Holy sh*t! The words I could not WAIT to say for almost 5 years:
I AM DEBT FREE!!!
It still feels surreal. I’ve checked a few times to see if my final student loan payment cleared (it has!), but I still don’t think it’s completely sunk in.
The moment I’ve dream of for years:
No line of credit. No student loans. No car payment. COMPLETELY debt free (except for a modest mortgage).
That $103,000 in debt that used keep me up at night? All gone!! 🙂
I was worried that after working so hard for it, the moment would feel anticlimactic and disappointing.
It did not.
In fact, I recorded myself paying it off (I wanted to save the memory) and thought maybe I’d get maniacally happy.
Instead, as I read the words “Paid in full” I struggled not to cry.
It was like a wave of relief taking a weight I hadn’t fully comprehended I was carrying.
Now? A clean slate feels like possibility!
However, it has NOT been easy to get to this moment!
Minimal restaurants. Minimal new clothes. No travel. A tiny wedding (1 guest!) and no honeymoon.
Living dramatically under our means so that we could squirrel that gap away to debt.
Intentional spending and a lot of difficult “no’s” when I saw something I wanted to buy.
We live in an old fixer upper house that we haven’t had money to fix up much. That’s been the most difficult pause for me, by far.
I’m not immune to wanting shiny new things. Like everyone else things catch my eye and SERIOUSLY tempted me to go off course.
So what stopped me? And how did I follow through on this for 5 long years?
Here are 4 things that really helped me:
1. Adopt debt-free as an identity, not a destination:
Ever heard that saying “Fake it until you make it”?
It’s a bit like that.
Countless studies have shown that making something your identity has profound impacts on your follow through.
For example: don’t just say you’re going to start running; start calling yourself a runner. Then live up to that title. Take it as part of your identity, and you’re more likely to stick with it.
The same can be said about debt.
I wasn’t trying to just pay off my debt; I was calling myself someone who does not carry debt. Debt-free was an identity I was forming & committing to. Therefore, I had to follow through on my payments, otherwise I was letting down part of my identity.
2. Recognize that you likely already have ENOUGH:
What the heck do you do when temptation to spend hits though?
There’s an exercise Francine Jay suggests in her amazing book “The Joy Of Less” (Seriously, it’s a must read!) that might help.
Grab yourself a pen and paper.
Now, go walk around your house and make a list of everything you own.
Every shoe, every piece of furniture, every spoon, everything.
Does that seem overwhelming?
Instead, just do it for one room.
Still sound too difficult and time consuming?
Then how can you possibly feel like you don’t have enough? You can’t stomach the task of writing out everything you already own in just one room, yet you need MORE?
Remember that feeling next time you’re tempted to shop!
3. Recognize that yes, you’ll have to be a bit weird.
It’s not normal in our “Want it, buy it” society to shun debt & delay gratification.
There’s a quote I love that goes:
“You have to be odd to be number one”-Dr. Suess
Yes, you’ll need to hold onto some older things rather than upgrading.
Outwardly, you may not look as well off as some of your peers that are willing to put new purchases on debt.
But man, will you sleep amazing at night.
Imagine: Outright owning everything you have! What a crazy concept.
Charging everything to debt rather than paying for it outright wasn’t even always an option. Ask your grandparents!
Still not convinced it’s ok to be different? Read these:
4. Celebrate the improvements to your financial runway
There is a very frustrating aspect to getting out of debt: no matter how badly you want it, it still takes time to get there. Often lots & lots & lots of time.
Patience has never & will never be my strong suit.
I would re-run the numbers all the time wondering if there was another $200 a month I could optimize and throw to debt. However, even that barely seemed to budge the needle.
Sure, $200 is a worthwhile chunk of money. I wouldn’t be ok lighting $200 on fire.
However, when you’re starting with six figures of debt like I was, those $200’s don’t seem to add up fast enough at all.
Everything in life is relative, so when you’re comparing a small number to a large one, it doesn’t feel worthwhile.
Oh, but it is!
Picture your life as a plane, and your money as the runway.
You’re barreling through life, and an unexpected event hits. Do you have time to assess or swerve? Is there still enough space left to take off rather than crash?
Increasing your financial runway buys you time before a problem becomes a crisis.
Living paycheck to paycheck with a lot of debt? Your runway is very short. A small problem could completely crash you.
Fully reached financial independence? Congrats, your runway is essentially indefinite! (Although I’d argue just like a real runway it still requires maintenance and re-assessing from time to time).
Essentially, every incremental improvement to your runway puts you one step further from disaster and ruin.
It’s so easy on your journey to debt freedom to convince yourself you aren’t making progress. Having $55,000 debt doesn’t feel much different than paying it down to $52,000, but it IS. It’s an extra few paces of runway.
There aren’t two categories: in debt or out of debt. There’s a whoooooole spectrum in between. Moving closer to debt freedom gives you more options.
While you’re trying to save an emergency fund it’s not at zero or fully stocked. Even if your goal is to have $10,000 in an emergency fund, that doesn’t mean the first $500 is inconsequential. There are lots of events where $500 could save your butt and prevent you from falling further back into debt.
Finances aren’t black or white. The options aren’t start line or finish line. You’ll likely spend years or decades at the “in between” phase. Try to appreciate the journey and not just the destination (Yeah, yeah. Cliche I know).
Every step forward increases your financial runway and give you more options & safety.
Celebrate and recognize the progress you’re making!!
I want to say thank you to the readers who have followed with me on this journey over the years!
When I hit “publish” on my first blog post announcing my debt, I almost threw up.
Having so much debt felt shameful & disgusting. I couldn’t believe I was telling the world my “dark secret”.
I genuinely though no one would even want to date me until it was gone!!
But as I wrote, I worked through some of my triggers and emotions around money. I slowly began to understand the reason why I held the money beliefs that I did.
In a way, this blog has been my virtual diary over the years (with a focus on finance, of course).
I got a house. Got married. Quit my job & started my own company.
So, so much more than debt payments have occurred in these 5 years.
Life happened, and life became articles.
I know some of you have been following & reading since Day 1, and it means the world to me that I got to share this journey with you! If you ever need a cheerleader to continue on your own debt-free journey, hit me up! I’d be happy to return the favour 🙂