When we started this blog we were excited, but also apprehensive. So many people, our friends and family included, have debt. They live with debt like it is a cancerous growth on their back, weighing them down, putting their balance out of order. Some have the notion that carrying various amounts of debts is normal, an accepted way of living, and perhaps one day in the distant future they will put a priority on the debt and pay it down. They all commiserate together about the frustrations of having debt. How can we, two Millenials with no debt, ever relate to them?
We can share a thing or two about getting out of debt, FAST. And it all boils down to one word: priority. Mr. Winning Williams put a priority of purchasing a house one year after he graduated from college. He pooled money from all of the jobs worked all through high school and college, cut down on expenses by living at home and finally at the height of the real estate bubble (2007), he purchased. And then by 2012 it was paid off with a single income in the same time frame that millions of people lost their homes. The priority was paying off the house. Was having roommates desirable, or how about bringing lunch to work everyday? No, but each incremental decision contributed to paying off the home in 5.5 years, a home purchased near the peak of the housing boom. With the debt eliminated, freedom from obligation was won. Flexibility was gained.
For Mrs. Winning Williams she graduated from college and the only thing that mattered to her was paying off her student loans. Nearly every opportunity for a work happy hour was declined, new movie releases went unwatched in the theatres, wardrobes were left un-updated. But, in 2012, less than two years after graduating, almost $20,000 in student loans was paid off. It was the priority for both of us and our everyday choices and purchases (or lack thereof) mirrored that priority. Again, eliminating the sense of obligations lifted a weight off Mrs. Winning Williams shoulders.
So we know that it can be done, but everyone has their own situation. If you have been feeling the weight of your debt and find yourself saying “I’m never going to pay off my student loans” or “Well I have a 30 year mortgage so eventually I won’t be mortgage free” stop what you’re doing right now. If your debt is interfering with your personal happiness in any way you need to address it. There have been numerous studies showing the link between debt and poor mental health. You have one life to live on this planet and if your debt is wearing you down or causing negative thoughts then we are happy to offer some advice to help you.
- Know your debt- Look at every last cent of debt you have with your bank or student loan lenders. Know the ins-and-outs of your debt. Know the minimum balance and vow to pay more than that every month. Set the number in your mind as to what you will pay and move to step 2 with this number in mind. Focus on paying-off higher interest rate debt first (after all minimum obligations are met).
- Fit it into your budget (if you don’t have one, just start a budget!)- Now you should re-evaluate your expenses. Food, utilities, housing (potentially your mortgage debt) and any other debt (student loans, etc.). These are the only items you have to purchase. This is the new must-spend part of your budget. Anything left over from this amount can go to fun purchases, but if you want to commit to getting out of debt it has to become to priority on your budget. You WILL see it come down significantly if you prioritize it. Once you get off the starting-line and start to see progress, you are well under-way. Knowing it can be done, and more importantly, starting to see it actually happen will be a catalyst for a freight train of debt repayment! You might even think of some side projects to take on, just to apply those incremental funds to pay-down your principal balance.
- Get uncomfortable- This will probably require something to give- whether it is a weekly dinner out or forgoing a trip. It can cramp your lifestyle for a little bit, but once you see your debt cut in half, then cut in half again it will be worth it.
And not all debt is bad. We have credit cards that we use to pay our bills and accumulate cash-back points or travel points. That’s just smart, if I’m going to spend a little I don’t mind getting something in return for it. We do practice some credit-card churning, which we will explain more in a future article. However we know that not all people live with the healthy mindset of paying off their credit card every month. If you’re carrying a balance on one or many cards and your credit card debt has become your hunchback it’s time to make some serious changes.
Challenge yourself to an entire month living on cash. Yes, that’s right one whole month without using any plastic. The physical giving of your cash is much more painful than swiping a card. If you’re at the grocery store and find yourself with only $60 in your wallet then I guess you’ll only be spending $60 on food that week. This makes a difference when you start to realize how frequently you are tempted to go to the ATM for more cash. As for any bills that are super inconvenient to pay for in cash, pay them the old fashioned way with a check. Writing out the amount will make you start to rethink how much electricity and water you really need to be using.
While paying off all debt is extremely refreshing. There are some caveats to consider such as: 1) You should maintain an emergency fund (quick to access funds) for 3-6 months of expenses (it’s not good to repay debt if you are forced to juice back up with high-expensive credit card debt for unexpected expenses); 2) you should not forgo any 401K contributions that get a company match (getting a company match is like getting a guaranteed 50% to 100% investment return); 3) say you recently locked in a 30-year fixed rate at < 4% interest, in this case it might be better to invest extra funds in the stock-market if you are a long-term investor with some risk tolerance.
Overall, debt can be purposeful – helping you invest in education or perhaps a solid property. However, today’s consumers use debt so loosely they are ruining their opportunity to live freely. Without debt, you have the flexibility to make the moves that will make you happy, change jobs, locations, etc. For us, our debt repayment gave us the opportunity to move closer to our jobs, which shortened our commutes, improved our satisfaction, our time together, and set forth a whole new set of opportunities. We’ve accelerated our retirement savings and the move not only improved our happiness but further improved our savings. Our path to early retirement started with the repayment of our debt.
Watch this video on what freedom means to this man, and try to not be profoundly inspired to get out of debt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XRPbFIN4lk