You may wonder why I write a lot about debt when I’m just a Utah divorce attorney and not a financial planner or some investment guru.
There are a couple reasons.
First, I see on a daily basis what debt does to families and people getting divorced.
It ruins them.
Debt creates tension, which leads to fights, which leads to marital problems. Debt is also quite often a manifestation of underlying marital problems (e.g., not being on the same page, lack of trust). And when people get divorced, the problems with debt multiply. Costs go up, which means there’s less money to pay off the mountain of debt many people have. And you’re paying off debt from a now-failed relationship, which acts like an anchor to keep people down. There’s simply no good that comes of it.
Second is my own personal journey with debt.
My family was always okay with money. My parents bought some stuff on credit, but they weren’t extravagant by any means, and they had good jobs, so they made enough to pay for everything.
Because of their example, I was always okay with money. Not great, but okay. I didn’t finance things and didn’t buy big-ticket items I didn’t need. I worked a lot in college, so I had money, even enough to invest.
Then law school happened. Well, to be more precise, then law school, a masters, and a doctorate happened. See, while I got my law degree, my wife got her masters. We took out student loans for the whole thing. Now, there are student loans and there are student loans. We had the latter; a mountain of the latter.
After law school, my wife and I played the game almost every law school family plays. It’s call “defer paying off law school loans as much as possible, however possible.” There were deferments, hardships, you name it.
I thought we were being clever, but the interest kept building and building.
When we came to Utah, we decided to double down on student loans during the first year of my wife’s doctoral program (she sings opera, by the way). This was also when I decided to start a law firm, which took some time to get off the ground since I had no clients and no network. Not smart.
At this point, I was working, literally, 80 hours per week. I would work at Brown Law during the day and go to another job I had at night and on the weekends. I had to pay for rent and food somehow, and that was the only way. (My other job was a job I had during undergrad. It paid $12.50 per hour. That was a humbling experience, let me tell you.)
The stress was killing me. I gained weight. I carried stress in my shoulders and jaw (cracked a tooth in my sleep once because I clenched my jaw so tight, even at night). I developed almost daily stress headaches. My heart would race in the morning when I was in the shower.
A large part of this stress was our debt. It never went away. It never slept. It weighed on me every day.
And as we were growing and becoming more successful as a divorce-only firm, the debt problem got worse. Now, I had multiple families to help support, but I didn’t see how I could because I couldn’t get out of debt and take care of my own family.
That’s when I decided to pay it off, to pay it all off, as fast as possible.
How did we do it?
We Dave Ramseyed the crap out of our debt. We got together every month and made a bare-bones budget. We threw every cent at debt, smallest to largest.
We didn’t take vacations. We didn’t eat out. We didn’t do a lot of the normal stuff we and our friends did. We lived like church mice. It sucked. Every minute of it sucked.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The moments in which we paid off a debt and moved to the next was satisfying, exhilarating even.
At work, we ran a similarly tight ship. No extra expenses, no legal conferences in San Diego or the Caribbean, not a lot spent on advertising.
And, yet, our revenues increased quickly. They increased so quickly we were able to pay off our personal debt in 12 months. That’s right: one year.
We had lived with crushing debt for years, and yet it only took one to pay it off when we put our minds to it. (Now, I’m a believer, so there was a good bit of the Hand of Providence in all of this as well. We were blessed because we got our act together and did what was commanded of us.)
Let me tell you, there was nothing more satisfying in my life than writing that last check to the student loan company. No more debt. No more slavery. I felt like Sisyphus, except I rolled that rock all the way to the top of the mountain and walked out of Purgatory.
Since paying off our debt, we’ve started investing and growing wealth. We have six months’ worth of living expenses sitting in the bank in case of an emergency. We’ve funded our son’s LDS mission (he’s nine). We’re fully funding Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs for retirement. We’re saving to pay cash for my wife’s next car.
The stress isn’t gone (I am a divorce attorney, after all), but it’s dropped like a rock. I’ve lost significant weight, I exercise every day, I don’t have headache anymore, and my heart doesn’t hurt. (Not kidding, it used to hurt regularly, which scared the crap out of me). Needless to say, quality of life has gone way up.
The reason I wrote this post is to help you (you being anyone saddled with the slavery of debt) believe. Believe you can get out of debt and create wealth. No matter where you are in life, you can start now and work toward the life you know you want.
If you need pointers or encouragement, feel free to call me. I’d love to help you along the journey.
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