Sometimes big events are anti-climatic.

I shared in my last blog post how Fred and I recently became debt-free and compared it to my recent experience running a 5K. Both events were big for me – milestones in my life that I will look back on with pride and fondness, and yet, both events felt a bit disappointing in the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so glad for both of those things, and I am proud of both of those accomplishments. But sometimes you look forward to something for so long, that when you finally get there, you think “Now what?”

Fred and I paid off our last loan payment on July 1. We punched in the numbers, pressed send, looked at each other and then I eloquently said…”Now what?”

We have been paying on our student loans for 5 1/2 years. It’s been a long journey, and I didn’t ever think it would end. We had talked about what we wanted to do when we became debt-free, I just didn’t anticipate how I would feel once I actually got there.

Photo 2016-07-26, 7 08 59 PMAfter we became debt-free, people kept telling us, “You should celebrate!” We didn’t fully know what we wanted to do, but once we got the official “Your student loans are paid in full!” letter, I knew that it was time to commemorate our freedom somehow. So we took our “date night envelope” and we went to The Keg (a fancy steakhouse). We hardly ever go there but we both love the food, so it seemed fitting to splurge a little. We dressed up, we ordered a bacon-wrapped steak, we ate, we talked. We told our waitress why we were celebrating, and then she gave us each a free dessert (so amazing). We took a picture. We discussed what we wanted to do with our money now that we wouldn’t be making student loan payments anymore.

Photo 2016-07-26, 8 06 56 PMAfter we ate our free dessert and paid the bill, we went home and opened up a bottle of Martinelli’s that Fred insisted we keep from our wedding (that’s 6 years ago, folks). Thanks to refrigeration, a good seal, and some preservatives, the sparkling cider tasted just as delightful as it would have 6 years ago. We toasted being debt-free, we took more pictures…

And now here we are. Life still mostly looks the same – we budget each month, we still use our envelopes of cash to keep us on track. We’ve slightly increased our date fund and our personal spending money (much to Fred’s delight). We still pay our bills, we just don’t pay student loan payments anymore.

As time has gone on, I think the reality has sunk in a bit more. It’s very surreal coming out from a burden you’ve had for years. I took out my first student loan when I was 18. Now, at age 29, I’m re-surfacing from 11 years of being indebted. I’m learning that sometimes freedom takes time, and it’s not all about feelings. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful to learn it.

You may be wondering, “What will you do with all of your extra cash now, Browns?”  Great question. (That’s what I would be wondering if I was reading someone else’s blog about being debt-free.)

As many of you know, Fred and I recently accepted jobs with a nonprofit and we will be moving to work and live in Guatemala (starting in January) for the next two years. I’ll be teaching English as to students in a Guatemalan school, so I’m actually going back to university part-time in September to get my TESL certificate.

For me, this has been the coolest thing about getting out of debt. I’m going back to the same university where I started 11 years ago with just a dream in my heart and student loan in hand. This time, I’m going back without a student loan, paying in cash. I couldn’t be happier.  I have come full circle and I know that I am never, ever borrowing money again…and that feeling is worth all of the years of sacrifice and payments.