I’ve talked a lot about my efforts to live a more fiscally responsible life, from the bad habits I’ve kicked to the curb and how I manage a bare-bones budget when I need to cut back and/or save more to the steps I took to clear my debt quickly and how I saved my down payment fund for my house. I’ve also highlighted excuses that derail efforts to save and lies people tell themselves about money.
In all of these posts, there is a great deal of financial information swimming about, but there is also a wealth of knowledge about life lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.
After re-reading a few of these posts, I began to think about the lessons I learned while I was working my tail off to erase 6 years of bad spending habits. It’s been almost 5 years since the day that I made my final credit card debt payment, and I realized that I’ve learned a hell of a lot through the crazy experience of working so hard to pay it off quickly and the subsequent years that have followed.
Accepting Responsibility is the First Step
If there’s something you need to change or a mistake you need to make amends for, nobody can take the first step but you. Holding yourself responsible for your actions (and their ramifications) can be insanely difficult, but it’s a must-do when it comes to paying off debt, healing broken relationships, etc. In order to move forward, you must accept your personal accountability in the situation.
For me, this meant totaling up all of my debts, setting a budget that I’d stick to, and making a plan for how I’d get rid of the mountain of debt in front of me. I started to track every penny coming in and going out, and I learned how to say no when it came to mindless spending–to myself and to others. Gone were the days of ‘charge it and forget it.’
You Can Always Do More
In the initial phases of my debt payoff, I worked with what I had. But when I quickly realized that cutting back would only get me so far and that I could pay off the debt even faster if I earned more, I set out to do just that. In the height of my payoff frenzy, I was working 6-7 jobs at once. As long as they didn’t conflict with my morals or values, I turned down no opportunities to make money that came my way.
Working so much was hard. In fact, it was one of the hardest phases of my life in terms of keeping balanced. But it was a short-term sacrifice with one hell of a reward at the end: Debt freedom. To me, the ability to see a $0 balance on my credit cards was enough to motivate me to keep going, going, going.
Small Sacrifices Do Add Up
Once I began to cut back, I noticed that it became easier to turn down shopping trips, dinners out, and expensive bar tabs. With each month that rolled by where I managed to save more to throw at my debt, I realized that even the small sacrifices I was making (such as packing a lunch rather than going out) were making a large impact on my bottom line.
If you have meager means and a boatload of debt to tackle, don’t be discouraged. No matter if you pay your debt off in one year or ten years, the point is to keep moving forward towards that $0 goal. Chipping away little by little will get you there–no grand gestures or lump sums required!
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
There were tough, rocky moments at many points during the year it took me to pay of my credit card debt. As I mentioned above, working so much and playing so little was not easy–it was far from what I had been accustomed to, and it left me discouraged at times. Luckily, those moments of frustration and doubt were fleeting.
The important thing to remember is that even if you have the resolve of an iron statue, there will still be times, people, places, and memories that tempt you to derail your progress. When I got to these decision-making moments, I had an easier time staying the course of my debt payoff because I had already prepared for temptation–I had various plans for what I could do to avoid being tempted to fall back into my old, nasty habits. Set yourself up for success from the beginning by having contingency plans!
Sometimes You Have to Find Your Rock Bottom
When you’ve reached your rock bottom, you’ll know it. Mine was being penniless and nearly homeless. The silver lining of rock bottom is that the only place to go is up. For me, having such a scary yet clarifying wake up call was exactly what I needed to kick my ass into gear. Had I not found myself in a financial abyss of such magnitude, I might still be making the same mistakes that dug myself into the hole in the first place.
You are Stronger than You Think
At the end of the day, we all know that change is difficult, even if it’s planned and welcomed. Life throws us lemons, knocks us down, and dictates that we get right back up again. When you’re up against the proverbial wall, don’t give up. There’s always hope; there’s always a way to fulfill your goals and dreams. You’re stronger than you think–you just have to remind yourself of that fact from time to time.
What life lessons have you learned from paying off debt or making financial changes?