Updated on 01.15.08

The Long Journey

Trent Hamm

Out of all of the challenging times since I began to turn my financial life around, I may be facing the most challenging of all right now.

It’s not anything immediate or urgent. I have a nice healthy emergency fund to take care of that. It’s also not a temptation to buy anything, nor a disillusionment that I’m not headed in the right direction.

What really has me challenged right now is the realization that this is in fact a very long journey, indeed. I’ve barely paid off $1,000 in principal on my home (after buying it in July), and I’m facing down a combined $29,000 in student loan balances between my wife and myself. Even at a rate of $1,500 a month in overpayment (which is what I’m executing right now), it’s still two years before the student loans are gone and another eight to nine before the home loan is gone.

That’s a long time. I’m looking ahead to my thirtieth birthday this year, and it almost makes me shudder that I’ll be approaching my fortieth and likely I’ll still be paying off debt. Thinking about that timeframe is almost painful – my children will be approaching their teen years and I’ll still be paying off this debt load.

It’s the long wait that’s difficult. I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to be vigilant about it, from earning more money ethically to being more frugal. Widening that gap between earnings and income means more money that I can put into my student loan debt and, eventually, into investments and the home loan.

My personal attitude is to tackle things head on and get things done now. I’m fairly organized and when there’s a challenge, my natural attitude is to get it done. When I sense that I’m just sitting around and not making progress, it slowly grates on me.

This long journey takes a different skill. This takes patience, something that doesn’t come as naturally to me.

I keep on focus by defining small milestones and reaching them. I set a goal to either earn or save a certain extra amount in a month, then I apply it to the loan. By doing that, I can focus on that short term goal and feel real progress, something that’s vital to me.

But sometimes that doesn’t quite work either, and I’m left feeling like a person driving down a long, lonely highway across the country in a slow car, and I’m just getting started.

I just keep telling myself that as long as I’m headed in the right direction and I can feel the wind against my face, I’ll get there eventually. For now, I’ll focus on making it to the next mile marker – and then, to the mile marker after that.

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  1. Trent, you’re so far ahead of where I was at 30, I am amazed!

    Just two years ago you were 28.

    Just two years ago, it looks like you started this blog.

    Just two years ago, your son was born.

    You can knock this out. I believe in you!

  2. Randy Hunt says:

    It’s funny, I just found myself thinking similar thoughts this weekend. I remember turning to the person I was walking with and describing how anxious I am.

    In a board game, you formulate a plan, and then unleash it, and find out in one sitting whether or not the plan was a good one. But out here in the regular world, it’s two weeks between turns.

    I get paid twice a month, so I get the rush of my few minutes spend plugging my money into its preordained destinations, and then another 15-day wait. And even though I know my plan is good, it’s killing me to wait it out.

    I’m thinking that the solution, however, is in Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The pay-and-wait game is “poor dad” thinking. Rich dad would be using that two-week interval to create new sources of income. That’s what we should be doing. Not only would it be constructive, and help the time to pass, but it would also reduce the amount of time that needs to pass.

    So that’s what I’m going to do. Time to hustle and find more ways I can create assets.

  3. Mike Goad says:

    Trent, I’m 56, retired, and I still have debt load. It’s manageable – we’ve always kept our debts manageable. What we did was manage our savings – and got lucky when some investments worked out well. You’ve got a lot of time ahead of you. The important thing is that you’re working at it, which is more than most people do.

  4. Bruce says:

    You have already started on the best self-changing project to help yourself get a handle on those long-term goals. You are raising a child.

    There’s no better way to learn that small changes add up over time. Five years from now your son will be a whole different person than he is now. All those changes will be measured in new pairs of shoes, new teeth, outgrown toys, new skills, diplomas and sports trophies. You and your wife will see all those little things happen. My wife says the minutes drag on sometimes, but the years fly by. Watch for those changes and treasure them. After a while, you’ll have a string of little celebrations that will swallow up those long years.

    Compared to raising a human being, paying off a loan is a piece o’ cake. Be consistent. Keep doing what’s right.

    I enjoy and appreciate the wisdom you share in your blog.

  5. MS says:

    I struggle with this as well.

    I get a rush every two weeks when I get to make a huge payment on my student loans, but then I slink back into the daily grind for two more weeks.

    payment RUSH…and then quiet, payment RUSH….and then quiet.

    I LOVE making those payments, but they seem to go on forever.

  6. I have trouble with this, too, Trent! I’m a sprinter by nature, not a distance runner, so it’s difficult for me to get psyched about the “…and then I do that for two years…” part of the process. This is coming up in several areas of my life right now. On the plus side, I’m very able to focus intently on one thing for a short period of time, which is great for shorter-term stuff. I focus really hard on dividing bigger goals into more manageable ones, so that I can go hammer-and-tongs at a smaller goal, achieve it, and move on to the next one.

  7. Eric Nagel says:

    I know how you feel, too. I’m attacking the small stuff, and will have a debt gone next month, then onto the next one.

