in Barcelona, Spain

Karaoke Bowling Night (Men: A serenade of  Total Eclipse of the Heart will win the woman every time.)

But the debt? Not so much. I walked away with a degree and $45,000 of debt. For TWO YEARS of school?? I was a junior when I entered. Add Jason's college debt to that, and we are a well-educated but perpetually hand-to-mouth couple.

I'm over it. We have been making payments toward our debt for almost 10 years. And still have many years left. But I'm ready to change that. I want to pay down the debt and BE DONE WITH IT!!!

Jason and I have learned a few valuable lessons about money along the way. I'll share those with you, but I know the only people who will nod along with me are the ones who have already lived these mistakes. These are mistakes most people can't truly understand until they have made them.

  1. Pay down your debt first. Then move on with your life.
  2. PMI is the devil. Don't buy a house if you can't afford to put 20% down or unless you have a very specific plan to get to 20% rapidly.
  3. Kids are not expensive. Life can be if you let it. But kids bring joy, not burden to the family.
  4. Unless you are planning to live in a house for more than 5 years, do not buy. Just rent. Selling a house costs a fortune.
The first year Jason and I were married, we worked a mile apart and had lunch out together every day. I was pregnant with Leo for most of that year so we really enjoyed the luxury of eating out and spending tons of quality time together every day. And we knew that kids would change our ability to enjoy time out. So we really let ourselves indulge and loved every minute of it. We always justified it that when we were in crazy years of parenting, this will not be something we look back on as a regret. This was money and time well-spent.

We. Were. Wrong.

Looking back, if we had put more of that money toward our college debt, we would have secured ourselves for a future of being able to afford a date night. Babysitters and dinner out are really expensive. Which is why we only go on 2 dates a year...whomp whomp. Life lesson learned.

So here we are. 4 kids, 5 houses and 3 states later. And we are not sure of anything. Except that the college debt has followed us everywhere we go. And it will stay with us for a while to come.

I started my home based business earlier this year to give us the means to be able to put our children in private Catholic school, and to be able to afford to pay for incidentals that come up since our entire paycheck is budgeted to the penny for essentials like rent, gas, food. Financial guru's always advise people to cut out their daily Starbucks, or eating out, or clothing purchases and they'll be debt free in no time. But you can't cut out what you don't spend! We don't eat out or purchase clothes. I just went to a hair salon for my first $35 haircut in 4 years. But only because I can't find a hair stylist out here who will trade me fresh eggs and homemade sourdough bread in exchange for a sweet new 'do.

Here is where we are at now:

We are in a very expensive rental. It is a 1200 square home in a beautiful subdivision. But the cost is 100 more than our monthly budget for our home. So we need to reduce our monthly payment so we can attack our debt.

We have purchased and sold two houses now. The cost to sell a house eats up your equity so we are not interested in purchasing a home for the "investment" anymore since we know that the appeal of the investment is not a good reason to buy a house. There is no security that your investment will pay off.

We are interested in a home with 4 insulated walls, a couple bedrooms and a kitchen. It needs to fit our family, and it needs to be a space affordable enough that we can afford to furnish it. So far, our homes have pushed our budget to the max and we have zero extra to buy a lamp or a nightstand. 

Our luxury wishlist: gas-range cooktop and a fireplace. 

Want to know how we think we can do it?

Link to house

A brand-new double-wide on a couple acres. 

Fully-insulated walls identical to a "regular" home and flat ceilings. A home we could live in forever. But why do I struggle with this decision so much? I never knew anyone who lived in one. And I don't know if we will one day look back with regret. But 20+ years in a really nice double-wide sounds much better than 5 years in an old home that could require thousands in maintenance over the years. From a financial standpoint, a trailer is a terrible investment. But what if it could allow us to climb out of debt quickly? And it could offer us a really nice place to live long-term??

We have looked at homes and we cannot afford to purchase any of them. Scratch that. We CAN afford them. We can afford to finance them and will probably be approved in a heartbeat for a loan $100,000 higher than we budgeted.

But the reality is that these homes will all push us to the max on our budget and we will be sitting in the exact same position we were in when we bought our two other homes: hand-to-mouth with no cash left for savings. And the homes that are under budget are so horrifying they would even make a handyman cry.

So what is the next step for a family 6 that sets college debt reduction as their 3 year goal? What would you do to pay down debt? Could you live in a double-wide trailer? 

Okay, so to make me feel better, lots of you will nod your heads and say, "Yes!! Of course Lisa! I'd totally do it. Especially if debt bothered me the way it bothers you!"

But really. Could you? What is the most radical change you have made to save money?

That time we brought 4 small kids to a bar party...

Jason and I are still really new to this small town. We only know a small handful of people here. We haven't been invited to dinner (shocker!), we haven't been invited to anything really. But the interesting thing about moving to a small town is that everyone is super friendly, but they don't need new friends. So you have to work a lot harder to get to know people.

Add to the mix that it is super hard to get to know people when you have small humans running around your feet? Some of you are thinking, "No it's not!"And for my extroverted friends, it is a piece of cake to chat people up. But it really difficult for me. I'm a little socially awkward if I don't know people or if we don't have something in common that can drive the conversation forward. And conversations that can't go more than 2 minutes without interruption or distraction adds an extra really cute, but really loud hurdle.

Small kids + Introverted couple = A lot of nights in.

And that's okay with us. Jason and I like hanging out together!

It takes work to make new friends and I am ready and willing to make the effort as often as I can. This past week, I had just attended 2 class field trips where I was the only parent wrangling small children. I tried to meet a couple other parents but always was tugged away from the conversation by something or other. You know, like stopping toddler from running up to a predatory owl to give him a hug.

