The Liberty Homeschool is in Session

Oftentimes a friend or acquaintance will ask me, “have you begun homeschooling yet?” Our kids turned 5, 3, and nine months old this summer, so I know they’re mainly talking about our young son Rig, the oldest.

I think what they’re trying to ask is, am I starting to deliberately, methodically teach him any reading, writing, or math? Have I chosen a curriculum? Do we have a routine? Does he have a desk?

But I usually stand there a little befuddled for a moment or two, finally responding with one of several mischievous responses:

“No, there’s really no start date in mind.”

Or:

“You know what they say, better late than early!”

Or, if I’m feeling particularly cheeky,

“Begin? In a way, we’ve always been homeschooling. Kids start learning at birth!”

But that doesn’t mean Big Country and I are lax about our children’s education. We just have a different vision as to what’s beneficial and best.

Right now, and probably for a few more years (gasp!) the plan is to let them just be inquisitive kids, playing, exploring nature, story-telling, singing, asking a million questions, and listening to music, adults conversing, and the sounds of life. Along the way naturally comes a learning of family expectations and a developing of self-discipline through our modeling and guidance.

Homeschool child playing with sand

Later on, there will be musical instruments to practice, Bible verses to memorize, math problems to solve, books to read and discuss, and exploding Alka-Seltzer volcanoes to clean up. But I’m convinced that this will all unfold as each child needs in such a beautiful way that the best curriculum planner couldn’t have orchestrated it more seamlessly.

Back to the present, what does this homeschool preschool of sorts look like?

We live on a farm in a tiny house, so our lives are simple.

Gathering eggs, counting them, sorting them. “An araucana laid this green egg!” exclaims Firebell.

Rig takes it upon himself to count by twos in 12-egg cartons, then by threes in 18-egg cartons. And with the bigger egg flats, “4 rows of 5 eggs makes 20!” He grins proudly.

Tiny house kids counting eggs

We read a couple pages from the richly illustrated book Dinotopia about the people of Treetown hoisting themselves up into the canopy with baskets and ropes.

Tracing with our fingers where the ropes on the page go, we talk a little about what a pulley is. Emptying out a couple baskets holding lemons and avocados, the kids hoist stuffed animals into their high chair treetops with string and measuring tape for ropes.

Getting frustrated. Solving problems of balance, slack, and weight as the baskets sway and tip.

Then their baskets turn into sailing ships. And as they do, the wind suddenly rushes in, billowing our bedsheet-turned-curtain. “We’re sailing on the high seas!” we sing.

Sailboat homeschool

“Mommy, what if you had no arms?” Firebell asks me one day during lunch. I smile. “Well, I’d use my feet!” I say, and attempt to show them how I’d put a spoon between my toes and lift my foot to feed myself. Then I find a video of an inspiring mom who really lives life to the fullest without arms, and the kids love it.

Homeschool matching card game

Playing with their matching cards and wooden toy sets: a rainbow stacking cone, stacking tree branches, tea cups and saucers, a tool bench, and fruit to cut with a little wooden knife. Mixing and matching pieces from the toys. Problem solving when the tool box’s hammer claw is missing by using another toy as a tool to do the same job.

Simple wooden stacking toys

Watercolors, play doh, crayons, colored pencils. Coloring on a white board with the alphabet printed on it. Showing Rig the successive steps to write the letters in his name. Rig showing me a drawing of his Ten-Legged Honey Spider and marveling how the oscillating fan with its concentric metal circles looks just like a web.

Rig dictating letters to me thanking grandparents for gifts and signing his name. Showing him the different addresses on the envelope, where the stamp goes, and walking it down to the mail box with him. Reading The Seven Little Postmen and answering his questions about the intriguing way the mail is gathered, sorted, and delivered.

Homeschool mailing a letter

Rig snapping clean cloth diapers together while Firebell folds wipes. And then the couch suddenly becomes a burrito kitchen food truck, with the diapers being rolled into made-to-order lunches!

Reading our comic book style Picture Bible together on the couch. Answering unending deep questions on life, death, and how tall Goliath really was.

Relating to nature as an extension of the home. Flitting around as ladybugs, building dens as foxes, sitting on eggs as chickens after witnessing these things just outside.

Singing, humming, tapping, drumming. Our rendition of I’m a Little Teapot turns into Mammi’s Little Baby Loves Shortenin’ Bread, with the kids squealing and me stomping my foot as the bass drum and slapping my leg as the snare. Boom chick boom chick boom chick boom chick . . .