    Instead of looking at the challenge ahead of me, I look back on what I accomplished. I have saved reports in Microsoft Money of “Credit Card Balance History”, “IRA History” and “Net Worth Over Time”. By seeing where I’ve been, I know I’m going in the right direction.

  8. mia says:

    For those of us who are interested–and forgive me if you’ve addressed this elsewhere–I’d be curious to hear more about your decision to put an extra $1500 a month toward student loans, given that you seem equally perturbed about home debt.

    As a new homeowner myself (I’m sure you saw that firestorm on MSN), I’m curious to know why you say “only $1,000 in principal” since july–as if that were a bad thing, or insufficient progress.

    Last, I have to agree with the first commenter here. You’re only 30–and look what you’ve achieved. Imagine being 10 years older! It’s funny to hear you saying what a long road this is. I don’t mean this in a condescending spirit at all, but I do think the biggest difference between 30 and 40 is that you realize it is and it isn’t a long road at all. So much changes. Maybe give yourself more credit for the glass being more full than empty. That does help to shorten any road!

  9. luvleftovers says:

    Well, Trent, imagine being 44, with 17K in CCs, 43K in student loans, not enough put away in retirement, and no owned property. No wonder I have migraines!

    Feel any better?

  10. paidtwice says:

    Welcome to the realization you’re just like everyone else? ;)

    Realize that once your student loans are gone, you’ll probably be ahead of 90% of the game. If you didn’t have a house payment, you’d have a rent payment – you’re not making backwards progress there, really.

    I’ve been working my little tail off increasing income – I tutor online so much I dream about chemistry at this point – but I know myself, and once we get to the end of the credit cards (less that $1000 to go) and the stuedent loans (less than $24000 to go, lol) and the auto loan ($3300 there and dropping) – I’ll need a little break in the intensity before I can completely buckle down on the house.

    And an increase in savings too. Hopefully by then we’ll have increased our intake.

  11. H-Bomb says:

    Would it help, maybe, if instead of over paying on a couple of items at one time, Nock out the shorter term debts so that those would be gone from your debt load so that you could focus a ton more on what is left and watch that dwindle away faster?

  12. Emily says:

    Don’t let money rule your life. Enoy your family, your kids, and realize that you are doing fine. You don’t need to have your house paid off, and your student loans are not hurting you, so just take a breather and realize that you are ahead of most people. Anyway, paying off student loans and home loans is not always the wisest investment, I would look into other investment options if I were you. Dont let debt make you down, realize that it is a part of life and its not going to kill you!

  13. Saffy says:

    Hi Trent

    I have just found your blog and feel such a sense of homecoming from so many of your posts – thankyou for the honest and candid sharing of your thoughts. And I hear you! We are 38/45 in our house with two small children and it is very hard to twiddle the thumbs – knowing we are on the right path and doing well – but knowing that it’s an awful lot of yellow bricks to Oz yet. For me it helps to take the holistic approach and biff myself over the head to see that in our budget we are planning for our savings, our holidays, private schooling, investment for our children, investment for ourselves, retirement etc. And then I can see that the ‘plan’ is in place and my job now is to sit back and enjoy the journey. I cherish my children but as they grow older and are both at school then high school, I can see more opportunities to discover more money – until then, part of the ‘plan’ is to simply nurture and enjoy them while we can. I watched my grandmother die last week – dead is forever, it’s a very long time and it is memories that mean the most, not scads of money or boxes of stuff.

  14. RoadTravelerToo says:

    This is the same issue I find myself facing. Once you know the right thing to do, you try to do it in all haste. The problem is that if you constantly monitor your saving and paying off of debt, you also get the not so great by-product of anticipating the final outcome, that moment when you can raise your hands and say “I’m done, and have run a good race.” Try not to focusing on the finish line when you still have so many miles to go. What has helped me is knowing that I am paying things off at the best pace that I can, and that I have a solid plan in place to reach the finish line. This year I have vowed to not concentrate on the payments so much, since I have everything budgeted out for the rest of the year, and to concentrate on other things while my plan works itself. So I suggest that you let the financial plan that you have created continue to work for you, while you concentrate on your family, Wii, and Blog.

  15. Melinda says:

    Maybe looking through a different perspective would help you feel a little less anxious. 1. You have a a house. Most people only have an apartment that they rent. So you’re making your money work for you. 2. With education costs rising, more people will not be able to afford to go to school. That debt means you got an education that is hopefully useful in your career. It takes time to unload the debt, but realize that you can unload it (unlike many people who spiral down and down and down and never recover) and are doing so responsibly. Keep up the good work.

  16. Ross says:

    Your Student Loans and Mortgage(s) are supposed to take 30 years each, so 11 isn’t so bad.

  17. George says:

    So what if it takes you 10-12 years? You spent 16+ years in school, so why should this matter? At age 40, you’d have 19 years to go before you could tap your IRA or 401K. And you’d be able to enjoy another _27_ years of debt free life before you could file for SSI (if it’s still around).

