I guess for you to really understand where we’ve come from, I should tell you a story that Jessie and I often refer to as a way to really paint the picture of our mindset when we started this journey.
Not much time had passed since I had graduated college for computer science. We were still staying in our $700 a month apartment, but I had just recently been hired for my first “career” type job out of college. I was so excited! I had landed a job doing IT support for a school district. I felt like the man! The job was paying me $35,000 a year! I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I just spent the better portion of my life working in restaurants, and it sure felt like a lot of money to me at the time. It also was really the first career path that was showing promise.
I really felt like I could start providing as a man. I had done with so little for so long, I truthfully was just excited to be showing up on the radar of contributing to financial funds in our house. So naturally, lifestyle creep started to happen right before my very eyes… only I couldn’t see it. To compensate for the last year or two of being depressed and not contributing to the finances, I wanted to buy everything. Let’s go out to nice dinners; we bought a new TV; I was buying friends lunch at work. I felt like I was a contributing member of society. My friends loved me because I was buying food and everyone around me started to respect me because I was spending all of my money buying all of this fancy stuff that I didn’t have in the past. I was finally keeping up with the Joneses! Those damn Joneses run real fast, and I’m not that in shape, but I’m finally able to keep up! Well only sorta, but at least I could see them off in the distance ahead of me.
So all of that to tell you this: my wife and I knew we were making some money, but we were leveraged just like anyone else. We spent exactly what we made every month, and what we wanted after all the cash was gone, we financed. Just like any normal couple.
Jessie and I were standing in the kitchen one evening very nonchalantly discussing a little bit about our student loans and money that we owed the government. With this great confidence I had in our newfound finances, and what I thought was my innate ability to handle money, I looked Jessie dead in the eyes and said, “we’re going to pay the minimums for as long as we humanly can. Screw the government! They’ll get their money when they get it.”
Jessie responds with, “You’re right, we’ll keep our money. Loans will just be part of our lives.”
This wasn’t an alarming statement until years later. Truthfully, we thought we had the right mindset. We thought we had the ability to manage money properly and that we were living a great life. At the time, I had no idea how close to financial destruction we really were. We never considered what would happen if we lost a job, or a family member got sick and we couldn’t take time off. We wouldn’t be able to take that time to go spend with them because we were slaves to our lenders. We were slaves to our debt, to our material items, to our jobs. Our time was already allocated and we just didn’t see that at the time because our perspective was wrong. We were looking at the world from a consumer view. We didn’t spend the time looking at what made us truly happy. We had the wrong mindset and it had us at the cusp of disaster. It was like we were walking blindfolded along the edge of a very steep cliff, but no one told us that the cliff was there. So many things in and out of our control could’ve pushed us over. All because we had the wrong mindset.