The Reality of Being Debt Free, My Personal Story 

This is my personal story about avoiding debt. I want to note that not all debt is evil and bad, however most of it is.

It all started about two years ago. I knew I wanted to do an internship somewhere with a rancher. I also knew that I would need to have a decent amount of money saved up before I could do such a thing.

Before I even realized that I wanted to do a ranching internship I was a teacher. I had “a real job” right out of college and I made $35,000 a year. More like $25,000 after taxes. Since I had “a real job” I had to get “a real car.” So I went out and stupidly bought a brand new car. It cost $23,000. I barely made that in a year. Why the hell did I buy a new car? I don’t know. My wife told me it was a stupid idea, but we were not married at the time so I didn’t have to listen to her, right? (sarcasm)

Shortly thereafter I realized I made a stupid decision. During this time I also realized that I had no desire to be a teacher anymore. I could not do that the rest of my life. This sounds bad but I realized I needed to be more selfish, I needed to be happy. Teaching wasn’t going to do that for me.

In the midst of all these changes I found sustainable farming/ranching. Then I found out about internship and decided that was the best way to learn. So, with all of those realizations I sold my new car. I got very lucky and sold it for $3,000 less than I bought it for. Now I was debt free. However, the battle had just started, I needed to save money and lots of it. For a reference point I’d say most of the events I’ve mentioned happened sometime in 2010.

Now it was 2011 and I was working a 9-5 job. My wife was still a teacher so we had a decent income between the two of us. I borrowed family members cars to get to work and back. Over the course of 2011 my wife and I saved money on top of paying our bills and rent. It was easy to do, the first thing we did when we got our paycheck was put some money into the savings account. After it was all said and done we had about $4,000 in savings when I started my internship with Greg Judy.

Greg and Jan (Greg’s wife) are very good to their interns. They provided us with housing, meat, milk and eggs in addition to giving us a small monthly stipend. I managed to live off that monthly stipend and nothing more the entire time I was there. This REALLY saved us a lot of money. My wife was able to pay the rent and bills with her paycheck back in Colorado, meanwhile our savings remained lightly used.

After my internship with Greg Judy I went to go work for the James Ranching in Durango, CO. This was expensive. we moved from Missouri to Colorado and then to Durango. I had to provide my own housing in Durango. When it was all said and done we had to pay for; flights back to Colorado, rental cars, hotels, moving truck rentals, gas, deposit on a new place in Durango, rent for the new place in Durango on top of food, bills etc and then all of that stuff (except the flights) to move back to our hometown in Colorado. This was not easy and we actually received a $5000 gift from an individual who will remain anonymous. The gift greatly helped us out, I don’t know what we would have done without that honestly. However, our savings account allowed us to do that internship in Durango. My wife did not have to work during that summer in Durango. I also did not get a stipend for this internship either. Although I was generously paid $500 at the end of my internship there.

Let’s move on to my internship with Ian Mitchell-Innes. It’s October 2012, we are still debt free and are getting ready to move to another country. My wife and I really do not make a lot of money, as you can see. When we got back from Durango we both started substitute teaching to raise some extra cash before our move. I think we probably raised about $1,200 between the two of us before the move. The flights are a small part of the overall expense of moving to another country. We had to set aside a tremendous amount of money for expenses we would have at home while living in South Africa. Here are a few of them:

  • Money for 4 months worth of dog food for our 3 dogs, $450
  • Car insurance $200
  • Travel insurance $1,000 (this was totally worth it)
  • Phone bill for 2 cell phones $450
  • Web hosting for this website $100
  • Emergency money should anything happen to a family member or our dogs, $600

This is all I can think of right now but there was more, trust me! Flights from Colorado to DC were $400. Hotel in DC $100. Transportation to/from airport was free because my wife is organized! Food during this time: $50. Flights to South Africa $2,400.

So as you can see, moving to South Africa was quite expnesive. There are many expenses that I haven’t even mentioned like clothes, bags, toiletries, work clothes, boots, gloves, sun screen, bug spray, electronics, etc etc, the list goes on forever.

The import thing is this, my wife and I were comfortable in South Africa. We were not stressed out about money, ever. When we came back we had a buffer of “emergency” money (the $600) that we used to help us until we both got jobs. The only thing we did was pay attention to our expenses, plan what our expenses might be and stay out of debt. I basically had no income for 2012 and part of 2013. Yet, we were financially OK. Truthfully we are more financially unstable right now, with both my wife and I having full time jobs, than we were in 2012. Financial planing is the key to success and in many cases happiness. Having common financial goals and understanding in a marriage (or any relationship) is wonderful.

Well there you have it, my debt free story. How I was able to do 3 internships, 2 in different states, 1 in a different country while staying debt and stress free. A little planning goes a long way. However, I don’t think all debt is bad, and I will try and cover which debts I think are smart to use in a future post/podcast/video. Thanks for your time. Do you have any debt free tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them.

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

related posts:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch