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Saturday, February 24, 2024

25 Years of Debt-Free Living

In 2013, my wife Michelle and I published Debt-Free Living in a Debt-Filled World. Since we’re more than a decade removed from that publishing, and as we are now a quarter of a century into our debt-free journey, we thought it was time to share an update.

Michelle and I were married in January of 1998 and a little over a year later began our journey of living debt free as a calling. Our intention was always to be a witness to the world of the truth of God’s Word on all matters, but especially to be a witness to what God has to say about money and finances.

To briefly recap, after marrying in early 1998, and after Michelle fully grasped just how broke and in debt I was, she became very anxious about our financial situation. Prior to marriage, we had agreed to live on a formal (written) budget (maintained to this day). Before our honeymoon even ended, Michelle had begun to formulate a plan for getting us out of debt. I quickly agreed and we began paying off our debts, using the “snowball” method taught by the late, great Larry Burkett.

At the time of our marriage, Michelle was a full-time employee at the financial ministry Larry founded, Christian Financial Concepts (CFC). Most everything we learned about money, debt, and other biblical financial principles, came via Larry’s teachings at CFC (now Crown Financial Ministries). These sound, biblical financial principles are still at work in our lives today. Sometime in 1999, while living in our one-bedroom apartment, and after getting out of debt (we had a total debt of about $25k), Michelle began encouraging me to build/buy a home without a mortgage—in other words, completely debt free.

I immediately bristled at the notion, thinking there was no such path to that dream. I was a teacher of mathematics (still am to this day) and she was an employee at a Christian ministry. In other words, we were not in high salary jobs. (Throughout our 26+ years of marriage, our total annual income has almost always been between $75k and $100k.) Also, our parents were not wealthy—by American standards—thus, I saw no way we could get into a home within a reasonable amount of time without borrowing money.

Michelle persisted, and then God took it even further. In His “still, small voice,” God revealed to me that, to be a witness to the world, He desired for us to live a completely debt-free lifestyle. In order to get into a home (easily the largest expense for the vast majority of us), our plan was to live in as low rent a situation as possible, save every dime we could, and build on a small approximately one-acre lot that we owned (it was part of the debt we paid off early in our marriage).

After saving around $40k, we broke ground in the spring of 2000. Acting as our own contractors, and with tremendous help from several generous and handy family members, we partially finished our home in the late summer of 2001. We were able to move into our 1,000 square foot basement at that time. Approximately two years later, doing things in stages as we could afford them, we completed the rest of our home.

Our snow-covered North Georgia home from a few years ago.

Michelle continued to work full time at CFC until our first child Caleb was born in the spring of 2002. After Caleb was born, Michelle became a stay-at-home mom. This was always our plan, and our debt-free lifestyle made this a much easier transition. Michelle has remained a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom until this day. She has been able to work part time mostly from home through the years to bring in some income.

As was her desire long before even marrying, Michelle has homeschooled each of our four children throughout their k-12 education. Again, our debt-free status made this much more doable. What’s more, homeschooling has allowed us to take full advantage of the dual-enrollment options our home state of Georgia offers.

Thanks to Michelle’s hard work and diligence in this area, both of our two oldest children (Caleb and Jesse) both finished high school with an associate’s degree. Both are now done with their undergraduate degree. Caleb graduated at 20 with his B.S. in cyber security and Jesse finished at 19 with a B.A. in humanities. Both finished their degrees with zero debt. (We started college savings accounts for each of our children at a young age.)

Our daughter Caroline (child #3) will finish high school this spring and our youngest, Noah, is a high school freshman. Now that Noah is 15, everyone in the house is a driver! With the exception of Noah, who’s yet to have his own car, we’ve been able to help each of our children obtain a vehicle of their own, paying cash each time.

However, every vehicle we have owned was bought used —and with the exception of one, cost $10k or less, with several costing less than $5k. (We’ve never bought a new car. We paid over $10k for a minivan once early in our parenting.) Because we have a car maintenance category in our budget, we do regular maintenance on each automobile and thus are able to help extend the life of each car. Our oldest car is 24 years old, and the newest one is 13 years old.

Along with budgeting for cars, gas, food, insurance, school, and so on, we’ve regularly saved and invested throughout our marriage. Our savings account wouldn’t impress Hunter Biden, but we’ve socked away far more than the average American family. We’ve saved well for retirement, and we’ve even been able to save for weddings!

Our oldest son Caleb married the beautiful, sweet Emma last spring. They were both 21 at the time. To help them get a good start on the expensive American life, Caleb and Emma live in our re-modeled full basement apartment.

Caleb/Emma’s Wedding Day, June 2023. Left to right: Noah (14), Caroline (17), Emma (21), Caleb (21), Michelle, Trevor, Jesse (19).

Our debt-free life has been far from easy, and we’ve “missed out” on some of the expensive “pleasures” that going into debt can allow for. However, more than anything else, our 25+ years of debt-free living has brought us peace! The peace that only comes from surrendering to the One who made us and doing things His way instead of our own way.

As we’ve often said, the most important financial principle that the Bible teaches is that of stewardship. Whatever our status with financial debt, the sooner we grasp the fact that God owns it all and that we are merely stewards—managers—of what is and has always been His, the better we will be in every area of our lives. May God richly bless you as only He can!

(See this column at American Thinker.)

Copyright 2024, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor is the author of the The Miracle and Magnificence of America

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