Though it is still quite early in my progress to becoming debt free, it has already been a hectic ride! It has been little more than a week, and already my life has been full of making calls to creditors, finding tools to help me budget and plan, cancelling services I don’t need (or can find a free substitute for), and trying to squeeze every last nickel out of my budget. And yet, completely contrary to my initial assumption about debt management, it is actually fun!
Despite how fun it is to save, I know that to make this a permanent lifestyle change, my attitude about finances has to shift. To some degree, it is about growing up. As a child, I was shown that money brings gratification. I would browse the toy aisle, knowing that just a few small bills was enough to get me the toy I so desperately wanted. As a teenager, I knew that money allowed for me to go on dates, and watch movies, and go on trips. As a college student, money is what got me “good” food, nice road trips, cool electronic equipment, and new books instead of used ones. All throughout my childhood and adolescent years, money was equated with gratification.
The problem is that money alone cannot gratify completely. It’s a hackneyed statement for sure, but it is so true. Nobody would be in such terrible debt if a $500 credit card could truly bring happiness or comfort into our lives. So we spend more and sometimes even justify it by putting legitimate needs on yet even more credit, but the conclusion is always a pile of bills and more stress. The vicious cycle continues, forcing us deeper and deeper into the hole. Now that I’m on the “other side”, or at least in the process of switching to the other side, I see an even greater happiness than acquiring stuff: living without being overshadowed by debt.
I never imagined that trying to live cheaply would be joyful. Nor will I fool myself into thinking it’s all peaches and sunshine from here on out! But even as I have started cooking for myself, selling things on Craigslist, cancelling subscriptions, moving my hosting server to someone cheaper, and logging every penny I let go, I have definitely found a joy in the process! There is such a freedom in being debt-free, even if it means having less right now.
Even though it sounds like an incongruity, it is something that I have heard often from the pulpit. Proverbs 22:7 alone speaks volumes, even if you don’t particularly believe the teachings of Christ (or his church) on money. It’s a simple truth; we can either be lenders or borrowers, and there is no question which is the position of both happiness and success. Today, borrowing is equated to credit, and lending is equated to investments, but the truth still rings clearly.
When I can cook a $6 meal that will last me five nights, that is just awesome. That amounts to about $6-7 per night I am saving by not ordering take-out, and the food tastes good! When it is only halfway through my pay period, my bills are paid, and I still have money in my account, it makes me feel good! Knowing that by doing this, I will pay off my credit in a little over a year, saving me thousands of dollars in interest, I am happy. When I know that by the end of next year, creditors will no longer own me, I am happy. When I find a way to cut my cell phone bill in half, saving me an extra $20 or so per month, that makes me happy. When I turn $300 in overdraft fees into $300 towards credit card balances, that makes me very happy. After being enslaved by my own wallet for so long, every small success makes me feel like I am finally beating my creditors in the game of personal finance.
There is a reason nobody sees debt victims going around hi-fiving each other. When you are buried under a mountain of debt, you feel depressed and feel like hiding it from the world. You look longingly at things like the lottery, or high risk investments, because it feels like something big is the only thing that can fix the situation. The truth is that the little, purposeful improvements are the real fix. Even though it is not easy to change a lifestyle, the joy it gives you (and knowing the joy to be found when it’s over), makes the whole process worth it! And what is life, if we cannot have joy and pass it along to others?