    Put it in perspective: the first of the baby boomers is reaching age 62 and has, on average, only $500k for retirement. $500k INCLUDING any equity in their home. These people will be dependent on SSI if they actually retire. You will have 22 debt free years in which to surpass their blunders!

  18. Daria says:

    Truthfully, this is one of the reason that we have focused more on building our savings than paying off our low-interest rate debt. It is, for us, more fun and inspiring to watch accounts grow than watch debt balances shrink. I urge you to stick with your goals, but if the debt feels overwhelming look at the growth of assets as well. (You’ve said you were continuing to invest as well.)

  19. Kim says:

    I agree with the others that you are doing great – keep reminding yourself of that. Have you considered stopping investing for a while until you have the student loan paid off? I realize that people may shudder at this suggestion. It’s not for the long term, of course, but if you could focus your intensity even more greatly on the student loan, you may feel like you’re getting more traction. Investing is important, but debt is a great burden – if you can rid yourself of the shackles, you’ll be free to invest down the road. Money is not always about math – it can be emotional as well. Being free is better than being rich.

  20. Debbie M says:

    That’s awesome that you can pay off your house in only 11 years, even with that much student loan debt. I’m pleased with myself that mine will take only 17 years. You do know that a lot of people are still paying off mortgages into retirement.

    One thing I did was a make a chart showing how much money I would still owe on my house if I were making minimum payments and how much I actually owe. This is especially thrilling in the early years. It’s a good reminder that you are, in fact, making progress, even if you aren’t finding ways to apply more of your paycheck to your debts.

    That said, as of today, I can retire in seven years. Being retired when I’m 52 (instead of 65 or later) is going to be awesome, but meanwhile, seven more years is a long time.

    The alternatives are worse, though, right? Either you don’t pay so much extra each month and it takes even longer. Or you live in a tent and eat beans and rice every day but it will be a lot quicker. Or you work even more jobs and don’t see your friends enough. (If one of those alternatives doesn’t sound worse, you should do that instead. I am starting to think that beans and rice sound awfully yummy to me!) You’ve got a good compromise going, eh?

    Meanwhile, a lot of this stuff is pretty automated, right? Not something you have to re-do every month?

  21. Mrs. Micah says:

    Yeah. Even though I know it’s good I’m starting young, 22, there’s so much more ahead. So much debt to pay off, such low salaries right now…but we’ll do it as we do it. Slowly but surely. And faster than if we had ignored it.

  22. Peachy says:

    I think of it like MS. Rush and then wait..rush and then wait. I do teach at a community college two nights a week and it’s cool because I get paid on the off weeks of my regular paycheck. This past semester every paycheck that was deposited went directly to paying my student loan, and now it’s paid off (8 years later). It’s so nice focusing that money on something different now. You’ll get there but of course, it takes time. I have a fortune cookie paper taped to my computer that says ‘All of your hard work will soon pay off.’ It has and it is.

  23. Rachel says:

    Patience isn’t my strong point either. My hubby calls me “have it now girl” because I’m very bad at waiting.

    Just remember, Trent, in 11 years, you will be entering the pre-teen years with your children! These years will fly far faster than you think, so any time you start to get frustrated, take a deep breath and give thanks that you do have all those years ahead of you! :)

  24. Aryn says:

    Trent, I’m concerned that you’re so focused on the “debt” that you’re forgetting that the debt is also your home. It’s an investment in stability for your children. Remember, you’ve only had your home for seven months, so really, why should you be making a deep dent in a 30-year mortgage already? Having a mortgage you can afford isn’t hurting you or your family, so stop stressing about it!

  25. Jim says:

    Any time I look at a long term goal, and start thinking things like “By the time I am done with this in 15 years I will be 50”, I remind myself that if I don’t follow through with it, I will still be 50 in 15 years, but I will not have accomplished the goal.

  26. Jen says:

    two years is nothing on student loans, 9yrs is nothing on a mortgage. By your own calculations, your older child will just barely entering middle school when your house is paid off.

    It’s more important to ask yourself why you feel the need to pay those off drasticly faster than required, especially for the house. Debt in and of itself is not bad, it’s only out of control debt that is a problem.

    Emily is right, relax a little.

  27. Tommy says:

    Don’t worry about when you are going to pay the debt off. Continue to make payments but don’t check your balance. Ever. As time goes you will forget it (just continue to increase the amount you pay), and you can focus on something else. Then one day you will have payed the loan off, but you will have saved countless hours of worry.

  28. Tim W says:

    Hey Trent,

    As other comments have said, welcome to life.

    When you accomplish this goal you will find something else to focus on and give your live a purpose so don’t rush it. Try to apply the lessons you’ve learned and be patient. (think Tao Te Ching)

    You have developed good habits which will create success you simply need to relax and allow the things you have put into motion to occur.

    I felt the same way you did ten years ago, bristling to “hurry up and accomplish things” like my degree, my financial security, success at work etc. I did accomplish those things although they took up to 8 years. I just took it slow, tried to alway work towards goal accomplishment and tried to remember that “slow and steady wins the race”.