Listening to instrumental music echoing times of old: Praetorius’ peasant festivals, Vivaldi’s country seasons, the Budos Band’s chill palm tree nights.

Homeschool music

These things don’t take a lot of money, and there are no lesson plans. What’s vital is caring for their bodies and minds with sleep and good food and creating an atmosphere that’s calm and conducive to a natural free flow of activities.

Times of rest and books, times of creative play. Times of eating and chatting at the table. Times of outside work, laundry, and chickens. Times of indoor work, cooking, and picking up. Times of playing with each other and letting Mommy nurse the baby and read and write this post on her phone.

I truly believe that any parent who can talk with, spend time with, and seek out good people and opportunities for their children can successfully homeschool.

I also believe that the benefits of homeschooling are vast and far-reaching.

Blue bird flying free

Our far-reaching goals are many. But in essence they boil down to a desire for our kids to have literacy and enthusiasm in the realms of:

  • Spiritual life: through Bible study, prayer, sermons, and engaging with church and family with the aim of spiritual maturity and the fruits of the Spirit.
  • Nutrition: through study and practice in traditional, whole foods cooking with the aim of lifelong health.
  • Finance: through study of economics and personal finance with the aim of wise stewardship of resources.
  • Love and understanding of people and creation through history, literature, science, music, art, travel, communication, and the outdoors.
  • Problem solving and practical skill competency through math, technology, hands-on work, home and vehicle repair, caring for animals and plants, starting a business, and organizing trips, outings, and purchases.

This all may sound like a lofty mountain to summit, but honestly, I don’t lose any sleep over it. These things are the natural outcome of kids living in an engaged family and community and are things that have been taught for thousands of years without any state-run education.

So when someone inquires whether the Liberty homeschool is in session, perhaps I should respond, “Yes! Always. We all are learning, and the learning never stops.”

Because it’s true. Big has a sermon playing in the garage while he figures out how to make a railing for the loft, which is probably the thousandth thing he has had to learn this year. And I have a motley stack of books on Jesus, macroeconomics, and the Supreme Court on the wood stove by my chair. My phone currently has tabs on how to make a barn quilt and what to do with chokecherries. Tomorrow I’m calling another tiny house friend to share, laugh, and problem-solve, and yes, I’ve invited ourselves over to yet another friend’s house on Sunday.

The beauty is that life is the freest, truest classroom there is. It is ours to receive the gift and resist anything that would stifle this freedom.

Tiny house homeschool

Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free

This blog could have be called many things. First World Housing Problems, Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free, or my current favorite, Tiny House Whole Lotta Work.

Sun up to Sun Down

Because we’ve chosen to live where we do and build a simpler, cheaper tiny house that is not yet completed, the price of our housing lifestyle is paid not only in money but in work, time, and unending surprises.

When we first installed “Blast Off” the washerdryer, it shook so violently that we’d run around catching​ books and trinkets jiggling off top shelves during the spin cycle.

Every second or third day, we lift the Loveable Loo bucket, our sawdust toilet, into a wagon along with a bucket of water and pull it up the hill to the compost pile in the north pasture.

Farm work two Amish men in wagon

Once or twice a day we hook up the hose from the hydrant to our house’s inlet and fill the tank, watching carefully that it doesn’t shoot a geyser of water into our kitchen.

And as anyone who has camped or glamped with their family knows, things just get dirty! Vacuuming the floor, the couch, the bed, the counter top, and around the sawdust potty . . .

In winter there is wood chopping, tending the wood stove, and shovelling off our un-garaged truck.

We run extra errands for sawdust from the mill, propane tanks from the grocery store, and our mail from the post office.

And this is all the normal, everyday maintenance of living, aside from our main job here on the farm, the 587 or so free-range chickens and assorted odd jobs. Wading through the waist-high grasses to feed, water, and gather eggs, we all have farmer’s tans, including the baby!

We now have farm clothes and town clothes, and muddy boots fill the landing. The kids’ dress cowboy boots are safely tucked away for when we venture into public.

Cooking over a fire pit

We were having lunch with friends from church a couple months ago, and I think she hit the nail on the head.

“Your family feels it all. You don’t just run the water from the tap, flush the toilet, turn up the heat unthinkingly and pay the bill later. You fill the tank, dump the compost, and chop the wood. It must be tiring at times, but at least you’re feeling how much life costs and are done paying for it at the end of each day.”

So if we’re done paying for our housing expenses at the end of each day, what is that worth?

