I can honestly say that I am the rule when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. I make a valiant effort at the beginning of the year, but eventually my enthusiasm peters out. I think the problem may be that my resolutions are too abstract. Last year I vowed to stop apologizing so much. The year before was probably something else to do with adjusting my personality (ie: think more positively, put less pressure on myself, etc). While good in theory, these are difficult resolutions as seeing progress is virtually impossible unless you have someone close to you journaling everything you say and think.
This year, I rerouted and went with a tangible goal. If you know me or have read many of my posts, you know that my husband and I are on a journey to pay off all debt. It’s a lifestyle inspired by my parents, but didn’t resonate with me until about four years ago. I discovered Dave Ramsey’s book at a consignment store, read it, got angry about not being in control of my money, and vowed to change. You can read more about this beginning here.
Paying off debt is Dave’s Baby Step #2 (right after saving $1000 into an emergency fund) and it is arguably the most difficult step. Why, when only in my late twenties, was I having so much trouble with debt? A better question is probably who in their late twenties isn’t having an issue with debt? According to CNBC, the average debt for an 18-24 year old is $22,000. That number shoots up to $42,000 for 25-34 year olds. Student loans take up a huge chunk of this, add in a car payment, and some easily accrued credit card bills and voila you’re in over your head before you know it.
We all know how easy it is to build debt, so how hard is it to get out of it? Pretty hard thanks to insanely high interest rates and an overwhelming feeling of “where do I even start?”. This is why I love Dave Ramsey. He lays it out into steps and makes it feel attainable. **I will mention here that I am not paid to mention his program. I use it and would honestly recommend it to anyone who is interested in living a better life without the stress of finances.
Tim and I have been working towards this goal since we got married. We’ve had a couple of setbacks (having a child ain’t cheap), but have been able to make steady progress each year. We’re on track to be completely debt free (not including our mortgage) by the end of 2019 and it’s the best feeling. I will also mention that I am a stay at home mom who works a part time job while baby naps each day. Becoming debt free is a reality, even if you don’t have two high paying incomes. It’s all about perspective, priorities, and perseverance. Let me now offer a breakdown of how we got to where we are and some tips for anyone looking for this fresh breath of life and freedom.
- Get started. Every journey starts with a single step. Dave lays out his plan here which is the route we took. You list your debts in order from smallest balance to largest and pay the minimum payments each month. Once the first debt is gone, you use that minimum payment towards the next smallest balance until it’s gone, and so on and so on. Hence the term “debt snowball”. It’s effective as each time you pay something off, you get a burst of motivation to keep going. You need that gratification along the way, believe me!
- Cut up your credit cards. You can’t very well pay off what you owe while adding to it. I will be honest with you. We still have a Marriott Chase card that we use for large purchases to get the points towards free hotel rooms. Dave will tell you this is a no-no, but we don’t follow his plan to a tee. When we use this card, we pay it off at the end of the month. No exceptions. Know your willpower and only do this if you have the discipline to pay it off every time!
- Create a budget. Budgeting is a must. Read more about why I started a budget here.
- Be on the same page with your spouse. This is hugely important as finances are the number one cause of divorce in the US. You must set these goals together and work towards them as a team. It’s hard and you’ll need that support along the way.
- Surround yourself with good influences. If your friends are constantly spending above their means, it may be hard to stay focused. Money is a touchy subject, especially in the south, but if you are able to be frank with those close to you on your mission, they can be a huge aid during moments of weakness.
- Envision what you want your life to look like…..and that of your kids. Are you living paycheck to paycheck or are you relieved of the burden and can actually live confidently and securely? Keep this in your mind as you go.
- Find happiness in moments and not things. You can’t keep up with the Joneses and complete this process (it’s a losing battle anyway). You have to find happiness with fewer material things and be ok making sacrifices. While the life lesson is one we all should learn, remember you only have to live like this for a while. Dave has a quote that says: “Live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else.”
- Find your balance. We have definitely sacrificed on things, but we have still splurged on experiences (vacations, birthday dinners, etc). We could have reached our goal a little quicker had we been more hardcore. However, the right path for us is finding some balance and still celebrating life as we work towards our future.
- Eat Out Less. When we first started our budget, it was shocking to see how much we were spending on food, restaurants in particular. We try to still do one or two date nights per month, but don’t do thoughtless meals out for convenience very often at all.
- Track your progress. I do a progress report at the end of each month that lists out our debts, how much we owe, and how much we’ve paid off that month. At the bottom, it shows the total of what we owe and how much we’ve paid off that month. It’s incredibly gratifying to see those numbers drop.
- Throw any extra money at the debt you’re currently working on. This is where the “get mad” idea comes in. Be aggressive. Find ways to bring in some extra money (garage sale, part time job, etc) and use that money to get through the process even faster. Some hardcore folks even sell houses and vehicles in order to pay their debts off.
The biggest piece of advice is to remember that living this way is only temporary. I enjoy shopping, vacations, and nice dinners out. However, I enjoy not stressing about money even more. Making the sacrifice for a few years has been totally worth it to now see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that (God willing) Lyla will never see us be stressed or fight because we’re living under the burden of hefty bills. We will teach her how to live within her means by setting the example and ground work now.
Anyone out there completely debt free and have tips on how they got there??