The really boring news about our debt is we weren’t living super-fancy lives, jet-setting around the world, or driving expensive cars. We were just living our quiet, day-to-day lives and not making wise money choices. We were nickel-and-diming ourselves into a hole and, truthfully, not too concerned about it.
Things changed when Ellie arrived in 2009. When you have a kid, you start thinking about things you’ve never worried about before like how expensive diapers are, feeding them as teenagers, college tuition, and how much you want to do before they leave you. You also realize that time goes so fast and then you start squeezing them a little too hard and your husband makes you take a time out.
Just kidding–I never squeeze babies that hard.
I mean, most of the time I never squeeze babies that hard.
What I’m trying to say is, kids made us start to worry about money and goals and dreams and retirement. Those little suckers are wake-up calls. Taking a hard look at our finances when I was holding–gently–that cute little baby made me realize we needed to grow up. We weren’t really saying no to things we wanted and if something we wanted cost more than we had, we’d just charge it. There was no real restraint or concern for debt until Elliott Quinn arrived.
So in late 2009, I sat down and listed our debt to see where we stood. Here’s what it looked like:
$32,000 in student loans (those were all mine; undergrad and masters loans)
$15,000 in car loans
$12,000 in credit cards
$2,000 in medical expenses (Ellie’s birth/hospital stuff; in 2011 we would add $3,000 more to the mix with Harper’s arrival and lots of dental work for me)
THINGS DID NOT LOOK GOOD.
I guess I could have felt defeated by the numbers once they were all put together. Added up, it was more than we were making in a year so paying all that money (plus interest) back should have been daunting. But instead we just got to work. I’m big on personal responsibility, and this mess didn’t come from someone else. It was ours. We owned it.
If you’re in debt–that’s your doing. Maybe the circumstances were unavoidable. Maybe you were young and dumb and just didn’t know better. Whatever it is, I think the first step is seeing all your debt in one spot, taking a deep breath, owning where you’re at, and then figuring out where to go next.
I would like to say we stopped using our credit cards immediately after I saw all this madness on paper.
But that would be a lie.
We still didn’t have a good grasp on how to live within our means so we started tackling debt while still creating more.
(I told you I wasn’t a financial advisor–this would be your second clue if you didn’t believe me the first time I mentioned it.)
Technically, we were making enough money to survive, keep up with all our payments, and still living the way we wanted. Deciding to not be okay with the status-quo of keeping up with minimum payments and relying on credit cards was a hard decision. Not because I thought what we were doing was right, but because I was afraid to not have stuff. I was afraid of looking poor. I was afraid of driving a crappy car and what if people who didn’t know me thought I didn’t have money? I was afraid of not buying new clothes when I wanted them or going out to eat when I was too tired or lazy to cook.
Giving up and making sacrifices to live without all this debt sounded nice in theory, but I didn’t really want to live with less. I know that sounds dumb and illogical, but giving up things sounded horrible. I was completely sucked into the lie that my life had to include lots of stuff–preferably new stuff–to be happy and full.
So the very first thing that needed to happen before we could get a handle on this mountain of debt was a perspective change. I’m going to say this was probably the hardest part of getting rid of our debt. I wish I could just give you a list of things to do, nice, neat steps that can help you knock out your credit card debt in less than a year or something crazy like that.
But for me (and probably for you, too) the first step is a perspective change. You need to learn and accept that you aren’t “owed” new, nice, shiny things. You don’t “deserve” new shoes or another pair of expensive sunglasses. You don’t “have to have” the latest phone, the newest technology, or the 2017 model. What you have right now in this very moment is enough and will last a lot longer than you think it will.
For my outlook to change, I had to do a lot of work. A LOT OF WORK. I had to ask God repeatedly to make me content with my stuff. I had to stop going to the mall or specific stores because I knew I couldn’t control myself when I was there. I had to stop being around certain people who always brought out the keeping-up-with-the-Jones mentality in me. I had to stop carrying around credit cards so I couldn’t talk myself into this “one last purchase.” I had to stop convincing myself I had to carry around just one credit card for “emergencies only.” (You’d be surprised at how few emergencies actually arise when you’re out shopping and how often you can qualify a clothing purchase as an emergency.)
This took time.
I still pray about this and work at this. I still want stuff. I want a whole lot less stuff than I did seven years ago, but it’s easy to slip back into that mindset if I’m not careful. Tackling debt is hard. I think the first step is being completely honest with yourself and where you’re at. Then you’ve got to change your perspective. How you are right now got you in this mess and if you want to get out, you’ve got to think and act differently. Tomorrow I’ll share how that looked for us.
Debt-free living series: let’s do this