When was the last time you paid for a big ticket item in cash? When was the last time you went on vacation and not put your airline ticket(s), hotel stay, food, etc. on a credit card? When was the last time you had to purchase something you needed for your home, your car, your family, or for your self and didn't say, "Well, maybe next month. It's not in our budget right now?" Maybe a better question is: When was the last time you had to pay for gas or groceries and didn't go straight for a credit card in your wallet? For most of us, these questions are very relatable. We live paycheck to paycheck, trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we created back in college or not shortly after (or sadly, maybe even before that). It seems like no matter how close we get to the end of the tunnel, something happens in our lives - be it unexpected medical bills, unforeseen house or car problems, unplanned trips to visit a dying family member. Something always pull us back, and once again, we find ourselves wondering how we got into so much debt.
In today's economy, millions of Americans find themselves coming home to a credit card bill in the mail or receiving a phone call from a collection agency during dinner time. It's not unusual to hear financial problems in the workplace lunch room from people who just came back from picking up a value meal from McDonald's or Burger King for the 3rd time in a week. It's common for someone to be grumbling about their credit card bills while standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order their daily grande caramel frap with an extra shot of caramel. It is the norm for couples or families to go to Cancun or NYC to get away from their financial misery only to regret it later realizing that they just added more to their burden.
This past week, we just paid off our last credit card bill! It was a relief to send off the last payment and mark it off our list of "Things To Do" this month. It feels good to know that we will no longer be receiving a bill for it next month rather a letter saying that it's been paid off. Sadly, we're not finished paying off our debts. We still have a loan that we took out a few months ago for an emergency and hospital bills for when my son was born two months ago. We hope that if we stick with our plan, we'll have these paid off by February 2012, if not sooner. We have been in debt for as long as we have been married. 7 years! We can't remember the last time we went on a vacation by ourselves or with our kids. We have missed weddings, funerals, births and baptisms. We have been ridiculed and belittled by family because we chose to miss important family gatherings in order to get ourselves out of the financial mess that has consumed our lives. We eat out once every two weeks, if at all, or on special occasions, and usually we have purchased a deal for that meal from Groupon or Living Social. We don't go to the movies often, unless it's for one of our kids' birthdays, and only if it's before noon when the price is much less expensive. We shop for clothes off-season during sale weekends or holidays, usually combined with coupons. We do almost everything ourselves - home renovations or fix-ups, car maintenance, gardening and landscaping, income taxes, electronic gadgets and home appliances repairs. If we can do it without calling on an expert, we'll do it. I forgo manicures and pedicures, while my hubby gives himself his own haircut (he actually just shaves his head). We have just recently discovered that we are actually a bit capable of giving our kids' haircuts as well. Although with our first two children, we were fans of Pampers disposable diapers and wipes, we have evolved to using cloth diapers with our newborn. By next month, we hope to begin using cloth wipes and bid farewell to disposables. A few months ago, we stopped using paper towels and invested in a large pack of cloth wipes from a wholesale club for about $12. Talk about the tremendous savings we have accrued from making that one little change. The list of little things we have done to cut down on costs many people would find crazy and couldn't imagine themselves doing. Yet, it can be done!
But first thing's first...you must come to the realization, no matter how painful it may be, that you ARE in debt, that you ARE living beyond your means, that you ARE in denial of being financially irresponsible, that you ARE possibly continuing this downward spiral in order to hide a deeper problem in your life, and that you ARE afraid to admit any of this.
Now, if and when you can do that, come back to this post, scroll all the way to this section and tell yourself: I CAN admit that I am in debt. Knowing that, I CAN get out of debt. I CAN make the necessary changes and sacrifices that need to be done to get out of debt. I CAN stop running away from my financial problems and face them head on. I CAN provide for myself (and to those who depend on me) while getting out of debt. I CAN still have a life while getting out debt, and in the long run, I will live simpler, healthier, and happier.
When you start to make those little changes that turn into bigger ones, and those closest to you call you "crazy" or shake their heads in disbelief or indifference, that's when you know you are doing something right. When you feel the anxiety and anguish of not being able to do what you want when you want to in order to one day get back to that kind of life(style), you are definitely doing something right. And when you find yourself surprised by the small, but significant dollar amounts you have saved from fighting the urge to call someone to do something you learned to do yourself, forgoing your guilty pleasures, or simply saying "no" to your friends when asked to go to your weekly happy hours, you are on the right track to living debt-free. As my favorite financial guru, Dave Ramsey, always says, "Live like no one else (now) so that later you can live like no one else." Let's get out of debt together and stay out!