I used to think that my debt wasn’t holding me back. It felt as though I just needed to pay it off before I got to the end of the road. Not sure what that specific road was but it just seemed like something to do at some point. What I didn’t realize though until I was debt free is that paying off debt is just the beginning.
There are a few defining moments in my life that helped shape who I am. In high school, I was heavily involved in band which allowed me to express myself in ways I couldn’t before. In college, I was introduced to Architecture and saw the world in a different way. A couple years after graduating with my Masters I once again had my life changed when I met Erin after church. Before even saying a word to her I got the impression she was my future wife.
Each of those periods of my life shaped me to who I am today but there was a lot of fear and trepidation beginning each of those adventures. Debt was no different. It was easier for me to continue the path I was going on even though deep down I knew it was wrong. It was comfortable and I thought that if I made changes that I would be missing out on what I enjoyed. I was wrong.
I was already missing out on things because I was in debt. It wasn’t so much the debt, which is really a side effect, but rather the limitation of accepting debt in lieu of better things.
I would compare myself to others who were frugal and I thought they didn’t have a life. I mean, how could they enjoy life when you bring your lunch to work or don’t have cable? What a load of crap I believed. For me, I held on to what I had but it came at the expense of what I didn’t have.
What I Was Missing
From a practical standpoint, I wasn’t saving for retirement. I missed the key years of my life where the charts show that if you invest a few thousand each year it will be worth millions in your 60’s.
I kind of had an emergency fund, but not really. By keeping a few thousand in my checking account it meant that I just kept a higher credit card balance.
I couldn’t take vacations without putting them on credit card. I couldn’t take risks with my job or career since I had to cover debt payments. I wasn’t saving for a down payment on a house when the market was so low.
Paying Off Debt Is Just the Beginning
Why was I so afraid of losing that? Because I felt that if I took the few things away that I enjoyed such as cable TV, going to concerts, eating out and buying architecture books that I would have nothing. I thought that I would just go home and sit there and not do anything. It felt like that was all I had.
I was sacrificing a better retirement, future travel opportunities, more freedom in my career and the ability to give more. It isn’t that those things weren’t attainable, but I was putting off getting those things by holding onto my debt and lifestyle.
For the record, I wasn’t a bad person because I held onto debt like I did and you aren’t either. I was generally happy during that time and have a lot of fond memories from that period of my life.
The Beginning of What?
During the process of paying off debt I started to see that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I started to feel empowered. I felt in control. I felt a sense of dignity that I didn’t have before.
In addition to feeling as though the nice retirement or travel opportunities were possible I found something even greater. I found that I was now living.
I didn’t need cable, concerts, or books to make me happy. I found power in not needing those things. I think it helped me reach a level of maturity I didn’t have before. It isn’t just because I now understand what a 401K or an index fund is that I am somehow more mature. By releasing those things that bound me I found a level of contentment that makes it easier to enjoy the things I do have.
Each dollar we spend brings us more joy than it did a few years ago. We still make some bad decisions here and there but they are relatively minor unlike a few years prior.
So, after we got out of debt I started listening to different financial podcasts. I would sometimes hear these crazy stories of people retiring in their 30’s. That won’t be me but that isn’t the point. They were a part of this group that goes by FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early). Some of the leading figures in this genre are Mr. Money Mustache and the Mad Fientist among many others. One recent newcomer that burst onto the scene in 2017 is the Choose FI podcast.
I never connected with the FIRE movement previously because I like being an Architect and have no desire to quit my job. Choose FI though focuses on Financial Independence and that does appeal to me. That is why we got out of debt. It allowed us to live the life we wanted. That is why we gave up things like cable or eating out. Those things didn’t give us what we really wanted. Getting out of debt did.
I highly encourage you to listen to the Choose FI podcast. So many things they talk about relate to getting out of debt and are directly applicable to finding more value in your current life. One of their hosts, Jonathon, paid off about $150K in debt last year and they both have families. That makes it easy for me to relate to.
They focus on finding value and not just frugality for the sake of frugality. Maybe you hate your job and realize that if you make drastic changes you could retire in 10 years. Maybe you love your job but just want to manage your money so that you find a level of happiness you didn’t have before. They provide perspectives on both positions and really open up the opportunities of a financially independent life.
It Isn’t Too Late
If you are reading this thinking that it is great that I figured this out but it is too late for me. Are you breathing? If yes, then it is not too late for you. You would be shocked what you can do in a year, five years or ten years.
If you are looking to get out of debt as well as examine your ‘why’ then please check out my 6 simple steps for getting out of debt.
The longer you hold on to the debt the longer you put off that next level of living. If you think you are living today just wait until you aren’t carrying around the weight and stress of debt. This is absolutely something you should want.
Be intense about it and have a sense of urgency. There are greater things for you on the other side of debt. Run, don’t walk, to those things and release yourself from the trappings of debt. This isn’t for my sake, but for yours.