1 year debt free anniversary – was it worth it

It’s been 1 year since we clicked the mouse and paid off our last chuck on consumer debt. (we’re now just working on our mortgage). You can read all about our debt free journey here.

So what has this year brought?

Has it been as amazing as we’d hoped?

Yes.  Yes it has.

 

In the weeks after we paid that last bill off, Bruce and I headed down for a couples only long weekend in Waco, Texas.  We went to the Magnolia Silobration (Fixer Upper peeps unite!) and listened to live music, shopped, visited antique shops and just hung out. It was so much fun to share another side of Texas with Bruce too. I lived there in my early 20’s and have wished I could share more of it with Bruce and help him fall in love with it as I have.  This was a much needed little getaway after having our noses to the grindstone for so long.  We paid cash and savored every second of it!

 

Black friday we were all laying around the house watching the old classic, Titanic. So what did that make us want to do? It made us want to look into taking a cruise of course.  Go figure.  So as luck would have it, we found a black Friday sale and managed to get the 4 of us booked on a nearly week long cruise for under $1500 (included taxes)!  Again, paid in full.  It’s amazing how life can be when you’re not paying out so much towards interest and debt.  We had a modest Christmas, continuing to save as much as possible and while we’ve padded our budget a bit we haven’t gone too crazy.  Travel is our love though so we tend to all be in agreement to live a bit tighter and then splurge on seeing our beautiful country and the world.

We saved up, bought our airfare to Florida and took our cruise to Belize in February. It was so nice to get to have that experience together. Afterwards we rented a car and spent the day driving down to the Florida keys, seeing a state park beach and then seeing the everglades before our flight back to winter.  (I’m praying this beach was spared during the recent hurricanes.)

 

So one thing that we do differently than most people we know is that we don’t do all the extras when we travel. We aren’t big drinkers, and we consciously chose not to do any excursions from the cruise. This was for 2 reasons. The first was that we had a hard time finding things that we all found interesting and “worth it” for a 6 year old, a teenager and both of us. Second, we priced it out and decided instead of spending a 1/2 day at the mayan ruins we could use that same amount of money and do a 2 week camping road trip during the summer.  We don’t feel like we are sacrificing at all though. We make sure to enjoy everything we can do and savor it all.  Instead of the excursion we drank from coconuts in belize and ate fresh salsa on the pier while taking it all in.

We have made a decision that we’ll treat “vacation money” like “real life money”.  That means we don’t just surrender $1400-1600 for a few hours excursion just because we’re on vacation, for good or bad I can’t forget that that is the amount of a house payment back in “real life”.  Plus, knowing that is nearly the exact amount of what we later paid for 2 weeks full of memories always keeps us accountable. The more memories and time together the better.

 

So one of the biggest benefits we’ve had since paying off all those pesky bills was a huge peace of mind and the ability to FINALLY make some decisions where money wasn’t the first factor in the decision process.  For years Bruce has been wanting to switch careers. He worked long, unpredictable hours and could never count on being home in the evening. One of his big goals during our whole debt paying process was to be able to switch jobs and be able to see the kids play sports and be involved with their activities. Especially to have our little guy join cub scouts and for Bruce to get to be there to experience it with him.

In May Bruce accepted a different job and while it came with a bit of a pay cut, it also came with predictable hours and the guarantee of being home every evening. It was an answer to prayer.  It’s amazing how things worked out in terms of timing, he was able to put in his notice so he’d finish in time for the vacation dates we had set up months before.  He set up his start date at his new job for a couple days after we got back.  It was as if it was all perfectly planned out. 😉

So in June we started off our road trip fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine and seeing some of the Little house on the Prairie books’ sites. We camped on the actual land that the Ingalls family lived on in DeSmet years ago. The kids slept in this awesome covered wagon and Bruce and I slept under the stars in our sleeping bags. It was magical.

 

We then headed to Colorado Springs to visit with family before we made our way over to Durango to visit more family. Along the way we saw Garden of the Gods, Cave of the winds, St. Elmo ghost town, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Silverton, Ouray, then Durango. It was so great.  Afterwards we headed back and stopped in Iowa to see more family/friends. It was such an amazing time.  We camped for the first 9 nights and then stayed with people and in hotels. I love everything about a road trip. Long talks, good music, seeing the outskirts of areas and how quickly the landscapes can change. I savor it all.


A couple weeks ago I was able to go with a cousin out to see my aunt and uncle in New York City. It was amazing.  My favorite moments were when I got a chocolate croissant from an amazing little french bakery and an iced coffee and we sat in Rockefeller plaza taking it all in and catching up with each other.  We got to see so many amazing sites but my favorite moments were drinking wine, staying up way too late and finding out how hilarious my relatives are. It was so great to get to have basically a 5 day slumber party and laugh and play. I loved it.  My aunt and uncle spoiled us rotten so it didn’t cost me as much as it sounds like it did but it still was something that I felt really proud to pay for up front and then use cash throughout.

 

 

So it’s not that suddenly we paid things off and then life got easy, but I will say that an incredible amount of pressure and stress has been relieved in our lives and I am so grateful to get to have these experiences and say yes more.  We’re working to beef up a savings account, have started a college savings account FINALLY and are working to make sure all the details are handled.  Mostly though I can look back at the years we spent, first getting to where we weren’t building more debt, then breaking even, then finally paying extra towards bills. It was hard and there were so many months where we felt like we were running in place. I keep meticulous spreadsheets, track where we spend each cent and work really hard to make sure that we spend with intention instead of just flowing through without consciously deciding.  I’ve taken all those lessons I’ve learned and teamed them up with encouragement and fun and created a course I’m offering for free starting in October. It’s all been a lesson of perseverance, communication and teamwork.  I’m here to offer encouragement to anyone else out there who feels overwhelmed by bills, payments or is just exhausted of the game of trying to keep up with everything society says you should do or have.

I know that many people have no desire to travel, nor do I share these photos because I think you should (well maybe a little bit, traveling is amazing).  Mostly though I know that there is something inside of us all that lights us up and makes us feel alive and in tune with why we are alive. Travel does that for me, what does that for you?   Whether money is a factor or not, I offer you so much encouragement to add more of whatever that thing is for you into your life. Fill in all the gaps and cracks with experiences, people, and lastly things that bring you joy.

So in true full circle spirit, last night Bruce and our son went to their first Cub scouts meeting. Together they signed up and Bruce is going to be volunteering with the troop. Aspen came running in the door last night when they got home and could hardly get all the words out he was so excited to share how much fun he had.  It makes me think back to any random day 2, 3, or even 6 years ago that we had to make a decision to save money here or there, pay off something.. it was all those tiny steps that helped us to that moment last night and a million other small moments just like it. We couldn’t see how it was all going to work out while we were in the thick of it, but I’m so grateful we dreamed and had faith.