Budgeting, Debt, Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money

A Life Without Debt: I’ve Always Been Old

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m really about fifty-eight years old. Mentally, at least. In actuality I’m in my upper thirties. But if you look at my lifestyle, my spending choices, and my account balances, I’m much closer to someone who is nearing retirement. Financially I’ve always been about twenty years older than my real age.

I was always “older” than most of my peers. I was the kid who never rebelled, who always studied, never broke curfew, obeyed my parents, made responsible choices, and made more mature decisions than my classmates. Did this get me teased? Oh, you bet. I was a dork, a geek, a goody two-shoes, you name it. But I couldn’t help it. I was and still am incapable of being irresponsible. When I’m temped to blow something off or act like an idiot, something deep inside always stops me.

Why does this matter? It matters because when I was young and just starting out at eighteen, I was already thinking like someone in their late thirties. I was interested in investing, starting a retirement plan, saving up an emergency fund, and buying a house. I worked my way through school rather than take out loans because I knew it would be painful to pay it off later. I was actively looking for ways to cut my expenses and I already realized that, “stuff” was a pain to buy, maintain, and clean. I never saw the point in consuming like many of my peers in college. Spending on clothes, shoes, electronics, booze, and clubbing never seemed like an effective use of my money or time.

By the time I was in my late twenties, I had the portfolio of someone in their forties. I went through my twenties avoiding the debt traps that so many of my friends were falling into. I didn’t rent or buy beyond my means. I didn’t buy a $20,000 car on a $10,000 salary. I didn’t shop till I dropped or eat out every night. I didn’t bar hop or chase designer labels. I kept myself out of debt and amassed a nice nest egg and emergency fund. I bought a house. By the time I was twenty-eight I was at the point where I could really start to enjoy my money and travel and do other things without worrying about the financial consequences. Most of my peers were so far in debt that any “fun” money had to be borrowed.

Now that I’m in my late thirties I’m financially almost at the point where I can retire and live off some part time work. I never upgraded my starter home, I still have the car I bought at twenty-nine, and my life is not only debt free, but also clutter and hassle free, as well. Too many people my age are just now starting to sort out the mistakes from their youth. They’re just now paying off the last of their student loans. They’re realizing the house costs too much and that maybe they should have bought a used car. They’re just now starting to contribute to their retirement plans. They’re just now realizing that the credit card balances have become overwhelming. Because I never acted young financially, I don’t have a mess to clean up. I just keep moving forward.

Are people who never accrue debt always that much “older” than their peers? I can’t attest to everyone in the world, obviously, but the people I know who have never gotten into debt are all much like me. They were all much older than their peers, both financially and in terms of overall maturity. I don’t think it’s possible to live a debt free life if you are immature. Immaturity is a large part of what drives the “gotta have it now, gotta keep up with my friends” mentality. When you’re mature enough to realize that stuff doesn’t matter and that there’s no sense in trying to impress people you don’t know, you’re well on the way to a debt free life. Unfortunately, too many people don’t come to that realization until they are well into their thirties. And some never get there at all.

Can you teach someone to be old financially? To an extent, I think you can. You can model good financial behavior for your kids and teach them about money. You can teach them about both good and bad consequences for their actions. You can teach them about responsibility in general and you can teach them decision making skills. My parents were excellent teachers and models of responsibility. And, because I knew that there would always be severe consequences for acting like an idiot, I quickly learned how to act right. However, some portion of maturity may just be genetics. Some are blond, some are athletic, and some of us are just older than our peers. But the good news is that my financial old age means that my physical old age is going to much easier to deal with.

11 thoughts on “A Life Without Debt: I’ve Always Been Old

  1. It’s not that you were “old” in terms of your financial thinking, but rather that you were FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE. Youth does not excuse being irresponsible in any aspect of your life. There is an enormous difference between having fun and being irresponsible. The former can still be had while being responsible. The young can take more risks than the old, but those risks should be calculated, not stupid ones.

