Musings: Financial Freedom

Today’s topic is: “What does financial freedom look like to you?”

Credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, medical bills… These days, getting into debt is so easy, it’s nearly impossible to avoid. In fact, according to a Pew study conducted last summer, 80% of Americans carry the burden of debt on their shoulders.

“8 in 10 Americans have debt, with mortgages the most common liability. Although younger generations of Americans are the most likely to have debt (89 percent of Gen Xers and 86 percent of millennials do), older generations are increasingly carrying debt into retirement. 80% of baby boomers and more than half (56 percent) of retired members of the silent generation hold some form of debt.”

My husband and I are members of the lucky 11% of Gen Xers. One of the advantages of our sorta-late-in-life marriage was that we both had a chance to become financially stable before we started a family.

My husband has been working hard and living on his own since he was 16. At 18, he and a buddy bought a mobile home in a trailer court, for $25 each. By the time he was 23, he had scrounged together enough for a down-payment on this 20-acre hobby farm, which included an 1873 farmhouse, several outbuildings, and a new (1974) machine shed. He didn’t like the feeling of carrying debt, so he paid off the property in just 6 years. Over the years, he has owned new pick-up trucks, tractors, motorcycles, old muscle cars, and renovated a handful of real estate properties, but he has never lived beyond his means.

My path to financial stability had a few more bumps. I was fortunate to have graduated from college in 1999 without debt (thanks to my very generous parents). But my first (and only) year of grad school earned me a $55,000 loan. I found a job and “lived like a student” (i.e. eating lots of Ramen noodles) in order to pay off the high-interest student loans by 2003. Over the next five years, I worked my way into higher paying corporate jobs and stayed long enough to start a retirement account and save up enough for a down-payment on a house. Yay me! But, in 2009, at what I thought was the bottom of the housing market collapse, I bought a house in a coastal suburb of Boston that came with a $215,000 mortgage. (Ouch.) That wouldn’t have been a bad investment per se, except by 2010, I had decided that I wanted to leave the corporate world and move to the country to start a family. So in 2011, I sold my house (at a loss, covered by a portion of my savings) and moved to Minnesota.

Today, we are an active family of four and I’m sure our expenses will continue to grow as the girls do. But we are still very careful about how we spend money. My husband and I both like the feeling of being debt-free more than we like owning a new car or taking an elaborate vacation. And while we’ll always wish there was more money in our retirement funds and our children’s 529 accounts, I pause every day to appreciate how fortunate we really are.


Please share your thoughts on financial freedom in the comments.

~ Phoebe DeCook

(P.S. If you missed my introduction to these daily “Musings”, you can read from the beginning here.)

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