For a good part of my life I was broke and in debt. This happened because of many reasons; some that I take full responsibility for (lack of knowledge and carelessness) and other outside forces (being unemployed during the 2008 economic crisis + unexpected medical issues). When I was finally able to begin the process of paying off my debt, I was 28 years old with $60K in student loans, $15K in credit card debt, and a job making barely $30,000 a year.
It was overwhelming to say the least, but I knew there was a way out; I just had to find it. And I did find it when I picked up Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover“.
The first step of Dave’s Money Makeover is to cut up all credit cards and save $1000. This seems simple enough, but it’s actually completely genius and was essential to me getting out of debt. But here’s the catch- I had to have $1000 in that account at all times- no exceptions. If I needed money for an emergency (car trouble, medical issues- NOT a new shirt I saw at the mall), I used myself as my own lender with zero interest. This helped me to not spend money because I knew if I took from that $1000, I would have less to live on from my next check.
Pay off debt
The next thing Dave suggests is to start paying off your debts one payment at a time starting with the lowest balance, regardless of the interest rate. The reason you ignore the interest rate is because it’s all mental. As each bill is paid off, you start to feel that you are actually making progress, and it keeps you moving. And let me tell you, being strong mentally is the most important thing you can do when paying off your debts.
While I was paying off my loans, I sold my mini-SUV and bought a 1992 $1500 Honda Civic that had seen better days. I worked as a part-time college instructor teaching video and on the weekends, I shot and edited wedding videos. This was something I really didn’t like doing, but it paid well.
I lived in a tiny apartment with hardly any furniture, collected coupons, cooked my own meals, picked up side jobs and basically worked my ass off. It was painful but looking back, so worth it.
I still remember when my boyfriend (now husband) picked me up for our second date. Since I had just moved back to Michigan from Hawaii, I had no furniture- not even a couch- and to keep warm, I only had a small ripped up blanket from my late grandmother. It was just me and my cat, living together in poverty. I still wonder why he continued dating me!
But fast forward 5 years, and ALL my debt was gone- and every penny I paid off ALL on my own- which I’m very proud to say. And coincidentally, a month after paying everything off I landed my dream job. Since then, I’ve saved up a nice 401K, bought a small rental property and a newer SUV (paid with cash), and my husband and I are very close to paying off our home.
All of this happened because I had a plan, a serious focus and a determination to be free from debt. Sure, I fell off the wagon here and there (still do), but I kept getting back on and basically obsessing about the life I wanted to live. As Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else”.
How I remain debt free
- Pay cash for everything. If I don’t have cash, I can’t buy it. That includes the vehicle I’m driving.
- Don’t use credit cards. I do have one for work but I do my best not to use it for anything except for work-related expenses.
- Keep a good savings. Dave recommends roughly 6 months of savings in the bank, in case there is an emergency.
- Change your mindset. It’s important that you don’t feel you deserve a Starbucks coffee, or that new outfit. If you don’t have the cash to buy it, don’t buy it. It’s a hard mindset to adapt, especially with the American cultural attitude of “I want it now!” but the mind shift can be done.
- Determine the want vs. need. Ask yourself, do I actually need this item or is it something I just want? I constantly ask myself this while shopping. This helps to keep grounded and only spend money on things you truly need. And don’t trick yourself into thinking you need to buy something because it’s on sale. The real question is- do you really need it?
- Focus! If you want to be debt free, think about how you want your life to look and make it happen, one small decision at a time.
I’m not telling you any of this to brag. I want others to know that if I can do it, I truly believe anyone can. I remember feeling so buried in debt, crying in my car, and wondering how in the hell I would ever climb out of the hole I was in. But it’s possible to climb out. To become debt free, you have to really want it, and then do the hard work to get there.
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