Vision. Plan. Action. Celebration : What worked for me to get out of debt

Up until a couple years ago, I didn’t budget. It’s embarrassing to say, but true. My then boyfriend and I kept track of our receipts for one month and when we tallied our results it was scary and revealing of how disposable our income was!

I’m happy to say I’m now debt free (aside from my mortgage on my rental that has great tenants at the moment!). I am enjoying some time off from the “every day race of being someone’s employee” and dreaming for what I really want in life.

I have had a couple friends ask how I got to this point, and thought it deserved a blog. I hope that by me telling my story, perhaps it will enlighten and challenge someone else. To be honest, I didn’t have huge debt, but I had some that lingered over my head. For me, it was more the lifestyle and discipline change that I needed. Please understand, I am not in any way saying I have figured it all out! I still have a lot to learn. But… I’ve made progress, so I am celebrating that!

I turned 30 last February and in my heart my dream was to get debt free and celebrate with some travel and, well, a break.

From January to March of this year I was taking a financial course by Dave Ramsey that laid out wisdom on budgeting, investing, insurance, saving, etc.

The biggest thing I got out of this course was carving into myself the discipline of tracking where my money was going and living off of cash. I had already cut up my credit card and had a pre-paid credit card instead (BMO has a prepaid credit card that works like a debit card)

Step one of the 7 Baby Steps of the Dave Ramsey course is to get a $1000 emergency fund. Once I got that under my belt, I felt like I could really focus on the rest. I started the envelope system and developed a habit of taking cash out weekly. Was I perfect at it right away? NO!

I won’t say how much I paid off or how much I left the country with, but I do believe with all my heart that once I got a vision for what I wanted to work towards and got serious about a budget… that God really got on board with me. With all my heart I believe He wanted me debt free to live my dreams as well.  He provided more freelance work than I could even say ‘yes’ to, on top of my already full time job.

I remember there were times I turned my car around because I had forgot the cash for the week in the house and I didn’t want to use my debit card at the grocery store. There became something so satisfying about paying with cash.

Here are a few other suggestions I gleaned from the course, other friends, and my own ideas, if you are really serious about getting out of debt and living the life you want to live:

1)   Get a Vision – First, I would suggest you make a list of what you would do if money wasn’t an option. Go make a delicious cup of coffee and dream for a bit. You will need to keep this vision before you as you work towards paying off debt. Stick the list on your fridge, in your wallet or in your car – somewhere you will see it often. We can wander aimlessly through life consuming and feeding bad habits simply because we really don’t know what we want and have no plan in place.

2)   Borrow or Eat In – Try borrowing movies from friends instead of renting or going out to the theatre. Some Libraries will lend for free or for half the price of renting a movie. If you find a lot of your cash gets consumed with eating or coffee-ing out, why not work into your budget some “social food” and invite them over instead?

3)   Homemade Preparation – I loved having coffee every morning at my desk, so I started making coffee at work more often with my ‘ol perk and brought in flavoured creamers.

Another thing I hadn’t established enough of a habit was planning my meals or grocery list. I know that those who have kids and husbands are superstars at this because you really have to be prepared, but when you’re single, it’s very easy to live with no meal plan when you’re only cooking for yourself. What got me in my spending was that I wasn’t planning enough, especially where food was concerned. I started trying to eat out less and tried (not always to success!) to bring breakfast, lunch and snacks to work.  This was much healthier as well. I recall times in the grocery line up when I had more in my basket than I had cash for in my wallet and had to put some things back.

4)   Accountability – I had a friend or two that I became accountable to for ‘shopping’. I gave them the right to ask me if I had bought anything. I wanted someone close to me to know what my financial goals were. I still have a couple friends I would talk to about this and they know they have the right to ask me. I am not ‘anti-spending’. Certainly not. But I am anti – “put it on the card because I want it now and am not willing to wait and save for it”.