    Love the blog,


  29. Tyler says:

    Keep up the great work. I paid off my (almost $40,000)student loans in 2 years and if I can do it, so can you!

  30. Ben says:

    Trent – I totally agree with Daria and Aren. Remember that retirement requires income – by focusing on paying off low-interest debt (like student loans), you’re missing out on gains of retirement investments. Now that you’re realizing that you’re in it for the long haul, perhaps it’s time to consider making more retirement contributions, while continuing to pay off debt (but not overpaying so much). As much as you may hate the way that interest payments make the total debt grow, you can be using the same compounding interest to make retirement savings grow (hopefully more!). By waiting ’till all the debt is paid off to start retirement saving, you’re potentially missing out on a LOT of compounded growth of investments.

  31. Ben says:

    Oh – another thought. If the debt drives you crazy, and the paying for retirement drives you crazy, but you’re both in for the long haul, why not alternate months (or years) – one month, contribute to retirement. The next, pay down debt more. That way, you get the compounded gains on retirement investments, and the savings on interest from pre-paying debt!

  32. Lots of great comments here.

    One of the things that helps me a lot when I start feeling anxious and impatient with how slowly things are progressing is to look back at where I’ve come from instead of looking forward to how far I still have to go. It reminds me that things aren’t progressing that slowly after all. It reminds me of how quickly time actually passes (at least for me).

    But if that doesn’t work for you, then hold on to the perception that time is dragging and be THRILLED that you have it to spend with the kids whom you obviously adore so much. They grow way too fast.

  33. Loi Tran says:

    Your mortgage debt is good debt. I plan on keeping my mortgage debt as long as I can and invest the extra money.

  34. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will make it! Remember though, that the journey doesn’t stop with debt freedom, so don’t dwell on that as an end-game. The journey of building wealth lasts a lifetime, and at the end of that lifetime you can leave a lasting legacy for your children. You are on the right track…just don’t get off!

  35. Kim says:

    I think its funny how many people responded to Trent’s post in a basic “you’re not as bad off as I am” manner. I think what should be focussed on is the goals of the individual, not where they rank in compared to everyone else.

    Keep focussed on your goals. Re-evaluate often to ensure they are best fitted to your current situation.

  36. riley says:


    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months, including a lot of your archives. I have really enjoyed them, they are well written.

    Regarding this article, you are overlooking something very basic. Your journey, financial and otherwise, is not for 11 years. It is the journey of your life. Your goals, including financial ones, will change several times.

    The journey will involve detours, setbacks, shortcuts, and ever changing goals. I write from the perspective of someone that has been on his journey for more than twice as long as you have.

    I have been totally debt free three times during this journey, and am about to be for a fourth time. Each time I reacquired debt turned out to be among the best decisions, financial and personal, of my life’s journey.

    I know you have as a goal to be debt free, you have also mentioned your desire to have a home in the country. You can combine these goals and achieve both of them in a much shorter time than you think.

    Build your own home. Start looking for that special place where you and your wife and children
    can truly feel at home, that is the place where you really want to be. Buy a lot or acreage, now is a great time to be looking for land with the real estate panic going on. And you will find that building materials will be dropping quite a bit over the next year or two as well.

    Research how you want to build, keep it simple, paying attention to what is really important to you and your wife. What do you really want in a home. From your post it is clear that you have the funds monthly to do your own home construction. You can pay for most of it as you go, with possibly a small loan toward the end to finish the job. Then sell your current house, hopefully for a profit. Use that money to pay off the house you and your family and friends have built.

    Figure on 18 months to two years to finish the new house.

    Pay off the student loans in another year or two, then continue on that great journey that we all travel, with a home that is truly yours in every positve sense of the word.

  37. Lurker Carl says:

    You have purchased two college educations and a roof over your heads, all are investments in your future. You are obviously profiting from the knowledge gained from a college education while surrounding your family with a comfortable home. If you view the results of those three purchases as assets, then you’ve borrowed money wisely to create and build a pleasant life with wonderful opportunities. I understand your desire to be rid of the debt ASAP, please don’t ignore funding retirement accounts while focusing on erasing any and all debt. You don’t need an “all or nothing” attitude, funnel money into consistantly building savings while reducing debt. Allow compounding interest to work for you while erasing the compounding interest working against you.

  38. Rick says:


    Something I’ve realized is that it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey.

    By the time you reach these long-term goals of yours, your life is nearly over. If you haven’t seen the movie “Click” with Adam Sandler, watch it. It’s often criticized for not being “funny” enough, but the movie is excellent at showing what really matters in life. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey. Adam Sandler’s character fast-forwards his way through life getting to the “destination” and he realizes that he missed his entire life. Don’t do this.

    As others have stated, your remaining debts are so-called “good debts”. Especially your home. As someone said, if you weren’t paying a mortgage payment, you’d be paying a rent payment. If circumstances became dire, you could always sell the house for whatever equity you’ve built up. It’s an asset. Don’t worry about it.

