The hardest part of getting out of debt, for me, was not stopping going out to eat or treating myself with manicures and pedicures. I used to think everyone had the same problem: you spend too much money – more than you make – but everyone has a different financial journey. Along my financial journey, I learned something about myself that honestly shocked me:
I’m a saver, not a spender.
As it turns out, some of us naturally like to save our money, but “savers,” as the financial industry likes to call us, can be in debt too. Savers can make huge money mistakes too and have difficulty overcoming large financial obstacles, such as debt.
When I started my financial journey, I did have to cut my spending. I thought cutting my spending would feel like going on a cauliflower diet sprinkled with beans and rice.
(…although many a-cheerio was consumed…)
On the contrary, it felt so easy to cut my spending that my friends questioned my sanity because I no longer paid for “necessities” like internet (“Guys – the library has internet”).
But cutting my spending wasn’t enough. In fact, it was so far from enough that I racked up an additional $14,000 in debt! Yikes. This happened because my focus wasn’t staying out of debt, it was getting out of debt. The difference between the two finally dawned on me when The Budget Mom put out an Instagram post where she asked viewers:
“What is more important? Getting out of debt or staying out of debt?”
“Staying out of debt!” (paraphrased)
Finally, I decided to take the advice from the hosts of the How to Money podcast. They suggested the order of operations:
If your company offers a 401k match, take advantage of it (my company offers a 4% match which is standard)
Build an emergency fund of about $2,500 (my emergency fund is $5,000 because that number makes me feel comfortable)
Pay off high interest debt (anything above 7%)
Save 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses
Invest in one of your big money goals, such as saving for a home
Before implementing this advice, I had devoted all of my cash towards paying off debt. This turned out to be detrimental because, inevitably, something would come up – I had to replace carpet in my apartment, my dog needed a trip to the vet, something on the car broke – you get the idea. Life happens. When life happened for me, because I didn’t have an emergency fund, I went into debt. My credit card saved the day instead of using an emergency fund for – you guessed it – emergencies …because I didn’t have an emergency fund.
Once I came to my senses and created an emergency fund of $5,000 (because $5,000 made me feel safer than the recommended $2,500), whenever something came up, such as travel expenses for my grandmother’s funeral, I simply transferred the required amount to my checking account and used the funds I already had available.
This saved me from building additional debt. It even cured me from worrying incessantly about paying interest (I pay very little interest due to refinancing debt, but interest is still a source of anxiety). I still have money concerns, and I would still like to pay off my debt, but I truly learned the lesson that Mindy from Bigger Pockets Money podcast tries relentlessly to convey to listeners:
Personal finance is personal!
(You’re allowed to be unique – even when those around you can’t relate.)
Your journey will look different from everyone else’s journey, so don’t let setbacks stop you in your tracks. Learn to realize that you, as an individual, will have money obstacles unique to you.
The first step to building wealth is accepting that you have wealth. It may sound counter-intuitive because if you’re trying to build wealth, you might feel like you have little to no wealth.
This simply isn’t true. Recently, on The School of Greatness podcast [episode 1067], Priyanka Chopra Jonas challenged listeners to think about it this way: You can always find someone worse off than yourself. Always. If you find it difficult to think of things to be grateful for, start with that. I know it’s a little dark and depressing, but the truth is you’ll always have the ability to think of someone else in a worse situation than yourself. Think of this person, whether real or imaginary, and list what you have that this person does not have. List the reasons you should be thankful.
Step 1. Learn to live in abundance by practicing gratitude.
The first step to capitalizing on your wealth is by recognizing it when you see it. I fully admit, this is where I struggle the most! It feels easy to slip into a routine of working 24/7 or trying to use up every second of every day focusing on what task you must complete next.
But when we are always in a hurry, too busy to clear your kitchen table or fold the laundry on the couch, we miss the little things we can count as blessings. For example, if you have a couch, you are wealthy – you have a place to sleep if nothing else! Hopefully, you have many more things to be grateful for than a couch to sleep on, but there may be times in your life when you don’t. During a debt-payoff journey or really anytime in life, it’s important to practice gratitude for what you have. Practicing gratitude changes your mindset from a negative mindset to a positive mindset, and having a positive mindset opens you up to greater opportunity.