Playing around with creative housing hustles a few posts back, we found that the average home price in our city, Fort Collins, Colorado, currently stands at $350,200.

After 10% down, this comes out to around $1490 for the monthly mortgage payment, plus a ballpark $1043 for utilities, PMI, property tax, maintenance, HOA, etc., totalling $2533/month.

But let’s face it, this number is largely meaningless to those of us who don’t always earn this much per month and would never buy a house this expensive anyway.

And we can’t compare these numbers, apples to apples, to the living expenses of a tiny house because the entire housing experience is so fundamentally different.

Big house vs. tiny house

Oh well, let’s do it anyway!

Right now, our entire housing expenses average out to 2.7% of the average Fort Collins house, or $70/monthly.

Another way of looking at it, this amount pays for three quarters of a day (19 hours) per month in the average Fort Collins house.

The breakdown:

  • Rent $0; paid in farm chores
  • Wood $0; given by friend
  • Electricity $25
  • Propane $15
  • Water and trash $12
  • Sawdust $10
  • P.O. box $8

Why so low?!

First, the location. Our friends’ parents welcomed some help on their farm in exchange for a parking spot on their property. Our target goal is working around 10 hours a week, although it can vary widely. Truly, surprises arise almost daily, and the work on a farm never ends.

What’s the location worth financially? If we had to pay for a camping spot in one of the nearby parks, this would be $500-750 each month that we’d be further from our goals. Very significant.

Apart from these benefits, living on the farm here is both rugged and picturesque. We contend – I mean commune – daily with all the nature around us. Taken as a whole, the tiny house’s current location is a blessing.

Second, utilities. In a small home, we use less. Fewer rooms, fewer lights, fans, and appliances.

Despite enjoying an efficient propane hot water heater, we try to conserve by wearing clothes twice before laundering and taking short showers.

Heat is achieved through kindling and logs too small for our friend to use or sell himself, fed into the wood stove.

Cooling right now is through fans and opening windows. To improve our often-balmy home this summer, we would choose to orient our house on the east-west axis with the door to the south. Shade trees and an awning would help immensely as well, but we’re getting through. At least the evenings and mornings are delightful!

Internet is through our phone’s mobile data as well as through the farmer’s house, as he graciously let us plug in an extender and use his signal. So far, it works sporadically.

Farm mailbox

Third, the house itself. We paid for the construction of the tiny house with blood, sweat, and tears (ours and others’) as well as savings accrued while living for cheap or free for 11 months.

On top of that, we put a hefty amount of construction costs on credit cards. Yikes!

However, with full knowledge of how wasteful interest payments are, it has been our number one priority to pay them off aggressively. As of this writing, we carry a $2904 remaining balance (down from an all-time high of $15,500 six months ago), with hundreds coming off every paycheck. Nearly there, and then on to the big wild student loan payoff!

I cannot exactly recommend this course of action to someone else. Having a credit card balance is ridiculously foolish, right?

On the other hand, this was no ordinary consumer debt. In completing our house sooner and having an almost-free place to live, we have chosen to spend hundreds in interest to save thousands in housing. A calculated risk.

Scenic road from A to B

The Motorcycle Analogy

Somehow, this reminds me of riding a motorcycle all through college. I bought my beautiful Honda Rebel for $1000 and sold it seven years later for the same. It went a whopping 70 miles to the gallon, and I parked right off campus for free in a space with a light pole that could not otherwise be used for cars. As an older bike, it required an average of $50/month in maintenance and with liability only, insurance topped out at $11/month.

Savings compared to a car in depreciation, gas, parking, maintenance, and insurance? Almost incalculable, definitely into the $1000s. And plus, I had the time of my life, and it’s probably what convinced Big Country to marry me. Now how could you put a price on that?

But could I safely recommend riding a motorcycle day in, day out in a traffic-choked metropolis to an absent-minded 20-year-old girl protected by only a helmet, denim jacket and youthful optimism?

A resounding NO! 

But would I do it again?

Liberty on motorcycle

Absolutely!

This is essentially the attitude I have taken toward the tiny house. It is not a “regular” house and does not try to be, just as a motorcycle is not a car and does not pretend to be one, either.

But at the end of the day, the tiny house is a safe, warm place for our family to live, just as a regular house is. A motorcycle was my way, in one season of life, to get from A to B. The tiny house is our way, in this season of life, to get from A to B.

Is it worth it?

So has all the head scratching, stuff chucking, uprooting, designing, building, problem-solving, chicken chasing and compost dumping all been experiences I would recommend to others?

