This post was written in entry of the MICDC Spouse Scholarship contest hosted by Military Money Manual.
Semper Paratus: Always Ready.
It is the motto of the United States Coast Guard, and it is a value I uphold- especially as a Coast Guard spouse. I’m naturally a planner, as my husband would attest to, with everything from finances to travel to work. For me, part of planning to be “Always Ready” includes knowing that there will be surprises that life throws at us. One surprise was the impact of the recent government shutdown that lasted more than a month and resulted in delayed paychecks for the entire Coast Guard, as well as other government employees. It deeply affected many people, and seems to have brought a greater awareness to financial planning in this community. Thankfully, my husband and I were ready for a surprise of this magnitude and were financially fine throughout the shutdown. We were ready because we are debt free and had a plan to temporarily reduce expenses during this period.
Debt Freedom Helps When You Stop Getting Paid
We became debt free after paying off over $60k in 30 months. Our debt consisted of student loans, a vehicle loan, and credit card debt. We worked our way out of debt by creating a budget together, sticking to that budget, and persevering when it seemed insurmountable. Our motivation through those 30 months was to reach a place of having financial stability with more money and less stress, able to achieve our short term and long term goals. This motivation for financial stability was important, but the biggest key to our success was being on the same team about how to put each dollar to use effectively. We wouldn’t have been able to get out of debt if even just one of us spent more money that we were bringing in, so we communicated often about finances. We tried various budget apps including Every Dollar to Mint, but ultimately settled on using a Google Sheet with shared access, and entering transactions once a week. If that sounds tedious and difficult, that’s because it was. We did celebrate the small steps, paying off a certain debt or reaching a milestone, with various rewards such as a weekend away. We are continuing to plan our way to financial independence by still budgeting and living on less than we earn, saving and investing the extra. We continue to use credit cards for the benefits, but make sure we already have the money to pay them off every paycheck. We also use Mint now, and though we’re not 100% satisfied with Mint, it has cut down on the time spent managing our budget, and it allows us to see all of our account balances from checking to high yield savings to retirement accounts. For now, it works for us.
Debt Freedom Has Allowed Me To Pursue My Passions
Being debt free, we’ve also gained the freedom to build up a fund to start my nonprofit, the ESSTEAM Lab, debt free. The ESSTEAM Lab equips students of all ages with tools for success by teaching a maker mindset and competence in STEAM and sustainability. STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Taken separately, each educational focus has value in learning. As an integrated, blended learning style, STEAM allows for learning and application of knowledge and skills as they are found in the real world. Maker education complements STEAM, as it incorporates much of the knowledge in STEAM, but also places an importance on the skills of STEAM and a mindset of design thinking or innovation. I believe true STEAM and maker education connects learning with the real world, and develops the mindset, skills, and knowledge needed to succeed in society.
The “ES” in ESSTEAM stands for entrepreneurship and sustainability. Considering everything through the lens of sustainability allows for a lasting impact and deeper meaning. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as defined by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. Sustainable practices support environmental, economic, and societal well-being. Ensuring well-being in three areas, rather than focusing on one, is much like the strength and balance of a tripod compared to a single balance point. The ESSTEAM Lab encourages consideration of all three sustainability areas in everything we do, from materials in making to running as a primarily debt-free business. My experience with debt has motivated me to use the ESSTEAM Lab program to teach personal and business financial management as part of our entrepreneurship education. As of the end of June, the nonprofit is official, we launched in July with a week of summer camp, and we’re lining up several classes for the fall. I’m also going to attend the Military Influencers Conference in September to learn and network, since I have a desire to use the ESSTEAM Lab to work through the military communities we will be a part of as my husband serves. My hope is that through ESSTEAM Lab programs, I can help our participants and communities to be “Always Ready” for the surprises that life throws all of us.