Freedom: 6 Tips For Deleting Debt
My final Christmas present of 2015 from my wife was a piece of paper. A small half-sheet of printer paper that announced to me that we could afford to zero out our student loans with one last loan payment that afternoon.
BEST. CHRISTMAS. PRESENT. EVER.
In the last week of 2015, my wife - Reetu - and I achieved a goal we have been working towards since graduating college. We paid off our last student loan and became entirely free of debt.
We realized early on in our relationship that our dreams and goals in life were too important to allow debt to hold us back and hinder us from living the life of ministry and adventure that we are embarking on.
So we made a pact together to get out of debt as quickly as possible and to do everything we can to avoid ever going back into debt again.
Here are a few of the steps that we took to eradicate debt from our lives:
- Identify Every Expense: Spend 2-4 weeks writing down EVERYTHING that you spend money on. From the candy bar you grab every time you fill up your car with gas to those necessary housing payments, track everything you put money towards.
- Keep The Necessities, Delete The Rest: After tracking your spending for a few weeks, determine what items you MUST continue to spend money on. And be critical of everything. You may need to continue making payments on a house (that you rent or own) or a vehicle, but can you reduce those expenses at all? Trade-in your car for a cheaper one. Find a smaller and more affordable rental unit to live in. After you determine what must stay, eliminate the rest of the expenses in your life. Cut cable television, reduce from a car to bike, or go without Netflix. Focus on the necessities. While discomfort is not the goal of this step, perpetual comfort should not be a goal in life either.
- Increase the Arsenal: Simply put, to pay off debt quicker you need more money. You can look to accomplish this through two avenues: earn more and/or spend less. By freeing up more of your finances, you have a larger arsenal available to attack debt with. You can take this step by picking up hours at work, picking up an additional job, or starting a side hustle from home. And, as I mentioned above, you can also increase your arsenal by cutting what you spend. Drink the 'coffee' at work instead of Starbucks. Cut your subscriptions (digital and print) - all of them. Have friends over to your home for dinner rather than eating out or, better yet, make it a pitch-in!
- Go On The Offensive: Attack your debt aggressively. A simple and effective way to do this is through the Debt Snowball Method. Whatever method you choose, paying off your debt should be your number one priority (and priorities number two and three and four and five as well!). Make the commitment to yourself or your significant other that debt-free is the goal and that you will not stray from that goal until you've crossed the finish line of financial freedom.
- Enjoy Free: Now those first four steps really sound like a bundle of fun right? (Insert sarcasm here.) And while there will be patches of boredom and discomfort throughout this journey, becoming debt-free does not mean that you aren't allowed to have fun! It just means you will need to stretch your creative muscles in finding free entertainment. The top way that Reetu and I have done this is through getting library cards. Not only do you get access to an unlimited quantity of books, but most library networks also have movies, TV shows, and CD's available (I'm working on learning a third language through CD's currently.) We also only enjoy subscription services such as Hulu or Netflix when we are able to get a free trial. And find the e-newsletters, websites, and (free) newspapers that can provide you with a constant stream of upcoming, cost-free events in your community and city. Simply put, you DO NOT have to spend money to have a good life.
- Set monthly goals: Lastly, one of the easiest ways to quickly lose momentum is to set overly lofty long-term goals (i.e. debt-free in 6.5 years) with only a vague plan of how to accomplish it. Without measurable goals and steps, you will find it hard to find traction in the pursuit of financial freedom. Instead, copy and paste the mentality behind Step One and focus on smaller time frames and measurable (and manageable) steps. So if your goal is to be free of debt in six and half years, figure out what you need to do this year in order to be headed in that direction. After you figure out where you need to be in 12 months, determine what you must do this next month in order to meet your annual goal. Then test-run those steps for 1 month. And after one month, re-evaluate. Figure out what is working well and what can be improved. Maybe you over-budgeted food expenses but under-budgeted for gas. Change that for the next month. Maybe you try giving up Netflix for one month and see if you are able to survive without it. I've found that setting monthly goals in my own life helps the goals not feel as overwhelming and it gives me the power to start over if I fail at something without feeling that I've wasted a large amount of time. So set monthly goals (based off of your large goal) and get started today. Make mistakes. Achieve victories. And re-balance your goals for next month.
Now maybe you're thinking that there is no 'special sauce' for success in those six tips. That's exactly the point. These steps have been important in our story - and others - but it's more important that you focus and act on the goal of being debt-free. Which is the case for all areas of life.
If you remember learning how to drive, we were always taught to keep our eyes on the road - not the mailboxes. Because if you focus on the mailboxes, that is what you will hit.
So yes, I have found these steps to be vitally important in our journey to financial freedom. Yet in your life, you might find (through trial and error) that only a handful of these tips are beneficial to you and your situation. Great! Take what works, delete the rest, and get going on your journey to being debt-free!
Important disclaimer: I'm not the one who should get the credit for being debt-free, however. My wife has been the main financial driver for us in our marriage. So:
- The kudos should go to her on this accomplishment in our lives.
- She's shared about this online as well. Read her account of our journey to being debt-free here.
Post any questions, thoughts, and tips from your own life in the comments section below.