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?


  1. It doesn't even look like a trailer. It looks like a really nice house. If you've run the numbers and it works out, go for it. I always think about what my future self, in 30 years would tell me to do. Also, I agree with you on the house not being considered an investment because the transaction and maintenance costs are so high. I feel like home ownership is a little over rated.

  2. Hi. Wanted to check in on you. I have a ton of thoughts on this. First off my dd is seriously considering steubenville too. And she is going to pay for it herself. She has a job like you did and has a savings but most likely, she will be saddled in debt soon and like so many others overwhelmed for life....it's scary for me to know she is going to go down this path and I just hope that somehow things won't be so bad...

    We also rented for almost all our marriage. Everyone told us to buy and so we did 5 years ago for the first time. I really regret this house. We feel very stuck. Looking at houses I wanted a double wide just like that one. It was awesome. It had 2 trailers put together and 2 kitchen which to me was a dream...but dh had this stigma about trailers. When he mentioned it to others everyone said, noooooo no trailer. But to me it made financial sense. It would have been paid off in a year. We had 6 kids then. I was practical of what we could afford. Well....we didn't buy that we bought this house that everyone recommended we buy and guess what...debt ! The anxiety of debt is killing dh with stress. It's not worth it.

    In my op, yeah go for it. But one thing we were advised is that you may not get the same type of loans for a trailer and thete may be issues with selling it again one day but still to me, it looks like the better option.

  3. Hi, I know that this is an old post and I wonder if you will see this. I do think that there is always something more to save money. Have you read The Tightwad Gazette? You can get it from the library or interlibrary loan or something. https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0375752250/ref=tmm_pap_used_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=used&qid=1483019112&sr=8-1 To me it would be worth every dollar to buy it (used, of course!) We could have never had 11 kids, adopted seven of them at huge expense and bought an acreage with an old farmhouse and many other things without very frugal principles. The Tightwad Gazette (or the complete one) is the best I've ever seen. I'm convinced that everyone can do more to cut things out of their budget. I pray that you can get out of that debt. God bless you!

  4. https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Tightwad-Gazette-Promoting-Alternative/dp/0375752250/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483019112&sr=8-1&keywords=The+tightwad+gazette This might be a better link.

  5. Most significant post! This article is exceptionally useful and I think it very interesting while at the same time understanding it. Anticipating more post this way.
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