In a recent post I reported that the Frugal family was nearly debt free. Well, we’ve crossed that pinnacle point, and are now enjoying life after debt. A comment from that post, and my initial experiences, have me wondering if life really is any easier after crossing over from being in debt to enjoying a life without it.
The first thing we did after reaching debt freedom was realign our financial goals. The first, of course, was to secure a fully-funded emergency fund, one that represented about six months of expenses. Admittedly, it was tough to keep up the same intensity towards saving money as we had for paying off debt. That brings me back to the thought-provoking comment left by Rob from PassionSaving.com. Here’s a portion of that comment that struck me:
If your experience is like mine, it won’t be all smooth sailing from this point forward. I say this not to be discouraging, but to point out what might be a basic reality of human life — it is a journey of ups and downs no matter how skilled one becomes at handling one’s money issues.
What I believe today is that accomplishing a big money goal like paying off one’s debt does not so much solve all your problems as open you up to a higher class of problems. The old problems truly are solved. But solving them provokes you into taking on new adventures, which lead to new problems. You will continue to find yourself frustrated and stuck and in pain and in fear in days to come.
My initial reaction? Yeah right! What could possibly be any more painful, financially, than going through the motions of paying off debt? What money struggles could we face that are even close to the struggles faced in the past? I suspect most people still deep in debt probably had that same reaction. But as I thought more about Rob’s comment, and began to experience life after debt, I understand his point.
Yes, we no longer have to contend with debt, but that doesn’t mean more daunting financial challenges aren’t ahead. My oldest child will soon be ten years old, which apart from terrifying me as a father, also serves as a wake-up call to get her college savings in order. Because we spent so many years toiling with debt and trying to get on solid footing, her college savings have suffered. The good news? Without debt we can afford larger contributions to her 529 plan, which should help us make up ground.
It’s a similar story for our own retirement plan. I diverted money we could have, and probably should have, used for retirement savings to pay down debt. Unfortunately, this means we missed a great opportunity to invest in our 20′s and let that money compound for a few decades. Are you reading 20-somethings? Make long-term savings a priority now!
In the final analysis, I would have to admit that yes, life is easier after debt. Paydays are now an exciting event because it means making more contributions to savings, rather than distributing most of your income to credit card and auto finance companies. But life after debt is not without challenges. And those challenges can conjure up the familiar fears and anxiety felt when looking at a pile of debt.
How will I even save enough to retire? How much will my kids need for college? Will I ever be able to save in taxable investments to chart a course to early retirement? I’ll approach these new challenges the same way I approached, and overcame, the ones related to debt. We’ll tackle them head on, and remain disciplined through the same frugal approach we take towards nearly all of life’s ups and downs.