Why it’s hard to stay out of Debt

DEBT FREE!

I am proud to proclaim that I have been debt free since January 2016.  That is 9 months of finally getting everything paid off since I qualified for my first credit card in my first year of college.

I thought It was the best moment ever, someone finally giving me a credit card when my mother wouldn’t.  What did she know anyway? 😛

Well after racking up the limit (which is normal for all college kids, it’s like a right of passage really) on the stuff that was crucial to my life at the time; cd’s, magazines and the latest Campus Crew hooded sweatshirts, I enjoyed the new items, enjoyed telling my friends about my new deals and purchases and freely swiping the card on weekends with my friends at the mall (thinking back, this sounds so cliche haha) but it all happened as I’m sure it did for most of us.

Working for minimum wage, at that time it was $6.50 / hour (hard to imagine) and only committing to putting the bare minimum towards the credit card each month because I wanted to keep my pay cheques and as much as of as I could for more cd’s, clothing and magazines.

Fast forward to my working at my first full time job in the big city of Toronto and I still had that credit card debt from years prior in College.  Still paying the interest on cd’s, magazines and clothing, that I’m pretty sure I had donated the clothing and recycled the magazines at this time.

But one thing remained constant throughout all those years and still to this day; I want to keep my money.

After moving to Calgary from Toronto for work, I had taken on a Line of Credit, still had the same credit card (the interest rate was and still is 9.99% which is undoubtedly amazing – no perks but low low interest and no annual fees – check it out here) and now had my first mortgage and car payments.

More debt and it was piling up.

As my friend from Toronto and I would complain and hash out our personal debt situations and listing off the dreams we have and the things we want to accomplish, together, we created a support system with each other to tackle our debt once and for all.

I found it really helped to have someone going through the same process with the same concerns, hunting for solutions and blog articles on tips and tricks and sharing about new books we need to check out.  Our conversations became more about celebrating our accomplishments (“I just paid off my car!!”) than complaining about being stuck with debt with no end in sight.

Those mini victories were encouraging, they were addicting.  All the tips and tricks we read about, we could finally try them out; such as snowballing your payments (once you’ve paid off one debt use that same monthly payment towards your next debt).  So once my car was paid off, I used that same monthly payment and put it towards paying off my line of credit and then my credit card.  That same credit card that I have had since college.  Yes the purchases have changed, and the amount has dipped and risen over the years but it was finally getting my full attention.

My friend and I even picked up extra jobs to earn some extra income to pay off our debts that much faster.  We would share our progress, we devoted a time each week to work on our finances (her and I each have spreadsheets where we input our numbers and check on it often to make sure we’re on track).

My friend uses and excel spreadsheet she created.  She has a separate tab for just her debt repayments and each time she makes a payment, the formulate she entered automatically calculates how much she has left to pay off, in how many pay days, in so many months accounting for the interest.  She finds that seeing she only has 8 months left (as an example) is encouraging and she looks forward to pay day to see where she can scrim some extra funds and put it towards that debt.

Me on the other hand I use a notebook and I write it out.  I like being able to flip it open at any moment without having to sit in front of a computer screen.  I find I remember my numbers and due dates better when I have written them out.  So when a friends says “let’s do movie and dinner this weekend” I know my numbers to know if I have any left over allowance to hang out with and how much dinner I can afford (sit down pasta or a quick burger depending on my allowance)

So through the years, having carried debt since I first started working my first part time job all the way until adult-hood, it just goes without saying that I am used to owing and my friend and I decided, how nice would it be to be used to saving!

And that is why I am so proud of myself to be debt free after so many years and hard work of tracking my debt and getting part time jobs to help pay it down.

However, since spending so much of my life paying off things, you sort of get used to it.  It’s ingrained in you really; you just get used to paying something off each pay day.  You just accept the fact that so much of your pay goes to this debt and that debt and then you grumble with what is leftover to play with to enjoy your own life.

So from going through this process for a long time, it’s difficult to think I don’t owe something.  I check and re-check my finances to make sure I didn’t forget a payment on something or that the debt, is in fact, actually paid off.  And it is, a small sigh of relief.  But there’s doubt.  It’s a calm, but an odd calm.

I will admit, I am still not used to not owing anything yet.  Which is why I keep checking my finances and triple check my numbers.  It’s a really bizarre realization when you look at how much money you are putting into your savings account instead of towards a debt repayment.  It’s exciting each pay but you’re almost always waiting for the other shoe to drop, like there is something coming that you hadn’t accounted for.

I have a running list of the items that come up once a year (that I typically forget about because it’s once a year – like my property taxes).  So nope, that’s all in order and nothing is coming up until next February in 2017.

The feeling will never go away, I imagine, and I am ok with that.  It just means I won’t be complacent and I will always be aware of my money and my savings and my spending as they all go hand in hand.

One of the downsides to being debt-free (there’s a downside? – sure is), aside from always wondering if you missed a payment, is the temptation.

The emails you receive each morning and throughout the day on sale items, upcoming deals, don’t miss out.  The ads you see in your morning paper.  The promotions you see at your favourite coffee/tea shop saying “buy one more for this discount” or in my case, the adorable outfit and colour pairings I just saw on a mannequin or on someone walking by that I just need to investigate where I can find something similar for my wardrobe.

My friend recently told me this past weekend when we were checking in with each other, she said she was going through her emails that she receives from her favourite stores and she is removing herself from their promotional emails.  She doesn’t want to see temptation each day and especially first thing in the morning to think about it all day.

We both pride ourselves on having a ‘seven day’ rule with regards to shopping for clothing.  If you can’t stop thinking about it for 7 days and you have researched for a similar and yet more affordable option, and you absolutely can’t live without it because it would completely change your life, then and only then, is it ok to purchase that item.

We used to go to the extent of finding out how many hours of work it took to pay for that one item to see if it was absolutely worth all those hours to have that one item in your closets.  More often than not, we wouldn’t buy anything and are lives are still functioning just as they were before even considering buying that one item.

Our new thought process is “life experiences”.  Her and I would rather put our money towards travelling or a new exhibit at a museum or a road trip to a fun little country town.

We each admitted that we both tell our friends how we are trying to collect ‘life experiences’ rather than things.  You see a light go off and their eyes light up like it’s a thought they never could put a label on.  Yes, Life Experiences!  genius.  and also very cost effective.

My friend and I have a love for photography and coffee so really, any weekend road trip to the farmers market or to a farm to pick fresh peaches is perfect for us; grab our cameras and head out.  Snap amazing pictures with gorgeous colours and lined in great compositions.  Simple.  Easy.  Cheap.  Other than gas, no money was spent unless on delicious coffee 🙂

All in all, our priorities changed.  We wanted more.  More from life and not stuff.  Stuff means dusting and who wants to spend their weekends indoors…dusting!

J.

 

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