    But most importantly, don’t hurry so fast through life that you miss it. It’s life itself — the journey — that matters.

  39. Heidi says:

    I feel ya, Trent. It’s a lot like weight loss – it’s a lifestyle change that you must maintain forever, not just a plan you formulate and walk away from. Instant gratification is the reason I have so much debt, so for me the waiting really is the hardest part.

    But loo how far you’ve come!? And the future isi looking pretty bright for you and your family: It’s totally resonable to think you could be 100% self-employed at some point within the next five years – that’s a big deal. Your kids (if you don’t have another) will both be in kindergarten by that time (no more daycare – and you could 86 that even faster if one of you decides to do the SAH thing).

    My motto has always been “life is full of surprises” – I have a feeling that there are nothing but good surprises headed your way.

    Your doing a great job and you’ve been an inspiration to many.

  40. Trent – Man you are doing a great job. Some people would love to be in your shoes and have just a mortgage and student loans to pay. Keep up the good work and everything will be ok.

  41. lorax says:

    The good news is: If the forecasts are right and we do have a long shallow bout of stagflation, that debt will be to your benefit! That is, assuming you continue to have an income.

  42. Heidi says:

    I apoligize for all of the errors in my previous post.

  43. sammyo says:

    2 Years? 8 Years? Dude, don’t blink.

  44. Kate says:


    Please don’t forget that at this time last year you were still paying rent. If you hadn’t “bought” your house you would have faced paying rent forever. I admire your desire to be debt free, but maybe it would be more rewarding to have more money going to investments each month. And many advisors do feel that you come out farther ahead if you keep the mortgage and put your extra funds towards investments. Over time the mortgage payment is a smaller part of your budget.

  45. DCLawyer says:

    Having a mortgage at 40 isn’t a big deal. At all.

  46. miguel says:

    All I can say is that some parts in life are a grind, but think about how sweet it will be to own your home free and clear, and not have to worry about paying for your past one day.

    Keep your head down, and you’ll be fine.


  47. Ryan S. says:


    It may -seem- like a long time (the students in my 20 week court ordered classes think that’s forever too) but you’ll be a young man when all of those debts are done. You’ll have lots to celebrate then, and lots of years left to celebrate it in!


  48. Claude says:


    Going on 30 makes one think, doesn’t it! I’m 30 since 1 month now, and I can tell you nothing changes :-)

    When I first started to try and get my financial life into order I was thinking a bit like you (and reading the comments I guess many others too), looking at my finances a bit too often, get a rush when payday comes (once a month), and then nothing happens after that, so you need to be patient…

    I think that is the wrong way of thinking! Actually look at you, you have a home, you have a family, and you have a real plan for your finances! You’ve done good, and you’re looking to a bright future!!

    I guess we shouldn’t be too obsessive with reducing debt, organizing our financial lives etc… after all, whats important is that you feel good, and enjoy your life!

    Obsessing with organizing things like debt and money just makes you lose focus on whats really important, what really makes us rich, our family, our friends, our personal fullfilment!

    You have a good plan for your finances, it works, so leave it at that for the rest of the time, and focus on other things… When you get used to that you’ll see that you don’t need patience, you don’t need to wait for the next paycheck, you don’t obsess with debt anymore, you live your life

    After all, we do all this PF thing to be able to STOP worrying about finances, not to worry more about it!

    enjoy your last 20’s year, and look ahead into a bright future!

  49. reulte says:

    You’ve received a lot of encouragement from all the posters — I particularly love Sammyo’s advice of “Don’t Blink”.

    I would like to add that I hope these thoughts aren’t crowding out our enjoyment of daily living. Constantly thinking about improvement from the past or how things will be in the future keeps you from enjoying now. Use these thoughts as fuel for moving in the right direction . . . but don’t let the thoughts stay after you’ve moved away from doing your finances for the day/week/month. Enjoy what you’re doing NOW and find the flow in it . . .living in the moment.

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written several books on ‘flow’ which is when you look up from what you’re totally engaged in — to find that several hours have passed unnoticed. I definately recommend reading “Finding Flow” by him.

    And — don’t blink.

  50. Gonzalo says:

    Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow — that is patience.

  51. Hi Trent, well done on a touching post. I’m sincerely touched by your authenticity.

    Coincidently, my blog is “A Long Long Road” for similar reasons.

  52. Victoria says:

    Oh boy, I hear ya’! It wasn’t until a couple of years ago (I am 44) that I paid off my graduate student loans. It is a long haul but keep in mind the progress you are making. Reward yourself every so often when you’ve made a dent. I know it bucks conventional wisdom, but at a couple of points when I got a small “windfall” I paid it towards my student loan. Psychologically I needed to do it and it did get me closer to paying it off. FWIW, if it’s not one form of debt it’s another…sort of a way of life. As soon as you pay off your student loans, your car will die or something ;-)

  53. Penny Squeaker says:


    Any extra bonus / cash, tax returns, unexpected income apply to the principal of your home. Make sure check states apply to Principal ONLY, most banks will apply a small portion to principal w/the majority going towards interest.

