The average American household has $144,000 in debt. And yet the median income is only $59,000. And I'm not judging - there was a time in graduate school when I took out a student loan to buy a computer. And, um, a stereo system. Around the same time, I bought my first new car, making monthly payments on grad student pittance wages. But then I started reading - Personal Finance for Dummies, the Dave Ramsey books, books on voluntary simplicity - and I changed my outlook. Gradually I developed an increasing distaste for owing people money and got out from under all loans other than a mortgage. I used my credit card for its airline points but payedg the balance in full each month. When my husband and I got engaged in 2015, he came with a whomping post-divorce credit card debt. No worries - eliminating debt is my jam. And so we tore into it, throwing every spare penny at it until it was gone. Fortunately, my husband was happy to let me be the money manager in the household. We both have jobs that aren't well compensated for what we do. I made the conscious decision to serve a poor Appalachian population which means a lot of Medicaid/Medicare work. And my husband is a medical assistant with low pay but health insurance that we have cause to be most grateful for. Doing some good in the world just matters more to both of us than making a lot of money. Which is why we do things like last year's no-spend challenge and throwing our spare change into a "Dom fund" container - with the idea that one day we'd buy a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate a special occasion.
So how do we reconcile modest incomes, an appetite for good food and travel, and an intense debt aversion? We decided that a little house suits us fine. We pay cash for used cars and drive them until they die. We never darken the doors of salons and instead cut our own hair (well, except for that one time when I paid thousands for chemo to cut it for me). We think hard about every purchase, deciding if it's a need or a want. We take passes on most expensive outings, looking for free music and festivals and hikes. And in the meantime, we have been adding extra to the mortgage payment every single month until this month. We mailed off the last check and I called Friday to verify - only 5 ½ years into a 15-year mortgage, we are now zeroed out. The house is ours and we don't owe anyone anything. We burned the monthly mortgage statements outside in the firepit.
If there was an occasion for really good champagne, it was this. We cracked open a bottle of the 2008 vintage and made lobster tails, new potatoes with sour cream and caviar, zucchini with sun-dried tomatoes, and feta and onion tarts.
We had chocolate champagne truffles for dessert and talked about plans for future travel. Loving our small house and old cars and being content with what we already have has become second nature to both of us. There's something wonderfully freeing about deciding you don't have to be on the consumer treadmill. And that Dom Perignon? It was damned good and perfect for our toast to being debt-free.