Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Just a 34 year old woman who is finally out of consumer debt since getting her first credit card at the age of eighteen. Always consult a financial planner or advisor before making radical financial decisions.
Being in debt sucks. It makes you feel bad so you spend more and then you feel bad about that and spend even more in a silly attempt to try and forget about the bills.
I know a lot about being in debt. It’s been a constant for most of my life. I grew up in a single parent family with five siblings and we all knew how much the mortgage payment was each month. We had our our cable television cut and our mom’s bank card and credit card was rejected many, many times at grocery stores and malls. Debt was how we survived.
When I was in university, on my full athletic scholarship, I got credit cards for the ‘extras': nice clothes and the occasional restaurant meal. I also took on debt so that in the summers, instead of working, I moved to eastern Canada to train at the national rowing centre and race for Canada.
I brought debt into my marriage and then grew the debt as we moved into a bigger home, traveled and lived above our means.
In February of 2010, almost two years ago, my husband and I decided to do something about our debt. We tallied it up on a spreadsheet, all $82,000 CDN, and got to work. In September of 2011 we made our final payment on a line of credit and freed ourselves of consumer debt. Here’s what I learned about getting rid of debt the fast and dirty way:
Probably the easiest and quickest way to get some traction on your debt is to start selling things you don’t use. We sold everything from baby stuff, to the torch I ran with in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, to my wedding dress and, eventually, our car. Selling stuff netted us around $8,000 – almost 10% of our debt.
Stop buying things you don’t need.
We put ourselves on a shopping embargo. No non-consumable purchases without talking it out at length with each other. It worked. No more buying the daily deal on a website or Groupons we would never use. I stopped browsing in stores and turned a blind eye to sale signs. Stuff will never give you as a good a feeling as being out of consumer debt.
Know what your rice and beans are.
I couldn’t eat rice and beans for a month to save cash. I mean, I could if we were living in poverty and it really was the only thing we could afford to eat. But restricting myself to super cheap food makes me squirelly. It makes me resentful. It makes me do stupid things like buy something to make myself feel better about eating rice and beans every month. Know what you can give up without too much fuss and know what is near and dear to you. Some people can go with rice and beans for months but if you ask them to cancel the high-end cable package and sell the DVR, they’ll lose it. For us, cancelling the cable, newspaper service, home phone line and going without a car were our rice and beans.
Keep some small luxuries.
My husband and I like to have some spending money each month to dine out casually or grab a coffee and a treat once or twice a week. If we had cut that I don’t think we would have lasted on our shopping embargo or continued on with cancelling services. We liked the small luxury of those treats and it kept us motivated as we diligently worked on cutting costs in other areas. So, if it’s your iPhone or your coffee habit or take-out on Friday nights, keep it and soldier on with cutting the fat in other areas.
Find a confidant.
Your spouse, a friend, a sibling. Tell someone about your goals and ask them to make you accountable. Start a personal finance blog and connect with others getting out of debt. A support network will increase your chance of success and keep you motivated.
Getting rid of our car was big. It was scary and I wasn’t sure if we would be turning around and buying another one in a few months. But we had to try it. We immediately started saving $140 a month in car insurance, earning $75+ a month for renting our parking space out and saving at least $50 a month in gas. Not to mention the ticking time bomb of big car repair bills for our 10 year old vehicle. Using public transit, a car co-op and the occasional rental never came close to the expense of owning a car.
If you’re trapped in a big home with a big mortgage could you rent it out and the rent something smaller for your family to live in? Could you sell the second car and bike to work? Could you take a job closer to home and go without a car? Could you get rid of your cell phone, tv, fancy bike that you never use? Everything should be on the table.
Forget about everyone else.
Ignore what your friends are buying and doing. If they’re living a lavish lifestyle without a huge income, they’re probably in debt. Smile when they give you a sad look because you decline an invitation to go in on expensive concert tickets. This is your life. Have confidence in your choices even if they’re not the norm in your circle of friends. You don’t have to be a loud mouth about it or all sanctimonious that you’re getting out of debt unlike them. Just quietly do the work. The feeling of being out of consumer debt, the freedom of it, is the greatest reward.
Want to read about more families that have beat debt? Check out this Babble piece for links to five families that have paid off big consumer debt in record time.
Any other debt beating tips out there? The other thing that continues to help me stay organized, enjoy cooking and shave a bit off the grocery bill is meal planning.