For us, 2020 has been similar to many, different than some, and possibly unlike anyone else. Confused? Don’t worry, we are too.
Is it possible to feel both happy and sad at the same time? Definitely how we feel as we head into Christmas this year. Don’t get us wrong, we are counting each and everyone of our blessings because we do have many and we’re thankful and grateful. At this moment we are filled with mixed emotions. Has this happened to any of you? Let me explain why…
We moved to Nashville shortly after Meredith’s graduation from CRNA school in the winter of 2015/2016. In fact, we arrived a few days after one of the largest snow storms Nashville had seen. That February of 2016, we landed at our 1920s Craftsman 1300 square foot rental house with tons of excitement and tons of debt. At the time, the weight of our debt was in the back of our minds due to the fact that we were fresh from the bounds of Meredith’s doctorate program that took her 3 straight years to complete. Needless to say, we were ready for something new and ready to have some fun. We rented our cute Craftsman for only 5 months before deciding to buy a new home in a transitional metro neighborhood 8 minutes from downtown Nashville.
New Home Purchase Summer of 2016
We listened to family and other outside sources who advised it would be wise for us to buy a home to avoid any tax related issues that the IRS would hit us with once Meredith started working as our annual income was set to rise quite significantly from years prior. Little did we know that the tax credit didn’t really exist for us, fear of Uncle Sam and the IRS, we closed on a brand new home built around the corner from our rental. We bought our home directly from the builder and it was 3 stories consisting of 2400 square feet. In the 2 years we lived in the home, we added a detached 2 car garage and a beautiful landscaped yard with a custom cobble stone walkway. Everything felt great. Then reality set in…
We had it all. New house in a happening town. Walkable neighborhood to restaurants and bars and a quick drive to downtown to catch a Nashville Predators or Tennessee Titans game. We also had debt. Not your average amount of debt, a significant amount that we continued to build. One thing we didn’t have, which we quickly realized, was time. One thing people fail to realize about living in a city or a place with so much to do is the ‘rat race’ reality and the undying sense of competition with your neighbor, whom you probably will never meet. It’s all around you. Teslas, million dollar homes, and expensive dinners, etc. While we never directly competed with that lifestyle mindset, we certainly suffered from ‘Lifestyle Creep’.
For those unaware, Lifestyle Creep is the product of inflating your lifestyle once your salary goes up. You know the drill, you get that first paycheck after years of slaving away in school or you receive that promotion at work that came with a significant pay increase and you decide you deserve that ‘new car’. You condition your mindset to accepting debt on things because of how hard you work for them. You might not even realize it’s happening to you until you are already knee deep in a mess. So basically the ‘American Dream’ right?
We hit a brick wall. We had all this debt, even adding our vacation cabin in 2017 to the portfolio that included borrowing from Brett’s retirement to purchase a year after borrowing the down payment on our primary residence too. Brett was allowed to borrow $50,000 from his retirement as ‘loans’ from his future self. Dumb. We had a combined $150k+ in student loan debt, $8,000 in credit cards and now $456,000 mortgage loan on our primary residence as well as a $165,000 on our vacation home in the Smoky Mountains. Debt is just something we are all supposed to live with, right?
Shortly after New Year’s of 2018, we started feeling resentment towards everything we had, built together, and the decisions we were making. The breaking point came during the Summer of 2018 where Meredith was in tears from her schedule and prior to this, Brett mentioned feeling like he didn’t get to see much of Meredith most days. Brett mentioned a lifestyle change to Meredith that could possibly allow us to gain more time together, travel and explore our country, improve Meredith’s work-life balance, and ultimately provide us the ability to pay off our debts. It sounded like a pipe dream. It consisted of putting our house up for rent, selling everything else, selling our Jeep and small truck, buying a diesel truck, large 5th wheel RV, and hitting the road full-time.
Exactly what we did. The more we discussed it, the more it sounded less like a pipe dream and more like a new American Dream. From discussion to decision to action, it took us 4 months to completely change our lifestyle. We officially hit the road October 23rd, 2018 and landed in Virginia Beach during the winter as first time RV’ers. Likely not the best time to go full-time in hindsight, but we went full commit on our decision. Truthfully the first 4 months was our biggest challenge. We were learning a whole new lifestyle, new area, new working schedule, and consolidating our life from 2400 square feet to 400. We were also battling a lawsuit (long story, but we ended up settling) while watching the debt continue to rise. At this point, we spent $17,000 on a older truck (later deemed unsafe to tow a RV), another truck at $32,000, and a brand new RV for $49,000.
Magic Happened Next
Just kidding. Hard work, dedication, and the belief in our sacrifices allowed us to start seeing the debt disappear. Debt by debt, amount by amount we paid them off. Starting in February of 2019, we hit our stride. Our credit card debt and a high interest student loan was paid in full, later we won the lawsuit and the $17,000 truck was now gone along with the debt owed. By summer 2019, we could see the light. At this point, we paid a huge chuck of Meredith’s student loans off and a smaller balance remained. We still had Brett’s retirement loans, the $32,000 truck loan, and the mortgages remaining. Then October 2019 arrived and by the end of that month and exactly 12 months of being on the road fulltime, we paid off our student loans and credit card debt in FULL. $137,000.
Progress is Progress…even during a Global Pandemic
Later in March of 2020 the Pandemic hit. We both had jobs pulled out from underneath us and a large chunk of debt remained. Brett was laid off after 8 and a half years of employment with his employer and received a severance check covering 8.5 weeks of pay at his current rate. This severance pay partnered with some of our funds we’ve saved paid off our $32,000 truck’s debt that month of March. Meredith’s contract was suspended as elective surgery cases in East Texas were canceled in efforts to keep as many ventilators available to battle COVID-19. Fortunately for us, we began saving a significant portion of our pay during the months leading up to the Pandemic and then we went into hyper saving mode over the next several months. Meredith’s contract was later reinstated back in East Texas and we had at least one income once again. As of this writing, Brett has still yet to find employment since March earning very little income. However, this hasn’t swayed us away from our goals….
After Meredith went back to work earning an income again, we still continued to save to stay prepared in the event we encountered her contract being canceled again. By August of 2020, we opted to pay off one of Brett’s retirement loans. This totaled $9,500. After paying this debt off, we had built our emergency fund to consist of at least 4 months of coverage for our expenses. By the end of our second full year on the road fulltime, we’ve successfully paid off over $180,000 of our debt. Only the RV loan (our home), one of Brett’s retirement loans totaling $17,000, and both mortgage loans remained.
We’ll welcome our new RV’er in February with open arms and a fully funded maternity leave of 6 months!