5)   Always Leave Room for Giving! – To be honest, until I had a budget, I wasn’t as intentional about giving. I gave to my church without question, or when I had a birthday party to attend, but I was missing opportunities to bless friends and strangers with “just because”.  I portioned $50 for gifts in my budget and started a gift bag at home filled with little treats and coffee certificates. I made a habit of buying a friend a coffee when I knew I could. Or I would pay for the person behind me in the drive through. In fact, getting out of debt brought a new joy to random giving in my “normal” budget. I felt it was important to give my way out of debt because I didn’t want it to become all about me.

6)   Celebrate along the way.  When you have a huge weight to be lifted I think it’s important to bring celebration into the journey. I personally love having something to look forward to! Each time you pay a bill off or each time you say ‘no’ to yourself…set some sort of time for reward aside, and it doesn’t have to be monetary. You could try… dancing in your livingroom and eating your favourite dessert to celebrate?!  (Gentlemen readers…you can think of something more manly to celebrate ;)) Look at your visions list every time you reach a goal and remind yourself what you are working towards to keep your fuel fired!

7)   Tighten the Belt and Throw it All on the Bed – If the budget to get out of debt doesn’t hurt a bit, there’s probably still wiggle room to tighten it. I probably could’ve reached my goals even sooner if I wanted to make it hurt a bit more, and I will need to remember that for my future goals.

Some ways to tighten the belt are already stated above, such as less eating out, pay cash for everything, etc. You could also try a) Cut luxury pleasures, such as cable or manicures. b) Notice the monthly fees on your debit card for transactions or change your card. c) Find online coupons. Some grocery stores have notice boards when you go in that offer coupons. d) Get your gas where you will get money back in store for groceries. e) Buy no-name products. Usually it doesn’t taste THAT much different and for a time you can do it! f) If at the end of the month you have money leftover in your budget, tack it onto your smallest bill and watch it disappear quicker!

Girls, if you’re aching to go shopping, here’s an idea. Take everything out of your closet and throw it on your bed. Try rearranging your closet by taking your shirts and bottoms and mix and matching them on your hangers differently. Add belts, buttons or scarves to outfits that are wearing to bring fresh life to them. Or invite your best five girlfriends over with five things from their closet they don’t want anymore, and have an exchange party! It’s amazing what psychologically a little bit of change with what we already have will help bring that “feeling” that we can often look for in finding something new and pretty.

It truly isn’t about what we have, but about what we do with what we have, right?!

8)   24 Notice – The Joneses. We’ve all heard of them. But, pray tell, who are they?! I challenge you as you work to get out of debt to really ask yourself with anything that is out of the category of “need” (shelter, food, clothing, transportation) … “Do I really need to buy this and why?” Sleep on it for 24 hours. After that time the feeling of “I need this now!” may have passed and lo and behold wisdom kicked in, and ding, you’re a winner because you just made progress!

9)   Be Thankful – Find something every day, in every situation, to be thankful for. This will keep perspective and a happy heart throughout the process.

I know there are people out there who have WAY more debt than I had to get rid of. Or maybe since you were 16 you have been saving and budgeting and were a millionaire by the age of 30.  I so admire that, but I am not one of those people.  I am still learning. 😉

Whatever category you may fall in, I think a lot of it comes down to getting a vision and a plan. I believe that discipline will follow those two things much better than randomness!

The Bible says in Proverbs that, “people perish for lack of vision”. Don’t perish dear friends! Dream a bit. Write it down. Get a plan in place. And you will be amazed at what starts to happen.

If you want budget sheets or to hear more testimonials to really get motivated, I would suggest checking out www.daveramsey.com or buy one of his books, “Total Money Makeover” or “Financial Peace”.

When I go back to Canada I will get full time work again (and trust me, I am dreaming now), and these principles will be put in place again. I truly want to keep learning and implementing habits of success so that I can really live AND give the life I want. I know I won’t always be perfect at it, but I know I’ve made progress.

As Joyce Meyer says, “I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!!”

And that’s what counts!

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