When my wife and I graduated college 5 years ago, we entered the working world with a little over $75,000 in debt. Like many in our generation, that number mostly consisted of student loans and some auto loans. “Normal debt” as our culture has come to call it.
But here is the the thing about debt – it’s not normal.
We think it’s normal because banks, auto companies, and retail stores spend money on marketing financing options. We think it’s normal because the people who use debt say the predictable “you’ll always be in debt” line to make themselves feel better. And we think it’s normal, because if you look at the statistics, most people are in debt.
If you look at the reality of living with it though, you’ll see why debt is nothing more than a tool for building stress and materialism in your life.
Here is what we know about debt:
- You are more likely to purchase items you can’t afford.
- You are more likely to spend more money than if you were paying cash.
- You are less likely to think over a purchase, likely purchasing items you don’t need.
- Monthly payments tie up your monthly budget, reducing your cash flow and options.
- Somebody owns your debt, and can come after you for missing payments.
- Excessive debt can cause psychological stress.
Debt Free Living is Simple Living
Understanding that debt is against simple living is important.
How simple your life is will be determined by how many “needs” you have, your freedom to make decisions, and control over your own future. Debt limits all of these factors by either the payment plans that follow a purchase, or the overconsumption that it encourages.
If you are truly looking for a simple life, being debt free should be a one of your goals.
How To Get Out of Debt
Between the burden that our debt placed on our monthly budget, and our goals of wanting to start a family in a couple of years, my wife and I knew that we needed to get out of debt. We wanted to live a simple life, and debt was not apart of that picture.
Immediately following graduation, we began aggressively paying down our debt. It wasn’t “fun”, but it was incredibly satisfying. It took just about 2.5 years, and we were finally debt free. The skills we learned to get out of debt have enabled us to continue on to build our financial net worth and give us more options in life.
Here are the 5 steps we followed kill our debt:
- Debt-Free Mindset – The first and most important part of getting out of debt is to change your mindset. You need to hate debt. Understand that it is holding you back, and that it is something you don’t want in your life. It’s limiting you.
- Plan Your Attack – Organize your financial life by doing a review of what you own, and what you owe. Write down all of your debts and assets to start organizing your attack. Once you have all the information, plan the attack. I recommend the snowball method, also advocated by Dave Ramsey, of paying down your debts from smallest balance to largest. Each time you pay off a debt with extra payments, roll those payments into the next highest.
- Monthly Budget – Your monthly budget tells your money where to go. Budgeting is critical for getting out, and staying out, of debt. By assigning tasks to your money, you are going to be able to more effectively use your resources to pay down debt. For more info on budgeting, visit my post on how to do a simple budget.
- Increase The Intensity – Somewhere about a year into paying off our debt, we ratcheted up the intensity. When you start making progress on paying off debt, you realize the freedom that comes with it. With progress under your belt, continue to squeeze money from your budget, and increase your income.
- Stay Debt Free – Way too many people become debt free, then fall back to the usual “I can afford that payment” mentality. You need to continue having a debt free mindset, and not even consider financing as an option for purchases (except a house).