Many times over the course of the last 3 years as we worked to become debt free people have asked: “How did you do that??”
I never feel I have a good answer to give. How do I condense our story into step-by-step bullet points for getting out of debt?
But maybe I don’t need to. Maybe instead of just pretending like I am now some sort of guru on getting of debt (I’m not) or that I have some super special wisdom to impart (I don’t), I can do what I like doing best anyway: just share my story and share what I’m learning or have learned along the way.
So here’s the deal: January 2011 we decided to literally cut up (as in- scissors) our credit card and attempt to get out of debt within 12-18 months. If you know me at all you know that sometimes I can get really… um… fanatical about things (ie- I do things like cut up my credit card). I am dogmatic. I like schedules and plans and bullet points and neat tidy boxes.
In some ways, that helped us get out of debt, although part of the process of getting out of debt was used to break me of some of my rigid ways too (more on that later).
But at least initially, my full-boar fanatical self helped us get the ball rolling in paying off our debt in a major way. The first thing we did? What any magazine article or blog or self-help book will tell you to do: set up a budget.
If you want to know the details of our budget, I did a Budget Boot Camp series way back when we started this journey. We had barely any wiggle room between our income and our necessary expenses to begin with, and if we were seriously going to pay off a debt that was almost as much as our annual income within a year or two… we knew we had to get radical.
We made a plan for each penny that came in to our pockets.
We didn’t buy new clothes, ever (except for when our family gave us gift cards at Christmas or birthdays).
We pretty much never went out to eat.
We would order something small and cheap on the menu if we went out to coffee with a friend, or would make plans that didn’t involve money.
We chose to become a one-car family and still drive our beat up old car even though getting a shiny mini-van or SUV with our two kids seems like it might be heaven.
We moved in with another family and gave up some of our independence and autonomy.
We didn’t decorate or spend much money on our home once we were able to get out on our own.
We just got our first smartphones in December. As in 4 months ago. For a while, we even shared a single cell phone with no texting service.
Simply put: we chose to live a fasted lifestyle concerning our money.
The Fasted Lifestyle
What is the fasted lifestyle? It’s a term we use to describe the mentality that has governed many of the decisions we have made about money. You see, I can tell you things like that for a while we did not have cable or Netflix or even the internet for crying out loud. And then you might say, “Wow… that’s a little hardcore. Not sure I could do that…” and check out.
But the reality was: we couldn’t afford internet so we didn’t have it for a while. It wasn’t that we were trying to be really insane and go against the culture. We just had a reality check, and to us it was more important to get out of debt than have internet. Actually, it was more important to eat and have a home for a while than have internet. And then came the time we needed it (truly needed it) because Mike was working from home and so we got the internet- along with a raise that more than covered the expense.
After the point where we were just trying to make ends meet, though, we had to fight to keep in perspective what were needs and what were wants. Like having a smartphone. There came a point where theoretically we could afford a smartphone, but we had to decide if it was really worth it for us to pay for one, or if we wanted to shave that much more time (and interest) off our debt.
It took a lot of self-control. A lot of hard conversations. Denial of self type stuff.
I can’t say it was easy… and I think that is why I don’t know how to answer the “How did you do it?” question very easily. Because I keep thinking I should have this bright, shiny, simple answer to give people. But the reality is: I don’t. It wasn’t easy. It was freakishly hard. And messy. I had to fight against my own nature, my pride, and my desires a lot. I still do.
But for every thing we said no to at the time, we were saying yes to something to else. To learning to live with freedom. Learning to live with wisdom. Learning to measure ourselves and really find out what was in our hearts. And on a practical level, because we are now debt free at ages 26 and 28, we said yes to being able to wield a pretty powerful dollar at a pretty young age.
And that brings me to one of the biggest things that helped us to achieve our goal of becoming debt free: We wanted it, and we were called to it. We were broke and had to live simply for a while. We were forced to live a fasted lifestyle, which helped us to continue that way once we were beyond being totally broke and could actually make some choices regarding our finances.
I’m not sure we would have had the staying-power if we were not convicted that this was the right path for us. We would not have been so compelled to get creative and figure out how to be a one-car family. How to make do without buying new more often than not.
How to live simply. And what does it look like to live simply? I think that is the root of that question people love to ask me. What does it actually look like for someone to live simply? I don’t have all the answers, but I can share with you what I have experienced. And maybe it will inspire you to seek out your own path and the wisdom that is there for you to uncover. More to come…