Has this crazy adventure that has tested, taught, broken, and strengthened us wildly beyond our expectations been worth it?

I guess this entire blog is my attempt at figuring this question out.

There’s really no such thing as living for free, just as there’s no such thing as a free car, horse, or anything else.

But we’re doing the closest thing to it that we can, and perhaps we’ll be able to evaluate the depth and breadth of our time here from future eyes.

Motorcycle by the sea

Beans and Rice and Everything Nice to the Food Budget

At the tail end of a summer on the road, visiting far-flung family and camping in dozens of state and national parks, we arrived back to Arizona broke and about to start school. It was an intense, sobering time, a slap in the face to our invincible, youthful carelessness. It was the summer of 2008, the last golden months before the economic downturn that has fashioned this past decade and rendered many of us into lean, hungry wolves constantly on the move.

We got mad, but then we got busy. A year into our marriage, it was the first time we really needed to put ourselves on a skimpy budget. We moved into the basement of a family of six going on seven (preceding our basement stay with the Colorado family of 12), and committed to buying almost nothing but gas to get to our massage therapy school and $150 worth of groceries for the month.

Since we didn’t know how to cook creatively, our diet consisted chiefly of beans, rice, lentils, and oats cooked in plain water, unsoaked and unsprouted, with haphazard dashes of random spices and herbs found in the kitchen cabinets. We supplemented this diet with ramen, tuna, peanut butter, pasteurized skim milk (I shudder at this), a little cheese and fruit, and tea for morale on chilly mornings. Great treats were the meats, salads, and casseroles at parents’ or friends’ houses. I still fondly remember being invited to join our house family’s dinner of bacon roulades, a treat for them, too.

All in all, we financially survived those six months by tightening the belt and doing sundry odd jobs of housesitting, plant watering, and brick laying for friends and acquaintances, fit around the demanding 40-hour-a-week classes.

But somehow, despite (or because of?) all those breakfasts of oatmeal, lunches of tuna, and dinners of lentils and skim milk, we still had pudgy, achy tummies and needless to say did not look forward to meals. Wasn’t there a better way without breaking the bank?

Eight years and three kids later, we go broke for the third time, the second time being after our Europe backpacking misadventures.

We could stay depressed, angry or even cavalier about it, but each time we run ourselves down to fumes, we eventually land on a place of reflection.

At various times, reasons for our self-induced impoverishment over the years include:

  • college and continuing education
  • three homebirths, which are self-pay
  • health expenses such as chiropractic care, supplements, and a juicer
  • road-tripping and backpacking to visit family, national parks, and historical sites
  • and, most of all, career path imbroglio.

Were the decisions we made each year of the past decade more impulsive or thoughtful? Did they reflect our superficial desires or our deeper values?

These are the questions that surface as we reflect and mourn for the money, time, and opportunities lost. But eventually, out of the rubble, our optimism breaks free. We allow ourselves to dream again, and this energy grows into an action plan. That is, on our good days!

So here we are, our view of the tiny house slowly transforming from exhausting build project to high-maintenance pet to cozy home for this life season to future VRBO / massage office / guest house in the backyard of a future small residence.

Getting there is formidable but possible, requiring both an increased income and tight budgeting.

We’re already bartering farm chores for a free place to park the tiny house and only pay $35-50 each month for water, trash, electricity, propane, and sawdust for composting.

We’re each on our respective family’s phone plans, and they have graciously agreed to cover our $10-15 portion. Big and I jump on mobile data for internet when needed and wait to get free phones every few years with upgrades. No TV and no time for movies, so essentially a zero technology cost. Entertainment consists of visiting friends, something I don’t think will change no matter if we make a million.

Our truck is vital for work, and it has been tough to reign in its gas-guzzling nature and thus our spending on gas. The upside is its dependability and low costs of maintenance and insurance. And, to our good fortune, Big’s boss is making a company truck available this spring.

Thus, groceries remains the major expense within our control. How do we cut food costs now that there are five mouths to feed and Big Country and I eat like Michael Phelps, if Michael Phelps were to do chicken chores, wash windows up on ladders, hammer boards on a tiny house, and chase three babies around all day?

Right now, our goal is roughly $500 a month for groceries, and it’s quite an interesting challenge. With an awareness of the true value of healthy, nourishing food that is fortunately miles away from our massage school days, no way are we able or willing to return to the Spartan $150 of nearly a decade ago! But it would be a pity to work and sacrifice so much while blowing our goals through gourmet tangelos and craft kombucha.