  2. I say Kudos to you Sadie.From my observations this is also a “Generational” thing. Today’s kids and young Adults ALL have cell phones, would be lost without the internet and XBOX and Playstation and would cry if u took away their iphones.Im around your age and you and i both grew up and “made it” without all these things. Yes,it is a different world today and some would argue that these things are neccessites,but i would argue they are doing alot of these young people more harm than good. Why go to the library when there is the internet? why have a face to face conversation when all i have to do is text you? Chess,Checkers and Monopoly…please!, where’s my XBOX? The need for “things” starts VERY early and if you are the ONLY kid in your school without the iphone..who’s the new oddball? I see a sad pattern.

  3. Great Job!! I’m 27 and just now realizing that accumulating debt was a BAD move! I really wish someone (at school or church) would have warned me about the dangers of debt! I would have listened!!! The only thing I was taught about was how to obtain “smart” debt! Sigh!
    My husband and I will be debt free in 1.5 years and will be able to accumulate WEALTH from then on! You should scream your story to as many youth as possible!! 🙂

  4. I agree with Nicole about teaching this to kids. Too many parents are so caught up in their own debt nightmare that they forget to teach their own kids about money. The best example I can think of of a family which has taught their children about money management is the Economides. I think I saw a video about them on youtube. That family is debt free and even the kids have large savings accounts and investments.

  5. Amen. I’m 55 in actuality now but have always been “old” in my attitude about money and my world view in general. I say it’s a shame folks like us aren’t celebrated more and sad we don’t run into people who think more like we do on an everyday basis, at least I never met many people my age who agree with me. I was/still am considered the “serious” one in any get-together and know what it’s liked to be teased, taunted, made fun of, etc., for being “so serious” and why don’t I let my hair down a little, enjoy myself, etc. I definitely DO enjoy my life and could care less what my peers have ever thought about me anyway, and I believe that’s the secret to contentment.

  6. Excellent work Sadie, your financial responsibility is currently and will pay off handsomely in the future. In response to the the comment made by James, I’m afraid I have to agree with some of your assertions. I don’t know anyone without a cell phone (just like you didn’t grow up without a home phone). I agree that kids certainly have too much “stuff”, but this is nothing new. When I was young many years ago, it was the same. The only difference is the technology. Chess, Checkers, GI Joe, and Monopoly have been exchanged for digital video games (in some cases for the digital equivilent).

  7. You are a smart cookie…too bad people twice your age still haven’t figured out your wise decisions.

  8. I stand in awe of you. I am the grasshopper, and you are the ant! There’s been some pleasure in some of my goofing off, though. When I was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago, I found myself happy at some of the things I’d done (work a poor-paying flight attendant job for years, and do traveling and having adventures) and not necessarily overwhelmed with gratitude for all the chances I had not taken. BUT, spending money on goofy little stuff that sucks your energy dry… yep, bad move. The key is knowing what you want with all your heart, and just focusing on it, and not spending on distractions. You sound like a gem, and I hope you have a very youthful 40’s decade, enjoying the fruits of your early “oldness”!

  9. So this is where all the people like me are! I too was in that class of folks that just couldn’t be irresponsible and was always taken for someone much older than I was, even though now I don’t look as old as I am. My biggest financial problems came due to poor choices in marriage and then having to go on disability in my mid-forties. Which leaves me two points to make. Be VERY sure when deciding to marry that you are both on the same page financially. And don’t think you can go into debt because you will have years of working good jobs to pay it off well before retirement. The smallest thing can knock you off your feet and ruin a shaky financial foundation, whether illness, job loss, etc.

  10. Excellent post Sadie! I have always been very frugal, meticulously choosing what to purchase and what not to.

    I disagree though with some of the comments made about cellphones, internet as being wants. The majority of people do use these things – they are useful tools (for emergencies, learning, etc).

    I agree with being financially responsible, but some people do work very hard and have the means to afford toys/travel. What’s the point of working and being frugal, if you’re not going to enjoy your hardwork and debt-free life?

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