If you are living debt free with a decent emergency fund, please forward this post to someone who isn’t. If you are living with debt, this information will help you change that. First and foremost, if you are considering paying someone to consolidate your debt, stop it. No one needs to benefit financially to move your debt around. With the right (free) tools, you can become debt-free on your own.
While the focus of this blog is not typically my personal story. This one is important! It demonstrates that you can change your life anytime just by making the choice to change.
My Debt Free Story
I got my first credit card when I was 19, my second when I was 20, and was using one to make payments on the other by the time I was 21. Eventually I defaulted on payments and scarred my credit report. With a less than perfect credit score, I figured I may as well continue to live in debt. That’s what everyone else did, and I was still being offered more credit so what the heck! I made minimum payments on credit cards, bought a car with a horrible interest rate (because that’s what people with bad credit get), got a student loan, or 2 or 3 and figured that was the way life was supposed to be.
Fast forward to my late 20s. I got a better job, made more money, and did what everyone else was doing. I bought a better car, financed with a crappier interest rate, and said yes to almost every store card that was offered. I did clear up my past due balances and improved my credit score but I kept spending. I had a credit card with the Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, JC Penny and others. I had more credit, more stuff and bills arriving daily.
Here is the crazy part. I had to work harder, to make more, to keep up with what I owed everyone and I thought that was ok. In fact, until I was 30 something and heard this weird guy, Dave Ramsey on the radio, I thought the rest of my life would include more spending, more bills, more collection calls and more stress.
Listening to Dave say some of the following things made getting out of debt top priority for me.
- Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.
- Financial peace isn’t the acquisition of stuff. It’s learning to live on less than you make, so you can give money back and have money to invest. You can’t win until you do this.
- If you buy a $28,000 car, in four years it will be worth about 11,000 bucks.
- How you handle or mishandle your money tells us who you are and, more important, it tells you who you are. Your priorities, passions, goals, and fears are shown clearly in the flow of your money. Your value system, or lack of one causes money to flow around you, past you, or to you. When money is in your possession, what you do with it screams loudly who you are.
- Debt is normal. Be weird.
I didn’t start working Dave’s program until after I listened to him for a year or more, but hearing people call in and ask for help, or tell their debt-free stories inspired me to make a change. I closed my credit accounts and cut up my cards and vowed to carry less debt. Becoming completely debt free sounded too weird. Wouldn’t I always have a car payment?
The less we owed, the weirder it got! My husband and I started saying no. We stopped buying things we didn’t need, got rid of the stuff we bought that we didn’t want and cleared up our debt. We mad our last car payment in 2010, paid off everything else and today, we are debt free. We are building our e-fund, and the freedom and peace of mind that comes with that, can not be bought. It’s weird right? I always thought that I would always have a car payment or owe someone something! With no debt and a padded e-fund, our family can make choices based on something other than money.
There are many ways to get out of debt but not many that show you how to change your behavior. Dave recommends a set of “baby steps” that look like this:
- Build up an emergency fund of $1000.
- List all non-mortgage debts from smallest to largest and pay them off using the debt snowball method.
- Save a larger emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses.
- Invest 15% of income into retirement accounts.
- Save for college for the kids.
- Pay of the mortgage.
- Build wealth.
I highly recommend listening to Dave’s radio show or free 1 hour podcast for a few weeks. Then, take a look at The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. You can also check with a local church to see if Dave’s Financial Peace University is offered. This will be money well spent but you can do this without the class.
I want to add two pre-baby steps to the plan.
- Say no to spending. You have to tell yourself no to even the littlest wants. Cover your needs and deal with the wants when you are debt free. By then, you won’t want for much!
- Let go of whatever guilt or frustration you have about your spending habits and debt. It won’t be easy, especially if you have collection agencies calling to remind you about your shortcomings, but do it. Do it for you and your family. You didn’t spend money maliciously. You didn’t incur debt to end up in a mess. You just did what everyone else was doing. You were living the dream. Now that you have decided to be different and weird, you can let the emotions that you have tied to your poor money habits go, and focus on your new and improved habits.
When I made the decision to become debt free, I felt lighter even though I still had debt. When our family became debt free, we got closer and more determined to live life our way. You may be wondering, now that we have no payments, what do we do with the money we make. The answer is anything we want. Weird is better. Less is better.
Living debt free is one of the most important thing you can do in choosing to live a simpler life. I plan to tell you more about how to tell you to live debt free. Tell me your debt free story or ask me anything about getting there.