So it helps us to think of food as we imagine people in more primitive, traditional cultures see it and buy sustaining foods at top quality. Which foods are staples, which foods are flavorful, nutrient-rich accompaniments to these staples, and which foods are simply treats? And I would add, there are social foods, too. This is what helps us make sense of our food:

Staples . . . necessary to survival, the “bones” of our cheap but quality diet always kept on hand:

  • Clean water
  • Bones for stock
  • Raw milk
  • Farm fresh eggs
  • Animal fats: fermented cod liver oil, grass fed butter, beef and bacon fat
  • Plant fats: coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Rice, oats, quinoa, teff
  • Potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, seasonal vegetables
  • Flours: wheat and almond
  • Salt, baking soda, cream of tartar (to make baking powder)
  • Herbs, spices, vinegar

Savory accompaniments . . . bought as needed but more sparingly: 

  • Meat: beef, venison, whole chickens, bacon, sausage, tuna, sardines
  • Seasonal fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts, seeds, cacao nibs
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese, yogurt
  • Bread, tortillas

Treat foods . . . simply for enjoyment and morale:

  • Honey, molasses, maple syrup
  • Coffee and tea
  • Citrus, bananas, out of season fruit
  • Chocolate

Social foods . . . those we often bring when we invite ourselves over to friends’ houses! Here we definitely cheat as to eating healthily . . . but everything in moderation!

  • Pizza
  • Chips
  • Artichoke dip
  • Ice cream
  • Any packaged, convenience food or beverage

Meals . . . and so, using the above as a guideline, our meals this winter look like this:

Breakfasts:

  • eggs and bacon
  • squash pancakes
  • apple pancakes
  • fried potatoes and eggs
  • coffee and cream with maple syrup

Lunches:

  • leftover dinners
  • sardines or tuna
  • apples and peanut butter
  • peanut butter and honey/molasses sandwiches
  • burritos or quesadillas
  • quinoa bean salad

Dinners:

  • rice and beans cooked in broth with onions, garlic, and herbs
  • soups made with broth, vegetables, canned diced tomatoes, meat, herbs, and sometimes peanut butter, cheese, or cream
  • soaked oatmeal with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, molasses, butter, cream, coconut milk
  • potatoes, onions, peppers, and beef or sausage fried in iron skillet

Snacks:

  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • cacao nibs
  • fruit
  • spoonful of peanut butter
  • glass of milk
  • mug of hot chocolate, hot lemonade, coffee, tea

This is our strategy for a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that is both enjoyable and (relatively) inexpensive. Looking over this list, I feel blessed that we’re able to eat this well despite a tight budget. Hope these ideas help you in your weekly grocery wanderings!

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Proverbs 15:17

A Wild Student Loan Payoff Plan

“I feel I kind of ruined my life by going to college; I can’t plan for an actual future.” Gazing forlornly out the window with her cat by her side (who has pets while under a mountain of debt?) Jackie Krowen, 32, of Portland, Oregon, discusses the student loan burden acquired in her education to become a nurse.

hitchhiking“Special Report: the Student Debt Crisis,” the latest front-page story in Consumer Reports magazine, attempts to paint a sobering and sympathetic picture of various students that have fallen victim to the conspiring powers benefiting from the billion dollar student loan industry. Several graduates are profiled, their current salaries contrasted with their remaining loan balances, with everyone’s predicament inevitably similar: a future shackled to debt with no end in sight. Young people in the article proclaim they’ll never get married, they can’t start a family, they can’t buy a house, they can’t start living. If only they’d known when they were 18 what they were getting into; if only the loan companies and the government didn’t make it so easy to get fast money, if only they hadn’t been talked into getting a degree that hasn’t paid off as readily as they thought.

But the ability to make decisions that affect the rest of your life at 18 is not the tragedy. For a very long time, kids have been able to marry, sign up for war (and be signed up), smoke, tattoo themselves, make large purchases, enter into debt of all kinds, and so much more tomfoolery at this young age.

The loan companies’ natural incentive to make gobs of money through high interest rates and extended payback plans is also not the tragedy.  Business is amoral, neither moral nor immoral. Consumers willingly engage in business with companies of their choice, on the companies’ terms. We have all make both wise and poor decisions with our money, sometimes with months’ or years’ worth of earnings, but that still does not put the consequences of these decisions on the shoulders of the businesses with which we exchanged money.

