From Debting out of Get to Getting out of Debt

“Guess what, honey!! I knew it! They want us back! I always knew if we kicked them to the curb they’d just be back knocking when times got rough. So whaddya say? Should we apply for the 0% loan?”

When we began our getting out of debt journey, I was pregnant with our fourth child. We were living in a home that was 45 miles away from Dave’s main job, and about the same distance away from our church. I had three kids under four, and it was hard enough to manage everything with both parents there for the evenings and weekends. But we knew something needed to change, and we wanted to start right away, so Dave went ahead and got a second job at IHOP.

And it was every bit as grueling as we’d feared. Now, Dave was working a regular 40 hour work week, plus 10 hours a week of commuting (if there was no traffic), plus working 2-3 weeknights and Saturdays waiting tables. Meanwhile, I was basically alone to parent three (very active and mischievous) children while tired and pregnant, with nobody close by to help. At least, not anyone we were close enough with to ask for help on a regular basis, for free, and not feel bad about it. It was difficult to get out and go anywhere with three small children and a huge belly, so I spent most of my time at home trying to keep everyone alive and myself sane.

To make matters worse, since the very point of Dave working so many hours was to get cash to put down on the money we’d already spent, spending any of that extra money on outside help was out, whether that be cleaning lady (which I’d had before, occasionally) or babysitting/mommy’s helper.   I even lost the one night per week where I got a break from making dinner, since ordering in was way more expensive than cooking, and Dave wasn’t home to cook instead.

Dave and I felt like we barely saw each other. Even if we had a free moment to sit down and talk after kids were in bed, we were both exhausted from our respective days. Dave did this thing where he’d “rest his eyes” during a conversation and I would continue talking, and then I’d get no response. He insisted every time that he wasn’t really sleeping, he just couldn’t think of something to say. Nice try, honey. Goodnight, I guess.
We both fought resentment a little bit, I think – I wished for more help around the house, and a break from the near-single parenting; while he wanted a peaceful and undemanding place to come home to which I could not always provide.

In a way, our long commute to church on Sunday was a saving grace, as that was a solid 40 minutes of time when we could actually talk uninterrupted while the kids were strapped down and we had nothing else to do.

But even with these setbacks, our marriage was never better. We were both on the same page. Our nightly few-minute chat was filled with hope, and plans, and a tangible solidarity. Every time we took Dave’s tips and whatever extra money we scrounged out of our budget, and plunked them on a credit card; whenever we ripped up one of the bills because it was paid off, we were energized to keep going.

After the baby (Christina) was born, and some of the smaller credit cards began to get paid off and our “debt snowball” gained a little momentum, we talked about what we could do to make our daily lives a little easier and save a little more money. We decided after about 7-8 months, it was time to move closer to church and to Dave’s job. We sold our house quickly via one of those “we buy ugly houses” deals – didn’t make any money on it, but we got an apartment in a gated community a few miles from church, and expected to save a bunch on gasoline. Not to mention the time saved commuting.

And God continued to bless us. Dave finally started getting in some engineering side work and didn’t have to go back to IHOP anymore. He could work from home just a few hours a night or a week instead. It was nice to have the hours with him again, but I would not trade those IHOP days for anything. I developed such a deep respect for my husband during that time. It takes a certain kind of man, with an intense sense of responsibility, to see what needs to be done and not to consider any task beneath him, but rather embrace work qua work with grace and yes, even joy. I love that my husband is smart enough to have a “white collar” job like engineering, specialized enough that only a few people in the country can do just what he can, and yet humble enough to don an apron and serve junk food to fat people so his family can be delivered from the slavery of debt.

It was easy and difficult to stay on the path. Easy because we were really living intentionally, and that made certain choices very clear and simple to make. But it was difficult too, because it wasn’t just an 18 month long stretch where we were tightening our belts. It has been going on for a full four and a half years now. At some point we made some decisions that we knew would slow us down on the debt payments, such as choosing to pay the extra money for real, fresh food rather than eat as cheaply as possible. Or choosing to pay out of pocket for a home birth (three of them, over the course of those four years) rather than say, a hospital birth that would be covered by insurance. Also, when you drive an absolute beater of a car as Dave did for a while, you can eek out a year or so from it, but not four years – so we’ve had to cash flow not just car repairs but also a few new (used) cars as well.