Or feeding hungry pigs and teaching the baby how to oink (important life skill that it is)

So when we were invited to a party here in town by a coworker of Jason (actually, the professor who told Jason about our small town which we fell in love with!) we were super pumped. We were told to bring the whole family and come out to their house for a fun fall party. And I was going to have another chance to meet some people!

The hosts have an 8 year old son who goes to school with the kids so this is going to be great. We will meet a bunch of people. Our kids can find some friends in town. I can scope out the other frazzled, multitasking, kickass moms of small kids and find a friend!

We dress the kids up a little for the party. It's all about the mind-games. A poorly behaved child who looks like he is presentable will be excused. "He's just tired" or "Oh poor thing, he's probably hungry." A sloppy child who is behaving poorly is a heathen. "That child was a mess! Did you see him!" You have to trick people into accepting your kids.

We arrive at the party, walk into a beautiful home in the woods, and look around for people. No one. We are told to check the bar downstairs...

*blink blink*

What? I shoot Jason a look of fear mixed with confusion.

We walk around the house to the newly renovated basement the hosts were so excited for everyone to see. It is a beautiful large basement with a full bar, a stage for a band, and adults. Lots of them. No one under 5 feet to be seen ANYWHERE.

But where is their son? Not here! It's a bar party...

Kill me.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I drank a little wine. Cleaned up 400 spills on their newly installed flooring. Policed my children who ran up and down the newly carpeted stairs like they were wild apes on cocaine. Fed my children a few snacks from their fancy cheese tray table and refilled their water bottle a hundred times. Broke up 10 fights over the kettle corn dish. (Sorry about that - I hope no one else wanted any kettle corn?) And attempted 10 stunted conversations with really sweet adults. They really were the nicest group of people. So gracious to our tiny hoard of locusts.

My favorite conversation of the evening:

- Now, that little guy reminds me of my 5-year-old. He was crazy at that age too.

- Oh good, you survived! I like seeing people who make it through alive.

- They are so cute. *Kids thumping down stairs and shrieking*



- Oh thanks

- Do you know who that little girl with the curls belongs to?

- Oh she's mine too!

- WHAT? You have FOUR?!

At this point, one of the four required immediate assistance to get out of the way of 3 adults trying to get to the bottom of the stairs. I looked away from the conversation for 1 second, and when I looked back, the lady had already run away. I don't blame her. It was a bar party after all. Everyone had hired babysitters so they could enjoy their evening. I wanted to yell, "WE DIDN'T KNOW?!?!" but I thought that would just scare everyone. They didn't even notice my inner turmoil. And thought my kids were sweet and cute. And that I was a nice mom. But the struggle was real.

There was a fight over a large toy truck. We put Netflix on my phone and gave it to Roman. The phone died shortly after. The band started. We got the hell out of there. 

Look, it was super nice to extend an invitation to a family with young children and make them feel welcome by inviting all of them to your party. This is the beginning of us getting to know people in town! Unless they run away from us if they ever see us in public again. 

But had we known, we would not have brought our 4 small children to a bar party...

Our sincere apologies

Healthy Homemade Orange Smoothie (THM)

So a quick check-in on my Trim Healthy Mama journey. You guys: I am LOVING it!!  I am still a total of 9 lbs down because I took a month off of strict THM to take care of some other business.  I started back on it this week at 80-100% and have been trying some of the recipes from their new book and love them so much. But I always come back to this one...

Smoothies are possibly one of my favorite things. And obviously other people like them or we wouldn't have a million Smoothie Kings everywhere right? Even thought it is starting to get cold outside,

I still drink smoothies year-round (and wear birkenstocks...with socks of course) I try to make myself something that is indulgent and healthy to stave off the snacky cravings especially if we are going to eat wings and fries (football season staple, amiright?!). I'll eat a couple and enjoy them, but with something of my own that is filling and delicious, I never feel like I am depriving myself.

And the ingredients are super simple staples that many Trim Healthy Mamas already have on hand!

Since I started Trim Healthy Mama, I have at least 1 smoothie a day. Usually they are fuel pull smoothies, but every now and then, I like to fuel up with this E (energizing) smoothie. It tastes like a creamy orange popsicle and is seriously so delicious, I die a little each time I sip. I will make an "E" meal JUST so I can whip up this smoothie on the side!! My E meal is usually a turkey and laughing cow sandwich on sprouted bread. It's a little boring, so this on the side makes it luxurious!

You know what makes this smoothie even more fun? My brand new Ninja blender!! My blender took a turn for the worse after 5 years of faithfully operating day in and day out. My blender and my coffeemaker are in use daily around here. And they just can't suck or I'll be replacing them quarterly. Hooray for no more ice cube chunks stuck in my straw!! I'm feeling super fancy with this monster of a blender. I'm movin' up!!

If you are looking for a quick and healthy snack, give this smoothie a try and let me know what you think! And please tell me your best kept THM secrets so I can make sure to eat healthy through the rest of football/holiday season!!

THM'd Orange Smoothie

1 medium orange
1/4 tsp gluccie or xantham gum (optional)
2-3 tsp gentle sweet
1 cup Chobani Greek Yogurt (to make this THM E, pick fat free plain)
1 dash vanilla
1 dash probiotic (optional)
12 ice cubes

Peel the orange and drop the sections in the blender along with the whey powder, glucci or xantham, gentle sweet, Chobani yogurt and vanilla. Blend for 3-5 minutes. Add the ice cubes and blend until smooth.


It makes a HUGE smoothie so you can share with everyone :)

Or not...

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