I think the tragedy is how we’re raising children to be children much longer than the time when crucial adult decisions start crashing in, making the years of discrepancy between legal adulthood and actual mental and social adulthood dangerous to the kids living in this uncomfortable gray area.

student behind bookAnd I say “kids” not as an insult to twenty-somethings, but simply as the most accurate term for this unstable and often unprofitable time in young Americans’ lives. It’ll always be fun to be young, but right now in our history, it’s also a time of deep uncertainty. When I was in high school and not too many years later when I taught high school, I recognized it everywhere among 16-20 somethings: shaky optimism at best and a sense of shame of having no idea what they were doing as they were thrust into the “real world.”

As the norm, they had often been both indulged and despised by adults and kept from the most meaningful experiences that would grow them into adulthood: hard work, manual work, personal enterprise, being outside, being among a variety of adults or anyone besides their matriculated age and grade, having others depend on them, learning to run a household cooperatively with their parents . . . the list goes on and does not stop.

AmishThis is a far cry from the Amish teenager who, despite lacking in modern cultural savvy, can run a household, run a farm, run a business, get married, care for various animals and plants, and successfully perform a plethora of tasks to support and maintain their real life.

Instead, most American kids from an early age are given technology pacifiers and subjected to all-day state-run daycare, aka public school, which is incapable of representing real life and which does not teach any semblance of real life skills or critical, independent thinking.  And public school shouldn’t be expected to, and it can’t, but that’s another post.

I graduated with honors from a top high school in my large city and obtained a full-ride university scholarship, but it boggles my mind what I still wasn’t able to do at age 18 (and many times, much later):

  • write a check
  • cook a decent meal
  • drive stick shift
  • understand the basics of investing and personal finance
  • understand the difference between a debit and credit card (yikes!)
  • book an airline flight
  • rent an apartment
  • apply for a job without making an idiot of myself because I brought a resume to a waitressing interview
  • talk to a boss
  • resolve problems at work
  • start a small business of any kind
  • advocate for myself in health care situations
  • get anything done involving the government, including where to go to register a vehicle, renew a license, get a passport, etc.
  • much less, buy a house, understand various types of debt, or make any kind of important life decisions such as whether to attend college, what to study, and how to pay for it.

This list is ridiculous and sad, but I suspect that so many others will have their own lists of basic functioning skills and knowledge that they didn’t have upon reaching adulthood. And at the end of the day, these deficiencies aren’t funny; they have real, life-changing consequences.

Oftentimes, older adults today seem baffled and annoyed at the younger adult generation. Why can’t they just suck it up, put their nose to the grindstone, and get things done? But these grizzled adults may not understand that the young bucks going through the reality shock of an adulthood they were never prepared for are many times desperately trying to catch up in skills and knowledge in order to “get things done” without even knowing where to start.  And college tends to be the magic bullet for kids grappling with an uncertain future who have the determination and work ethic but don’t know where or how to begin.  Enter student loans.

Banks, the government, private loan companies, universities themselves–everyone is vilified, supposedly on the behalf of indebted students, for the massive $1.3 trillion student loan debt burden carried by 42 million Americans. However, the incentive for young adults to succeed does not reside with these entities and should not artificially be forced to. The incentive for young adults to succeed resides only within each individual young adult.

Instead of pointing the finger and bemoaning that these different corporate entities are accurately following their interests, we should instead be:

1) mentoring young people about money, debt, investing, non-college options, and all other real life skills and knowledge;

2) diligently saving money in 529s for the college expenses of our children and grandchildren, showing we do value college and we put our money where our mouth is; and

3) shining the light on inspiring stories of the many students who have paid off their loan balances in full and have gone on to lead enriching, empowered lives.

There is no reason but lack of imagination or lack of will that the young nurse from above can’t pay off her $152,000 student loans in four years. With a salary of $62,000 and no one to support but herself (and the unwisely acquired cat), she could easily live comfortably on $2000/month, throw $38,000 a year at her debt and be done. Add a side hustle, get a roommate, trim some expensive habits, sell the car and start biking, and she could speed up that four year plan even further.  What’s more, this same nurse who now does believe she has a future could then go on to save and invest that same $38,000 a year, presuming no raise, windfall, or spouse’s income at all, in simple conservative, diverse index funds, and retire early, roughly 11 years after debt payoff (age 47 if she wakes up now).

wild jumpThe tragedy may begin when parents outsource their parenting to the state and refuse to acknowledge their children’s needs for a real world education.  But the tragedy continues when we as young adults get stuck in our childhood’s deficiencies and resign ourselves to the foolish decisions made in our childhood’s aftermath as our destiny.

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”  Romans 12:11-12