“A man in debt is so far a slave.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
2012 consisted of 12 months of viciously paying off my debt accumulated over a long period. It was a year of acknowledging I had a spending problem for 18 years and fixing it once and for all.
Even though I make plenty of money, I define a “spending problem” as having so much money going out that I can barely keep my head above water. Add up my mortgage, credit cards, car payments and other poor choices like eating out every night, my debt kept me from making progress up until 2012. All of my income was getting sucked up by other stuff, which left me making minimum payments on my debts and never gathering any momentum. It became a difficult and stressful way to live, and in 2012 I said enough is enough.
Dave Ramsey was recently quoted as saying, “At some point, people who become debt-free decide that enough is enough. Their old lifestyle wasn’t working, and they’re ready to make some serious changes. It’s like they have a personality change, but that’s not what really happens. All they are doing is rediscovering aspects of their personality that have always been there.”
That’s what happened with me, and if I can do it, anyone can. Trust me, I was starting with a mountain of debt to climb.
I spent a lot of time in 2012 reading books and blogs about people who got out from under serious debt. Along the way, I found that people who become debt free have certain traits that I wanted to emulate. Some of these traits are:
- Patience. When I want something to happen it needs to happen yesterday. The road to debt freedom takes time, and there are many obstacles along the way that test our patience. People I studied and spent time with who really wanted to get out of debt can walk right past store or click away from an internet sale without blinking. Why? Because they know all of that stuff can wait. It also takes patience to watch your debt decrease slowly each month.
- Confidence. People who are getting out of debt don’t care what others think. Getting out of debt required drastic lifestyle changes for me. I knew I was on the right track when friends (and even my wife!) made fun of me. I went from driving a sports car to a beat up minivan. Let the jokes commence…This was really hard for me at first. Now… who gives a crap!
- Goal Oriented. Getting out of debt is a goal in itself, and it requires a ton of smaller goals as well. People I read about do more than just set goals—they map out how they plan to get there. I used Dave’s Ramsey’s Baby Steps—small goals that lead to the one giant goal of being debt-free! I’m almost there. The baby steps totally work.
- Responsible and Mature. Getting out of debt takes a major sense of responsibility and maturity. Maturity has nothing to do with age; I know 50 year olds who still treat money the same way they did when they were 20. When you’re responsible, you want to get out of debt as fast as possible so you can begin saving, putting money into a college fund, investing, and paying off the mortgage early.
- Not into materialism. This one is the toughest for me. We are all victims of the inertia that is consumerism. As I type this, there are thousands of advertisers way smarter than I am trying to figure out ways to create demand for their stuff. This is not conspiracy theory…it’s the truth. Materialism can affect any of us—rich or poor. It’s all about how much importance we place on stuff.
- Willing to sacrifice. Luckily, I have my wife to help me with this. Up until 2012, if I wanted something I bought it–on credit if I had to. I ate out when I wanted. I had cable with all the channels. These are the types of things that may have to go while you’re getting out of debt. But keep in mind: Budget cuts are just temporary. When you’re debt-free, you can begin slowly adding those things back into your lifestyle.
Bottom line, becoming debt free has taken time, patience, and perseverance; all things I finally learned in 2012. I hope I can help others out of the messes like the one I got myself into in the year ahead. If you want to get out of debt, you can get out of debt—no matter how much money you owe. When you’re motivated, passionate (and even a little pissed off), you are ready to hit debt in the face for good.
Here’s to debt freedom in 2013. Happy New Year, everyone.