I paid for my college education the way most people do, with student loans. Without bothering to ask if the cost was worth the benefit I signed up for 20+ years of payments. I thought it was what I was supposed to do. When I got out of college and my loans entered repayment the sense of regret came on pretty suddenly. In many ways my life was fine. I was able to make the payments, stay current on my other bills, and buy food. But I had very little flexibility in my budget and unexpected expenses caused a lot of stress. At the time I was driving a 20 year old van that was starting to have some issues and I remember being particularly unnerved by car trouble. I hate to complain because I know so many others endure much worse but I have to be honest, at times it was hard.
At one point I found out my church was offering a course on personal finance and the course materials cost $50. At the time I was so disorganized that I wasn't even sure if I had that much money in the bank. I was overcome with a feeling that it didn’t have to be this way and I was so angry at myself for ending up in this situation. I decided that I would probably never spend a more important $50 and that I had to do whatever it took to take this class. This moment, the decision to prioritize gaining the knowledge I needed over everything else, started a journey that I’m still on. I did complete the course and I later went through it two more times as a leader. Going forward from there I became an avid reader and learner on the topic of personal finance.
Applying the principles I began learning in that class changed my life. My wife and I paid off the student loans, saved an emergency fund, and bought our home with a large down payment on a 15-year mortgage that will be paid off well under that time frame. We’ve had the joy of being able to set and meet aggressive goals for generosity as well as laying a solid foundation for our retirement and leaving an inheritance to our children.
It wasn’t anything special about me that allowed all this to happen. It all came from one moment of realizing that better things were within reach if I would take the time to learn and do the work that was needed. I want everyone to have the same pivotal moment and to feel the sense of peace and possibility that I feel today.