    Do this Annually!!!

    Live frugal – Living Free & Clear is the way to go. While the babyboomers have boomed out, due to the entitlement program (SSA), which will be bankrupt in less than 20 yrs from now.

  54. LC says:

    I disagree with people who say mortgage is good debt. I know the arguments about you can earn more in the stock market, but no debt is good debt, and it’s obviously one of Trent’s priorities to be debt free, so he should put as much as he feels comfortable toward it. I do think however that it doesn’t need to be such a focus in his life.

    I also disagree COMPLETELY with Tommy, who said not to check the balance ever. Mortgage companies are notorious for “assuming” your extra payments are going toward interest instead of principal, so you should always check. I would assume student loans are the same way.

  55. Eric says:

    In 11 years you will be 41 with a paid for house and no student loans. That is a lot to do in 11 years.

    Plus you’ll have accumulated some wealth with your savings/investing strategies.

    It will be a pretty nice place to be at 41. You should always keep perspective on the magnitude of what your doing. What it takes some a lifetime to do, you’re doing in 11 years.

    It’s the same as those of us climbing the corporate ladder. It takes a long time to reach where you want to be in the end, but like you said, just keep the wind in your face and your focus on the next mile maker and we’ll get there in due time.

    Keep plugging away.

  56. vh says:

    What? You’re paying off 29 grand in two years? You expect to pay off a thirty-year loan in a total of nine or ten years? If you pull these things off, it will be a phenomenal accomplishment. Most people couldn’t manage that in their entire adult lifetimes, much less in a decade.

    Time goes faster the older you get. Remember when you were a little kid and one hour seemed like the better part of a lifetime? Now an hour hardly seems like enough time to get a thing done. Well, that phenomenon persists throughout your life. I think it’s because we perceive time in terms of the proportion of our existence it occupies.

    Consider nine years. It’s 31 percent of a 29-year-old man’s lifetime–almost a THIRD of your life. But when you’re 39, it will represent only 23 percent of the time you will have spent on this earth; at 60, it will be just 15 percent. Trust me: when you’re 40 years old, nine years will not seem like much time, and two years will feel like it passed in the blinking of a gnat’s eye.

    Psychologically, debt is something that bothers you. That’s a good reason to be rid of it, no matter what anyone else thinks. I paid off my house over the squawks of one of my financial advisers, and it was the smartest thing I ever did. The payment absorbed half my salary, and I could not live on half of a college instructor’s income. The absence of the alleged mortgage deduction made exactly zero difference in my taxes. When the debt was paid off, I had plenty of cash flow to live on, and a substantial part of it went into savings.

    If you are actually free of debt and still married at the age of forty, you will have another 20 to 30 years in which to squirrel away savings from two people’s income streams for retirement. Better 20 years of house payments should go into your mutual funds than 30 years of payments go into some mortgager’s pocket.

  57. FineDay says:

    5 years ago I made the decision to go back to college for my second degree. I had been fully funded by grants and loans for my first 4 year degree, so I knew that I had used up all available financial aid. I chose to take on the extra debt – to fully pay off 4 more years of private education on federal and private loans.

    Even after looking at the numbers, I still know it was all worth it.

    Gross pay $100,000
    current debt $186,661.66

    percent of gross income to savings 7.30%
    percent of gross income to debt 28.00%
    ideal retirement savings goal 20.00%
    current retirement percent 5.00%
    minimum debt required in 4 years 13.00%

    Right now, I am not paying that aggressively on the loans. I am trying to pay off a credit card that is %interest until June. Then I will have another $600 available to snowball. Also, in 4 years one of my tiny loans will be gone.

    Currently my required debt payment is 21% of gross. In 4 years, even thought the required % will drop to 13%, I still plan on allocating 28% to debt.

    One of the loans, currently at $98,000 will be gone in 10 years, and the other loan at $77,000 should be gone in 15 years.

    I feel your pain. But I have set up an excel progress sheet that keeps me motivated and show my progress. My loans kicked in last June. Before that I was able to save $20,000 for a wedding, $10,000 for a honeymoon. I paid off a $2500 credit card in June and another $2500 card in December.

    The little bulk payments keep me going. My next payment is due in June, then I plan on saving $3000 to open a Vanguard IRA. After that, I’m sure I will find another goal to focus on.

    Before I dug this hole, I expected to be using 30% less of my salary due to loans. But I am so much better off now. I feel financially independent (priceless). I know that if we need extra money, it’s there, I just have to decrease the extra payments for a while. The sense of security really makes it worth it. And in 15 years when the debt is gone, I will essentially have a sweet raise.

    The savings % listed is only mine. My husband is saving aggressively for a downpayment for a future home, and together, we are saving at least $1800 per month.

  58. Corinne says:

    Trent, I read your post every day, but sometimes I find you to be too alarmist. You are facing similar problems to those of most Americans, and actually seem to be doing better with managing your finances than many others in your position. Debt is often a fact of life. You are managing it, and managing it well, and seem to be panicking uneccesarily. Enjoy your kids, enjoy your life, and live in the moment, while keeping the good track on your finances that you obviously have.

