Nothing but Debt


Debt (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Twenty years ago, when Holly and I got married, we had nothing but a little debt.  I graduated college with a 1980 Mazda 626 into and upon which I could fit all my worldly belongings–including a file cabinet, a futon, and a bicycle.  And that was it!  Nothing, more or less.  My debts from education were relatively small, some $7,000 or so.  If I were to have sold the car, bicycle, file cabinet, and futon, and my two or three other possessions worth anything, I might have been left with a net worth of -$5,000.  So, really, yes, I graduated with nothing but debt.  When Holly and I married three months later little changed with respect to my net worth.  Except now it became our net worth.

Five years into it we’d effectively turned a corner.  We had to bid adieu to our beloved Mazda after a glowing red episode with the catalytic converter; and we’d bought our first big purchase, a 1996 Volkswagen Jetta.  We were now living in Pennsylvania.  I was teaching second grade.  We had two kids with a third on the way.  But we’d paid off the education loans.  We owed less on the Jetta than it was worth, meaning our net worth was actually in the black.

I wish I could say it stayed that way.  But, alas, we got in over our heads with the purchase of our first house upon moving back to California.  We bought it on promises made from my new employer that never in fact materialized.  For two years, then, we sank more than a thousand dollars a month into it.  Fortunately we were able to sell the house two years after buying it.  But now our net worth was back in the red–bright red in fact.

What with four kids now and a scare with cancer and insufficient medical insurance and a move to Texas and more job ups and downs, then a fifth kid, we moved to Sewanee so that I could attend seminary.  We’d managed to start a few small retirement funds along the way–peanut savings, I say; and we now owned another house, in New Braunfels, Texas.  It was worth a bit more than we owed.  That was something.  We weren’t upside down in car payments too, and we’d purchased a nice piano, paid in full.  But indebtedness also had increased along the way.  So, anyway, we returned to Texas from Sewanee playing the same game we’d pretty much always played.

Except now we’d cleaned out those peanut funds.  And, most recently, we sold the house in New Braunfels.

So here we are, twenty years later, standing pretty much in the same place we were then, with nothing but debt.  We have no savings.  We have no house (meaning we don’t own a house; don’t worry, we rent).  We have a couple cars, a motorcycle, and a piano, sure; but adding it all together, we remain in the red.  And now more education loans are staring us in the face–this time for our kids.  Sheesh!

But–and here’s the good part–unlike twenty years ago, I have an awesome job, living out what I’ve always known to be my calling, with excellent benefits and a network of incredible people–colleagues, overseers, parishioners, friends.  Holly’s doing some pretty awesome work too.  Add to this that we now have five of the most delightful people in the world under our roof that weren’t around twenty years ago, our kids.

We’ll be back in black some day, as the Australian band AC/DC reminds us.  I’m not worried.  But I wouldn’t trade what I have now, debt and all, for all the riches in the world.


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