When we realized earlier this year that we had a few small windfalls coming up that would enable us to knock out the rest of the debt, we started increasing our intensity again and lately things have felt quite similar to that beginning time. Again Dave is working at a job where he has a long commute, and doing side work on nights and weekends. Again, he’s tired from working so many hours and not having enough down time, and I’m tired from near-single parenting. We’ve even had some more of those “conversations” where his eyes are closed and he responds in monosyllables. But it will all be worth it in a month or so when we are finally and completely out of debt for good.

And yeah, I’m pretty sure we won’t be applying for that 0% APR card at that point. Sorry, Discover. We have learned our lesson. Just go – walk out that door. Turn around now, ’cause you’re not welcome anymore.

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7 Responses to From Debting out of Get to Getting out of Debt

  1. Bekah says:

    Sarah,
    Thanks for these series of posts. I too am having to buckle down to escape the debt trap, and although it is extremely hard and often discouraging there is always that hope for freedom at the end that keeps the determination alive and well. Debt and money are tricky subjects, but thank you for being so open about your journey. It’s so helpful to know that others have been there and have made it through! Congrats on the hard work and on the ability to live free again!

  2. Sue Schieman says:

    I wondered why you had sold your house. Good for you! It must be exciting to see the end to the debt and start making plans beyond debt repayment. Do you think you’ll own a house again? We bought a house when we were first married, racked up some debt and then sold our house and payed it all off. Then we moved into Paul’s parents’ house for 3 years for cheap rent to look after it for them. We didn’t take advantage of the situation to save money or anything. Then we squeaked into another house (paying the minimum down payment), renovated it on credit and lived paycheck to paycheck. Then Paul became ill and couldn’t work for a couple of months. We had no back up plan and no equity in our house. We had to declare bankruptcy. We have learned our lesson, or at least it helps that no one will give us credit! We love the feeling of not owing anything. In fact, when Paul’s parents recently asked us what we are going to do with the profit from the sale of our home, after we pay off our debt, and we replied that we had no debt, they were utterly dumbfounded! They are continuously in debt. Now with this opportunity to live at my parents’ house (rent-free!!), we are going to be much smarter about it and save that money and save up for whatever our future holds. With Paul possibly needing to go on disability (66% of his salary), I feel the Lord is leading us in the right direction and setting us up financially to provide for our family.

    Have you ever written about tithing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    • Sarah says:

      I believe all are supposed to give generously according to their means and trust the Lord to provide. As protestants we tithed because we believed it was required to give a tenth, specifically. According to the six commandments of the Catholic Church it’s required “to contribute to the support of the Church” but not with any specific percentage. We try to keep it around 10%, not to follow the old law, but as a good guideline. One of the things we are excited about for increased disposable income once we’re free of debt, is to be able to give more offerings and alms.

  3. Medora says:

    Dear Sarah,
    Being far too nerdy to join Facebook, I’ve discovered your blog, and I’ve really, really enjoyed catching up with you. Your six children are beautiful and I laugh (with you) at all your candid snippets of life.

    Hey, P.S. I know it’s, oh, two months late, but happy anniversary (ninth, I believe?) Congrats on the debt battle, as well. That’s fantastic.

  4. Katherine Lauer says:

    I love hearing about Dave’s time working at IHOP. I grew to have much respect for him at that time too! So few men will even “allow” their wives to be stay-at-home mothers these days, and Dave not only does that but was willing to work two jobs. That’s real manhood.

  5. Erin says:

    I enjoy reading your honest reflections on your years of getting out of debt! Dave and you definitely have my admiration for working hard and enduring much to be free from debt. Tim and I are looking forward to when we’re completely free. You’re almost there! 🙂

  6. Sheila says:

    This post is a bit of a consolation to me right now, as we go through a “rough patch” of our own. John is gone from five in the morning till seven at night, providing for us, and then doing grad school at night. I don’t like it — because the baby dotes on his dad and would love him to be around more (and so do I) — but I’m accepting it because I do believe it will lead to better things. We don’t have much debt, just college loans and the mortgage, but even those are millstones around our necks sometimes. I hope and pray that things will get better before too long.

    In any event, it’s better to plow through this rough patch NOW, when we have only one child and things are relatively simple, than be stuck having to do it later.

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