This is a guest post from Cherie Lowe of Queen of Free
This week, I had the most unusual dream. In a flurried rush, I flew into my parents’ house and ran up the stairs. I opened their refrigerator and spied the most beautiful curvy bottle of Coca-Cola chilled at the perfect temperature. Hastily, I popped the cap and guzzled the sweet nectar of heaven down my throat.
It. was. delicious.
But the glorious moment shattered within seconds. I suddenly realized I just broke my decade long streak of not drinking pop (soda for all of my friends from other regions of the country). I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering why I had had such a bizarre dream.
Habits are powerful. Ten plus years after giving up a very compulsive habit, I can still vividly dream about a precise taste. Biting our nails, overeating, criticizing others and ourselves, overspending – all of these habits can rule our lives in negative ways. However, the good, redemptive news is that positive habits can also reign supreme.
During our journey of paying off $127K in debt, we discovered that positive habits were the gas that kept our motor running. They motivated us toward the finish line when we felt like giving up, prevented us from wrecking our marriage, and provided structure when life got crazy. In particular, these five debt slaying habits kept us focused on our purpose.
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Habit 1: Believe in the Goal
I’m a nuts and bolts sort of gal. I love blog posts that contain “10 Simple Ways” and “5 Fail Proof Methods.” However, to slay a debt dragon as enormous as ours, there was a first step that makes no sense to my practical nature. We had to believe that paying off debt was actually possible.
One of my favorite quotes is a paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Effective debt slayers believe they can actually pay off debt, that their dragons can be beaten. If you enter into an epic financial journey with the outlook that you will be defeated, odds are your dragons will eat you alive. However, if you believe that victory is possible, your rates of success increase.
My faith compels me to believe that if Jesus was born to a virgin, turned water into wine, healed the sick and broken-hearted, walked on water, and was resurrected from the dead, then He is more than capable of working a miracle in our finances. Habitually returning to this belief will give your debt slaying journey more success than any spreadsheet or strategy.
Habit 2: Stay Organized
Believing in the impossible is crucial, but debt slaying requires legwork, too. You have to intentionally organize your life to be successful. No one runs a marathon without a training schedule or navigates the skies without a flight plan. You too need a written plan to pay off debt and manage your money well.
Financial organization begins with simply tracking your income and outflow of money. After you get a good handle upon how much you earn, what you spend, and what you owe, you can build a budget to help manage your finances. Again, your outlook on this process is vital. A budget is not the other “b” word or a cruel and unusual torture device. Instead, it allows you room to breathe, knowing you can actually afford your groceries when you check out.
Your method of organization will vary depending on your natural gifts and inclinations. Whether you use pencil and paper, a piece of software, or an online app or program doesn’t matter. Begin with the simple practice of gathering your receipts and bills into one place and go from there.
Habit 3: Communicate Regularly
My husband often quips, “The death of communication is the birth of resentment.” When we quit talking, we begin to begrudge or even dislike one another. This maxim rings out loud and clear when it comes to your finances, especially if you are married. Constant financial communication is a habit that every successful debt slayer I have ever known has practiced on a daily basis.
I’ll be honest. At first talking about your money can be incredibly uncomfortable. However, like any new habit, it becomes easier the more you engage in regular practice. A weekly budget meeting might be a good first step for you and your spouse. Or you could even daily begin looking over the bank account at breakfast, contemplating upcoming expenses and reconciling yesterday’s purchases.
The more you communicate, the clearer your objectives will become and your hearts will unify in a cemented shared vision. Even if you’re not married, you need to speak your financial goals out loud to another human being. This routine will solidify your commitment.
Word of caution: communication and nagging are not the same thing. I more easily see the things that my husband is doing wrong with money than what I am doing. Instead of gearing up for budget meetings with a “you should have” attitude, come teachable and most importantly dream big together. Ask the questions, “What would we do if we weren’t making so many payments? Where would we go? How would our family look different? How could we change the world?”
Habit 4: Plan Your Meals
This habit might seem a bit out of place; however, I find more people go off budget when it comes to feeding their faces than any other area of their money. From expired food to overspending at the grocery store to restaurant expenses that would make you blush if you posted them on Facebook, your eating and food preparation patterns can cripple your debt slaying efforts.
Weekly meal planning ensures that you actually use the items you already have, purchase only what you truly need, and avoid harried trips through the drive-through on busy nights.
The ability to manage your money in this one isolated area of your life overflows into other categories of spending in a domino effect. Planning meals keeps you out of the store, reducing your impulse purchases. You can work longer hours to bring in more income if you aren’t haphazardly scurrying to the vending machine. Regular meals eaten together as a family provide a platform for communication. Meal planning benefits your wallet, body, and heart.
Habit 5: Read More Books
Newsflash: you and I are not the smartest people on the planet. I know it might be difficult to absorb but we both have plenty to learn (and will until the day we die). Luckily, there are loads of other folks who have life experience and wisdom, outpacing our own and by some miracle they have written these things down to share with you and me!
While paying off $127K in debt, we read voraciously. In particular, we chased after books that would foster growth in our faith, increase our financial knowledge, and leave our hearts encouraged.
Added Bonus: The more we read, the less we watched television. The less we watched television, the fewer commercials we saw. The fewer commercials we saw, the less we wanted. And the cycle of contentment continued over and over again.
In the back of Slaying the Debt Dragon, I included a reading list of some of our favorites, most of which were checked out from our local library.
Habits are built over time due to gradual changes made and sustained. We must feed and reward healthy habits to slay the debt dragon. This fluid practice of beginning again and again to reach toward intentionality moves us into a place of financial health and well-being.
Lean in close and don’t miss these final words of wisdom and grace. You will never perfectly hold all of these habits in balance. There will be many mistakes and course corrects as you slay your debt dragon. We failed on our journey more times than I can remember. However, returning to these habits always brought peace and success.
Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that perfecting a practice is the starting line for your financial happily ever after. There is no good time to begin paying off debt. There is only today.
Step into these habits to begin your own epic debt slaying battle, friends. That dragon will never know what hit him.
Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.
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Have you paid off debt? What habits helped you be successful?