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I turned 40 last month.
To some of you that probably seems really old. To others it may seem still young. As they say; it’s all relative.
I like to think 40 is still young, but I know enough about actuary tables to know the ride is downhill from here. I’m okay with that. I count my blessings daily, including two children for which I am trying to leave a good legacy.
Still, the marking of another decade’s worth of trips around the sun warrants some reflection – on life, on health and on money.
Over these last 40 years I have managed to live without many regrets. However, one that still sticks out is my handling of money.
Dreams Never Die, They Change
While it is true the goalposts have shifted over the years with respect to financial goals, there have been many times I didn’t even make it inside the stadium!
I distinctly remember turning 16 years-old and dreaming about my first car. What would it be?
In my mind it would be a Ford Mustang; no make that a truck. A brand new shiny Silverado.
In reality it was a 12 year-old Buick Century which had belonged to my grandmother. Talk about sex appeal!
While grateful for the wheels, the teenager inside of me wasn’t thrilled with the idea of driving a “mom car,” much less a “grandma car.” I made the best of it.
Now I drive a 20 year-old truck. Big deal.
The College Phase, Or More Accurately, The Student Loan Phase
I distinctly remember moving into my dorm at college. I had not yet even turned 18.
It was the first time I saw my grandfather cry. He knew this marked the beginning of a new adventure for me, but it also marked the end of many of our traditions.
I was a decent student, but qualified for no scholarships. My mom was a single mom and struggled financially, but I never did without.
We had discussed financing school and realized I would have to take on some student loan debt after the first semester while she helped with living expenses.
I left school at the beginning of my junior year with just under $20,000 in student loans and no degree. I worked for a while to pay for the minimum payments on the student loan debt and eventually returned to a local college to finish my degree.
Marriage and Debt
Not all of my college takeaways were bad; I met my wife there. We married soon after I came home, which was another reason to find a stable job with health insurance.
I started an entry level job and we lived with my grandfather for a while until finances sorted out.
My wife and I used to drive through the expensive neighborhoods and look at beautiful homes and dream about owning our own home. The real estate sign at the front of the neighborhood, “Hidden Lake: From the $200’s.”
$200k dollars?! It might as well have read “$1 million.” Who could afford a $200k home?
We were newlyweds and young and dumb with money. We enjoyed eating out, and I compensated for a crappy job and living with my grandfather by trying to spoil my bride.
What I should have been doing was piling up money for a down payment on our house, not burning through it every chance I got.
I remember telling my wife, “If I could just earn $50k a year; we’d be set.” Funny how income and $200k homes appear to young people.
We accumulated credit card debt, to go along with our student loan debt and credit card debt from college. This is not what Dave Ramsey meant by the debt snowball.
My thirties were mostly a sad decade. I lost my mom at 54 years-young and then my grandfather, and father figure, a year later. Those losses had a profound effect on my life.
I was a single child, raised by a single mom. I had no aunts or uncles, brothers or sisters, or even cousins growing up. Now I had no family. I felt alone.
My wife and children really kept me going through this phase. Without them I would have crumbled.
The last couple of years have been happier, and I’m finally beginning to deal with financial issues I was happy to ignore a year or two ago.
The Big 4-0
Turning 40 forces one to reflect on their past and their future. I don’t want to have the same financial regrets at 50, so I’m dedicating this decade to turning things around, financially.
Before the Big 5-0 we hope to:
- Have our house paid off; zero mortgage debt
- Put a couple kids through college, debt free
- Purchase an investment rental property or two
- Have zero debts and a one-year emergency fund in cash
These goals will be competing for the same dollars, so we will have to be diligent with our budget and find side hustles to boost our income.