  59. All I can add to these already great comments is, follow your own advice. Keep making your charts and enjoy the progress that you’ve made.

    Thanks for sharing your frustrations, Trent. I know it’s not easy to be vulnerable in public, but the perspective helps us all think about our own journeys.

  60. Devo says:


    Milestones are just that, markers along the road of life to show us that we are still alive and with the human race. More importantly is the ideology,”that life is not a problem to be solve yet an adventure to be lived.”(~Anthony Robbins)You are on the right path and a head of the crowd in terms of attitude and financial well-being. Take the time to enjoy the ride while keeping your eye on the prize.

    fyi, 40 is the new 30. :)

  61. Christina says:

    You are doing a great job! Did you hear yourself, “The house will be paid off by 40.” That’s just the middle of your life… 40 is still very young. This is a blessing… Do not be discourage! It’s one step at a time.

  62. MS says:

    First of all – congratulations! You’re doing a fantastic job!

    It sounds like the mortgage is what’s really getting you down. The 2 years for the student loans is in the long-but-foreseeable time frame. I would focus on that. Shove the mortgage repayment to the back of your mind. It’s still a goal, but not one that needs your attention at the moment.

  63. Brenda says:

    Keep plugging away. I am 46, my husband is 49. This year we will have everything…house, cars, loans, credit cards…paid of. It has been a really long journey but now there is light at the end of the tunnel. With 3 kids, it has been a struggle. We started out both working, then it got too crazy and I stayed home with the kids since DH did not want to be the mom. I gave up a lot to stay home, but it was worth it. Family first.

    I am dreaming of new living room furniture.

  64. mrsmonkey says:

    I think what’s happening is you’re bored. It happens. Life is too simple now. You don’t have the excitement of spending AND debt to ponder, exult over and worry about. This is exactly how spendaholics and other addictive types like us Americans end up screwing our lives for a while. Boredom.

    Simple life is simple. It can be satisfying. But it’s dull a times. You do the right thing, but the wrong thing is what can add excitement. I’m not suggesting socking away $$$s isn’t great and gratifying besides. But there’s nothing quite like just going out there and doing whatever the hell you want, just because you can. And that’s what American culture has sold us all. The myth that we can have it all, do it all now and pay for it some other time.

    Mortgage is better than rent. You’re ahead of the game. So pay off all your extraneous loans and maybe stop being so good for a couple of days. Except instead of using your credit card, dip into the funds and go out and do something ridiculous, buy a couple of stupid things you’ll regret buying. Look at them for a couple of days, think about your life, sweat the expense and THEN take them back. What the hell.

  65. partgypsy says:

    Your value as a person is not your debt number. It is also not your net worth number. Beyond being able to feed and cloth yourself in some sense they are abstractions and not meant to make you feel anxious/scared proud, whatever. It is the things you share with others, help,contribute to and experience; those things are priceless and why we are here on this earth.

    I myself can be impatient person, but paying off debts, investing in retirement are not working on the same time scale as your thoughts and actions. It’s like looking at a tree and being angry “why aren’t you growing faster?”. If it is planted and growing, it should be enough satisfaction that it will be there 20 years from now.
    Rest assured you are planting the seeds for a healthy and safe life for you and your family, and moreover promoting values to your children that will help them in life, far more valuable than any amount in the bank. for if you don’t have good values, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it will be squandered or used inappropriately. On the other hand if you have good values, you will be able to cope with life’s circumstances and be able to cope and share your burden with others.

  66. KellyKelly says:

    Mrs. Monkey, you are SO wise!

    Trent, look at the past few years. You got married. You had kid #1. You had kid #2. You bought a house.

    These are the life events that are Big and Scary and thus exhilarating. Plus for each one you get HEAPS of societal affirmation. I remember all the support I got when I bought my house … it was kind of annoying, like now I was “really” an adult.

    You are probably feeling some post-skydive depression. Mrs. Monkey is so right … boredom. The rut. Being “stuck,” as another poster put it.

    Boredom is a huge source of stress that very few of us talk about or own up to, a lack of self-awareness that makes people do some stupid things (ie, ruin the quality of happiness hey had in their early marriage. I see my sister do this. Being a stay at home mother was her goal, but she severaly underestimated the toll that cabin fever would have on her mood.)

    Great discussion.

  67. Sandra says:

    In the last six months or so my husband and I have really buckled down in terms of paying down our debt, of which there is, unfortunately, quite a bit. We have a reasonable mortgage, a bit too much credit card debt (to be paid off hopefully within the next six months) and two $20,000 lines of credit.

    We are managing well, making our payments on time and all that good stuff, but when I sit down and think about the actual figures (alarming!) and how long it will take to get this monkey off our backs, it gets very frightening. I get what you’re saying, Trent, but this kind of thinking just serves to stress you out. You can’t make things go any faster than they’re already going.

