We have a lot of new folks around the blog and on Instagram so we thought it would be fun to recap and share the roots of this wild ride we're on. It's been a LONG ROAD and there are plenty of hills ahead. Let's chat about how and why did we begin this pursuit of debt freedom and deliberate living to begin with.
Let the Debt Freedom Goal Begin:
From 2013 - 2017, Ben and I were in an unrelenting pursuit of debt freedom. We got to work and got creative. It took us three and a half years to pay off around $100,000.
This goal was born the day we failed at buying a house. Five years later I can also describe it as the day we started living more deliberately.
We weren’t quite sure WHY paying off our debt before buying a house felt right for us at the time. Our values and vision and what you see us doing now took shape later, over time.
We just knew that we wanted a simpler equation for the long term, room to travel, try other things without the burden of that type of debt.
We found peace in accepting that we’re just different, we’re ALL different. There’s no right time or right path to structure your life, just your time and your path.
We're independent and comfortable, but there are limitations and patience testers (see the last section). At the end of the day, this mess is OURS and we love it.
Let's venture back to a time when our life situation was REALLY easy to describe to people. Remember that?
It was fall 2013. We were both 25 years old, newlyweds. We were simply trying to grow, excel and make something of ourselves, whatever that means, on our own like many other newlyweds. We we were going through the motions and still emotionally tied to the assorted expectations and comparisons around us.
Post college, Ben and I both worked great full-time jobs. We made enough to live and do most things that we wanted. We weren’t rolling it in by any means but we've always worked to minimize expenses, even then. We did not have kids and had a really low cost rent.
Naturally we felt pressure creeping in to get moving on those prescribed next steps of adulthood. “You’re married — now what?! Where’s the house and kids?”
We went to work each day, took one vacation a year, paid our bills on time, went out to eat every so often, la de dah. Normal.
Normal as we seemed, we both felt we weren’t on a path that was entirely ours. We were just more quiet about it then because we had to be.
I genuinely think this feeling spans multiple generations at different times in our lives. It's not just a millennial thing. Those that "feel it" will fit in for a while to get things done but WATCH 'EM DO CRAZY THINGS LATER like buy an old bus and live in it. Old bus or not, we all have a touch of wild in us, I think.
You do what, where?
I admit I had a bit of an identity crisis after leaving our comfortable jobs/life that was all SO EASY to explain.
Us now: living nomadically IN A BUS, freelancing, evolving EVERYTHING as we go, volunteering at schools and developing an awesome online course that’ll take months to release?! That's a bit harder to digest.
As illuminating and empowering as our life is now, it was MUCH simpler before. Now, is that better or worse? It depends on who you ask and on which day you ask. How big is your comfort zone?
Let’s try to be adults, Ben & Meag!
I'm believe there are benefits of maintaining a sense of PLAY and FUN in your life, regardless of age. Play tag, go build a snowman, fly a kite! Be professional, sure, I do it every day, but also try to do things that make you laugh until it hurts naturally. Anyhoo...
We looked at a few houses in our area, toured several and went as far as getting under contract for this one particular property.
We didn’t have enough saved for a 20% down payment.
We barely had enough to cover 10% without depleting our account, actually. We didn’t really have options other than using our personal resources.
Our credit was in great shape. We had the foundation of frugality from the get go and always payed things off in full each month. No, you don’t have to carry a balance to build credit, that’s a myth.
We were paying the minimums on student loans & vehicles at the time. We were budget conscious but didn’t have any concrete targets or goals at all.
It blows my mind but banks were all for lending us money in this situation. It was super easy to get approved. We were (still are!) first time home buyers and there are lots of creative options in that category which is great.
If your goal is buying a house, you can make it happen with the right criterion met (good credit, future cash flow via a stable job).
The house we were looking at was $175,000. We were approved for our loan amount and much more. I didn't really understand why, honestly.
We accepted financing with monthly PMI (prime mortgage interest) which wasn’t ideal. I just kept picturing cash flowing directly into a garbage can over and over again.
Now I have five years of perspective to offer on this story. Truth is we didn’t want that house like we wanted our old, crappy looking bus and the TWO YEARS OF WORK that came with it. Otherwise we would have made it happen. Plan and project all you want, sometimes you just FEEL things are right, or you don’t.
