Path to freedom
Almost four years ago, counting the home mortgages, I found myself $140,000 in debt. I realized, at the age of 55, that when it came to finances, I had done a few things right (15-year home loan), but most things very wrong. When I read the beginning of your book, The Total Money Makeover, I saw a self-portrait--when you need something you get a loan for it--that was certainly me. Whether it was a house, car, children's college--you name it--there was always someone willing to loan me money.
And I had a great credit rating--a fact which got me deeper into debt. I wasn't spending all the money on frivolous things, I just felt that everybody in my family needed things, and there was always a way to pay off loans.
So when I read the beginning of The Total Money Makeover, I went on a tear--I mean I realized I had let certain cultural assumptions take me for a ride, and I was going to put a stop to it right away. As a musician, finding the discipline was easy--I just had to make a choice. So four years ago, I was $140,000 in debt, including $54,000 that was of the credit card variety. Today the credit card debt is virtually gone, and the two home mortgages together total around $35,000, an amount I plan to pay off in about a year and a half.
Yes, I've been very lucky to have my work stay viable in a very bad recession, so I'm most thankful for that, but as a self-employed musician, I turned down nothing--I was working at every available job that came around, and it sure paid off. All that extra money went into one place--paying down debt. It started to be fun--I would get a gig, get the check to the bank as quickly as I could, and ZAP--there went another payment to the credit card people. Most people pay once a month, I would send about six and seven online payments a month, as soon as the money would come in. Two months ago I finished paying a $30,000 balance to the Chase company--what a great day it was when I saw that balance at $0.00!
One thing that I felt strongly about--it was important to remain generous and not become a Scrooge. I tried to keep up with the charities that needed help, as well as family obligations. Both my children got married during this time--and they had great weddings that were absolutely beautiful. I sacrificed the money I had for their weddings, and didn't spend money that I didn't have. You find a way to do these things, and do them right, without going into debt. It is possible.
One other thing--energy conservation and environmental care are big, big topics for me. I began to see that money conservation and energy conservation were practically the same thing. When the Gulf oil spill happened, I went on another tear, and started using my bicycle in place of my car. I began to ride nine miles to the church where I'm music director, and went to numerous other work assignments on my bike. While most people were whining about gas prices, I was going one or two months on a tank of gas. The excitement over doing my patriotic part to conserve our national resources, became coupled with my search to save money--and the combination became very powerful. Profligate spending habits that lead to debt--and profligate energy use--they can both be solved with the same discipline, concepts, and determination.
Thank you for the role you played in helping me understand that going into debt is not a necessity for a middle class American family.