Penny’s Financial Origin Story: Debt Does Not Equal Regret

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Dear Rich,

I know we used to be close as kids: playing video games together, kick the can, Blind’s Man Chef, making those silly little movies that we thought were amazing, all of that. But we haven’t really kept in touch with each other much past high school, and you’re probably wondering how I got into all this financial debt in the first place.

So, I’d like to tell you a little bit about how I ended up where I am, with the amount of debt that we have, and how we got here. It’s my Financial Origin Story, if you will.

It all started when I graduated from high school in 1995. I attended the University of North Dakota for one semester, came to the conclusion that:

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money finding out.

So I dropped out and attended a technical college instead. (A much more affordable option for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do with their life.) I got a “degree” (I think it was more like a certificate) in desktop publishing. A desktop publisher is like a poor man’s graphic designer. (Please don’t judge me by the graphics I make for this blog. I’ve been out of practice for awhile, and I honestly just try to get them done as quickly as possible.)

I got a job working at a newspaper / printing company, where I designed things like newspaper ads, brochures, letterhead, business cards, flyers, etc. My yearly earnings were around $18,000.

In 1999, at the age of 22, I got married.

At that time, Mr. Penny was attending the University of North Dakota. He was 21. He did not drop out, and wound up graduating with a degree in elementary education. We paid for his college though my full-time job and his part-time job, so he graduated without having any student loans.

In 2001, Mr. Penny got his first teaching job at a Catholic school outside of Chicago. I studied photography a bit at a community college and worked at an Outback Steakhouse.

The next several years saw him through a couple other teaching jobs (one teaching computers at a public school, another at small town Catholic school), and us having our first child and starting our family together.

Then, in 2006, Mr. Penny decided to go back to school to become a chiropractor. This is the part of our story where the student loans come into play. Over the 4-½ years that he was in studying to become a chiropractor (he spent a year getting some prerequisites in), he racked up around $180,000 in student loans. Neither of us really worked during this time (I wanted to stay at home with our growing family and Mr. Penny had enough on his plate with schoolwork and family life), so we took out loans to cover our living expenses as well.

I don’t regret this. It was more important to us (and it still is) to have a balanced family life than it was to have zero debt.

I did a little bit of work here and there during this time: I started my small (on-location, natural light) photography business, I taught childbirth classes, I did some art shows, I did some freelance work for a magazine. Whatever I felt like doing, I guess. I got to set my own schedule with all of these things, which was nice. (I can’t imagine going back to work an 8-5 job for someone else ever again, by the way.)

During his last trimester of chiropractic college, Mr. Penny did an internship in Colorado. We had three kids by this time. We were planning to move to Vermont after this internship (don’t ask me why, but I’ve always had something for Vermont), so we sold almost everything we owned and moved to Colorado for three months. We lived in a crappy little apartment. When we moved there, we noticed someone had put a used couch and a TV cabinet out by the dumpster, so we took them and put them in our living room.

This is what our living room looked like:

I can’t believe we lived like that for three months, but it wasn’t too bad, and it was actually kind of a fun adventure. We slept on air mattresses and on a mattress that came with the couch.

In the end, we decided not to move to Vermont, and so we returned to Minnesota instead. We lived with Mr. Penny’s brother for 1-½ years while Mr. Penny got his chiropractic practice up and running. (This was not such a fun adventure.)

Mr. Penny opened his practice in 2011, and it has been growing ever since. Mr. Penny operates an affordable chiropractic practice. He doesn’t want to take the fact that he has all these student loans out on his patients with the prices he charges, because he wants chiropractic to be available to everybody regardless of their income level. He doesn’t take insurance, because he doesn’t want insurance companies to dictate care. Like with everything we do, he has a very principled approach to chiropractic and how he operates his practice.

During his first couple of years of practice, we deferred the student loans, so they kept earning interest. What started at $180,000 crept past $200,000 after a couple of years. Oy. Looking back, the one thing I would have done differently would have been to cash out some of our IRAs (like you told me to do just recently) in order to start paying them down right away (or, at least, prevent them from getting any larger).

Other than that, like I said before, I don’t really regret anything.

Here is a fun little chart I made that shows our earnings over the years:

Click on image to enlarge.


As you can see, we are making more now than we ever have in our lives, so I’m happy with it. And we have a plan to repay our student loans, so, even though they’re hefty, I’m not really concerned about them.

Sure, we probably went into chiropractic a bit naively, thinking that it would earn us more money faster than it has, but we’re okay with where we are and what we’re making.

You can see that my income spiked in 2013. That was the year I released that movie that I made. (I do a little bit of everything, don’t I?) Here’s a little graph that reflects the earnings from my movie:

Click on image to enlarge.

I like to look at this because it is all passive income. I continue to make about $125 a month from people streaming the movie.

Here is a graph that shows our joint income over the years (I’m super proud of how these charts turned out, by the way, I just love to sit and look at them):

Click on image to enlarge.

So, even with the student loans, we are still making a lot more money than we were, especially during those chiropractic college years. And, heck, life now sure beats living with Mr. Penny’s brother!

Here are the hard numbers:

Click image to enlarge.

There you have it. That’s our financial journey. I know you might disagree, but I think we’re doing alright and I’m happy with the choices we’ve made and where we are in life.



13 Replies to “Penny’s Financial Origin Story: Debt Does Not Equal Regret”

  1. It’s cool reading origin stories, especially when they have cool graphs! There are things I wouldn’t change if I did it all again, and some things I would change. Living off of student loans when I didn’t necessarily need to and cashing out a 401k for no real reason except I left the company are things I would change. The circuitous route from graduating highschool (also in 1995) to my current career though, no way I’d change that. It was fun, I got to work in a different field for 6 years, and I wouldn’t have met Mrs. SSC if things changed too much on that timeline.

    Funny how life works out.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…Phase 1 of the Lifestyle Change Begins: We’re Buying Some Land!My Profile

    1. Well, we did get a bunch of financial aid while Mr. Penny was in chiropractic college. About $8,000 to cover living expenses every trimester. So, that’s how we were able to survive while he was in school since we weren’t really making any money during that time. And that’s a part of how we got into all this debt, because we have to pay it all back now.
      Penny @ recently posted…Penny’s Financial Origin Story: Debt Does Not Equal RegretMy Profile

  2. I love the honesty and the appreciation for what you have and where you are now. No complaints or any negativity and an honest approach to living your lives in a fashion that works for you. SO awesome. I also am impressed with the fact that you have a plan and feel confident that you will get where you want to be.

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