It took me thirty-one years, but for the first time in my adult life, the future doesn’t terrify me.
The fear didn’t really set in until after college graduation, when the reality of student loan payments kicked in. My fight-or-flight instinct was flight; I immediately deferred them for as long as I could. I told myself that someday I would be making good money and that the debt would be no problem. I didn’t make any payments and allowed interest to accrue. I also financed a car and took out several credit cards for ’emergencies’, which ultimately ended up being used for Christmas presents, Amazon binges, clothing and even groceries.
A few years later, the consequences of my stupidity began to sink in. My monthly payments took up a large percentage of my income and every month it filled me with panic. I really didn’t believe that I could solve this problem on my income, but I had to do something. I began to to make minimal efforts to pay down my debt, but I was still irresponsible with money. I didn’t have a budget and I would just kind of ‘eyeball it’ to make sure I had enough to cover my expenses each month. If I had some extra money, I would throw it at the debt. Of course, the credit cards were still there when I fell short.
It wasn’t until earlier this year, I was out at a bar with a friend and I began to vent after a couple of cocktails. How was everyone else doing this? How did I screw things up so royally? What if I can’t ever get out of this mess? I was very lucky because this friend had a good head on his shoulders. He told me about the debt snowball, which is a method of paying off your smallest debt first and then using the money from that payment toward your next largest debt and so on. Maybe it was the margarita, but I was filled with a crazy level of excitement when I heard this idea. It seemed so simple and didn’t require me to increase my income, which I had always considered to be my only way out.
Shortly after, I took to Reddit and began to look for information on the debt snowball. I kept seeing people mention this name, Dave Ramsey, and I also saw that he had a podcast. Podcasts are my thing. I downloaded as many episodes as I could and then I was off to the races. I listened to three hours of the Dave Ramsey Show every day (I still do) and it was so incredibly motivating to hear about ordinary people who became debt-free, many of whom were in much deeper debt than I was.
This was when I started my zero-based budget, giving every dollar an assignment and sticking to it. This was life-changing. I had my $1,000 emergency fund in place and the rest of my savings went towards debt. That was the scariest part, watching my savings disappear in an instant. Even though it wasn’t much money, that still hurt. However, I knew I would be able to save money again after this debt was out of my life. The level of discomfort I felt with my pitiful new savings account would motivate me to get it done – and fast.
I found myself living very frugally, spending as little money as possible so that I could make a big, juicy debt payment each month. I sold clothes, furniture and other household items. I took any overtime I could at the office. I put a hard stop on all unnecessary trips to Walmart and Target. I cancelled cable and started doing my laundry in the bathtub (seriously).
Now, it has only been a few months, but I am already seeing progress! I haven’t exactly done the snowball in order, but after paying off a few of my small debts, I couldn’t wait any longer to tackle my consolidation loan. I hated that loan! It was like a million bad decisions rolled into one big monster. So, I attacked it, and I’m happy to say that this month I actually paid off that horrible loan! Now onto the next. In total , I have paid off just over $10,000, and I even have some money set aside for Christmas! Unbelievable.
Debt is a normal part of life here in America. Everybody has it. Since I have started this process, I see debt everywhere. Nice houses, new cars, extravagant vacations. Instead of the envy and anger that I used to feel as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I now ask myself, how long will they be paying for that?
My goal is financial freedom. I want to free myself from monthly debt payments and have access to all of my income to save for the things I want in life and to grow wealth for my future. It’s a challenge for someone like me, possibly the least patient person on the face of the Earth, but this is a skill I need to learn to succeed. Delayed gratification is a concept that has been foreign to me for far too long.
An unexpected side-effect of this journey is an increasing and powerful sense of gratitude. I am not a victim of this situation and it is nobody’s fault but my own. I don’t deserve anything that I haven’t worked hard to achieve. I feel lucky to have found a light at the end of the tunnel and I will do anything to get there. It is possible for me to have the life I want someday, but right now I am grateful for what I have and for what I have accomplished.
(Debt Free chart in photo provided by: http://debtfreecharts.blogspot.com/)