Everyone says they want to be debt free but do you really want to be debt free? Now, there are two ways to interpret this question. The first way, and the more provocative way, is to make it sound as though being debt free is some burden or that it isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.
The second way to interpret this, and the more challenging way, is to analyze whether you are willing to do what it takes to be debt free. So, which is it?
Well, with the name Debt Free Happens it should be obvious that we are all about getting rid of debt. What I want is to challenge you to see if your actions align with your words.
Fair warning, this might be a challenging post for you but I hope that you read it in full. Even if you aren’t on board right away, I do encourage you to think about it, and come back to it.
Being debt free was one of many goals I had but it wasn’t the only one.
Before I got married I thought it would be nice to be debt free. There were a lot of other things that I thought were nice too, such as going to concerts or eating out. They all had the same priority though. I was very creative with using the resources I had to buy things. Being debt free was one of many goals I had but it wasn’t the only one.
Those things I wanted competed for my attention. Every few months I would get excited about paying a little extra towards my debt. Then I would turnaround and charge that much more and then some to my credit cards. It doesn’t make sense but that is the pattern millions of Americans find themselves in.
To be critical, looking at the situation from afar, it was clear that getting out of debt wasn’t my top priority. If it had been, then my actions would have reinforced what I said I wanted.
To be clear, no one, and certainly me will ever be perfect. We will all say things that don’t match up with our words. The difference is that if you want to see results, then they need to closely align.
Do You Really Want To Be Debt Free?
So, that brings us back to the original question? Are you willing to do what it takes to be debt free? Or, is it just a ‘nice to have’ but ‘I don’t want to have to change my behavior’ to get there? The critical shift is moving from “nice to have” to “must have” without a doubt or exception in your mind.
So often, we want change, but we aren’t willing to change to get it. It is this behavior that keeps us in debt. Forgot what got us there, although that certainly plays a role, why do we continue to repeat the same behavior over and over if it isn’t helping us?
Because it is comfortable. It is what we know. And what we know is less scary than what we don’t know. Even if what we want is clearly more desirable. When you can get away with making the minimum payments why worry? It seems to be a risk that we are comfortable to take, even if it has hurt us in the past.
What seems riskier is to do something drastic like spend less than you earn and pay off debt with the rest. It might sound illogical when you read it but if you look at how people continue to stick around in debt its evidence that that is what is happening.
Who This Applies To
Just because you don’t want to give up eating out doesn’t mean you are facing severe hardships. It isn’t a burden to cut your cable.
To be clear, I’m not referring to extreme situations of hardship such as major medical issues, disability or even extreme poverty. Some people are truly dealt a bad hand and they are the exception here. Just because you don’t want to give up eating out doesn’t mean you are facing severe hardships. It isn’t a burden to cut your cable.
I am talking about most debt situations where people just need to control their spending and save. They take a lukewarm approach which yields subpar results. In this type of situation, they can easily move back into old habits and get back to normal again (or worse) without much notice.
The strong majority of the time I’ve found that people facing severe physical or health hardships make many less excuses than those of us who are fortunate to be considered normal. I have seen plenty of success stories with people who should complain but don’t.
The Secret Ingredient
The one thing that seems to be prevalent in most debt free stories I have heard is passion. They simply wanted to be debt free more than they wanted anything else.
If you were to ask me what one thing can make becoming debt free possible my answer will always be passion. We all know that spending less than you earn or doing a budget will help. The question is how do we make it happen when it isn’t typical behavior.
The one thing that seems to be prevalent in most debt free stories I have heard is passion. They simply wanted to be debt free more than they wanted anything else. It is a simple concept, just like spending less than you earn, but it is not so easy to make happen.
Most people don’t wake up and say, ‘let’s make some bad decisions with money today!’. It is deeper than that. It has become our habit to not use money wisely and habits are tough to break.
When you want something, and I mean really want it, you find a way to make it happen even when it’s hard. You know this because you have done it. I guarantee it. How many times have you figured out a way to get those new clothes, buy the newest phone or stretch further for that new car. If that doesn’t sound like you, don’t ignore this question. I guarantee you have done it. Just look at your purchase history to see what you really wanted.
The Proof is in the Pudding
If you were to analyze all your financial transactions they would tell you what is important to you. If you look at you biggest categories and see that you spend more on shopping than you did on debt reduction then you have your answer.
Don’t start making excuses that you needed that to buy those clothes because you have an interview coming up or have a wedding to go to. There are ways to get what you need for less. Spend your time at the outlet or thrift store looking for good deals or plan to buy a nicer item with cash when it is on sale.
If you really wanted to get out of debt you would identify those things that get in the way of achieving your goal and you would work to resolve them. But, if you are stuck in that old mind frame then you’ll probably say “well, this is a good deal, and I have been working hard lately, I owe it to myself this time.”
You aren’t a bad person for shopping and there is no reason why you can’t buy things that make you happy. The point is, you need to do it through the lens of getting out of debt. So that means waiting to buy it or accept that your debt payoff will take longer.
How often have you worked with someone who always had an excuse for why they couldn’t do something? It drives you nuts. It is easy to see from the outside that if they just made some adjustments they could improve.
