Paying off debt can be hard! If you’ve been feeling weary, don’t miss these helpful insights on learning to navigate the good, the bad and the ugly.
2010 was a difficult year. I can remember feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, annoyed with my husband, and simply stuck. In April of 2008, my husband Brian and I began the journey of paying off every red cent of our consumer debt – $127,482.30 to be exact. Those early days of our journey excited us. Out to save every penny we could and then put those pennies toward our massive debt, we knew it wouldn’t be an easy job. The first year meant longer hours at work but with a deep resolve to actually achieve our goals. Dedication, discipline, and even joy sprinkled our footsteps as we pursued the calling laid deep on our hearts.
All progressed well. Our efforts yielded success. By the summer of 2009, medical debts fell by the wayside. Our car payments vanished. We kicked a $7k loan to the curb. We’d been able to knock out close to $30k in debt in just over a year and a half. We marveled at the goodness of God who had provided a second and then a third job. Our budget laid bare bones with no extras – no cable, no smartphones, no vacations. We gave up giving gifts to each other for holidays and birthdays, scraping together what we could to be able to give gifts to our girls. We rarely dined out. We made our own laundry detergent, pizza dough, household cleaners, and more. And then it happened.
Debt slaying fatigue set in.
Being on the other side of debt is great fun. We love to share our story. We look back on the four years it took for us to annihilate what we came to call the Debt Dragon and marvel that the months went by so quickly. But being in the midst of that journey didn’t seem so sweet or fun. Sometimes the days felt like weeks and the months felt like years. The real truth about paying off debt is that it’s not all roses and rainbows, sunshine and sugar. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it.
The Truth About Paying Off Debt
Even with the challenges that came our way, knowing what I know now, I’d still repeat every single day of the journey again, including those dark days in 2010. Here’s why.
When Tomorrow Never Comes
Those days between 2008 – 2012 weren’t our first attempts at knocking out our debt. We had tried (and failed) at least once before. After our initial demoralizing defeat, we quit. It wasn’t that we wanted to have so much debt. Who does? It just seemed like there was never a good time to begin scaling back or tightening our belts. A birthday here, replacing an appliance there – we constantly decided “Right now, really isn’t a good time for us to try that again.”
However, there is no good time to begin paying off debt. There is only today.
There will always be an unexpected expense, a celebration, a reason why you “can’t” pay off debt right now. We chose April 2, 2008, as our fresh start date, a season when we would redouble our efforts and get serious about financial wellness. We knew trouble would come our way throughout the journey. No epic quest is without a test. But we began anyway.
If you’ve long been putting off your personal pursuit to pay off debt, you need to begin now – even in the mess and the uncertainty. Tomorrow never comes and a better time doesn’t exist. Start now.
Difficult Days Build Character
Can I be honest? I used to pray that God would send the exact amount we needed to pay off all of our debt back in the days of 2010. We had already been faithful and shown we were serious. What would it hurt if some friend or family member or even a complete stranger took notice of our determination and sent an anonymous check in the mail for the exact amount we owed. How cool would it be to tell a story like that? One where God literally showed up and met our every need?
What I didn’t realize in the midst of the struggle was how God was showing up and meeting each need along the way. We never went hungry. We didn’t lose our home. We may not have had a date night or a budget for anything extra, but we did have each other. I almost missed a miracle in our midst.
The difficult days of paying off debt also taught me that I never wanted to return to borrowing again. With each sacrifice and each penny-pinching moment, I began to own that the temporary fun and relief of buying whatever I wanted at the moment with credit was not worth the effort it took to pay it off. So as the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years, resolve stiffened. We would be better at managing our money so that we would not find ourselves in the place to need to borrow again. And we would be better at managing our money so that we could actually enjoy it, too.
Like a child who touches a hot stove learning that it’s not a good idea, the process of paying off debt helped us feel the pain of our mistakes. Without pain, we return to the same poor choices and bad habits again and again. Feeling the sacrifice is actually part of the cure.
Learning What (and Who) Really Matters
The time paying off debt requires winnowed away my heart’s desires. The experience resulted in a great gift beyond the actual financial freedom. As we spent less and less, I became more adept at defining what I truly loved. With very little extra cash to spare, I learned that if we were going to live on less than we made, we needed to 100% love every single item we bought.
One day, I sat down and defined what I really loved. My list included both the big pieces of my heart and life things like my faith, my family, and my friends and smaller joys that could be purchased, too. I wrote down: a good cup of coffee, a glass of iced tea, a heart-pounding workout, playing outside with my girls, my bicycle, music, movies. You may have guessed that as I began refining what I loved, I discovered that the majority of the items on my list weren’t that expensive. I could make them at home or figure out a way to experience them for very little money spent.
As a side note, my husband Brian and I found our marriage strengthened through the trial of paying off debt. We learned how to more effectively communicate about money which bled over into every other aspect of our relationship. We valued each other with a deeper, sweeter love. We began to really enjoy the time we spent together and appreciate what each of us was contributing to our household and financial future.
Each time I speak to a congregation, conference, or group I repeat the same two sentences. “Paying off debt isn’t complex. It’s just not easy.” That is to say, the actual process isn’t complicated. It requires you to spend less money and make more money, using the difference to pay off the debt. While there are specific strategies we employed (you can read more about our story in my book Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Discovered an Inspired Happily Ever After), you don’t need an economics degree or difficult method.
If it were easy to pay off debt, everyone would be debt-free. But you’re not everyone and you can do it. The fact that you’ve read this far in the post demonstrates that alone. Deep down, you know there are no easy answers. At the same time, you also know the sacrifices will be worth it.
On March 28, 2012, we sat at our kitchen table and paid our final student loan payment, ever. Life hasn’t been perfect since then. This spring we had to replace our stove, our washer, our dryer, our lawnmower, and most of the pipes under our house within a three-month window (WHEW). Financial challenges like those would have sent us into a tailspin if we weren’t debt-free. Every single lesson, while learned the hard way, enabled us to be more solvent, more generous, and to live life to its fullest.
Yes, the journey of paying off debt is difficult. But that difficulty turns you into a person of discipline and resolve, capable and strong. You got this, debt slayers. Go change your financial future.
Other helpful resources:
- Paying off Debt Cheat Sheet
- 5 Questions to Ask Your Spouse when Paying Off Debt
- Free Monthly Budget Worksheets
- 7 Lies People in Debt Tell Themselves
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