We’re like most people.
Between my husband and I, we have two paychecks, two cars and two car loans, four college degrees and four corresponding students loans. We have a brand new home mortgage and inside the house is a couch that we still owe money on. And of course, in our wallets is a credit card with a balance that won’t quit.
Just the usual right?
As I reflected on the end of 2017 it occurred to me recently that debt aside, we actually saw ourselves achieve the American Dream this year. Lest you think I’m being facetious… We have a strong marriage, a bright healthy kid, two jobs that provide stability and benefits, and we just moved into a beautiful home we purchased in a kid friendly neighborhood not 15 minutes from my in-laws. And yet…
Like most people we consistently feel an anxious edge to our days. Besides the normal tension of three people negotiating individual needs in a small space (another post for another day), we came to the conclusion that it’s the debt that is the most consequential burden keeping us down. It’s not our commutes or our jobs or our time commitments in general. It’s the dissatisfaction of knowing that though we work hard and make decent money, so much of it is siphoned off to the debt and leaves us with little choice as to how we could use our dollars to our greater benefit.
Debt. According to a 2017 study, the average consumer debt per household in this country is over $131,000 (including mortgages). And most households with a credit card are carrying an average balance of over $15,000!
I am choosing to write about our journey out of debt in the hope that it provides inspiration and education for other individuals or families seeking freedom. The way I think we can make the greatest impact is not in vague terms but in real numbers–which means revealing both what we owe and what we make and exactly how we are choosing to go about this getting out of debt business. When I have felt most hopeless it was the stories of real people and the cold hard numbers that gave me the most peace. Here were examples of people actually doing it-paying off loans, creating comfortable savings, and living a life of choice. I hope that our journey will do the same for someone else.
I’m writing this series (with the support and permission of my husband) knowing that money is normally a taboo topic. People go to great lengths to keep hidden what they make and generally, asking about other people’s income is a huge social faux pas. But I happen to think that the shame so many people feel around money is because much of our relating to it is kept secret. If we can’t talk openly about it, how can we heal our relationships to it? And I mean heal both our personal relationship to money and our cultural narrative about it. So it’s in that spirit of healing, transparency, and a desire for freedom for all of us that I share our financial details below and in more posts to come.
With that, let’s get into the juicy stuff: our numbers! First up, a quick tour of our current debts:
- Culinary school-Simeon: $21,500
- Bachelors degree-Simeon: $32,000
- Bachelors degree-Natanya: $3,316
- Masters degree-Natanya: $5,790
- Chase car loan #1: $12,293
- Local Credit Union car loan #2: $3,016
- Chase Southwest credit card: $5,330
- Couch: $500
- Mortgage: $138,000
Total: $221,745 / Total without mortgage: $83,745
Are these crazy numbers? I don’t know. It seems so…normal. I know lots of people with graduate degrees and couches and a credit card. But I don’t really know for sure if these debts are average because nobody ever talks about it! So what’s the big deal with the debt anyway? Well, for my husband and I, simply put, our debts eliminate the opportunity to be free. Free to have more options. Free to make new and different choices. Free to work for ourselves if we wanted to. Free to use our time as we desire… What would a life without debt mean for you?
Financial guru Dave Ramsey talks about debt in relative terms. How much debt do you have relative to your income? The larger the income relative to the debt the faster you can get out of debt and the less of an issue or pain point it will be. But if you have a large debt and a small income in relation to it you’ll have to put forth much more effort to overcome the deficit. So our debts don’t really mean as much without also considering what income we have to deal with it.
Simeon is the Catering Chef at a nearby state university. He is salaried and makes $62,000 annually.
I am the Academic Coordinator for a yoga training center and make $17.25 hourly which comes to roughly $35,880 annually.
Together we make about $98,000. That seems like lot of money to me. It’s nearly 100K! That’s a number that I think should allow us to go to concerts and buy new clothes without feeling a pinch on our budget. Instead, I am constantly considering the impact of a just-for-fun purchase. That’s not to say I don’t spend money on fun stuff or overspend in general sometimes (because I do). Strangely, our budget is actually very tight. There’s not a lot of wiggle room. And I don’t think any one area of our budget is extremely extravagant. Below I’ll break down exactly how we spend our money. Maybe you can point out my blind spots!
The budget: monthly
Quick note: this is income after taxes
Point of clarification: Dependent care and FSA amounts are taken out from my paychecks but we count it as income because it is money we then use for normal goods and services we would buy anyway. Like daycare and sunscreen. Some categories, like Car Repair for example, we only spend a few times a year. So we average that amount over 12 months and try to put away some every month into a separate account to use when we need it. Our home insurance premium is bundled in our mortgage payment and I’ve never taken the time to line item health insurance since it’s taken out from Simeon’s paycheck before we see the check.
You’ll notice we don’t have an Entertainment budget. This usually falls in the Miscellaneous category and going forward I think we should actually allocate this money separately. It would be reasonable to denote at least a modest amount for ourselves so we don’t diet crash and binge on some big splurges mid year.
Another category we don’t have here is Travel. We are planning on going on a cross-country trip to California for a few days his spring and flights will probably cost us at least $1200. We haven’t figured out exactly how we are going to pay for it in cash just yet but we know will have to sort it out soon.
One area that causes me a lot of stress is our Food and Dining budget. I think the lowest we have ever spent is just over $600 and we averaged around $900 last year. $500 for groceries feels like a hugely ambitious goal. But it’s such a variable cost that it’s always one of the easiest to slash when we need to free up money for something else. Then again, it’s one thing to move numbers around and quite another to tell a whining toddler on the verge of melt down that he can’t have that $6 bag of gluten free pretzels.
So that’s it. As Dave Ramsey would say, that’s the debt hole we are in and the income shovel we have to get out. With daycare costs eating up half of my pay though, I think I’m going to have to find another way to make money to help increase the size of our shovel!
I’ll share more soon about our plan for digging ourselves out of debt. For now, I’m curious what you think! Any questions about our numbers? Did you find anything surprising about how we spend our money? How does our debt compare to yours? If you’re inclined to comment (or email) I would love to hear from you!