When someone suggests making a budget cut and you respond “yeah, but…” then that might signal that there are competing interests for getting out of debt. I’m not just talking about one category that you say this to, I am talking about when every category receives that excuse.
You must be honest with yourself. If you say you want it, yet your actions suggest otherwise, think through it. Don’t just admit defeat and throw a pity party. Think back to times you were successful with other goals and emulate those habits.
In this case, we’re not expecting you to give everything up and go move in with your parents or live in a tent in the woods. Maybe that is an option to consider (kidding, well, maybe), but the point is, that you need to be open. If you are passionate about getting results then you are willing to make changes.
You become open to making an adjustment elsewhere rather than your debt payoff be the compromise. At that point, you will know that you really want it. That is when you prioritize your debt payoff over other items.
What I love about Dave Ramsey’s baby steps and debt snowball is that they don’t have you do too much at once. You focus on one goal at a time. Admittedly, they are big goals, but they are singularly focused.
If you are trying to save up $1,000 then every decision you make should be filtered through the lens of that goal. If you are trying to pay off a credit card or a student loan, every decision you make should be based around that goal.
By doing that then you will make better decisions. You won’t always be perfect, but you will be much more aligned and that is what we want.
Even when trying to pay off a large amount of debt there are ways to focus that energy. One way we did that was to use a debt thermometer to track our progress and provide mini goals along the way. Find ways to support your goals, not compete with them.
Yes, we could afford it, but over the course of a year I was spending about $1,200 on lunch.
One of the first things I had to confront myself with was eating lunch out. I could easily spend $50 a week on lunch.
Where I worked a few of us would go out for lunch each day and I was happy to go along. I had to do the right thing though for Erin and myself and that was stop eating out. I could have easily stomped my feet and provided excuse after excuse of why I needed to eat out.
By focusing on paying off our debt though I saw the impact eating out had on our debt. Yes, we could afford it, but over the course of a year I was spending about $1,200 on lunch. Our lowest loan was $1,800. By making that one decision I knocked out 2/3 of that loan.
What happened by making that single decision is that I spent less money on gas. I also didn’t lose an hour during the work day by going out either. Sometimes I drove home but it was still a net gain.
I ate lunch at my desk and my life was still OK. In fact, I thought it was better because I knew that this decision was positive for Erin, our debt, my job, etc. It didn’t compete with our goal. It supported it.
As much as it might seem like the lightbulb magically went off there were years of emotion and experiences that led to my change. This wasn’t an overnight thing. The motivation that I had from years of regrets was now my motivation. I was not going back to that spot.
That emotion is almost the secret ingredient for this passion that I suggested. You get sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So, Do You Really Want To Be Debt Free?
It isn’t about depriving yourself. It is about giving yourself what you deserve which is success.
So, are you willing to do what it takes? If so, then you’ll see your progress in the money you spend. Tracking your expenses is the perfect mirror to look at. Don’t be scared, you have nothing to lose by being aware of where your money is going.
It isn’t about depriving yourself. It is about giving yourself what you deserve which is success.
You are to give up things that are preventing you from achieving what you really want. Be honest, is your end goal in life to have an up to date outfit or a relatively new phone? No, it is probably one focused on being king and generous leaving a rich legacy. So, buy, or don’t buy, things that get you to your goals. If something doesn’t align with your goals then throw it aside.
This is about recognizing what you truly want and going out and getting it.
Be brave, move forward and don’t look back. I know we haven’t and we don’t want you to either.
I’d say your view is a balanced approach to paying off debt, sacrificing, but not suffering. I’d only add that each person has a different level at which he’d say, “I’m suffering!” My girlfriend HAS to go out to dinner once in awhile to de-stress. For me, dinner out is no big deal. But it’s hard for me to be a college football fan and not have ESPN when it’s this time of year and the bowl games come around. I’m on the verge of suffering!
I agree with that. It is relative and it is tough to chose examples when writing an article like this since it could easily not be a big deal to someone. There were some things I said were non-negotiable such as mlb.tv but as evidenced with my eating out I made bigger adjustments elsewhere. Yeah, some people are a bit dramatic about it. The first time Erin suggested we cut cable I was shocked and stunned and we got into a semi-big fight as I was defensve. Then I wanted to buy something but couldn’t justify the cost and offered up getting rid of cable for 3 months. Erin agreed and that was such a great tradeoff. I learned I didn’t need cable and got what I wanted and valued more.
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Very good point. We all want things in life. Too often I think we get caught in an “I wish…” mentality instead of developing our own sense of grit to follow through and do what we want.
Yesh, sometimes we spend a lot of time wishing for something rather than just making small progress towards it. We all do it but I think we underestimate what can really be achieved in any period of time.
The 76K Project
Great post! I can tell that I reallllllly want us to be debt free because I’ve been persistent about my side hustles and my regular job (which I don’t love). We are definitely passionate about offloading this debt!
Yeah, I can tell you guys will do it too. One thing you guys seem to do is immerse yourself fully into this idea. I didn’t get into that in the article but going along with making your decisions based on your goals you can immerse yourself and create a word of success. The same things you are doing to get rid of your debt will easily transition to building wealth but it all starts here.