Wednesday, October 2, 2013

THE loan, our personal hippo

There is an undergrad loan that has, since we exchanged rings, sat heavily in the corner of our marriage.  I think of it as THE loan, the unloved guest that never leaves.  Never does anything, in fact, except rudely grunt at us to remind us that he is still there.  Along the way he was joined by a smallish car loan and a decently-sized grad school loan.  Imagine a fat hippo flanked by a mean bobcat and a naughty Labrador.

Need a visual?  Here you are:

We got rid of the bobcat first, he was a little pesky.  Then we worked our tushies off and saved like the next Great Depression was tomorrow and finally we were able to send the lab off to a nice farm.  Forever.  

But that overweight hippopotamus, THE loan, never went anywhere. We never even touched him. Occasionally I would imagine poking him with a long stick, but he looked too grumpy to try it.  He was content to just wear out his welcome for the next decade or two, and his stench was becoming overwhelming.  And so for years we have been stealthily planning and dreaming of his demise.

Six years ago we downgraded to one car and a motorcycle.  A year and a half ago we sold the motorcycle.  We gave up cable.  We own one TV, and it has a 26" screen.  We very rarely eat out.  We found a bargain house in a neighborhood where we could envision raising our son.  It is not a "fancy" neighborhood, but it is a good one.  We made the choice to not buy a bigger house (though we qualified for more money) because we wanted to keep our mortgage as low as possible.  And even though I have made the commitment to stay home with my son, I have never turned down an opportunity to work from home.  I watch children part and full-time.  I groom dogs.  I work for an online company fulfilling orders.  Meanwhile, TJ works steadily at his job.  And all the while we are saving. We save our dollars, we save our cents, I watch the checkbook balance like a hungry hawk scanning the grass for mice. We pay our tithing first--always--and then we save the rest.  Sometimes we are able to add $200 into savings at a time, sometimes only $15.  But always we have to believe that it is building up to something significant.  After all, if you put a piddly $40 into savings 25 times in a row, you have accumulated a thousand dollars.  Now just do that again.  And again.  And again, etcetera and so forth.

A giant mountain made out of pebbles, but made nonetheless.

And now it is time.  We have raised the money, bit by honest bit.  We are ready to call in a crew, have them hoist the hippo onto a Medieval catapult, the timber groaning beneath its load, and then heave him far away from here.  Or maybe they will drop a half-dome over him and disintegrate him entirely in a muffled poof, leaving only a perfect black circle on our carpet.  I don't care.  The point is that we did it.  Never mind what else that money could have bought.  Never mind that we could have a bigger house or a brand new zippy car with all the upgrades.  None of that matters.  What matters is that we did it.  We have freed ourselves of all extraneous debt.  The shackles have fallen off.  Our mortgage is now our ONLY debt in the world.  No car payment.  Zero credit card balance.

And now...THE.  Loan.  Is.  Gone. 

I think it will take some getting used to.  I think that it's a bit like cutting the lumps off of a couple of hunchbacks; we will still walk stooped for awhile before we realize that we really can stand up straight.  We will still be frugal because it has become our nature, but every once in a while we just might remember that we can buy a little something here and there.  We can start saving for a second car.  We can save for a vacation.  We can save for the things we want to save for.  In short, we can start living our lives.  That hippo might haunt me for some time, but realizing that he is gone will be a sweet awaking I look forward to experiencing again and again.

We did not do this alone, not at all.  Heavenly Father gave us the ability and opportunity to make money, and we just had to put in the legwork.  The actual sweat.  And then not spend it.

That's the real trick, isn't it?  Overcoming that desire to bring home something new, whether it is big or small, whether it is a subconscious thought or whether you are fighting a real battle inside.  Squelching that urge to spend money hundreds and thousands and maybe even millions of times.  That's such a cute purse, and mine has a strap that is about to fall off.  I really need new pans, our non-stick ones have lost the ability to release food cleanly.  That picture would look so pretty above the couch.  The same couch that needs more pillows.  Some new ceiling fans would really update these rooms.  I want those socks.  And some shoes to go with them.  I would much rather order a pizza than revisit those leftovers.  My son would love that toy.  I want a treadmill.  I need new jeans, preferably a pair that has not come off a clearance rack.  I just need to stop denying myself, no one else seems to be editing their lifestyle.  When will this ever end?    

And each time:

take a deep breath,
crumple up the thought,
throw another pebble on the mountain.

Let me make something perfectly clear:

we are not destitute, we are resolute.

 We have money, we have just known all along that we were saving it for THE loan.  I could have been less of a martyr along the way, but I never wanted to prolong this moment.  We wanted to pay off this debt more than anything else, and so we did.  And it was not an easy thing to do.  At times I have been embarrassingly frugal.  I have felt downright defeated.  I have been fed up.  This was a hard thing to do, but now it is done.

The payment cleared last night.

And now that heavy-breathing hippo with his blobs of rolling fat doesn't live here anymore.  
You'll have to try next door.

I, meanwhile, will be the one dancing unabashedly in the street,
shoes flung far.  



  1. Wow! I am so proud of you, TJ, and Topher! I am so happy for you as well. It is such a satisfying feeling to get rid of debt...I remember when my last debt was the mortgage and how good it felt to pay that off! And yet at one seemed like 5 giant hippos in front of me every day! The Lord does help us in many mini miraculous ways when we do all that we can on our parts!

  2. Awesome! What freedom! Love you lots.