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Being debt-free and your personal happiness.

The Man Wall. Debt-Free Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be. Marriage Moment: Evaluating Our Weekend Getaway. Man Toys: Key of Rock and Ultimate Backpack.

The Man Wall

Jesse admits that he would never spend so much on this kind of thing, but it’s fun to dream.

As reported by Uncrate: Bring the sports bar experience home with The Man Wall ($14,900). This all-in-one chunk of awesomeness features room for four TVs — one 52″ and two 26″ units are included — a 1200-watt Panasonic home theater with integrated speakers and wireless surround units, two 25-cigar humidors with gauges, a 32-bottle wine rack, a microwave, a live 7-foot sports ticker at the top with built-in computer, a full-size kegerator with tap, an iPod docking station, DVD player, and the ability to control it all via a single remote control. Feel free to grunt in approval.

Debt-Free Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Jesse and Erin worked together for 14 years to become debt-free, including their house. They are very glad they achieved debt freedom and recommend it as a goal for others. But did it make them happy?

For more about this topic, see Jesse’s blog post 7 Reasons Being Debt-Free Won’t Make You Happy.

Marriage Moment: Evaluating Our Weekend Getaway

At the beginning of 2012, Jesse and Erin put one weekend getaway per quarter on their calendar. This past weekend was time for 2012 Getaway #1. But it was really hitting them at a bad time. Deciding that “it’s never a good time,” they decided to be true to their original plans and head to Traverse City for a weekend alone. Now it’s time to ask, are they glad they did it?

(Jesse didn’t realize it until later, but he pulled Erin into the Man Cave for this discussion at a moment when she was really distracted by a problem with one of our kids. Hopefully, Man Cave listeners will appreciate our authenticity!)

Man Toys

“…whether you need a spare copy of an important key or are just tired of having the sorting through a bunch of similar keys to find the one you need, the Key of Rock is here to help. This guitar-shaped blank comes ready for you to take to the key cutter, instantly jazzing up your keyring and making whatever key you choose to copy easier to find. Keychain amp not included.”

For more about these man toys, see J. J.’s blog post Man Toys: Key of Rock & Crumpler’s Nhill Heist Backpack.

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7 Reasons Being Debt-Free Won’t Make You Happy

by Jesse Lahey on February 29, 2012

Unhappy man.Dave Ramsey teaches people to “live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Man vs. Debt has a huge following because people believe paying off debt will enable them to “do what you love.”

People can’t wait to “get there” so they can be happy. But guess what? We achieved debt freedom over three years ago — including the Holy Grail of paying off our mortgage — and it didn’t make us happy.

Our Journey to Freedom

The summer I turned 21 was my introduction to the burden of debt. First, I took out my very first car lease, which eventually incurred thousands of dollars in excess mileage. Then, I married my wonderful wife, and her student loans became my student loans. About two years later, we signed on the dotted line for our very first mortgage.

The monthly payments were crushing. There was no flexibility to deal with an emergency or splurge on fun. Overwhelmed, we read some books and created a plan for getting out of debt.

At first, the progress was agonizingly slow — for the first year, we tried hard but actually went backward a little. It took trial-and-error to develop financial controls that were a good fit for us. I also realized that we had an income problem; despite every effort to trim expenses, we couldn’t pay off debt unless I earned more money.

Eventually, we paid off our smallest loan, and then our second smallest loan — we had some momentum! One day, almost seven years after my introduction to debt, we made the last payment on our consumer debt.

Then we took aim at our home mortgage, although it seemed like an impossibly huge goal. We had momentum, but over the years we moved twice into larger homes, so sometimes our progress felt like two-steps-forward, one-step-back.

But one day, 14 years after my introduction to debt, we wrote the final payment on our mortgage. “The paid-off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice,” says Dave Ramsey. We had arrived!

Debt-Free But Not Happier

I was a bit surprised to find that we were not suddenly happier. In the three years since then, I’ve identified seven reasons why achieving debt freedom didn’t make us happy:

  1. Arrival fallacy. Most of us think we’ll be happier when we arrive at a certain destination, such as debt freedom. On the Happiness Project blog, Gretchen Rubin does a great job explaining why this is a fallacy. It’s also important to remember that no matter how much money you make, it will never feel like enough. Even billionaire Ted Turner found this to be true. The satisfaction actually comes from the excitement and growth spurred by your journey.
  2. Quiet benefits. When we wrote our final payment, there was no instant fanfare of honors and privileges. I learned to appreciate benefits that are mostly silent and subtle … less stress, fewer emergencies and “bad luck,” children who are making wiser financial decisions than we did at their age.
  3. Increased desire to be generous. Throughout our journey, we have given at least 10% of our gross income to charities and our church. Once we became debt-free, we felt a passion to give more … and more. That keeps us in a position that feels uncomfortable.
  4. Less instant gratification. This week, Erin found some equestrian art (or “horse drawings,” as I would call them) that she wanted, but they didn’t fit in our monthly spending plan. We had to put them on a “wish list,” to plan for and balance them against our other priorities. Delayed gratification is a habit we’ve picked up that robs us of the short-term fun of impulse purchases.
  5. Lost bliss of ignorance. We now evaluate purchases in terms of total amount rather than payments, and I think we better understand the value of money. In 2007, I had saved up to buy a new car. But the thought of handing over my hard-earned cash made me question whether a new car was worth it at that point in life. I decided to drive my old car a few more years. (That cash came in handy during the credit freeze a year later, when we needed a larger down-payment to buy our next home.)
  6. No rest for the wicked. After our debts were paid, a large portion of our monthly spending plan became available. Although we sometimes fantasize about blowing that money on things and thrills, we don’t want to waste our momentum. We continue to save toward our next cars, retirement, our kids’ education, and a 12-month emergency fund.
  7. The paradox of choice. As our savings grew and debt shrunk, a world of options began to open up. The flexibility allowed us to become self-employed, live where we want to live, and design a life that suits us well. But at a certain point, more options can actually lead to dissatisfaction.

Being debt-free won’t make you happy. But the journey of becoming and staying debt-free can make you a happier person (unless you turn into a scrooge).

Being debt-free won’t make you happy. But it’s a great way to live. This list of seven has a flip side … each has a solid advantage attached to it. That makes seven reasons why you should get out of debt — and why I’m so glad we made the journey.

Where are you on your journey to financial freedom? Are you happier than when you started?

For more about this topic, listen to episode 018 of Man Cave Radio.

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