For someone just introducing himself to the concept of self sustainability, understanding how debt freedom is related to sustainability may take a moment to grasp. But the relation is essentially that in today’s society, money is an asset that allows you to accomplish and acquire a great many things, both material and immaterial.
I will break it down a little further though, because as of the twenty-first century, we’ve all been born into a society that accepts debt as at least an unfortunate necessity, and in some viewpoints, a blessing.
What is debt freedom?
There can be several layers of answers to this question. But let’s just say that we are only talking about actual money, not even additional assets. Debt freedom means you have no debt at all. This includes but surely is not limited to; student loans, car loans, business loans, credit card balances (consumer debt), and any other type of “financing” that is now available in so many forms.
Some people consider themselves debt free if they do not have credit card debt, they have no outstanding student loan balances, and their vehicles are all owned outright. This calculation does not include a mortgage, though that is most definitely a form of debt that you have promised to pay to a bank or lender. And that’s okay. For the purposes of most of the topics of debt freedom on this site, we’re okay with considering one debt free when their sole debt is a mortgage. However – we’re still pursuing freedom from that debt as well!
What is sustainability in this context?
In a financial context, sustainability essentially means that a person is not dependent upon debt to go about their life. (For obvious reasons many people are dependent upon their mortgages to carry on with life – most of us could not afford to buy our homes or property outright!) If you don’t need a line of credit to put gas in your car, food on your table, or really a car in your driveway, then you’re on the right track towards financial sustainability.
If the answer is yes, you’re doing great!
How is debt freedom related to sustainability?
It is important to grasp that living in debt is a very uncertain and precarious way to live. With debt over our head, not only are our total assets in the negative, but all debts have limits before you get cut off. Eventually lenders will not allow you to use more debt, whether that’s to lease a new vehicle, mortgage a new home, or even to put food on your table. Because it has its limits, it cannot be sustained indefinitely. For those with families and dependents, this is of even more concern than for single folk.
In order to live sustainably we need to be able to continue to eat food, drive cars, live under a roof, and meet any number of other basic needs. If living in debt cannot promise this to us, then we know it is not sustainable.
What is the goal?
In order to live in a sustainable way and to grow towards self sufficiency, debt freedom is a very important goal. Of course, this goal can take years and years to pursue depending upon the level of debt we find ourselves in before beginning to dig our way out.
Fortunately, there are many schools of thought and many methods available for learning about how to get out of debt.
And fortunately, we do not have to be completely debt free before beginning other sustainable lifestyle choices. In fact, many of those lifestyle changes can be the blueprint for how we dig ourselves out of debt. That is how we accomplished it in our first year of marriage, with a whopping $40,000 and a leased vehicle!
Probably the most common name when you begin to talk about getting out of debt, is Dave Ramsey. He definitely has made a name for himself in his career – which involved being so deeply in debt that he had to declare bankruptcy not once, but twice. Why would we want to learn from someone who did that? Well, thankfully the second time was a charm and the man learned his lesson. And he has passed that lesson on to a great number of people who have reached debt freedom because of him.
Our path towards debt freedom
We used Dave Ramsey’s plan, at least we did back in 2018 when we got married. I had never heard of the guy except from my then fiancé, whose parents used his program. A couple months after we saved for and paid in cash for our wedding, happily married (my husband with no debt, me with -$40k and a leased car), a friend “paid it forward” to us to pay the cost of taking Financial Peace University.
We began in September of 2018.
By October, I no longer had a leased 2016 vehicle, and instead commuted an hour each way to work in a used 2006 Subaru. Boy was that a change! But it was just the beginning for us. I’d paid off my credit card debt before we got married (so that isn’t even included in the $40k I keep mentioning) but we begin the “snowball” of paying off my seemingly endless student loan debt. With two incomes and no dependents, we were able to dump every penny of “savings” into debt, and it began to go quickly. We even had daydreams (…goals… they were goals) of paying off the entire thing by the time we hit our one year anniversary.
We didn’t go out to eat, at all. We didn’t buy coffee out, at all. We chose a very slim grocery budget and doggone it we didn’t deviate. We didn’t go to movies, concerts, anything. We worked every minute of overtime we could, and went to bed exhausted but definitely proud at the end of each day. We lived on one income, or even less, and put the entirety of the larger income into paying off the debt as aggressively as we could.
And then I got pregnant with our first child. What a blessing! But what a wrench in the “one year anniversary” plan!
Of course, the idea of pursuing debt freedom is to stay out of debt. We didn’t have health insurance, so having a baby would mean a lot of medical debt for us. Or would it? For many other reasons, but finances still considered, we opted for a homebirth. Yep. We did that. Where we lived at the time, this cost us $3000, which we no longer had in savings because we’d put it towards debt. So the next couple months were focused on saving up and paying for our first child out of pocket.
We also had to consider that with a new baby comes new responsibilities and new “what if’s?” So we needed to keep a little more buffer for emergencies than we had to before. So it wasn’t for several more months before we were able to resume paying off debt as we had before.
We finally took the plunge and made one final large payment in November of that year, five months after our first wedding anniversary. It was still a huge occasion because it was my husband’s birthday. Not only had we had a kid, but we’d gone down to being a single income household, because my income wouldn’t have paid for both childcare and my hour-each-way commute, and still been worth working.
What a win that was! What a breath of fresh air! So it took us from September of 2018 to November of 2019 to ditch a leased car and pay off $40,000. And we couldn’t be happier to be debt free and move on to the next phase of our journey, which was saving up for a down payment to buy our first home. But, more on that later!