Most of us know having a lot of debt is a bad thing and being debt-free is a good thing. Yet most of America is in debt and things like student loan and mortgage are as common as having a pet. Just this week, one of my favorite podcasts Death, Sex, and Money did a two-part series on student loan how the massive amount of debt is affecting the lives of Americans. And it really got me thinking.
The misconception about having debt
It’s common sense that if you borrowed money, you have to pay it back, regardless of who you borrowed it from; your parent, your friend, a shady company, or the government. But conventional wisdom also says “there is good debt and bad debt; good debt is good” or “you need to be in debt in order to build credit”. How do we reconcile these two things, especially in the face of daily advertisement and promotions that bombard us on Facebook, email inbox, even freeway billboards? Going into debt feels so natural, so easy, and normal because “everyone has it.” Not to mention the elusive concept of being debt-free… just how does that even feel?
It’s like a weight-loss program
Much like trying to lose weight, if you don’t know why you want to be in shape or what the benefits of being in shape are, you’re not going to have much progress toward the goal. Yes, we all know being in shape means you’re healthier and your clothes might fit better. But how does being fit change your daily decisions? How does being fit change the way you interact with people? Would it change your self-image? How does being fit change YOU on a deeper level?
Replace “fit” in the above paragraph with “debt-free”, you’ve got a series of questions you need to ask yourself, in order to truly understand why you should become debt-free.
My becoming debt-free
I’ve mentioned a few times (here, and here) about the fact that my husband and I have become debt-free. It was one of our biggest goal in 2016 before we were to get married. We reached our goal at the end of 2016. We kept that debt-free lifestyle for about 6 months until May this year, when we have purchased and moved into a first house together. Yes, this officially put us back in debt with our mortgage. Even still, it’s our plan to have the mortgage fully paid off within the next 5-7 years.
Those 6 months of being truly, completely, and utterly debt free gave me one of the most transforming experiences I’ve ever had. In today’s post, I’d like to share with you how becoming debt-free has changed me, my mentality, my habits, and my outlook on life.
1. It made it possible for me to walk away from a job that was draining me and detrimental to my well-being.
It was a dream company to work at. Getting the job in and of itself was such a milestone for my career. But as fate would have it, this position became one of the worse professional experiences I’ve had. I needed to walk away from it, and I did. I was only able to do that because financially we were able to do that as a household. We had no more bills to pay other than our monthly expenses for the basic essentials
2. It made me NEVER want to go back in debt again.
This was a very subtle change in my attitude. So subtle that it took me a while to notice. When you are $2000 in debt, adding $20 on that credit card bill feels like nothing. It’s like finishing up a big shopping trip and adding in another impulse-buy thingy at the check-out counter. That’s how they get you. Once I was CLEAN from any debt whatsoever, putting $5 on my credit card made me re-think my decision. So then I’d decide to put it on my debit card instead, which made it even harder because now I was spending cash. Did you know that research shows spending cash feels more painful in our head than credit card transactions? All things point toward a credit card-less world for us and that’s how we do it today. Debit card and cash. The only exception is mortgage I guess. In California it’s nearly impossible to save up the kind of cash you need to purchase a decent home.
3. It makes me more vigilant when I spend money.
Along the same lines as the above sentiment, being debt-free makes me re-consider all of my purchases. I talked about how I am so much more vigilant about how I spend money related to the up-keep of my blog. But even in my life outside of the blog I’m finding myself paying attention to coupons (I was never a coupon clipper), second guessing my urge to purchase something, or abandoning a full shopping cart (online). (Do you guys do that??) Take our new house, for example. I could’ve gone to Home Goods plenty of times and just go crazy on home decor stuff. Which trust me, I totally wanted to. And the backyard… don’t get me started on the backyard. I SO wanted to buy all these patio furniture!! But no. It’s not in our budget right now, not to mention we still have boxes of stuff to unpack. So we wait, maybe next month or the month after we will slowly get to the bits and pieces of new purchase we will need. But waiting is the new virtue I have gained now.
4. It made giving & being generous easier.
My husband and I are both the type to like entertaining friends and family, such as hosting dinner parties or pick up the tab for a gathering. When we were in debt, there was something uncomfortable when we did it and also when we didn’t do it. It felt irresponsible picking up the tab when we knew we still had other debts to pay down. But if we didn’t, something irked at us. Same thing for when I see an ASPCA ad (do they get you guys too?? I am such a wimp. I cry when I see those ads and take my wallet out…). You want to help, and you know you make good enough money. But you can’t. Because you have debt.
Once we were debt-free, it all changed. Because we have a written budget, we put down a certain amount of how much we want to spend on treating our loved ones. Because we have no more car loan or credit card bills to pay, it feels like we have extra money to dedicate to treating family and friends.
5. It changed our relationship by changing our relationship with money.
This is probably the number 1 game changer when it came to how being debt-free changed my relationship with my husband. Finance used to be such a taboo subject, because every time we talked about it we wound up having some sort of fight. He was always the responsible one, and I was the free-spirit. I used my decent income as an excuse, and spent, spent, and spent. When we moved in together and our finances started to merge, there was a really uncomfortable period of time we went through. My husband is has gentle spirit so he never wanted to hut my feelings. But issues inevitably would bubble up and it would force us to have the conversation. I sometimes ended up tearing like a child that realized she did something wrong, or stormed out the door because I felt embarrassed and humiliated.
The solution, came in the form of a financial guru by the name of Dave Ramsey. In short, Dave Ramsey teaches people how to get out of debt and how to live a debt-free life, and does so with black and white principles that are very easy to follow. He’s funny, sarcastic, very harsh but rightly so. Personal finance is such an important aspect of our daily living but if you think about it, there’s no instituted learning in our education that teaches you anything. What we know we learned from our parents, social media, and our friends. It’s no wonder most of up end up messing up at some point in their life on personal finance.
Since completing Financial Peace University led by Dave, my husband and I are in-sync, speak the same language, have the same expectation, and can talk about any money issues openly and calmly. We have Dave Ramsey to thank. Check out his program… it changed our lives. I hope it changes yours too!
6. It gave us complete financial peace.
This is an intangible and very subtle change in our mentality. It’s very hard to describe, but it’s this general feeling that…you’re okay. There is no fear or anxiety when we look to our future together. We know for a fact as long as we stick to the basics – a good budget, no-debt, always talk to each other – we will be okay. They say the number 1 reason for divorce in America is finances. We have complete confidence that we won’t have this issue. This kind of peace won’t come from large incomes (trust me, when we had the most fight was when we made the most money as a couple). It won’t come from you guys being math geniuses. It won’t come from some kind of financial windfall like an inheritance or winning the lottery. Because if you don’t have a plan, you won’t be able to build wealth or keep wealth.
Get on a plan today. Get out of debt. If you find what I talked about here foreign… you will have that ah-ha moment when you finally get rid of your last dime of debt. Trust me.
P.S. This is NOT a sponsored post. Victor and I have completed Financial Peace University in March, the same month we got married. It was one of the best experiences ever. Find one near you!!
All photography by Natalie Alvarado @ Stylenfuse