There are a few things I need to clear up for those who are wanting to start this plan for the first time.
This is not for the faint of heart. If you commit to getting out of debt, you have to throw all your resources at this. Run, don’t walk. The thing is, you have to be willing to suffer for a short time to be able to reap the rewards of the 7 Baby Steps for the rest of your life.
What I’m about to say may shock you, but stay with me. My income is roughly $40,000. My boyfriend’s is $125,000 (yes, his brain is extremely wrinkly). Our household income, even though we separate our expenses, is $165,000. These are the things we’ve done to scrimp while I go through my debt-free journey.
WE DON’T HAVE CABLE.
You just fell off your chair. When I moved in to R.’s place, we were thinking about getting cable. After all, I knew my expenses would be slightly lower living with him. But after we did the math of a roughly $100 cable bill each month, we decided that saving $1200 a year was more important than being able to watch The Walking Dead. And guess what? We don’t miss it. We have more time to get outside and do the things we love, like running and cycling. We have Netflix instead, and I actually prefer it to cable. At $8.95 a month, it’s a bargain.
I’M COMMITTED TO NOT ADD NEW DEBT. EVER.
The thing is, if your goal is to be debt free, why would you make that debt pile bigger? That, and if you have a new debt payment, you’re reducing the amount you can throw at the old debt. I finally realized that if I paid off my credit card, I could put anywhere from $100-$200 extra on my car loan. That was pretty motivating. In October, I finally paid off the Citi card and never looked back. Sure, I was tempted to pull it out from time to time, but then I remembered the ultimate goal: If I had no debt, my life would be pretty awesome. In November, I removed my two credit cards from my wallet and stuck them in the nightstand. I haven’t had the courage to cut them up yet, but that will be the next step.
Additionally, after my debt is paid off next year (hopefully by August 2016), I plan on putting money aside each month to pay CASH for my next car. Granted, I won’t need a car until about 2020-ish, but after going through the hell of living paycheck-to-paycheck, I never want a payment again. I’ll also be going back to school to get my second bachelor’s in accounting this summer. No more student loans. I’ll be budgeting and saving for tuition and books. People, I’m not saying it’s easy, but with a budget and willpower, you can cash-flow anything.
I BRING MY LUNCH TO WORK.
This has saved me HUNDREDS of dollars in just a few months. I can’t believe how much money I used to waste on lunch and eating out in general, just because of poor planning and laziness. I’m so thankful that R. is supportive of this plan, because we can make this journey fun! We both like to cook, so now, before we go to the grocery store, we find recipes for the week and cook them together. It’s not a perfect system, so we do have some “emergency” frozen items in the freezer in case we’re both too tired to cook. I have woken up late sometimes and haven’t had time to pack a lunch. In those situations, I try to minimize the financial impact and head to the grocery store on lunch. They always have hot soup and deli items for much cheaper than what you would pay at a fast-food joint.
I PICK UP OVERTIME AND PART-TIME JOBS.
Now, you would think that with mine and my boyfriend’s income that I wouldn’t have to resort to working extra hours. Well, you would be wrong. Since we’re not married yet, we don’t combine incomes or expenses (my idea, and a smart one). That said, I don’t mind hacking away at my debt, but I don’t want it to drag on forever. So, when my company offers overtime, I sign up and show up with a smile on my face. When you’re earning extra income with a goal in mind, it changes the way you view working.
Recently, a friend of mine offered me $12 an hour to organize and file some paperwork, along with other miscellaneous tasks in her home. It’s been a few years since I’ve made $12/hour, but that didn’t stop me. I’m so grateful that she’s given me an opportunity to supplement my income. It’s extremely humbling, but I have much more respect for myself and the money I bring in. This journey really has made me a better person and more grateful for the people and things I have in my life.
I’VE (TEMPORARILY) STOPPED ALL RETIREMENT & INVESTMENT CONTRIBUTIONS.
Whaaat? Yes folks, it’s true. Here’s the thing that Dave Ramsey has beaten into my head after watching a lot of “Debt-free screams”: If you try to do everything at once, you’ll get frustrated and give up. That’s why he came up with the baby steps, to focus on one thing at a time. See my previous post, “Meet Dave”, for more information on this.
Before I started attacking my debt, I was contributing 6% to my 401K and a few dollars here and there to my Roth IRA. At the end of the day, it wasn’t adding up to much, because of all my debt payments. I’ll admit, it was very difficult for me to not contribute anything to retirement, because I didn’t want to be that 40 year-old that didn’t have a penny in her retirement. I know that by the time I retire, Social Security will be minimal to nothing. So, I decided to listen to the logic of the argument to pay off all my debt prior to making retirement contributions. If I didn’t have any debt, how much could I put in my retirement? Well, if I follow the 15% rule, I could put away $360 without breaking a sweat. The math on that works out to just a little shy of $2 million dollars. Yes, I typed that right!
For those of you with debt possibly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (not including the mortgage), I’m not so sure I could recommend stopping retirement savings. My debt will take approximately 19 months to pay off, so an investing hiatus won’t hurt the compound interest too much. However, for someone for whom it may take 5-10 years or more to pay off their debt, I think retirement should be a higher priority.
You CAN do this. If I can, you certainly can. What gives me the strength to not order that pizza after a long day is knowing that I could be a millionaire before I retire. That pizza doesn’t sound so great to me anymore. I apply that thought process every day in my life.
If any of you have any creative ideas to save money to throw at your debt, please leave them in a comment below! I’m always looking for ideas to slash my budget.
Also, if you’re curious about how long it will take you to pay off debt or how much you need to retire, I encourage you to visit the following links to Dave Ramsey’s and Chris Hogan’s web pages:
Personally, I use the Debt Snowball Tool to keep me on track and let me know exactly when I’ll be debt-free. It’s more encouraging than you might think. I also love Chris Hogan’s site. It breaks down down your retirement dreams and goals and exactly how much you’ll need to invest each month to reach your target number.
Until next time, remember, CASH is KING!
Dave Ramsey, the author of Total Money Makeover, has 7 proven steps to get out of debt and build wealth. This blog follows his principles.