Reflections On an Indebted Life

I’ve spent a lot of years being in debt. Basically, I’ve been in debt since I left home for college at 17 years old. The thing is, while I was a hard worker but I didn’t have the type of financial education that is shared through generations of wealth building. I didn’t have lessons on saving, investing, and generational wealth building through purchasing property.

I come from a family of people who worked in towel factories, at ADM  (corn syrup producer), and Firestone tires. The thing is the people in my family did save money, buy homes, and send some of their kids to college. They were frugal, lived in an inexpensive town in the mid-west, and were able to live the life that they dreamed about.  I don’t think that the older people in my family would understand my current indebted life. They would think that it’s just common sense that you spend less than you earn. Of course you should save at least 10% of your salary! And delay gratification a no brainer! They were able to do it…the question is why couldn’t I? During my indebted life I dressed nicely, I ate great food, and I traveled the world. Once someone I worked with joked about how young people now a days retire first and then work hard later. How prophetic those words were.

As I begin the 2-3 year debt repayment process I reflect on all of my financial choices and for a brief second think-what if? What if I hadn’t gone to the expensive private university? What if I hadn’t shopped like a rock star? What if I’d stayed in most nights instead of partying every week and dancing on the table tops? Fewer dinners out? Not as many  trips? Even though I’m feeling the pain of those decisions and I do have a number of regrets those mistakes and experiences have shaped and created the person that I am today. I would not wish the anxiety, stress, doubts, or pain that I’ve experienced because of this situation on anyone else.

The sad thing is my story is not that uncommon and I find that really sad. I hear people talking about their debt woes, their fears, and feelings of helplessness on the bus, in the mall, and in passing. We are experiencing a crisis of confidence in ourselves. When did we stop trusting our instincts, listening to the voice in our head that says purchasing a $350, 000 home with an adjustable mortgage is a bad idea on a teacher’s salary? When did we stop pausing to reflect on the fact that a $35,000 car on a small business manager’s salary is probably a little expensive for their wage?  When did we become so greedy for a future that we needed to earn.
As I slowly say goodbye to my indebted years I wonder what the hell was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t. The indebted life has been such a big part of my life that I am amazed that there is another way to live.

I’m afraid. To give up such a bad habit is scary.  I don’t want to fail. We’ll see how it goes.



  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal

    We’re still very much in the indebted years. Our debt is primarily student loan debt, but we made the mistake of living way too high on student loans and now we have a lot to pay back. We’ve been really complacent about our student loans for a long time, but recently we’ve changed our attitude and are trying to get it gone ASAP. Best of luck to you on your debt payoff journey!!

    • Michelle

      Thanks Dee, things are slowly getting better but I just have to ask myself wtf? I am super focused on getting things taken care of and am feeling a lot better about my situation.

  • Brian @ Luke1428

    You can only start where you are Michelle and go from there. We can all feel regret over past “what ifs.” That’s only going to frustrate us if we dwell on those. I try to focus more on where I’m going than on where I’ve been. And that can be scary too but at least I’m focused on moving forward and making a better life for myself.

    • Michelle

      I’ve finally begun to be forgiving of my younger self and her decisions. I’m trying to focus on the future and the journey that I’m currently on as I get deeper into the journey I feel a lot more comfortable with where I’m at now than I did last year. My progress has become addicting.

  • catherine

    I am still in my indebted years and trying to appreciate what it has taught me about myself. I live my life believing everything happens for a reason even the crappy things :)

    • Michelle

      I would not be the person that I am now without all of the experiences that I’ve had because of the debt. It has been super crappy, but-it’s getting better.

  • Blake @ BeanCounterByDay

    Great article! I feel very lucky that I was able to get a grip on my personal finances at an early age. Although that didn’t stop me from driving a $40,000 car when I was 25 making my first “real money”! I miss the car, but I certainly don’t miss the payment!

    My fiance and I are currently trying to pay off all the remnants of her indebted years. Once your eyes are opened, it is remarkable how many others you find that have foregone the same basic principles for financial peace of mind.

    I wonder the same questions sometimes. How did we get from those that lived through the Great Depression and knew full well the value of saving to the generation of people who gave no thought to the amount of debt they were racking up!?! It’s almost as if the Land of the Free has transformed into the Land of the Entitled, and we will ruin ourselves if we don’t get control over it.

    • Michelle

      I hate, hate, hate being in debt. I am looking at 3 years of focused debt repayment. That’s enough time to re-program my brain. I spent some time looking at articles written about the Chinese savings rate which is now currently hovering around 50%!!! That is the average. It’s hardly surprising that they have the money to purchase homes in the U.S. and businesses. I have lived a rock star life so far. I can suck it up and focus so that I can be rich later.