Hold on a second…
We were about to add another $175,000 to our already looming $100,000 dinosaur of student loan and vehicle debt?! And we’re not even sure if we want to live in that location long term or work in the fields we were in?!
Well this doesn’t compute at all. It sounds so weird now but we just bit our tongue and kept going through the offer and went under contract.
After the home inspection came back with issues that would need capital we didn't have to resolve and who knows what mysteries would happen after.
We were relieved.
We realized in that moment the type of roots/risk we would create with this purchase and that it didn’t align with our vision at that time. Do we really want this?
We backed out of the deal to reevaluate.
Shifting our Focus to Debt Freedom
That same week (after crying a bunch and feeling inadequate) we decided to take action instead. We took the chunk of savings we were going to put toward a down payment and slapped in on our highest interest student loan principal balance instead. Let's just DO THIS.
Sure, it stung, but it felt right. It was the first step toward reaching our new goal and living a little more on our terms. This is our way, we'll see where it goes.
We had two choices: follow what the loan documents said and pay the minimums for the next 20 years and throw THOUSANDS in interest in the garbage can, or develop our own terms.
We didn’t simply pay off $100,000 of debt in three and a half years, we deliberately built a lifestyle piece by piece over three years time together. It brought us a lot closer to ourselves and each other in the process.
Again, this is the path WE chose, it's not perfect, there's nothing wrong with buying a house (we want one someday!) or going in a different direction. Just choose it for you.
There is a delicate balance between individuality and reality. We HAVE to make a living, to find joy, purpose and contentment, but how/where/and why is a big blur at times. Ben and I did our best to balance the two but only found our stride/focus in our late twenties. I’m thankful we didn’t jump ship before we really had a foundation set.
Communication with your partner & yourself is KEY
Being open and honest with your partner (or yourself!) about your goals is essential. If something this major doesn’t feel right for both of us, it’s not right for either of us. Ben kept me going in moments of weakness and visa versa.
In our candid discussions post mortgage back out, we thought about our LIFESTYLE first and foremost. What type of life do you want and how do your decisions/investments affect that? How can you blend your two answers into a focused path that works for both of you?
Green to the world as we were (we still are! Hah) back then we still knew we wanted something flexible, creative, challenging, deliberate. It took us five years to LIVE, explore and figure out just what that meant.
The Day we Became 100% Debt Free
It was February 2017 on a super cold day. We were treating ourselves to a homemade biscuit at Biscuits and Company in Biddeford, ME — this was a a BIG DEAL treat for the frugal lifers we had transformed ourselves into.
We sat, chatting, dreaming.
We bought the bus almost exactly a year prior to the biscuit debt freedom day which was a huge leap for us.
We finished gutting, sealing, treating rust and insulating floor to ceiling. It was ready for framing & building in the spring. Our vision was taking shape physically and mentally though others may not have seen it just yet. We did. It inspired us to kick our debt payoff into high gear.
In the 3 ½ years from our failed house purchase to that freezing day, we had progressively designed a really simple, low-overhead lifestyle. It made going out for biscuits SO AMAZING to us. haha.
We had about $12,000 of debt left on our two vehicles. The $80,000 in student loans was joyously crushed the previous September.
Why wait? Let's get it done now.
It was another huge leap to make that call and pay off our debt for real. It feels good to leave that money in the bank, I get it. The interest rate on our loan was higher than what our money was earning and we REALLY wanted to stop making these monthly payments and move on.
Much like when I made our final lump sum payment to Sallie Mae five months prior, I expected this huge display of joy and pride from the call center agent that day. “YO GO, GLEN COCO!” — But there was just a subtle and polite thank you Ma’am. I’ll take it!
Paying off 100% of our debt meant that:
1.) We set a HUGE personal goal and achieved it 3 ½ years later. Talk about a confidence booster.
2.) We set the foundation for a much simpler lifestyle equation.
3.) Intentional, deliberate decision making leads to progress.
4.) We could now save even more money monthly.
Thankful for every step of our journey:
The five years between that emotional moment we decided to be debt free crusaders to the day we quit our jobs to pursue this life for real were so valuable.
We did NOT know that the bus or freelancing or travel would be part of our equation when we starting paying off our debt in 2013. Our plans and our careers developed over time and our process adjusted accordingly.