For example, my first apartment was in a terrible part of town. A person was murdered in the building next to mine, and I routinely reported gunshots to the police. The parking lot across from my apartment complex was a meetup location for the biggest gangs in the city. During that time in my life, it felt like I didn’t have much to be thankful for, but that wasn’t the case. I had a place to sleep, I had a good job, and I was going to school. Going to school allowed me to find a better job and a better apartment!
Step 2. Take care of what you already have.
This includes you! You’ve heard it before: if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. It may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to capitalize on your wealth is to simply avoid buying something new. Recently, I learned this lesson (again) the hard way: my car started making a strange noise and had difficulty starting. What did I do? … I ignored it. Several hundred dollars later, it was decided that the car was a lost cause, and I ended up having to purchase a new (used) vehicle.
Part of the issue was the fact that the vehicle I owned is frequently referred to as a “mechanical nightmare.” This couldn’t be helped; however, if I hadn’t ignored the issue, I likely could have kept that vehicle for longer than I did.
Step 3. Let go of the excess.
Letting go of the excess allows you to more clearly see what you have. If you haven’t already read Marie Kondo’s The Magic of Tidying Up, I highly recommend you do. Clearing out the clutter can help you make significant and unexpected changes in your life. I’ve included a link to her book below. If you would rather save some cash, you can most likely find this gem of a book at your public library. I bought this book when it first came out. After I’d finished reading it, I sent it to my sister – who never returned it – because it’s a really good book. It’s a fun and easy read, and decluttering strangely does have the power to impact your life in surprising ways.
Step 4. Find a home and a use for your belongings.
Finding a specific place and use for every item in your home allows you to accomplish several goals:
Giving each item a home forces you to be intentional about where you place things which can help you declutter and also remember where to put the item if it gets moved.
Giving every item a use will allow you to determine whether or not you need to keep the item. If you don’t have a use for an item, either give it a purpose or give it away.
This is one of my favorite decluttering tutorials:
Step 5. Turn your free time into passive income time.
Whether you like to invest or prefer something closer to blogging, it’s important to have passive income of some sort. My passive income currently consists of my 401(k), but, according to Todd Miller, author of ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning, you should have multiple streams of passive income.
I highly recommend listening to the Millennial Money podcast, episode 228, to hear Todd Miller give advice on how to set yourself up for an “enriched life.”
Click the image below to check out Todd Miller’s book:
Step 6. Thrive off of helping others.
How can helping others help you capitalize on your wealth? In my experience, helping others does three things:
It takes the focus off of yourself which can help you open your mind to different possibilities. This is useful because it’s easy to feel consumed by your financial journey, or school, or work. Taking some of the focus of off yourself and placing it on people who are important to you can help you remember why you’re striving towards your goals.
It helps you realize the value you bring to the table. For example, I recently started helping people with their resumes. It’s something I enjoy doing, and it’s something I’m good at. In fact, every person I’ve helped has interviewed with a potential employer shortly after I worked with them to revamp their resume. It’s a way that I can see value in myself, and it helps me shift my focus from my own problems to finding solutions to those problems. It makes me feel productive and capable of solving problems, and I genuinely enjoy helping other people achieve their goals – even if I can only help in small ways.
Finally, helping others helps you recognize your skillsets. In college, I was given the gift of a full-ride scholarship for the last two years of my education. Along with the scholarship, we were expected to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. During those volunteer hours, I was allowed to try different things, from picking up trash to making hummus in an industrial kitchen. It helped me learn about myself. For example, I’m not skilled at manual labor (an underrated and valuable skill I wish I had), but I’m good at finding creative solutions. I’m good at solving problems by thinking and coming up with a variety of solutions.
Step 7. Stop and smell the roses.
This is another area where I struggle. I can work and work and work until I finally run out of energy. By the time that happens, I’ve forgotten all of the reasons why I was working so hard in the first place. The whole reason you should be working towards financial independence or getting out of debt is to enjoy your life more. Living life should be joyful and fun. You should love what you do, and if you don’t, I firmly believe that you need to find something you do love. Life is too short to give up so much of your time to something you don’t love.