Fatherfier and I immigrated to the US as young adults pursuing “The American Dream.” While Fatherfier fled religious persecution, I was in pursuit of a higher education. And we worked hard, really hard. As we moved through our goals, “The Dream” grew, evolved and finally morphed into a middle class nightmare. We found ourselves broke and broken.
HOW DID WE END UP HERE?!
MOTHERFIER’S DEBT STORY:
I flew into JFK airport with $257 and no place to stay. SERIOUSLY. I was 20 years old, completely clueless but totally excited about getting my American Education. You see, I was the first in my immediate family to receive a higher education. And I went far, I got it in the USA! Without getting too much into all the hardships I endured during my first 6 months, at the end if it all I totally lucked out! I got a full scholarship to attend a very prestigious private university. Graduated with BBA completely debt free!
I met Fatherfier in 2007 right before the big financial fiasco. We both worked for “the great and powerful” Bank of America. He was able to keep his job, and I couldn’t. I hopped from one job to another, at first looking into getting an MBA, than completely switched direction and decided to pursue a position in a healthcare field. Medical school seemed too long and too expensive; we just had our first son and I was feeling old and tired. Becoming a Physician Assistant seemed like a pretty smart move. And it was! I am currently practicing as a Dermatology PA and I am crazy in love with my job.
This is where it gets bad – I graduated with the enormous amount of debt – $148,000!!! The tuition to PA school was nowhere near this number, but it was located 350 miles from our house and I needed a place to stay. We borrowed money to pay for my rent, food and gas as I commuted home every weekend. I also got pregnant (still cannot recall how did this happen) during my second year, and gave birth 3 days after my last rotation ended. When I took my board exam I had one month old baby at home. The schooling was over, I got my first job offer, but no one was excited; I brought home an ugly monster – the student loan debt.
FATHERFIER’S DEBT STORY:
Fathefier came to the US with $100 in his pocket and a desire to conquer “The American Dream.” He barely spoke English, so his first job was at the grocery store bagging and putting carts back. He often remembers that the only phrase he knew well in English was: “it’s humid out there.” People would often reply to his comment about the weather, but he HAD NO IDEA what they were saying! Within the first month he was promoted to a cashier position.
Within a year he was a cashier at the local bank branch, later a Bank Manager. He is still continuously and relentlessly moving up, but in a different field. This awesome dude is an epitome of hard work and perseverance (love him)! Unlike me tough, he had distant relatives who immigrated to the US years before and were generous with their advice on how to live a life like a “real American.” The advice was pretty terrible – “when in Rome..” First, must buy a car, a house and then continue upgrading all of these for the envy of others until the day you die. So that’s exactly what he did.
REDEFINING THE AMERICAN DREAM
My American dream encompassed a new beginning, education, happy family, blissful existence. All of the above sound pretty good, right? This is where I got it all wrong – I searched for happiness in the material world. You get sucked into believing what everyone else tells you. I remember the day when Fatherfier recited that WE MUST have a mortgage and car payments and credit cards. No monthly payments?! BAD CITIZEN!
As someone who grew up in poverty, it was important to demonstrate the rest of the world that I got it all figured out. How else would people know that I am doing well if I’m not driving out of McMansion in a German car sipping venti frappuccino?!
While we did pretty much everything we were “supposed to” do, we still resided in a modest 3-bedroom house that my husband financed 2 years after coming to this country. After graduation and a birth of our second child everyone around us kept telling that our 1,700 sq house is too small for a growing family! We were about to embark into the biggest purchase of our lives- the pinnacle of our American Dream – THE PERFECT HGTV HOME!
We house hunted for years; driving around new subdivisions and checking model homes was the biggest pleasure we got. We dreamt of a bigger, nicer, better house. We were going to be “THE IT”couple that got it all figured out. We were going to be “The Joneses.”Here is the scary part, we house hunted while paying off our debt! We calculated that once we are back to zero in the next 1-2 years, we would sell our current house, use the equity on down payment and build a huge (minimum 4,000sq ft!), brand new home.
That was our plan until I was introduced to the FI/RE community. Once you know, you can’t “uknow.” The realization of what we were planning on doing to ourselves terrified me. All of the sudden, the stunning open concept house with white kitchen looked like a prison I was going to lock myself and entire family into. NO! NO MORE. NON, NYET, NUNCA, NAH! I was choking at this realization – we were about to fall into “The American Dream” trap AGAIN! While we are still bleeding money every month to pay our debt, we are contemplating on potentially bleeding more and forever. Isn’t this the definition of insanity?! That evening I could not wait to share my thoughts with the hubby. HE WAS IN. IMMEDIATELY.
We sat down and talked for hours. How did we see our future? What would we like to do if we had no more debt? We enjoy traveling both in the US and overseas. Exploring new places gives us joy; experiences shared bring us closer as a family. We knew instantly that our dream had to be redefined. We no longer wished to be enslaved by the enormous mortgage, student loan and car payments. Opinions of others on how we need to live our lives all of a sudden did not matter. We wanted to do what’s best for our family and not what society tells us. The realization that we had a power over our future gave us courage and determination. We are here in this wonderful country grateful to have all the tools we need. The definition for our new American dream has always been right in front of us: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
What is your definition of the American Dream?
Update: We attacked the debt with vengeance. In two years the student loan debt shrunk from $148K to $79K. It will be gone completely in 2019. We made some major changes – moved our 8-year old from private school to public, eliminated cable and restaurants, drastically reduced grocery bill. You can track our progress at FIRE TRACKER.