“Knowing your why” is all the rage. It’s become a common theme in the corporate world. The idea is that, sooner or later, doing something just because you have to do it gets really old. If there is a “why” behind what you do, it’s easier to maintain motivation and energy because you see beyond the task; you know the real reason you do what you do. The work becomes personal and means something to you.
Rachel and I have a “Why” for becoming debt free. Sure, it will be amazingly cool not having debt, but in order for us to navigate the challenges and stay on course, we needed to know our why. It wasn’t something we just decided to do. We talked alot. We weren’t sure at first that we wanted to do it. We both had different ideas of what the process might look like.
I think most people would agree that debt starts easily and naturally. Modern life and debt are joined at the hip. We’re encouraged to take on debt in our early 20’s so that we can “earn” a good credit rating. College, cars, wedding, kids, and a mortgage really pile it on. We find ourselves in a sea of monthly minimums. Payments become innocuous and just part of “adulting,” like Mondays and traffic.
Rachel and I were no different. We had college debt, card debt, car debt, furniture debt; the usual successful checklist of American life, and with it, the debt. As we started reading more blogs, listening to more podcasts, and assessing our own life, we started talking more and more about the idea of getting out of debt. I guess there might be some truth to the axiom: you become what you take in.
A short time ago we had the chance to purchase a small “snow-bird” vacation home (aka: The Baby House) in an over-55 resort in Mesa, Arizona. Most of the people there don’t work; and if they do, it’s because they truly enjoy it. They come from all over the northern U.S. and Canada to Mesa to escape the winter. Although we were new there and younger than most, we soaked it in and listened, learned, and watched. These were some happy, dancing, energetic, fun-loving people. They were smart with their lives, with their choices, and with their finances, and had earned the right to be dancing in the sun while most of the nation froze.
The place made an impact on us. A big impact. It’s still making an impact. We can’t stop talking and thinking about it. Couples there have done something right, together. As we watched, talked, and listened, Rachel and I started to imagine where we could be, what we could do, if we had no debt.
Then something happened that’s hard to explain. It just sort of clicked. We became hungry to be clear from the life-drag of debt. Life was great, but we were not getting where we wanted to be.
It was January of 2019, and we had our Why.
Being debt free can be defined in many ways. It’s not about being retired, or not working, or doing nothing all day, at least not for us. That’s just not who we are. For us it means having no debt except our home mortgage (still an investment that should appreciate). It means being smart about what we really want, and then living purposefully to reduce debt every month. It means setting a goal date (Sept. 2020) and creating a plan to pay off all debt by then.
We are making ourselves students. It’s proving to be quite the challenge. There’s lots we still don’t know, but we’re learning every day. Rachel listens to financial podcasts during her commutes. I read several blogs that are focused on the idea of being money smart and becoming debt free. We know the goal is there, the dream is there, the reward is there, but it’s going to take hard work to dig it out an bring it to light.
To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a misnomer. You don’t just become debt free. It’s proving to be hard work. We’re planning, and talking. We’re downsizing financially and making sure our fiances are behaving. And it’s important that we’re honest enough to say that we don’t always agree on a specific path, but we do talk it through until a solution is reached.
It takes (big one here, read requires), both people to be on the same page financially. One saver and one spender is going to get someone pushed down the stairs. It’s important that both people create the goal, create the monthly plans, and then help each other stay on track. Honesty is crucial, and so is consistent and open communication.
We make lists, have weekly meetings, set our monthly goals, revisit our debt-free date, and we added a debt-free countdown app to our phones. We talk about every purchase before we make it. It’s not easy to always remember that (crap! Did I not tell you?). Did I say it’s not always easy? I’m from Maine; it’s wicked not easy and wicked not fun, but it is going to be worth it.
It took us a bit to get it all going in the right direction, and for us that was the hardest part. Momentum is a formidable enemy but a powerful friend. At first, there were things that we forgot. We figured out our income (We’re rich!) and our debt (We’re poor!). We forgot a furniture bill until it came in (seriously?), and had to regroup and start again. But we kept going. Little by little, like a learning to water ski, we’re getting up on a plane. Once we can stop face-planting, we think it’s going to open a whole new world.
We use Google Keep for our goals. We create and check them off each month. It’s important for me to keep monthly goals so I can celebrate (martini!) when we check one off. and then celebrate (two martinis!) when we complete a successful month. Celebrations and little victory parties along the way are important. Like trophies on the shelf, they show progress and the success of hard work. They remind us of our Why.
We had to learn that Hard and Right can be friends. We sold the camper. We sold the boat. They went to nice families but those were quiet nights. We canceled the car wash and Dish and created weekly meal plans to reduce groceries. Rachel sold some jewelry. We put all the money towards debt.
The 12 year old push lawn mower vibrates like a gym butt exerciser, but it still cuts the grass. I changed to a barber (no girl washing my hair. Talk about sacrifice). Rachel is looking at coloring her hair at home. I hid the good gin (kidding. Kind of). Nothing goes on the card. Monthly bills for essentials (food, utilities, clothing, entertainment) are all debit transactions. All future purchases are saved for and paid for with cash, which means a healthy savings program. There are no loans and nothing to be “paid off.”
We also learned that there were some things we were not going to cancel, because of the value to us. We kept our Friday night We-Didn’t-Kill-Anyone-This-Week celebration dates. We try to split a meal and go to less expensive places, but we’re still out. Adjustments like appetizers, happy hour, and learning (me) not to gag over well drinks is helping. We are still planning some shorter summer trips, all paid in cash beforehand.
We know that some would disagree with spending any amount of discretionary cash along the way, but this is how we’ve chosen to reach our goals and keep our relationship healthy. It’s amazing how much more we appreciate the little things now, like one of Rachel’s lemon-jalapeno gin martinis or fresh grapefruit from our tree. They’re an extravagance.
It really is an adventure for us and we talk often about our challenges and progress. Much more awaits. We really want to be out of debt. Looking forward, we want to invest. We want to give more.
It’s amazing how this is keeping us future-focused and optimistic about where we’re going. Instead of being down and feeling deprived, there’s an energy and excitement in the air. We’re using the power of now to create a future we can hardly wait for.
September 30th, 2020 will be here before we know it. We’re keeping focused on our Why. We’re so excited!