Why I decided to confront my debt demons

“If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Debt keeps you from being yourself. Plain and simple.

Charades and how to play them

My financial journey began about 10 years ago when I decided to attend law school, incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in the process. I realized half way through that I would not enjoy practicing law, but thought I was in too deep to not graduate. Chasing “better” jobs took me from St. Louis to Houston, and then to Austin where I live now. I have practiced as a tax attorney for the past five years. All while knowing that line of work, and the lifestyle it encouraged, did not align with my goals or values.

Succumbing to the constant weight of debt is a good way to not be yourself. I told myself I needed a certain job with a certain salary to pay off my student loans and to be successful. That job was downtown though, so I paid a premium to live close to the action. All of my colleagues had nice cars, so I upgraded to fit in. I was already in debt, what could it hurt?

But every other week a new restaurant/bar/museum opened up or someone had a birthday or someone had an extra ticket to the game. My FOMO (fear of missing out) made it impossible to turn down an invitation. Besides, maybe getting out of the house and into society would jump-start my drive to do something worthwhile. The spark ignited by such evenings faded before the hangover set in. I was frivolously spending the money I told myself I would save every month. And I was still unhappy. I did not actually like my job or some of the people around me. Shoot, some days I didn’t even like myself. But I had a high paying job and the connections to get on the list anywhere, so why wouldn’t I?

Some people do not get sucked into that lifestyle (and kudos to them!) but that pretty much sums up our five years as corporate peons.

Deciding to confront financial debt demons

In January of 2016, my dad was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 58, just months after he retired. Upon seeing how quickly a person’s circumstances could change, I realized I needed to take control of my finances. Sometimes it really does come down to your money or your life. So I really sank my teeth in on a June afternoon. Just a few days before, Becca tried to have an open discussion about our finances. I originally shut her out because I was self-conscious about my situation. That wouldn’t fly for very long though.

With a nervous call to Capital One, I negotiated a payment plan for the bad credit card debt I had neglected for years. As of April 2018, I have $500 to go to pay off that balance which started at $3,000. That may seem small, but when you’re $200,000 in the hole, you have to start somewhere. Next up, I tackled the high interest loans (14% interest) taken out to float me while studying for the bar exam. Next it was my car loan. I signed up for the income-based student loan repayment plan to allow for more flexibility right now.

Getting the debt demons under control

I started to finally feel in control of my finances. But it took my dad passing away a year and a half later in August of 2017 to put my foot down. I decided once and for all to not let my debt control my lifestyle or decisions. My debt burden had me pretending to be a lot of different things to get a paycheck, just so I could keep the lights on, and to make sure there was enough money in the account for all of my unnecessary expenses. I also realized I hadn’t gone fishing in months. Accepting my lowest low as selling my drift boat in 2014 to pay off loans, I knew I had to make a big change.

We’re now going on over two years since the light bulb turned on. Becca and I have been saving since then in order to travel around the US this summer in a teardrop trailer we bought from a retired friend. We are hopeful that stepping away from lifestyles we have both determined to be unfulfilling will lead to the discovery of new passions, or in my case, rediscovery.  We are keeping our minds open for future employment in order to find a lifestyle and employ more in-line with our values.

What we are learning

The one thing we are learning on this journey is that we must be authentic. And as we are writing this, we haven’t even left yet. We haven’t even picked up the trailer yet. (Update April 25, we have picked up Homer and we can’t wait to get on the road!)

If we had a dollar for every time someone thought what we are doing is crazy, well we could definitely plan to stay on the road much longer.

We are not conforming to expectation and that has a dynamic effect – it either totally freaks people out or makes them really jealous. But our goal is neither. Our goal is to inspire. To help people live better NOW. To do the thing that you’ve always wanted to do, whatever that may be.

The important thing is that it’s not about what people think. This is about self-discovery, a process that looks different for everyone. We find it imperative to acknowledge that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to want different things. The world would be so boring if we all wanted the same things!

There is room outside the aisles. Take a look. See what you might find.

Also, if you’re one of those that fall into the “jealous” bucket, start planning your trip! Even if it’s not as extended as ours, a little adventuring is good for the soul. We will be in Teton Valley from mid-June through mid-September and would love to be on your route. I happen to know a few fishing guides who just might get you hooked into a trophy trout!


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2 Replies to “Why I decided to confront my debt demons”

    1. Thank you Courtney! We have been following your adventures for years and you have a very inspiring story and message!!

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