In my financial journey, I have learned that my choices control my results. It matters what you think and what you do. Here are 5 things I had to do differently to get out of debt.
#1 – I believed I could do hard things
I’ll never forget the day I made my last student loan payment. What felt even better was the next month…the month I didn’t have to send a payment! I felt liberated. That’s when I knew, I can do this. I can get out of debt. Before that, I never really believed that not having debt could be a reality. I was motivated when I heard someone say if I didn’t take my student loan debt seriously, I would be an old woman slowly walking my payment to the mailbox. Those words stuck with me. I pictured myself in my 60s with the same student loan payment I first started with in my 20s! It drove me crazy and so I kicked my efforts into high gear. No matter what, I decided I didn’t want to be that person. I believed I could do it if I focused and got on a plan. I began sending extra money each month with the minimum payment. At the time, it wasn’t a sophisticated system but rather I sent any extra each month.
If it was $50 or $300, I sent it. Sometimes I had to sacrifice and sometimes I didn’t miss it. Regardless, I stuck to my goal. I talk to a lot of people who simply don’t believe they can get out of debt. They accept debt like they accept food. I challenge you to see your circumstances differently. No matter how much debt you have, believe that you can pay it off AND you can do it before retirement!
#2 – Gave up my love affair with credit cards
This is a tough one. I received my first credit card in college and quickly learned to use credit as a way to have the lifestyle I wanted. This taught me how to charge what I couldn’t afford before I had a real income! By the time I was married, I had cards to cover shopping, travel, business expenses and basically anything I wanted. Thankfully, as I started to make more money, I wised up and began paying them off. I ultimately learned to stop relying on credit cards and instead I only use cash for any purchases including travel. The best part is that I don’t regret my choice. I feel more responsible because whatever I choose to do, I can truly afford it. I didn’t realize how carrying credit card debt, including paying fees and interest was a constant decision to use my current income for my past decisions.
Think about it…if you’re constantly sending $300 or $500 a month to cover old vacations, shoes, eating out and the other crap we put on credit cards, then you could invest the same thing in a mutual fund or retirement account. Recently, I considered opening a secured credit card. In theory, secured cards limit your risk of creating a high credit card balance because you are charging against money you have deposited in the account, as opposed to a credit line from the issuer. After some thought, I quickly decided not to do it. I felt as if I was going back to an old boyfriend who was no longer attractive like when we first dated. HA!
#3 – Made sacrifices even when they weren’t necessary I think it’s easy to make sacrifices when there’s nothing at stake. It’s different when you have options and are still willing to give up what you want for a greater goal or purpose. There have been several moments in this journey when I could have decided for a thing or a trip versus paying off debt but we sacrificed because our financial goals were more important. Developing the willingness to sacrifice is like exercise. You rarely want to do it but afterwards, you’re so glad you did. It also helps to have someone hold you accountable. You need someone you can call when you’re about to make a bad decision. They should be strong and influential enough to help you re-focus on what matters.
#4 – Paid extra on my debt routinely
Everyone knows you will never get out of debt by always paying the minimum payment. It’s the same as the least effort or just barely getting by. You’re rarely rewarded for giving the least. I had to start making extra payments. I threw bonuses, tax refunds, and anything that resembled extra pay at my debt. I think the minimum payment is why we stick and stay with debt so long. It is psychological that if I can make the minimum payment then I’m not really in over my head. This mindset must be changed. Quickly look for extra money that you can apply to debt right away.
#5 – Made a visual display of my debts About three years ago, my husband and I used a piece of posterboard to list our remaining debts at the time. I wrote on the top that we would pay off the debt over the next 12 months. And we did! I hung the poster in our closet so we would see it daily. As we paid off each one, I placed a line through it. I could feel power and victory with each payoff. Regardless of your finances, you have to be real about whatever debts you have. Resist the temptation to ignore it or to let it pile up in unopened mail. So go ahead and make a list of your debts either on a regular sheet of paper or on a poster board. Get serious about what you owe, and you’ll get serious about how to get rid of it. What are you willing to do differently to get rid of your debt? What can you change now to get started?
By the way, check out some of my other posts about debt: