A Brief Freakout

I am going to be 28 years old in three weeks. I’ve got some gray hair, which seems to grow in number each month. I do not have any kids. I rent an apartment. I drive a car built in 1993. I’ve got a smartphone that is four years old. My total savings – retirement included – totals less than $8,000. From a financial perspective, I am completely broke. This is not where I thought I would be.

Recently, I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the odds that seem to continue to mount on our path to financial freedom. I am all for delayed gratification, but some things are getting ridiculous. I am also generally positive in my posts. That being said, I think it’s okay to be more on the realistic side of things instead of always being “rah-rah”. Life is tough sometimes! It’s important to recognize when it is.

Student loans have pushed back a lot of things for us. We won’t be buying a new car for a few years at least since it isn’t a top priority. The priority right now is becoming debt-free, which is a goal we find ourselves a dizzying $67,900 away from. In order to do that more quickly, I’ve limited my retirement contributions to the 4% I get matched by my work. We have no money to invest anywhere else. How about saving for a house, the ultimate America Dream? Well, with decent houses in Missoula being pretty expensive, we’d likely have to get a house right around $250,000 even for a starter home. For a 20% down payment, that would mean we’d need to have $50,000 saved. By that time, we will need to replace a car. Beyond that, we want to start having kids here in the next two years or so. To be honest, at this moment, this all simply doesn’t seem possible.

Some would argue that we should just make minimum payments on our loans for the next ten years and move onto our other financial goals. That is simply not an option in my mind. I refuse to pay out interest to Navient for a full decade. Also, this line of thinking is how people end up financing two cars, a camper, their new bed that they couldn’t live without. Hell, people finance phones! (Just because you don’t pay interest on it doesn’t mean it’s not debt, don’t kid yourself on that $1,000 smartphone). With this lifestyle, you would be effectively drained of your financial future one tiny interest accrual at a time. No thank you.

Ugh, so here it goes, I feel like I just need to list out all these goals and milestones just so it doesn’t continue to internally overwhelm me:

  1. Pay off $67,900 of student loans.
  2. Save up an emergency fund of 3-6 months. We’ll just say $10,000.
  3. Save $50,000 down payment for a $250,000 house.
  4. Ramp up retirement contributions from 4% to 15%.
  5. Buy a newer, safer car in anticipation of having a child. Conservatively we’ll say $15,000 for that, could be a lot more at that point.
  6. Have said child. This gives me cold sweats imagining the costs associated here.
  7. Try not to have a panic attack thinking about retirement, paying for kids’ college, having more kids, funding my inevitable mid-life crisis… haha you get the idea.

I know I am just freaking out a little bit here, but gosh, that is just pretty discouraging to look at!!

Eventually, once we have kids, I would love for Jos to be able to spend most of her time with our kids. We’ve talked about how two days a week working outside the home could be a good amount. But that too would push us down to a lower income level, making ends meet a more challenging task.

To get to the point of buying a house (step 3 above), this would require in excess of $130,000 to be saved in addition to all of our ongoing expenses. Essentially, we’d need to cash flow $130k. Freaking brutal.

Okay, I think I’m done having my freakout for now. I was going to post about how our generation has had to push back all of our major life events and financial goals to later times due to a number of unfortunate external circumstances, so hopefully, I’ll be able to refocus at some point to get more coherent thoughts rolling in that direction.

Taking a deep breath here at the end of this post, I’m reminded that none of this will be accomplished overnight. We will get there eventually. But man, delayed gratification is not fun. 🙂

Remember where you’ve been, and Stay Humble

Credit LowCredit High

What a difference 611 days can make.

Nobody says that, but that was the magic number in my credit score equation. As you can see from the two scores above, I’ve come a long way in handling and managing money well. In September of 2017, my wife and I were just married, freshly moved to Oregon for her graduate school, and I was scooting around the greater Portland area in our Prius trying to hustle up a few bucks working for Uber and Lyft. The consequences of my poor financial planning were taking their toll, as my 614 credit score indicated, but we were getting on the right track at that point, beginning to budget well and make better decisions about what we bought and what we passed on.

Fast forward those 611 days and the story looks much different. My wonderful wife graduated with her degree in Speech-Language Pathology, has a new job back in Missoula, MT, I am student loan debt free, we have no credit card, car or other debt other than what she has left on graduate student loans. We have a ways to go, but we are white-hot on the path to being debt free. The goal is in sight and we are excited about where we find ourselves going.

Moving back to Montana after these two wonderful years in Oregon is a dream come true. We weren’t sure that Jos would be able to find a good SLP job in Missoula, so she went with the shotgun approach when applying for jobs, looking for anything from Kalispell to Hamilton, Missoula to Billings. God provided an excellent opportunity for her to work as an independent contractor for a great organization, and I could not be more proud of her.

For me, I am fortunate to hold onto my remote IT job, enabling me to take a strong wage back to a state with lower living expenses. And speaking of those expenses, we find ourselves even more blessed in regards to those.

My father and mother-in-law have been generous enough to take us in for at least a few months while we get our feet under us and get settled back into Missoula. Their generosity will help us expedite and catalyze our debt repayment efforts. With any bit of luck, we are still on track to have the remaining $67,850 in student loans cleaned up by next summer. You’ll have to stay tuned to see if we make it.

One thing that strikes me as I sit here this morning is that to win, you need to be willing to be humbled. At nearly 28 years old, I honestly did not think I would reach this age and still having lingering debts, little to no savings, and still be renting. But that is okay. If you look around in the news, millennials and student loans are in the headlines everywhere. Whether you think we millennials are a bunch of screwups, or you empathize with the trying circumstances we find ourselves in, there are plenty of us out here that are doing something to pull ourselves up and out of our slow-start situations in life. Our education and loan-issuing systems need to be fixed, but perhaps that topic is for another post.

My point here is that for those of you that are fighting to get out of debt, don’t be afraid to humble yourself. Take the pizza delivery job a few nights a week, even if it seems like the position is “below your pay grade.” Be willing to say no to trips or friends that want to go out all the time, blowing through your would-be budget. Say yes and “thank you” to those who are willing to help you get a hand up on your situation, just like my wonderful in-laws. Don’t be too proud.

What was a humbling experience you’ve had in making your way out of debt? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. As usual, thanks for reading as we continue to Figure Out Finances.