Someone recently asked me what I plan to do once my student loans are paid off.  I said something vague about buying a house, and the conversation made me realize that I don’t spend that much time thinking about what comes next.  When our student loans are gone, then what?

Sure, I’ve thought about this in a vague sort of way.  We’ll move out of my parents’ house, buy our first home, and we’ll finally have the freedom to live a little less frugally.  I’ve mentioned many times that extreme frugality is worth it because debt freedom will be amazing.

But I always talk about it in vague terms.  I say things like “financial peace is worth it” and “living without debt gives you freedom.”

But what exactly does this mean?  What will our lives look like?  What is the end goal?  Paying off debt is not the end goal.  It’s just an essential part of the process.

Once our student loans are paid off, here are our plans (we may tweak this plan a bit):

1. Buy an affordable home.

We live near a major city and this area is not cheap.  We’ll explore several options for keeping our mortgage from being too high.  A few ideas: purchase a smaller than average home, buy a house in a small town (one that’s still fairly close to the suburbs), buy a townhouse or condo instead of a house, and/or rent out one or two of the bedrooms.

When we purchase the home, we will have a minimum of $5,000 in our emergency fund (we currently have a small $1,000 emergency fund).  Obviously, we will also have to buy furniture and other household items that we don’t currently have.  Luckily, we both feel strongly about minimalism, so we don’t need a ton of stuff.

2. Pay off any remaining non-mortgage debt.

I am hoping that we won’t have any other debt at this point, but we can’t always predict the future.  We plan to keep driving our cars as long as possible – mine is 16 years old, and my hubby’s has nearly 200,000 miles on it.

We’ll drive these cars until we hit a point when the repairs start to become insanely expensive.  So… if we end up buying a used vehicle within the next couple of years (which we probably won’t), then we will have a car loan.

3. Maximize Roth contributions.

I recently started contributing $100/month to a Roth plan through my employer.  I had originally planned to hold off on saving for retirement until our student loans are paid off in full.

I changed my mind because I’ll be nearly 30 when the loans are gone, and I’ve already missed out on several years of compound interest.  Once my student loans are paid off, I plan to contribute the maximum amount to my Roth each year.  I might also start contributing to a 401(k) or an IRA.

4. Grow emergency fund.

I would like to eventually hit $20,000 in our emergency fund.  Our short-term goal will be $10,000, but I think $20k is a good long-term goal.  You never know what the future holds.  One of us could get laid off or could need an expensive surgery.

I had eye surgery when I was a little kid to correct my lazy eye, and it’s possible that my eye could start turning in again.  If it does, I’ll need to have another surgery and I don’t have the best insurance – I could end up paying for a significant portion of the surgery out-of-pocket.

5. Live a little.

I’m not talking about anything too crazy.  After years of extreme frugality, it’ll be nice to “splurge” a little once in a while.  I’m not referring to shopping sprees or ritzy vacations.

I might get a few massages or take a weekend trip to Northern MN or finally “splurge” on the physical therapy that I need for my neck issues.  The hubby and I might go on occasional date nights at cheap restaurants.  We might say “yes” to fun outings with friends sometimes.

6. Pay off mortgage.

I don’t know how long this goal will take.  It depends on so many different things – how expensive our house is, whether or not we have kids, and numerous other factors.  It would be great if we could pay it off in 10 years or less, but it might take 15 years.  Maybe even longer.

All I know is that I don’t want to be 60 when our mortgage is finally paid off.  I don’t want to pay $400,000 for a $200,000 house (interest sure is a b*tch).

7. Enjoy debt freedom. 

This is the part that will make all of the hard work and sacrifices worthwhile.  What will our life look like with NO payments?  No student loans, no credit card payments, no car loans, and no mortgage payment?

The way I see it, this will gives us the freedom to do two things: freedom to live, and freedom to give.

The end goal is about what debt freedom enables us to do.

We’ll have enough room in our budget to truly live, to do what we love, and to follow our dreams.  We can travel the world.  We can put a huge chunk of our incomes into retirement savings and possibly retire early.  We can do fun things without worrying about not being able to pay our bills.

We can take care of our health – with things like massages, organic food, physical therapy, or yoga studio packages – without feeling guilty for splurging.  We can take vacations that will allow us to de-stress, recharge, and reconnect with each other.  We can do what we want instead of giving all of our hard-earned money to creditors.

We’ll also have the freedom to give generously.  We won’t be able to say that we can’t afford to give our money and our time.  We can be generous – with our church, with each other, with our loved ones, and with causes that are important to us.  We can make an impact.

There are some causes that I feel strongly about – and I’d like to give generously to those.  There are plenty of worthwhile causes out there, and these are just a few that are near and dear to my heart.

International Justice Mission

I first learned about IJM at my church.  IJM is the world’s largest anti-slavery organization and it partners with local authorities to rescue victims and bring criminals to justice.  Every time I read one of the stories about a rescue, it breaks my heart to read about the hell that victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery have endured.

The stories are difficult to read but too important to ignore.  When you live in a first world country, it can be easy to forget that a billion people in the world live in extreme poverty and face threats of violence, war, and abuse on a regular basis.

NAMI

1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have a mental illness.  If you don’t have a mental health disorder yourself, odds are that one of your loved ones does. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.

What does NAMI do?  NAMI offers a toll-free helpline for those who are struggling, they organize educational efforts to help end stigma, and they work to shape public policy on mental health issues.

International OCD Foundation

IOCDF’s mission is to help everyone affected by OCD and related disorders to live full and productive lives.  They strive to increase access to effective treatment, end the stigma associated with mental illness, and offer a community for those affected by OCD.

The IOCDF began as small nonprofit created by a small group of individuals who have OCD, and it has grown into an international organization with partners around the world.

Midwest Pug Rescue

I love animals, and I have a soft spot for pugs.  I recently adopted my first pug, Herbie, and he’s the sweetest pet I’ve ever had.  (He’s also quite mischievous, but it’s hard to stay annoyed with that adorable wrinkly face).

The Midwest Pug Rescue strives to find homes for all surrendered pugs, regardless of age or health.  All rescued pugs are placed in foster homes before they are matched with their forever families.

Your turn: What is your end goal?  What motivates you to pursue debt freedom? 

If giving is a priority to you, what are some of your favorite organizations and charities?

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