Sometimes I wish I could grab a magic wand to wave over my loved ones. I wondered if I needed one the day my son began a conversation saying, “Joy said I should call you.”
“What did she want us to know?”
“That we have paid off our school loans,” he said.
“Congratulations!” I had daydreamed of waving the wand over those loans. “So you only have the house payments left?”
“Yes. We will have to buy another car pretty soon. Both cars were in the shop last week,” he said. I recalled that last fall he had said, “We hope the van lasts until we get the school loans paid.”
The van puttered along until the week he paid the last few dollars of school loans.
We rejoiced to see that monkey off his back.
His success, like others’ successes in the family, make me glad I never found a wand to transform the rags of indebtedness into the gown of financial freedom. Each has discovered how to make their own magic.
One family learned to wave away ‘must have’ expenses. “Just because the clothing store sends me a $5 off coupon to use with their credit card, doesn’t mean I have to go there and spend 25 dollars so I can save five,” one said. That magic wand of realization slowly swept away credit card debt.
“The kids have learned to make their own pizzas for Friday night pizzas and movie,” another said as she spread out ingredients for build-your-own pizza. It saves the cost of carry-out and makes their budget fit better.
In the past, cost seemed to be no object in one family. Then they realized that buying needed items at a fraction of a cost magically stretches five or ten dollars into twenty. “Now, he always has a coupon when we go out to eat. The other day I was going with a friend, and he asked, ‘do you want a coupon?’” A magical, hard won change from “Sales rack? What sales rack?”
I discovered the most impressive waving of a personal magic wand four or five years ago when I noticed a Dr. Seuss-looking arrangement of Lego Blocks resting on Nate’s living room shelf.
“That’s our Tower of Debt. Each block represents so many dollars of debt,” he explained.
It was not very pretty. Debt never is. Each block represented a small portion of the debt incurred during years of studying for post-graduate degrees, a major medical crisis and the multiplying expenses of a growing family.
The Tower of Debt visually reminded his family, “This is ‘why’ are not buying everything we want, when we want it.”
With each payment toward that big debt, Nate removed a few blocks from the Tower of Debt. Every time a major bill reached zero, the family celebrated at a restaurant then returned to home cooked meals. That dedication led to last week’s phone call,
“Great!” I could quit daydreaming about finding a magic money wand for them.
I thought of many conversations Nate and I had discussing how they had cut expenses and added work to increase income. I remembered a couple visits at the time they shed another big debt. Each time I watched Nate, his wife and children removed Lego Blocks off the Tower of Debt before dressing up for their ritual celebratory restaurant meal.
With that in mind, after the last loan payment was made his daughter said, “so this means we are going out to eat?” Yes. It did and I am sure it tasted much sweeter than any meal a magic wand could ever produce.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”