    Coincidentally, I am also one of those rush-to-pay people. I used to be very bad with managing my bills, but now I’m doing the finances for both my husband and I because it’s so easy to keep on top of them when you pay your bills immediately. The wait between weeks is a killer, though, I agree.

  68. mrsmonkey says:

    Thanks Kellykelly,

    I think we underestimate how spectacularly dull life can be when it’s good. I have come to believe that the concept of living in a state of “blissful happiness” is not realistic. if I can achieve balance, contentment and a sense of contribution, I believe that is as close as I can come to living in a state of happiness. In fact, I believe happiness, like sadness is an extreme state of being, like being drunk or high.

    Sometimes we get brain smart and strive for simplicity but when we get it, it’s like “is that all there is?”. I think we’ve come to desire everything in our lives to be somehow glamorous. So living simply has to look and feel like a commercial on television or something out of an organic magazine…perfectly earthy and green and well tended, with all involved feeling content and fulfilled.

    This is the richest country in the world and nomatter what our circumstances, barring living in abject ignorance, poverty and/or disability, we can rise above anything and have most anything. Opportunity is what America is about. And we have availed ourselves of these opportunities time and again in the course of our lives. We live better in than most people in the world….we eat, clothe our children, have a roof and shelter over our heads and education.

    It’s like our lives should have some sort of profound soundtrack at all times. Silence and stillness and simplicity has become a bad fit for Americans, generally speaking. We live for excitement and cowboyism, commercialism and consumerism. Just getting through the day alive and kicking isn’t enough. We should probably look at that a little because it’s killing our culture. It’s not enough to have enough.

  69. Lucy MacEachern says:

    Hang in there. You will surprised at how fast 2 years (all the years!!!) pass, and you will be ahead of the game.

  70. Amy says:

    Someone may have said this already, but, what age will you be in two years if you *don’t* follow your get out of debt plan?

    Also, cut yourself some slack. Student loans and a mortgage are both considered “good debt,” in that they either increase income or decrease spending in the long run. That you will have your educational loans paid off in another 2 years is awesome. It’s okay to be still paying off a mortgage when your kids are in college.

  71. debtheaven says:

    Mrs Monkey, I absolutely agree with you. I think Trent is bored too, or foundering with what to do next.

    Trent, putting all your writing into the public domain was very laudable. You rejected the ads, and put your work in the public domain. Personally, I wish you’d stick those ads back up, and get some return for all you give to others.

    A few other thoughts:

    We are very debt adverse as well. As much as those student loans bug you, if you’ve paid off only 1000 in principle on your mortgage since July, you’d get more bank for your 1500 extra debt payments if they went to the principle of your mortgage.

    This said, I don’t feel that a mortgage is necessarily something you need to pre-pay.

    I really wanted to pre-pay ours, but we couldn’t afford it, we had too many things going on. We had a 15-year mortgage. We prepaid 2500 at some point once, when we were feeling flush.

    You know what? One day it just happened. Last August I went to the bank, and realized we only owed 32 on our mortgage in September. I called DH, he said, yeah, go for it.

    I know that our ages won’t help you much, we were 47 and 51 when that happened. In a very HCOLA.

    But you’re on the road to the rest of your life. THAT is what you have to figure out, not the debt repayments.

    I wish you all the best. You have done so much good for so many people.

  72. debtheaven says:

    Sorry about the typo.

    I still think that if paying off your mortgage early is important to you, you’d get more BANG for your bucks by putting the extra 1500 there.

    You don’t have to decide now. And even if you do, you can always change your mind. THAT is the beauty of life. Nothing is fixed in stone.

  73. bigskymt says:

    Something I just realized after reading all these posts is really how fortunate we are. Our parents more than likely did not have the high quality dialogue we’re experiencing here on this blog. How times have changed! Where would our parents receive this kind of financial advise and encouragement…an investment club at the library? An individual mentor? Columns in the Sunday paper? Thank heavens for blogs! We truly are blessed that we have access to this kind of information in the form we do.

  74. Heather says:

    Home ownership is strange. 7 years ago, I was about 7 years away from owning a $130,000 house. I sold the house, the market changed. I am 23 years away from owning a $350,000 house. Trent, think about cash flow, too.

  75. Eli says:

    I was encouraged to read someones story that was so similar to mine. I am 34 and my progress through 2 degrees and marriage and starting a family was all very similar to yours if not quite as precarious.
    Like FineDay said above I too set up an excel spreadsheet which lays out my whole financial life seperated into debts and assets. It includes details down to the level of how much my student loans and mortgage and car loan cost me per day.
    What has been the most beneficial though was the idea I had to include a history of the bottom lines of the calculations. Every two weeks I take the totals and list them along with comments about what happened during that time. I have been doing this since march of 2006 and it has been an enormous help along the way. Like you I am looking at complete freedom from debt sometime in my late 30s and early 40s.

    Anyways if you would like a copy of my excel spreadsheet I would be happy to send it to you. just email me.
    Thanks for your writings, hopefully we can teach our children better than our parents did us.


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