I’m glad you’re interested in debt free living, but it will require more than just interest. It will require commitment and sacrifice as well.
Once it happened that a mother brought her young son to see the Dalai Lama. She waited in line and when it was her turn she said, “Would you please tell my son to stop eating sugar?” The Dalai Lama looked at her and her son and said, “Come back in one week.”
One week later, the woman brought her son back to see him. When she made it to the front of the line the Dalai Lama looked at the boy and said, “Stop eating sugar.” The woman ask, “Why did I have to wait a week?” To which the Dalai Lama replied, “I needed to know if I could do it.”
I’ve been a financial advisor for 20+ years and I’m going to share my professional experience helping countless people get out of debt. And I’m going to share my personal experience of doing it as well.
Debt is a problem.
The average American has over $6,000 of credit card debt. The average interest rate on that debt is over 20%. 90% of young adults have experienced mental health problems related to money. Financial problems are a leading cause of divorce. And parents’ money problems have negative and potentially far reaching effects on their kids.
I hate credit card debt.
For much of my 20s, I struggled financially. I didn’t pay attention to my cash flow, never kept a budget, and waited till the last minute to pay bills. I wasn’t successful financially. I lived paycheck-to-paycheck and was in and out of credit card debt.
My goal here is to share with you how I got out and stayed out of debt, as well as some best practices that have helped many others.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- You’ve gotta believe
- Getting your mind on your money
- Your money plan
- Getting out of debt
- The way forward
Let’s get started.
You’ve gotta believe
Just like our smartphones, each of us has an operating system that’s constantly running in the background. Much of the work it does is a benefit and improves our lives. And then there’s the bad stuff.
If you have negative beliefs about something, they can limit your ability to reach your ultimate potential. This can be exacerbated if you’re not aware of them.
Take me, for example: I was raised in northern Minnesota by a single mother who was a schoolteacher. We were middle class, but there was never enough money to go around. Once a month, my mom would pay bills. That meant she’d spread all our bills out on the dining room table. My brother and I knew to stay out of her way, because it was a really stressful thing.
Without realizing it, that’s where many of my negative financial behaviors started. Looking back, it’s obvious why I didn’t track my cash flow or keep a budget. It made sense why I avoided financial matters. Once I became aware of my beliefs, I was able to change my behaviors, and create new beliefs.
Take some time and fill in these blanks. Don’t overthink your answers, just write down what comes to mind.
People with money are __________
Money makes people __________
I’d have more money if __________
My parents thought money would __________
In my family, money caused __________
Money equals __________
If I had money, I’d __________
If I could afford it, I’d __________
Money is __________
Money causes __________
Having money is not __________
In order to have more money, I’d need to __________
When I have money, I usually __________
I think money __________
People think money __________
Your answers should give you a sign of how you think and feel about money. When you engage in negative financial behaviors, work to figure out the origins. Is there a childhood experience which could have led to your beliefs and behaviors today?
Again, the good news is you can create new and beneficial beliefs and behaviors.
Getting your mind on your money
How often are you reviewing your cash flow? Do you know how much you earn every month? Do you know how much you spend?
When I was in my 20s, the only way I knew if I had money was when I would go to an ATM and it would tell me my balance. Even if I would have had access to online banking, I’m confident I wouldn’t have paid attention.
If you’re wanting to get out of debt, which I know you are, monitoring your cash flow is essential. All it entails is logging into all your financial accounts and reviewing your transactions. If it’s been a year since you’ve done that, go in and review a year’s worth.
You’re looking for things that are no longer serving you. Are there charges for things you’ve forgotten about, or that you no longer use? This may be a wonderful opportunity to cut some expenses. When my wife and I went through this years ago, we found hundreds of dollars of recurring expenses we could cut out.
Once you complete your initial review, make sure you’re logging into your accounts at least once a month. As you become more comfortable, you can transition to quarterly.
For more info on cash flow, check out this blog post:
Your money plan
A budget is simply a plan for your money. This is the one aspect of personal finance that I have the hardest time with. In fact, my wife keeps our household budget.
I used to think of budgeting as restrictive and limiting. Today, I think of it as empowering. A budget helps you to know if you’re on track to meet your financial goals and objectives. It can also tell you if you can afford to do something. Can you afford to go on vacation this year? Can you afford to invest in Bitcoin?
Getting your budget together is an essential part of debt free living. Without a budget, you’ll have no idea if cuts or changes will be required.
For more info, check out this blog post on budgeting:
Getting out of debt
So much of success is setting an intention. Losing weight requires you to set an intention. So does getting out of debt.
Take out a piece of paper, or open a document. Write at the top, “I will be debt free.” From there, write down all of your credit card balances, the interest rates, minimum monthly payments, and companies. When you know the total amount of debt, it’s time to figure out how you’ll pay them off.
If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, you may not currently be able to come up with additional money to pay down the balances. Hopefully, when you go through your cash flow, you’ll find expenses you can cut out. If not, you’ve got some decisions to make.
You’ve got a couple choices; you can earn more money, or you can live on less. If you’re in a career you love, is there a new skill you can learn, or a certification you can get that will allow you to earn more? If you have extra time and energy, is there a side hustle you could pick up to earn money?
If you choose to live on less, what changes can you make to your existing lifestyle? I’m not a monk, and I’ve never taken a vow of poverty. That being said, getting out of debt may require you to take a step back. If that’s what you decide, I commend you for doing it. Taking a step back to get out of debt will position you to take a lot more steps forward in the future.
When you figure out how to come up with the money you’ll need to attack your debt, you can access our Get Out of Debt course for free. This will help you put your plan together as well as executing it.
The way forward
As you’re going through your debt free process, I want you to keep an eye on the future you want. To help you get clarity, you can access our Goals course for free.
I also want you to change the way you think about your money. You do that by becoming the CEO of your financial life and accepting personal responsibility for all of it.
You don’t need to do all of it, but you need to accept responsibility for all of it. There are a lot of financial things that I outsource, like my income taxes and my investments. Even though I’ve given someone else the responsibility of handling those things, it’s still up to me to ensure what I expect to be done is actually getting done.
As you become debt-free and begin pursuing your most important goals and objectives, make sure you think of yourself as the CEO of your financial life.
Personal finance is personal. I have no idea what led you to this point. There may have been circumstances beyond your control, or any problems you’re experiencing may be self-inflicted. However you arrived here, know this; you’re 100% capable of debt free living, and enjoying the financial success you desire.
Get to work, you got this.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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