How to save 40k dollars and pay off 60k in student loan debt in 4 years all while throwing a fabulous wedding, having a kid, and traveling the world.
The cheetah’s head was out the side of the car. Fortunately though, we were on a highway so the chances of it jumping from the Maserati’s window and ending my life were slim. I drove off nonchalantly. It’s not like it was a lion or anything. Then I’d pay attention, but only because a neighbor of ours had misplaced his lion a few weeks back. Caused quite an uproar in the neighborhood. But then again, this was the UAE and the outrageous was commonplace.
I moved to Abu Dhabi as a teacher. I spent four years there working, saving, traveling, serving, and growing. After my wife and I married she joined me in the UAE and lived with me there for 3 years. In those 7 combined years, we were able to accomplish much. We threw an amazing wedding. We saved over 40k dollars. We paid off almost 60k dollars in student loan debt. We had our first child. And we travelled to almost 25 countries.
How was all of that possible?
Taking a HUGE Step of Faith
Moving to the MIddle East, honestly, wasn’t hard. Once I had given over my decision to God and allowed him to set my course the rest was pretty simple. Abu Dhabi was the right course. However, that first letting go was very difficult. To take your hands off the steering wheel of your life is scary. It has the potential to destroy you depending on who you are allowing to lead.
Many gurus or coaches will say quite the opposite. “You are in control” and “you make the choices”, and I get what they’re saying. You are the one who decides what direction your life will go. They’re right… in a way. But there is a subtle suggestion that usually underpins those self-determination philosophies: you are the center of this world. They look at faith as a weakness and encourage you to make life what you want.
Rather, I would say that to step out in faith is to ask God to walk with you on your journey of action. You are saying, “I’m going out into the world to DO GREAT THINGS. But I didn’t make this world, and I don’t know what I don’t know. I need help along the way. I need thoughts and ideas and people to help me manage the path ahead. I can do great things but I can’t do it alone”
That first step I took was a step of action and of humility.
2. Knowing Our WHY
Within the first few months of being in the UAE, it was apparent to me that I would not be there longer than 5 years. It was a transient culture and there were many things that made it difficult to live that way for extended periods of time. If you want to know more about this, email me. That as it was, I knew my eventual calling was elsewhere. I wasn’t sure exactly where but it was clear that Abu Dhabi was a a whetstone, it was designed to sharpen me, a training ground for what was in store.
With that in mind, I went in search of everything that could help strengthen me and help me to grow. I knew I would be used and I wanted to be ready. Like the calm before the battle I wanted this experience to shape me into a ferocious warrior ready for the war to come. As much as I wanted to enjoy my time there, through travel and different experiences, I knew my purpose. I was a weapon being sharpened and like all weapons, they would be put to use. I had to be ready.
Knowing my ‘why’ at that stage of my life winnowed the “frivolous things” set out to distract me. At times, people found it insulting when they would invite me to certain events and I would decline. Albeit my goal to connect with people’ and relate to them, I was simply not interested in those events. Knowing my direction created a desire in me to seek growth over good times. While many were heading off to the bars at the end of the week I was heading to our church’s teen ministry group. While still others were heading off to an afternoon brunch I was writing and exercising and having meaningful conversations with choice friends. I write this at the risk of seeming self-righteous but it is of vast importance that I impress upon you the need for discernment. I’ve met so many people who were crippled by their inability to say “no” to people and things that were harmful, all in the name of “niceness”. It’s tough but if you know your “why” you’ll know your “why not”.
Whatever is your why, your purpose, your direction… KNOW IT! Because without it you are a leaf floating in the wind.
3. Setting Our Budget Together and Sticking to It… Together
A month into our time in Abu Dhabi, my wife and I sat down and came up with a budget together. We decided what we wanted to spend every month. How much our bills were, extra costs, how many times we wanted to eat out, everything. We made sure we had reserves for emergencies, etc., we set our total expenses, and then that was that.
When paychecks came each month, everything that wasn’t in that total that we’d planned for was immediately out of our bank account and gone. Index funds, students loans, travel costs, wherever the money went, it was no longer spendable. It was out of our hands. Over the next few months it evolved a bit as we came to understand more and more about our expenses but the system stayed the same. Check came in, expenses stayed, everything else WHOOSH…gone.
At the time, our school was paying for our apartment so we had 0 housing costs. And Abu Dhabi was tax free so my paycheck was my paycheck. We were doing well. Enough to save and travel. What created a tidal wave of extra capital was when my wife started working too. We had been living well off of my paycheck, and our budgets were in place, so any extra money was helping to take out more and more debt while also increasing our savings. The system came first, the freedom came after.
The best part of it all was that because we had planned and strategized together there was no resentment at having to make such changes. We were still traveling to 4 to 6 countries a year. We were still dining out occasionally and having our date nights, but we didn’t feel bad about it because it was part of our budget, and our budget had been set as a team.
4. Valuing Relationships Over Luxury
Now came the hard part. With an influx of money it would have been very easy for us to start justifying the “nicer” things. A few more nights out here. A few more weekend trips there. It would have been easy, and we still would have been living well. But when it came down to it, we had to prioritize what was really our goal. We could eat at a luxurious restaurant at a 5-star hotel or we could eat at the local Mongolian House for pennies on the dollar, not because we thought it better but because it was the people we went with that mattered.
We could have the same experience with our friends, eating Shawarma and Hummus at a quiet cafe, than we could have had anywhere. The locale was cool but it wasn’t the most meaningful. We chose meaning over money. We’d eat dinner over friends’ houses or invite them over ours. It was simple. I can honestly say I had more fun eating wine, cheese, and plate of fruit at a Portuguese friend’s apartment than I did travelling to Portugal and eating fried Octopus by the Atlantic. The latter ends up on Instagram and Facebook, the former ends up in our hearts.
If we re-prioritize what we value we can begin to enjoy vasts amounts of what the world values little – relationships. This imbalance in value is evident when you look at how it costs millions of dollars to buy a plane but clicking a “friend request” button is free.
5. Picking a Great WIFE
The final piece to all of this is really who you choose to be your “wife” – i.e. your main partner. That might be a close friend, your business partner, or as in my case, a spouse. It’s the one you spend the most time with, the one who will inevitably have the largest outcome on who you are as a person. They have the single greatest impact on your thoughts about yourself and the world in large. And your thoughts are the single biggest indicator of your impact on this world.
I would love to say that picking a great “wife” is simple. You go to a catalogue (or a dating site) and they find the exact person who will both love you and inspire you to be the best version of yourself. That’s not going to happen. Even the best dating site stories, are full of tales behind closed doors, where two people are working extremely hard at making it work. Some would say that picking is the easy part, keeping… now there’s the challenge. And they are right. Keeping is a challenge. However, if you pick wrong from the start, you are fighting an uphill battle. And life’s already got plenty of battles in store for you. The world is a dogfight. It is brutal and vicious. So to fight the world AND fight against your partner? No thanks. I know I’m not strong enough for that.
Do you have to move to Abu Dhabi?
The point is not where you but THAT you move. You have to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks. Step out in faith, especially once you know what you want and where you want to go. If you can build the systems that will keep you in track despite the environmental changes around you than day-by-day you will be able to walk in a way that will lead you to great things.
So what’s my “secret”? How did I save more than 100k dollars and travel the world?
A bit of risk, a lot planning and discipline, but most importantly I had some great partners along the way. Primarily, God at my right hand and my wife on my left.