When you think about a traditional debt repayment story, visions of tropical islands and international plane flights don't usually come to mind. However, that's exactly how my story goes.
A few years ago, my husband and I were a normal newlywed couple in our early twenties. We were both working full time and had just moved into a nice townhome. We had barbeques with our next door neighbors, went shopping at the mall on the weekends, and took our dog to the local dog park.
Essentially, we had a pretty casual life, and we weren't obsessed with the latest brands or expensive cars. Yet, we still fell into the debt trap anyway with each new purchase for the house and each dinner out. I thought we were doing just fine, but it took one big decision to show us just how much we should have been saving all along.
Even though we were content with our home, our friends and our careers, my husband's dream was to go to medical school. He did not get accepted the first time he applied straight out of college, so he went into the work force. He made an excellent salary, and he could have done very well, but you know how dreams are. They nag at us and tug at us when we go to sleep at night, and he couldn't let it go.
So, we made the decision for him to start taking classes again to get ready to re-apply.
It Wasn't In the Plan
As part of the medical school admissions process, my husband decided to apply to international schools. It was a good backup, we thought, just in case things didn't work out in the States.
What we weren't expecting was the e-mail we got three weeks after submitting the international application saying he had an interview at one of the very best American owned international medical schools.
It Actually Worked
After the interview, we tried not to obsess about their decision, and we didn't have to wait long. We got a response two weeks later offering him a spot to start medical school in January.
Even though it was two weeks before Christmas, and he had to start school in four short weeks, we said yes. I sent the $1,000 check to secure his spot the same day.
Moving to a Foreign Country
Moving to a foreign country isn't for the faint of heart. By the time we had purchased all of the supplies necessary for medical school and his plane ticket, we were $5,000 in credit card debt. I decided to keep working in the U.S. to help out with our bills, and he went to the Caribbean without me.
I spent countless nights alone in that big townhome clipping coupons and obsessing about being thrifty. I brought my lunch every day to work, and I made myself the cheapest dinners I could think of to try to save money.
Without my husband's salary, I knew I couldn't sustain the house much longer. Meanwhile, I was in a city with no family members, and I was having a tough time. We had barely been married a year. One minute we were having friends over to our house for a dinner party and the next I was home alone with my dog while my husband was 3,000 miles away on an island in the middle of nowhere.
I Sold It All
I knew that logically, I should have kept working and that it would be really hard for me to find work in the Caribbean. Yet, I couldn't pass up such a unique experience. I felt like I was just spinning my wheels, missing my husband, and I didn't think we could spend that many years apart and still keep our marriage strong.
So I quit my job, and in order to pay for my plane ticket to the Caribbean, I had a huge garage sale. I sold $2,000 worth of furniture, and I spent $1,000 moving all our wedding gifts and personal belongings to my in law's house. I took my dog, I boarded a plane, and I collapsed into my husband's arms that first night, amazed that we had actually done the impossible. Even that early on, we knew our lives would never be the same.
I Found Peace
A funny thing happened on that island. Despite being in $6,000 of debt, I found peace. Because we didn't have as many bills and we lived in a 270 square foot apartment, we were able to start paying off our debt slowly. We took the free bus offered by the school. We picked mangos off the trees. We made sandwiches and had picnics on the beach. We found joy in the little things. I made new friends. I became a part of the community.
I started writing about my experiences and sharing my story on other blogs. I started to make an income from my writing, and six months into moving, I got a job doing something I love that paid twice as much as my job in the states.
It took 18 months, but last summer, I paid off our last credit card bill.
You wouldn't think that going to a tropical location would save me, but it did. When I was finally forced to embrace minimalism, I stopped spending. When everyone around me was saving too, it became easier to adapt to that lifestyle. When the demands of the world and the rings of smart phones fell silent, I could finally listen.
Who knows where I'd be without my little island. I'd probably be right at that kitchen table in that townhome still in debt and completely unaware of what life is like when you take the time to create your own slice of debt-free paradise.
We'll still have debt to pay off in the future due to the medical school loans, but we're old pros now.