  • Broke Millennial

    Congrats on saying goodbye to those years! I’m fortunate to have avoided those years (so far) due to my college decision. It gives me knots in my stomach just thinking about the massive amounts of debt so many of my friends are in. I also realize that if I decided to ever get married odds are pretty darn high I’ll end up with someone dealing with debt — seems the millennial way. It’s great you realized so early on you want to change your relationship with money and debt, image how much worse it could be otherwise.

  • Michelle

    Sadly, not early enough :) I really didn’t have any guidance about the financial aspects of college. It was just expected that I would go to college. Being from a family where most of the adults (at the time I went to college) had been non-traditional students during their college years (read-older) my experience at college was very different from theirs. Now, I can guide my future children so they don’t have the same experience that I had.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina

    Having debt is hard. Best of luck on your debt payment journey!

    • Michelle

      It sucks! But, like everything it’s a state that won’t last forever-I hope.

  • Adam Kamerer

    My wife and I are still in debt. Sometimes it feels so far away, and yeah, sometimes I wish I’d done things differently in the past. Studied something else in college that would have provided me with more career opportunities, or saved more when I did have some expendable income. But I can’t go back and fix those things.

    I can move forward, though, so we’ve got a plan now to pay down our debt — and we’ve made some good strides towards that in the last year. I think we’ll get there sooner than planned, too.

  • Kyla H

    I despise being in debt. At times it’s completely overwhelming and I become fearful that I am missing out on so much of my life – and wasting so much time – just by being in debt. It makes me think about the “what ifs” and how I wish I could go back and make better decisions before and during college (my debt is entirely comprised of student loans). Some days I feel motivated and encouraged, reminding myself to take it “one day at a time” and enjoy my life even though I’ve still got a long way to go. Other days, I get so angry and frustrated about my debt (embarrassingly, it’s been the source of many unnecessary arguments with my boyfriend) and I feel a bit helpless. It’s been nearly 4 years since I graduated from college and my goal is to be debt-free in 3 more years. I know there will be some frustrating days in my debt-free journey, but I’ve already made some progress and I have to remind myself to keep moving forward to reach my goal :)

    • Michelle

      Kyla, it’s like you’ve read my mind. I feel the same way and I totally understand that helpless feeling. I always kept one foot out of a relationship because I never wanted to talk about my debt. I do think that it would have caused huge problems because I didn’t have a plan to take care of the debt. Now I have a plan so I feel a lot more in control. Like you, the bulk of my debt is Student Loans.

  • Marvin

    My wife was in debt when we first got together and it was tough. We basically lived off of my income and used her to pay down the debt. Now that we’re debt free, it makes things a lot easier. Keep your head up and keep chugging along, you’ll get there eventually.

    • Michelle

      This reply is to Marvin (the reply below is for Adam) Marvin, I have a friend who did the same thing with her husband. She had a ton of student loans, so they lived on one income and paid it off fast. Now, they’re preparing for kids and don’t have the burden of those loans! I’m planning to have my loans paid off before kids arrive.

  • Michelle

    Ironically I wanted to get a degree in Economics. I have used my degrees but they were way too expensive. Oh well! You’re right, what’s done is done. All we can do is move forward. Congratulations on the success that you’ve had paying of your debts. Keep up the good work!

  • Shovellicious

    “Are you still in your indebted years?” Yes, I am. And I think it will be like that for the next year (hopefully not longer). “How does being in debt make you feel?” I would say “bad” couple of months ago. It doesn’t mean I’m saying “I feel fantastic and I can’t wait to go into debt again”. I just accepted the fact that I made mistakes in the past. I will try to avoid them in the future. But the only thing I can do now is to enjoy life for less and concentrate on debt payment plan. It is scary sometimes but I strongly believe it’s doable. And reading PF blogs like yours gives motivation and hope :)

    • Michelle

      Like you, I’m still in debt. I expect to be in debt for another 3 or 4 years. I used to feel pretty badly about everything basically because everything was so disorganized and a hot mess. Now that I’ve spent a year cleaning things up, creating a plan, and actually implementing that plan I feel in control of my life again. I won’t let debt be in control ever again (if I can help it) it creates such a helpless feeling. I’m over that! Good luck with your journey am in your corner.

  • Don @ Breath of Optimism

    When I would look back on my credit card debt, I would cringe thinking of what else I could have done with all of that money. I could have invested it. I could have used it as down payment for a house or even as a cushion to help me start my own business sooner. Sadly, I can’t even remember many of the things I bought that got me into my debt.

    • Michelle

      I think I did a lot of the following with my credit cards: shopping, travel, groceries, and randomness…Even though I messed up a lot of money in the past I’m just focused on the future from now on. All I can do is make sure that my current choices are fiscally sound and save a hell of a lot more for the future.