Every step, every relationship, every question we asked led to something else that better prepared us emotionally and financially.
Our goals and vision for the future evolved over time. We put ourselves out there. We shifted our perspective from doubt to patience and dedication.
Our work experience was incredible! We developed skills to be as essential as possible in our roles, to expand them, display dedication and be badass over achievers because WHY THE HELL NOT?! Sure, we had to wait longer to push “go” on our lifestyle experiment, but it was all worth it. We carry so much with us.
Experience and education doesn’t just disappear when you move onto the next thing. I know it’s scary, but you’re still you.
NOTHING is ever wasted, you guys; experience, relationships, conversations. What can you learn from them? Use what you have to get where you want to be.
When do you know you're ready to leap?
Phew, tough one. The answer is different for everyone. I operate a lot on gut feeling matched with some sort of practical analysis (can we afford this?).
Whether it’s buying a house, going to college, saying yes to a new project, having kids, or diving into entrepreneurship, most BIG and BEAUTIFUL things in life are scary at first. If you want them badly enough, you will figure out a way to continue on.
We’re all more capable, resilient and creative than we think. BUT we also all have limits. Just like living in a bus is not for everyone, having kids or working in a cube is not for everyone either. Turns out that's OKAY. There's plenty of room for all of us.
Give yourself a chance to make things happen in the way that feels right for YOU even if it may take a little longer to get there.
Deliberate decision making was the goal all along.
Planning and preparation are key in many situations, but so is having faith in your capabilities. Sometimes you just go for it and sort out the details later. Everyone is different!
Take our bus conversion project as an example. At first glance it seems like this frivolous and fancy free kind of decision and venture. It wasn't that at all for us. This was BIG, NEW and scary as hell. We didn't have all the answers to begin with. We deliberately chose the adventure and grew SO MUCH in the process!
Our track record of working hard and delivering the BEST of ourselves professionally as we reached our debt freedom goals transferred to how we approached this bus build project. Read through our bus conversion cost breakdown, it's pretty interesting!
The practical downside to waiting on the house purchase front:
If we tried to get a home loan NOW in our current situation — it would be really challenging. The logic is a little backwards but I fully understand.
We were welcomed with open arms while we had stable jobs. Despite how under prepared we were emotionally & financially, we were approved.
We had limited assets and a huge amount of debt already, but our situation was easier to quantify and digest. That’s what matters most. It’s all about secure future cash flow.
We’re a wild card from the perspective of a bank now. Understandably so.
I bring this whole subject up so that you know the whole story. There ARE certain limitations and considerations in creative employment situations like ours.
What have we been up to this year?
Ben has been building our bus into the cozy work of art it is today. He's been blogging, he made a hand hewn mantle the other day. He's wild. He is also working on some really amazing, substantial how-to content regarding our bus build. It’s definitely the long game in terms of income generating potential. It’s also super gray and not guaranteed in the eyes of a bank. I get it.
I’ve been freelancing consistently, I’ve made more than I thought I would working VERY part-time, putting little effort into getting jobs through any other avenue than word of mouth. I could be doing WAY more and plan to in 2019.
We've been volunteering, networking, traveling, connecting and sharing along the way. Our journey evolves ALL THE TIME and we do someday want a house and roots. We're just not sure when that will be. We'll be ready for it when the time comes.
Until then we are ENJOYING THIS RIDE.
Here are a few of the cool features and articles we've been a part of this spring/summer. We have a few other REALLY AWESOME things in the works but they're all a secret for now! Eeeeee!
Thoughts on Finding Your Way
There is always a way to get where you want to be from your individual starting point, it just might take more time or effort, depending. Use your network, ask questions, don’t be scared of being honest about your goals. Own them and get to work! 🙂
If you don’t ask, the answer is ALWAYS no. I must repeat this to myself on an almost daily basis. What do I have to lose in sincerely asking?
Trust in the many beautiful ways to approach writing your story. You will have options to pivot from just about any situation, take it from us. Our collaborative desire to see what lifestyle changes we could make to achieve debt freedom was a really fun ride.
I have no doubt that choosing to pursue debt freedom as a goal changed the trajectory of our lives completely. I hope in sharing our imperfections and truth, we can help others find their own way.
What will be YOUR catalyst for deliberate living?!
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