The Crazy Idea of Living Debt Free

Written by on August 18, 2017

The Crazy Idea of Living Debt Free

It was about five years ago when I first heard of the crazy idea of living debt free.

I was scanning through the radio while driving home when I stumbled upon a raspy voice confessing how miserable life was. This guy was talking about being seriously broke, out of money, hope or options.

He had an enormous amount of debt. No matter what he did, he felt like there was no way out of it. He was in serious pain and had just exposed his misery to the world via a radio show. I couldn’t believe it!

Who calls into a nationally syndicated radio show to confess his every money sin? Apparently, a lot of people do.

That was the first time I ever heard the The Dave Ramsey Show. In case that you have never heard of it, Dave Ramsey is the crazy radio host that believes and preaches that one can, and should, live debt free.

It took one accidental listen in to get me hooked.


Living Debt Free

Day after day I continued listening to the show. I was puzzled by people’s money troubles and Ramsey’s advice on how to get out of them.

For a while I listened with skepticism. I had a hard time believing that living debt free was, in fact, a possibility in my life. Aren’t you supposed to always have a car and a mortgage payment?

I had never heard anybody else promote such crazy idea, especially not with the passion that Ramsey did.

It was a struggle because this “debt free concept” seemed so contrary to my money habits and money management knowledge (or lack thereof). I had used credit cards, financed a vehicle, and bought a house. How could I have gotten any of the things I needed and wanted without relying on credit?

I had read books that supported the argument that debt was good for your credit score, watched personal finance gurus on television advise people to keep their low interest debt, and even consulted with a financial advisor that came to work about paying debt off to be advised to keep it because it was at a very low interest rate.

Everybody had the same answer, it must be the right answer!

Since the “keep your debt” message was everywhere I embraced it like a sheep, ignoring every step of the way another message that was pulling me in a different direction, towards the crazy idea of living debt free.

Sheep VS. Wolves

The more that I focused on the idea of living debt free, the more it made sense.

Not only did I continue listening to three hours of The Dave Ramsey Show during my daily and brutal commute to work, but I also started buying every book Ramsey mentioned in the show.

I read everything, from his Total Money Makeover book, to Thomas J. Stanley’s Millionaire Next Door, and Bob Burg’s Go Giver.

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Whatever he recommended to his struggling listeners I would get my hands on it. I realized that I had lived my financial life like a sheep, doing as everybody else did:

  • Financing cars just because everybody else had a car payment
  • Using credit cards just because everybody else chased the miles rewards
  • Buying stuff I didn’t need just because it was on sale
  • Carrying a balance just because it was at a 0 percent interest rate
  • Applying for a new credit card just because I got an offer in the mail

If I really wanted to pursue a debt free lifestyle, I needed to get new information and take new actions. I needed to stop acting like a sheep and become a wolf, a leader, to set a new example for myself and for others. To talk the talk and walk the walk.

Talking the Talk

The Crazy Idea of Living Debt Free 1

My first test to talking the talk was breaking up with the American standard of good impressions: driving a “nice car”.

We had already finished paying for my 2005 Dodge Neon. Was it time to buy a new car or should I keep it?

I had a lot of questions about keeping such an antique. After all it was over five years old! Is it a matter of time for it to leave me stranded on the highway?

I had heard repeatedly from “car connoisseurs” at work that the brand and make of vehicle I had was not built to last. They assured me that it was a matter of time for it to start having a lot of costly issues. For that reason it would be better for me to upgrade to a better car.

The insight from my broke friends would go through one ear, come out the other one, leaving a speck of doubt in my mind. Was I doing the right thing driving the same old car?

Sometimes I felt like I was living in denial, being attached to the idea that I could keep driving that Neon for many years to avoid financing a new car.

I had paid $300 a month for five long years! The idea of not having a car payment again and banking in some money sounded pretty good! So, I stuck with it, regardless of what other people’s opinions were.

Mixed Emotions

Sometimes I felt proud of myself for being responsible, for acting like a wolf and not a sheep, for setting a good example and taking steps towards living debt free. Other times I felt ashamed. I was a successful journalist, making good money but driving what others would consider a beater.

I was self-conscious of my ride while watching better cars pass me by on the highway, while waiting at a stoplight looking sideways, comparing my car to what others were driving, and I was especially insecure arriving at work.

The office’s parking lot was no ordinary place. It looked like a luxury dealership lot. There was an abundance of Land Rovers, BMWs and Mercedes lined up next to each other. Even the interns arrived driving new SUV’s.

And here I was, arriving in style in my old Neon, afraid that people would judge me for being broke because I didn’t drive a vehicle that measured up to the driving standards of a television reporter.

With time I overcame the fear, pride, and even the ridicule of being laughed at by a coworker who mocked me for driving THAT car. He had an older BMW model, I always wondered if he could even afford it.

One day I finally just stopped caring about what people thought. I kept my eye on the prize, the crazy idea of living debt free, and adopted another Dave Ramsey crazy idea- to pay cash for my next car.

Paying the Price

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What amazes me the most now is that people (including myself back then) don’t realize that when you don’t have a car payment you can accumulate a lot of money.

According to Experian Automotive, the average car payment in 2017 for a consumer with a “decent” credit score (in the 601-660 range) is $525. The average loan term is 69 months.

If you finance a new car and pay the average $525 monthly payment for the next 69 months, you will end up paying $36,225. Ouch!

On the contrary, if you drive your paid for car for another three years and save $525 every month instead of financing a new car, you would end up with $18,900 in cash. That is plenty of money to buy you a nice ride outright.

That is the direction my husband and I took last year. We saved up and bought me a “new-used” car with 38 miles. Thirty-eight miles! We are shopping now for another car that we will buy outright for him. It is about time since he has been driving the same beater for 12 years.

When I reflect to that day when I first heard The Dave Ramsey Show on the radio driving home, I realize that he wasn’t that crazy after all.

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Also from the “Get Your Money Life Together” series:

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