so, i’m not a fan of debt. that’s a relatively new development in my 35 year tenure on this earth. i was a good student in high school. made a’s, national honor society, etc. i was decent at math. but for some reason when it came to making the largest decision of my life at that point in my life i was clueless. that decision…going to college. i could go to a number of schools public or private. there were options. i got it narrowed down the one i wanted to attend. my well meaning parents sat down with me and helped me fill out my fafsa form. what’s fafsa you ask? bless you. if you’re asking that question then you are in a better spot than i was. its stands for free application for federal student aid. student aid? really? i remember working with my college to get all the paper work in. i applied through admissions and submitted everything to the financial aid department and they sent me back a great letter congratulating me on my new ability to go $100,000 in debt. yes, at 18 years old i was allowed to begin to rack up six figures of debt. i could barely vote. i couldn’t drink alcohol. my credit score was lower than my weight so i couldn’t buy a car, house or get a cell phone without my parents covering everything, but i could sign up for $100,000 of financial aid. sorry, did i say “financial aid”. that’s my mistake. i don’t mean to make it sound like i’m getting help. what would be a better way to phrase it? hmmm. free application for federal predatory lending. financial aid: where teenagers smile and nod having no earthy idea what they’re getting themselves into and parents hope to god that the kid will move out of the house someday and actually get a job that enables them to pay back their education before they’re 40. but that kind of honesty doesn’t work does it? nope, it’s a gift from the government to allow you to borrow $100,000 at 6.7% compounded annually to your grave. bless you sallie mae. bless you for such a gracious gift. you see, i didn’t know. and my parents didn’t know. they didn’t teach me well. i didn’t pay attention. i was a good enough student that all of my peers were heading to college so it was never a question. of course i’d go. it’d work itself out. i started out at a private school that had me on track to take out $100,000 in student loans. thankfully, i learned math and transferred to a state school where i worked and paid my way through. it took me 10 years to pay off that first year and a half of private college. my sister, who stayed all four years at the same private school is still paying for it and it’s been 16 years since she graduated. unfortunately, i can’t say that i learned my lesson. luckily i had a full ride for my masters degree. well, my first one. then, for some stupid reason i got the hair brained idea that i’d go back to school again after working for 6 years. i went back and hopped feet first back into debt. i got another masters degree and racked up a new $50,000 in student loans. genius. i went from having a decent job and completely debt free to $50,000 under water in two years time. i woke up and i got angry. really angry. angry at myself for making such stupid decisions. angry at my parents for not knowing to teach me that there was another way. angry at schools that treat student loans like they’re normal and not a problem. i got angry at the system. so, i paid it off. in 18 months i knocked it all out. my wife and i buckled down and paid off ol’ sallie mae. we got out from under it. we’re free and never going back. we’ve learned our lessons. patience and cash are far more desirable than impulse and debt. we talk to a lot of our friends about it. very smart, well educated people and have found friends with $100,000, $120,000, $180,000 in student debt. we’ve talked to couples with combined student debt of over $250,000. it’s unbelievable. and no, they’re not all doctors. one is, but the rest have degrees like marketing, management and history. they’re stuck and they’re stuck for a long time. and the crazy thing is, the financial world will allow them to buy a house on top of their school debt because their income allows them to do it. that $100,000 of school debt will never go away if it’s paid minimally. in fact, they’ll end up paying upwards of $200,000 or more for that debt by the time they pay it off. it takes discipline and sacrifice to get out from under sallie mae’s dead weight. for me, it took anger. anger at myself for getting into the mess. it’s not the systems fault. financial institutions will offer funds to as many people as the government allows. that will not change. the government may intervene and tighten things up, but financial institutions will continue to offer to the limit where available. it’s their business. i don’t fault them for it. i fault myself for not learning about it. i fault myself for not understanding the limiting power of debt. it takes away freedom. takes away the ability to dream, move, create or hope. it’s heavy and it slows life. i didn’t realize it at 18 years old and i had normalized when i went back for seconds from sallie mae’s buffet at 30. but, finally, i quit eating from the trough of debt, looked up and saw the mess i was in. and i fought. my wife and i fought. fought out way out of the mess. we gave up a lot. lived on far less than we made. saved, used cash, paid down debt aggressively. and now we’re out of debt. so, suck it sallie mae. we’ll not be guests at your table ever again.