I think I finished paying back one of my loans tonight!

A loan that we first took out approximately thirteen years ago, shortly after I’d finished university and (gulp) started working on my student debt. A loan that we had to renew and extend six years ago, when our furnace broke and we were in a rough patch. It’s done. I put the final payment in, one slightly bigger than I’ve been able to do lately, which may hobble me for a few weeks, but I’m crossing my fingers that that’s it — one less phone call to dread, one less payment to make, and next month, more funds to redirect to the damned student loans.

Because that’s what I have to concentrate on next.

I know, and have known, in retrospect that loan B was a pretty dumb move while loan A was only in the starting stages of payback. But at the time, we had so much hope that it would work out. I’d gotten the money to help my partner start a business and be his own boss, after he’d researched and planned and scoped out property and then was denied starter business loans from the standard banks. We were optimistic (he had to be, to start a restaurant in a town we’d just moved to, and I had to be, because I believed in his abilities to make it happen — which it did, for six weeks), but fresh out of school and seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses after having struggled through it for over five years.

What we didn’t know at the time, but soon discovered, is that the statistics for new restaurant failure in six weeks are startlingly high — in the 90 percentages. And of those few restaurants that make it through the first six weeks, fewer still survive the first two years. We discovered (painfully) how important capital is in keeping the business afloat in those crucial first months and years, because it takes roughly the first year to pay down borrowed money or credit from suppliers, and then another year to start to break even after you’re meeting all your expenses. We also learned that even if a grant is offered, it can be taken away in a heartbeat if someone on the other side of the money thinks you don’t need the extra.

So that’s what happened, in a nutshell, without visiting the gory details with a microscope. Tonight, that part has finally finished (although I’ll be skeptical until I get notice from the company that it’s so). I can turn and concentrate on the first set of debt again, shrinking it slowly to nothing, hoping against reality that I can have it gone at least a year before my older child will need to go away to university or college. That’s a whole other story, about the student debt. A different battle that has dovetailed with this, through life events and employment struggles and personal, emotional losses. I wanted the student loans paid off by the time my son was 13, as was my original goal. If I’m fortunate, maybe I can have them gone in two years. I’m going to be one of those people, I suspect, who just wraps up her own educational costs and then has to turn around and start the process all over again for the next generation, and there is something wrong with that.

Because even though this house needs a lot of work and the car is beginning to need repairs (and our kids are rapidly outgrowing it with their lengthening legs), I do not want to borrow any money until the student loans are done and gone, and then I don’t want to borrow again, period. I’m tired of losing so much of my paycheque to interest and premiums and monthly amounts due, sick of the relentless phone calls reminding me that I’m behind again this month when unexpected expenses and tragedies and opportunities get in the way, frustrated by having my hands tied for years and sometimes only scraping by. I’m very grateful that it’s gotten better for us in the last three years, and that my hubby is doing well at his new job. I don’t want to lose hold of this new momentum. I’d like to keep moving forward, instead of churning the wheels in the mud. I want the letter in the mail that tells me “Congratulations! You’ve paid off your student loans!”

And even then, I don’t want to borrow any more, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. There’s been too much of that.