3, 2, 1 – WE’RE DEBT FREE!

We did it. We paid off $114,000! A while ago, actually. I’m just now writing this because I needed time to comprehend this new debt-free life we are living. There has been a type of haze surrounding our accomplishment because it’s a day you dream about but never feel it will actually arrive. Then the day arrives, you click “submit payment” and just like that the weight of it all is lifted. Your heart, head, and soul do a happy dance and then something odd happens. Instead of confetti dropping from the ceiling and flowers showing up at your door with a note that says, “CONGRATULATIONS!” — you close the payment confirmation page and go about your business as you were 2 minutes prior to pressing the button. While everything has changed, life is just the same. Let me explain…

It seems the world is more full of people currently paying off debt (or blissfully enjoying it) than those who have already paid it off and have perspective to share. I want to share that perspective with you. I want to tell you what is in store for you when you are free of the ball-and-chain.

Freedom

LIFE FEELS SIMPLE

When we were first starting our snowball out we had around 18 different payments that had to be made each month to our debt. This did not include the non-debt payments to things like rent, utilities, and the like. 18 payments! This meant we were constantly engaged in our snowball and truly felt the momentum Dave talks so much about. It also meant each month was full of deadlines, payment submissions, and balances to update on our tracking sheet (yes, I’m the nerd!). It helped pass the time but made our life feel messy. Additionally, our cash flow was limited so we didn’t have a lot of freedom with where it went [read: 18 payments].

With the payments eliminated and an increase in cash flow, life feels simple. The only payments we have to worry about are utilities and rent. Having extra wiggle room in the budget also allows us to make payments work around our schedule, not the other way around. It’s no longer paycheck-to-paycheck. We no longer worry about having funds available to pay rent or the water bill. The money is there and every dollar has a purpose.

 

NOTHING CHANGES

While simplicity is bliss, it’s not everything. A huge part of our life is exactly as it was. When we started taking baby steps with our finances our behavior changed. Just because you move from one step to the next doesn’t mean the behavior reverts back to what it was previously. We are still budgeting and telling our money where to go. We still have financial goals, they just look different with each step. Instead of paying down balances we are working on building up savings. We have allowed a few splurges to celebrate our accomplishments, but immediately go back to focusing on what is next for our finances. It isn’t a 2 step process. It is a 7 step process. The same amount of focus and diligence we used to get us where we are is necessary to get us where we are going.

 

IT CAN FEEL CRIPPLING

When you spend 2 1/2 years working on a goal that takes patience, focus, and intentionality you get lost in it. You block out temptations and focus on the goal instead of all the “stuff” you don’t have or the fun things you’re not doing. You sacrifice spending in areas that don’t qualify as a need and do your best to live like no one else. Then you accomplish the goal. You look up after years of looking down and see the mound of sacrifices you have made to get to this point and don’t know where to begin to start to build your life up. You went into the challenge knowing you could live like no one else so that later you could live like no one else. But what they don’t say is that when it’s time to live like no one else the second time around you have to get caught up first.

If you’re lost, what I’m trying to say is that up until now every little thing you could have spent money on but chose not to in order to pay down debt has piled up and at some point you may need to chip away at a few things in the pile. For example, we have been sharing a car for the past 3 1/2 years and need to buy a second car. We haven’t bought a single piece of decoration for our house – it is bare and cold and it’s time to start making our house a home. We haven’t bought new work clothes in years (many of which have holes forming in them) and need to improve our wardrobe. The list of sacrifices continues. All were done with the intention that it is a short-term game we are playing. If we can survive until we are out of debt then we can spend some money in these areas to improve our quality of life (gosh, that sounds so dramatic).

Not everyone has to tackle debt this way. A lot of people would throw these categories into the budget and chip away at them as they went through baby step two. But for those of us who decide to skip it until we are past the pile of debt, it is a crippling feeling to have a long list of things you need (cue the violin) to put your money toward and not having clear direction to tackle it. When you’re paying off debt or going through the baby steps, the behavior and action is direct and clear. “Pay off your debts, smallest to largest putting everything you can into the smallest and attacking it with a vengeance.” You become dependent on this clear instruction. Then, all of a sudden, you have no direction at all. A lost puppy. It all comes down to “what works for you.” Or some other form of freedom. Normally this would be cause for celebration – and it is all fun stuff you’re trying to put your money toward – but with this newfound dependence on clear steps to take it feels crippling. What do I do first? What do I continue to sacrifice until we have a paid-for home? Should I try to do a few at once or focus our efforts on one thing at a time? So many questions with so few answers.

Not everyone will feel this way and not everyone sacrifices the same way. Maybe you’ve been working 2 jobs and don’t know if you should drop the second one post-debt. If you kept the second job you could cruise through the other steps a little faster but it comes at a cost – your time. Is it worth it? Do you continue doing EXACTLY what you’ve been doing? Or ease up on the reins a bit?

No one said freedom doesn’t come with responsibility.