Around 10:30 p.m. tonight, I logged into Nelnet.com, as I have done hundreds of times, and saw that my last student loan payment had cleared. I am debt free.
I’ve been writing about this goal for almost 2.5 years (6 months for a newspaper blog and almost two years on this one). All month long I’ve been saying, “Well I’m basically debt free now.” But today, it is here.
If you look at the photo, it says, “Paid in full by borrower.” That’s what I love about what I’ve done – I paid it all back. I had help and support along the way, but no one else made those debt payments, no one else sacrificed trips and clothes and bottles of nail polish, no one else did this.
I still feel mostly the same. The older I get, the more I realize that one event will not make me singularly happier or sadder than I was before. After I showed my fiance the computer screen, we still had to take out our dog and I still had to clean up the dirty dishes. So while I am debt free, I am still the same person. I’ll still have anxiety about money and I’ll still worry that I’m not doing everything right.
I’ve been enjoying my “debt free” status all month. I thought I would enjoy shopping and splurging after years of depravation. But it turns out that I don’t really like spending money. At least, not for the sake of it. A couple weeks ago, I went to Nordstrom Rack with no budget in mind. But after years of being so deliberate about my purchases, there was nothing in the store that I wanted.
I know that probably sounds sad and pathetic, but that’s what I’ve learned throughout this whole process. Spending money will not make me happy, it will not distract me from my anxieties and it will not make me feel whatever I want to feel.
So last Sunday I did what I wanted to do. I watched a movie (at a theater, no less), bought groceries and spent most of the afternoon curled up with my dog watching “Game of Thrones.”
Some might say this is a curse, that after all of my hard work, it turns out that being debt free doesn’t make me happy after all. I’m proud to have reached my goal, but I’m prouder of what I’ve learned along the way. That I’d rather hang out at home with a friend watching old movies instead of trudging through the mall or that not leaving the house can be the greatest thing of all.
These past three years have taught me that being debt free isn’t so much about being financially secure, but about being more secure in what I really want. Sometimes when I’ve planned an afternoon of shopping, I’ll quickly realize that what I really want is to be napping at home. Just like I knew that being debt free was what I wanted more than paying off my loans for 10 years.
So I hope to honor what I’ve accomplished by listening to what my body and mind need, whether it’s a new bottle of nail polish or a relaxing day indoors.