How I escaped the middle-class trap

by Annelise Mitchell November 04, 2016

How I escaped the middle-class trap

A friend had just purchased a $75,000 4wd, and #$%@$ it looked amazing. It had all the bells and whistles, a chrome bull bar, sexy side-skirts, off-the-road tyres that made it look like it belonged to a Hollywood blockbuster film. I was no doubt impressed.

It was 24 hours later that the truth came out.

She bought the car to make her man happy but now had 7 years of car payments to look forward to. This was on top of a house mortgage that was over half a million dollars, and several other credit cards debts that made sure that all and then some of her pay went to paying the bills.

I spent much of the next year listening to her plight to survive the angst of paying for a car that also needed insurance, high petrol prices and other trinkets to make it even sexier, or so her husband insisted. She was now contemplating divorce and a higher paying job.

I could feel my friend’s pain because I had been through the same thing, only a few years before. I had bought a showroom of a house in the new suburbs on North Queensland and it was beautiful. Like the 4wd, it had all the bells and whistles. Polished floors and completely tiled bathrooms, and even a central hub to control all the lighting in the whole house. We were impressed most with the hub. Who doesn’t need to turn on the lights of their bedroom before they get there?

I was still in my early years of teaching at a local high school when I realised that I was in a world of hurt. My faculty experienced a mass exodus, with 4 heads of department leaving the year before. I was exhausted. A mentor told me to get out while I was still young. It was painful when I said in response, “I can’t, I’m in debt over my head.”

Over the next few years this crushing realisation led to a series of turmoil and despair. I even got whooping cough. It wasn’t until I came across the writings of Robert Kiyosaki and his reflections on the middle-class trap that I began to take note of how much debt my colleagues and I were getting into and all because we could.

This was the era of easy bank finance – where they send you beautiful letters just to remind you that you could still borrow more.

Whenever I asked a teacher why she doesn’t find work that is less stressful, she would point out her debt. There were no choices. The banks had to be paid and life was all about sacrificing yourself until you paid your debts, or so the mantra went.

I saw the writing on the wall. Years of illness and unhappiness ahead, all to pay the banks for things I didn’t need and to look like I had made it. Never one to play completely by the rules I talked to my husband and said that we were going to get rid of every debt we had. The house mortgage was to go, and not after we paid it, but before. The car was paid off, so we didn’t have that to worry about it, and my husband had just sold his sexy batman-style bike.

Within two years we were out. The house had sold, we lost 20,000 but we didn’t care. The 42,000 credit card debts paid off. This was our escape clause. We now had freedom to move.

The running diatribe about having to accumulate all that debt is that without it, we won’t have a comfortable lifestyle. What I saw was that a lot of these people might not even reach old age. Not only were their debts impossible to pay within 30 years, they were most likely going to keep working in an unfulfilling job well past retirement age, and some were proclaiming statistics that many teachers drop-dead just past serving the last post.

And… it was these harsh truths that weren’t the deciding factor.

Living a life where I was just paying things off in the hope of retiring with a comfortable nest egg didn’t make my heart sing. Indeed, getting up every morning just to pay off debt was soul-crushing. I was dreading the alarm clock going off each morning, even on the weekends. I started to fantasise about sleeping for the rest of my life.

Some teachers do survive by looking forward to their annual holiday where they would go to some exotic location, usually Thailand or another “cheap” location, but that meant that the rest of the year was spent gritting it out.

And what made me sick to the pit of my stomach was that they had normalised “surviving.” They weren’t thriving, they were gritting it out. Like we were on a pack march and the goal was to endure the journey and come out a survivor.

It was the voices of those who had been through something like me that became my saviour. I looked everywhere, high and low, and did not find many teachers who had left the profession. Apparently, the statistics said that over half leave within the first five years but if that were the case, they were awfully silent.

Hello, anyone out there… anyone?

Where are they? I don’t know. I would find some across the internet but they offered very little advice, or were still struggling to find their way.

I wanted them to say, “Get out and life will be great! It will be the best decision you ever made and you don’t have to give up anything. No one will look down upon you and you will be successful no matter what.”

I wanted certainty.

I wasn’t going to get it.

It was a road that I was going to have to travel on my own. I would even keep my decision to become debt-free from close friends. When I would share my feelings, they would tell me how miserable they were too. They were also in huge debt and that life is mostly about putting up with your lot.

I told my mum and she said the same.

It was at this juncture that I realised why my step-father had drunk himself to death. I wasn’t thinking of topping myself but I could understand why it would happen. He was trapped. His life was not his own.

It was books and the Internet that kept me alive and hopeful, and it was a coach that gently steered me into seeing true north.

I was as blind as a bat.

You can’t live other people’s values. You will go nuts. Depression is just the cream of the cake. There are far nastier realities beyond that horizon. Fried liver, diseases with no diagnosis, etc.….

There is only one way. To live as you are and to be who you are.

This means that the things that you thought you value must go.

First to go is middle-class ideals.

No more flashy cars and houses. No more yearning for the latest fashion and jewellery labels just to distract you and because you “deserve” it! And no more trips to Dan Murphy’s because he is now your best friend. At least he understands you. The whole wine mantra, I’m not buying it. Spending your life in a drunken-stupor is a slow suicide at best.

So here is how I got out.

The Middle-Class Escape Plan

  1. Remove all debt – anything other than rent, and you’ll be good to go
  2. Change buying habits – no more Lorna Jane, no more indiscriminate spending
  3. Know who you are – find your true calling and build the knowledge and skills to build a life that I didn’t want to escape from
  4. Downsize – you don’t need the big house and flashy car, and remember that each of those means much more cleaning, and who has time to clean
  5. Keep the faith – believe in your creative abilities and how your ingenuity will lead you to creating a life that is ultimately fulfilling and something to be proud of

Click on the following to access a Free Worksheet on how to identify your deeply held values - the values that will guide you towards living your creative life.

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Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell

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