This guest post from Jason Jacobs is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. Jason wants to be financially free so he and his wife can be missionaries with no strings attached. You can read about his journey to becoming fat free at FindingMyFitness.com.

When we’re young and stupid, we don’t think about how decisions will affect us ten years down the road. Many of us have often said something like, “If I had known then what I know now.” The thing about clichés is that they’re usually founded in truth.

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be as far away from my family in Virginia as possible, just like every other college-bound teenager. I wanted to live in New York again, so instead of working my way through and paying in-state tuition, I decided to go to the Rochester Institute of Technology. They had a great internship support program, and I thought that would be important when I found a career.

To “save” money, I lived with my grandparents in Syracuse and attended a community college whose credits would automatically transfer to RIT after two years. By my second year at community college, I was already taking out loans.

The loans begin
My first loan was roughly $5000 because the out-of-state tuition there was triple the in-state cost. The second semester, I had to get my dad to take out a Plus loan for another $5000. After that, it was time for the big guns. I transferred to RIT, and by the time I finished school I had about $45,000 in college debt.

I was okay with that. I’d be able to pay back the $15,000 per year with the fantastic career I was going to get because of the internships I’d find by going to RIT. My first year out of college, I was only making $7.50 an hour as a programmer. Most of that was because I wasn’t looking very hard, but you can’t pay college loans back on $7.50 an hour.

I’m still paying on those loans.

Loans get in the way of life
In 2007, on a whim, I took a mission trip to a school in Paraguay. In just two weeks, I fell in love with it so much that I couldn’t wait to go back. There’s a program that allows North Americans in my church to teach English at the school. In October 2008, I found myself in Paraguay committed for a year.

Before moving to Paraguay, I paid off my credit card debt, had already owned my car, and had found renters to cover my mortgage. The only debt I had to worry about were my college loans. In ten years, I’d managed to pay the balance down to a bit under $30,000. I was able to get a deferment on one and a forbearance on the other. I had enough money in the bank from donations to live in Paraguay for just about exactly a year, but not enough to pay down my debt.

Then my life really changed. I fell in love with a girl who actually wanted to marry me! I’ll say this now: if I didn’t have any college loans, I would have stayed in Paraguay to marry her. For the first time, I felt like my debt was controlling my life and my happiness.

I’d been happy as a clam before. I had a good job, I was able to pay my debts, save a bit here and there, and never want for anything. Now all of a sudden I found myself in desperation because I’d found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she didn’t want to spend it in the U.S. I was completely fine with that, but my debts were in the way.

It’s not all bad, but it could be easier
So now we get to my point: Don’t make decisions without really thinking about them long-term. I’m now faced with a situation where I have to structure my future around an irrational decision that I made fourteen years ago.

I wanted to share my experience with you as an encouragement on your own journey towards financial freedom.

In the end, my girlfriend and I spent a year apart working on her paperwork because she realized she couldn’t live without me. We’re now married and living in the U.S., but our dream since we were dating has been to go back and start a foster home in a poor area of Paraguay. But we can’t. I still owe too much money.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not whining about my lack of foresight when I was 18. I just want to get you to think hard before you start borrowing money you think they’ll be able to pay back quickly.

These days our budget is tight and the debt is disappearing, but we’re still a few years out from being debt-free. In the meantime, our dreams will have to wait.

Don’t ever let debt make your decisions for you. Be free to dream, free to live your life!

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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