Why We Strive to Live Debt Free
From the news about student loan and credit card debt, it’s easy to think that debt is just a way of life for most Americans. That everyone has debt, and everyone works 10-hour days for 40 to 50 years to pay off their debt. That hopefully we have enough time but not too much time to have a respectable retirement.
It can be scary if not depressing, and we know. We were on that path.
Thirteen years ago, we were working in the financial services industry. We were helping other people with their money, teaching them about investing and encouraging them to prepare for retirement. We’d be their therapist when the stock market went south. We'd be their voice of reason when things were so good, our clients were too confident.
The irony was that at the same time we had a combined $51,000 in credit card debt between the two of us. We kept other people’s finances healthy, but ours were far from it. We were a part of that large, growing group of Americans working longer hours with sleepless nights to subsidize the debt that was funding our lives.
And while everything looked great on the outside, things weren’t great on the inside; we were hurting and scared. We took our knowledge about money and taking our bumps and bruises along the way, we paid off all that debt in two and a half years.
Because we knew we weren’t alone and we wanted to help others overcome – or preferably avoid – debt, we started the award-winning debtfreeguys.com in 2012 and shortly thereafter the Queer Money® podcast.
Below are a few things we learned, mostly the hard way, that we hope will help you succeed, too.
1. Avoid debt. It costs more than you know.
Debt anchors your future to your past. Think about it. Does it really make sense to pay for one pair of shoes over three years? Are slick college sales pitches and brochures worth 20, 30, even 40 years of student loan payments?
Before taking on any debt regardless of justification or reason, calculate what that debt will cost until it’s paid off. With $51,000 in credit card debt, we were paying $10,000 annually in credit card interest payments.
That $10,000 wasn’t enhancing our quality of life or preparing us for the future. It was paying for a past, usually for things we couldn’t even remember.
If you’re a college student financing 5-star student unions, meal plans and spring breaks with student loans and credit cards, you could still be paying off those college experiences five jobs into your career. Graduates who are paying off their college education today with high student loan payments must often rely on credit cards to pay for daily necessities.
Assuming more debt in one area to pay off debt in another area creates a cycle of debt that’s expensive and hard to stop.
You have bigger goals than a lifetime of paying high interest rates. So, no matter what the crowd does or what your friends and family expect, focus on those bigger goals.
This leads us to our next point.
2. Stay true to you. It’s cheaper and more fun.
Even in accepting communities and businesses, there’s often still a stigma of being queer. This stigma creates the perception that we aren’t effective managers, which a 2015 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion research study showed can create a glass ceiling of entry into senior management.
That glass ceiling limits our lifetime earning potential and encourages bad spending behaviors to overcompensate for the stigma.
As we’ve come to see, gay men in particular often go beyond reason to assume the outward signs of success, such as dressing stylishly, traveling often and living well in neighborhoods gentrified by other gay men. Overcoming these internalized feelings and external perceptions of inferiority manifest in overspending and increasing financial insecurity.
What we’ve seen anecdotally has been that everyone spends money the same for about 80 percent of their financial transactions. We all pay for basic necessities like rent and food. Twenty-percent of our financial considerations, though, are rooted in how we fit into various communities.
Overspending is why credit card debt is a leading financial concern among gay men in particular, and part of what makes money different for LGBTQ+ people. When we realize and spend according to what’s most important to us, we can avoid that lifetime of debt or quickly pay off the debt we have.
3. Carve your own path. It’s easier to monetize.
All debt is suffocating financially, personally and professionally. This is why we encourage people to explore trade schools. Trade schools aren’t a path that many people take today, but the more common path of college and graduate school are becoming cost-prohibitive.
There’s a misconception in the United States that you’re a second-class citizen without a college degree. It’s a perversion of what college is worth today, but alternatives exist.
The U.S. Department of Education reported that the greatest demand for future jobs will be semi-skilled and skilled jobs in operations and maintenance. They also projected that there will be 68 percent more annual job openings across selected transportation occupational groups than people with the skills to meet industry demand.
Because of the dearth of candidates to fill jobs in plumbing, electrical and construction, it’s never been easier to carve out a six-figure career in these industries. Following your own path could give you greater upward salary potential with a lower cost of entry and help you stand out among your friends.
Speaking of friends . . .
4. Stick with your friends and allies. They’re your best fans.
One reason we’re proud to work alongside Capital One is because it sees the LGBTQ+ community as more than rainbow branding and a charity in June. It has and continues to do more than pay for an “A” score. And the company recently earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index (CEI), designating them as one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality for the 16th consecutive year.
Annually, corporations paint themselves in Pride in June, then go away from July through May. Spending marketing dollars on rainbow logos and parades doesn’t necessarily help the community. It’s the next level connection that the queer community needs and that Capital One and Capital One Cafés are making.
Capital One’s blazing its own trail, just like we are with our advice for students and the queer community. It knows what matters is helping individuals, gay, straight or otherwise, change their relationship with money and provide more than a platform for financial transaction.
When we change our relationship with money, we step off the path of debt and financial security and onto a path of prosperity and abundance. When we work with and for the business and people that support us, whole communities thrive.
Click here to listen to our podcast interview with Managing Vice President of Capital One, Jennifer Windbeck, discussing the Capital One Cafés.