Talking about debt can be as taboo as asking someone their salary. Many believe it’s on a need to know basis and it’s frankly, “none of your business.” Although debt can be a polarizing subject, I’d like to share why I set the goal of living without debt and the 7 steps you can take to improve your relationship with money.
A LEGACY OF BAD MONEY RELATIONSHIPS
Finances have always been a source of anxiety for me. My parents got divorced when I was in middle school and I always felt a sense of obligation to help my family. I saw how finances stressed many adults in my life, and I made myself a promise that I would make enough money, so I never had to worry about it. At the time, I don’t think I knew how much was “enough”, but that same anxiety turned into a source of strength as I began to manage my own finances.
I always considered myself responsible but at one point I looked up and my husband and I had managed to accumulate $85K in debt. Now, this amount is obviously more or less shocking from person to person. For us, we were thinking, how did responsible people get here? We always made payments on time and even paid extra, but somehow, we still had debt. The reality check came as we were approaching 30 and we knew we wanted to have a child soon. Our desire was to start our family on the best foot possible, so we set up a plan to get out a debt.
“I think the experience showed me the true meaning of delayed gratification and I’m grateful for it.”
SACRIFICE WAS DIFFICULT BUT NECESSARY
My husband and I used the snowball approach where you pay off your smallest balances first and then move to larger and larger balances one at a time. This approach was helpful to get the ball rolling and obtain some quick wins. It was all good until we got to the bigger items that included our student loans and car. It felt like it was a never-ending journey. The hardest part was missing out and doing the things that we all convince ourselves that we deserve (admit it, you only use “deserve” when you get the urge to overspend). So, although we had a minimal wardrobe, we weren’t going on fabulous vacations, or doing other things our friends were… we had an end goal in mind. I know you may be thinking, making certain sacrifices is hard to imagine, but like us, you have to know that it is a short-term inconvenience. It was not only about being debt free, but my husband wanted to go full time into entrepreneurship, I wanted to go to graduate school, and I wanted our daughter to have a better relationship with money. I wanted our daughter’s relationship with money to not be one of fear or anxiety, but one of abundance. Not abundance in material things but how she can use money as a tool to help others and unlock opportunities for herself. Ultimately, I think the experience showed me the true meaning of delayed gratification and I’m grateful for it.
THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOR
During this time, we still contributed to our savings and the max contribution for a company match to our 401Ks. You may have heard or used a variety of approaches for paying off debt and may be curious which is the best one. I’m not going to tell you the best approach, my advice is to choose something you can stick with, that aligns with your short- and long-term goals. Personally, we couldn’t pass up free money with our company match and we wanted to ensure we had an emergency fund. Although the process occurred over 4 years, we managed to pay off all of our debt except for our house, which included credit cards, student loans, and a car loan. We also paid for a second car in cash and cash flowed my MBA from Baylor University.
It wasn’t an easy journey and sometimes we questioned if we were doing the right thing but at the end it came with a sigh of relief. The weight of my childhood had been lifted and I felt like I was turning a new leaf and finally creating a new relationship with money. I believe you can too!
“The weight of my childhood had been lifted and I felt like I was turning a new leaf and finally creating a new relationship with money.”
YOUR PATH TO AN IMPROVED RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY
In order to improve your relationship, you have to first acknowledge that you are in a relationship. Your relationship with money is determined by your mindsets, spending habits, saving habits, investing habits and overall financial wellness. Do you have an avoidance relationship? One in which you just simply avoid talking about money. Do you have an oblivious, paranoia relationship? One in which you never know where you stand with your money, but you’re paranoid about it. Regardless of the type you have, if you’re trying to create a new relationship with money, the first thing you MUST do is reduce your debt.
The 7 steps to reduce your debt and improve your relationship with money are:
DETERMINE YOUR WHY. Without a clear purpose for why you’re getting out of debt, it will all be in vain and it will be difficult to tackle your debt. Ask yourself, “what are my aspirations”? Do you want to buy a new home, start a business or increase your investments?
MAKE A LIST OF EVERYTHING YOU OWE. This can be scary and therapeutic at the same time. You have to know your debt starting point to get to the finish line. Don’t cheat, write EVERYTHING! Add credit cards, mortgages, student loans, car notes, everything that is accruing interest.
PICK YOUR APPROACH TO DEBT PAYOFF. After you know your why, you have to figure out how you’re going to do it. We chose the debt snowball method because it allows you to get some quick wins but you can also base it off of interest rate (highest to lowest) or maybe you want to focus on one category at a time (i.e. credit cards, student loans, etc.). If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Look it getting a financial advisor or money coach.
MINIMIZE YOUR EXPENSES. Determine what areas you can cut back on. This will look different for every person because our priorities are different. However, you should start by considering what you can live without vs. doing without everything. Start this by making a list of subscriptions (i.e. Netflix), cable tv, memberships, and don’t forget APPs. You’d be surprised how many hidden dollars you can find by cancelling subscriptions to apps on your phone that you don’t even use!
USE YOUR EXTRA MONEY TO PAY OFF DEBT. YES, it’s that simple! You get a raise, bonus, birthday cash, or you just have extra money in your budget, this should all go towards your debt. The new earrings, watch, or dress can wait…I promise!
TREAT AND REWARD REACHING GOALS. Reward yourself throughout the process because this journey is not for the faint at heart. This will keep you motivated to stick with it. You can reduce the amount you pay on your debt one month to do something fun! That’s after you pay something off of course and this is not permission to break your new habits! A reward is something that won’t take you off track but will make you feel appreciated by yourself. DO NOT CHARGE IT! CASH ONLY!
BE DILIGENT AND FORGIVE YOURSELF. Always keep your end goal in mind and stick with it! Even when you mess up or you feel like you’re not making the progress you want, remember it takes time and as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are your finances. Continue to give yourself grace to grow.
You may not be happy or proud about how you got to this point, but you are here, and now…you know what to do about it! Here’s to your improved relationship with money and your journey to getting there!
Ashley grew up in Tulsa, OK where she received a BS in Business Administration in Accounting and Business Law Management, a certificate in African American Studies, and a Minor in Sociology from the University of Tulsa. Most recently, Ashley received her MBA from Baylor University. She is results-driven with a proven record in delivering high quality solutions for complex and competitive business needs. She has a diverse operational, project management, financial, and mergers and acquisitions background enhanced by international experience across various industries. Ashley uses her cumulative knowledge as the Co-Owner of 57 Flavors, LLC which include 57 Flavors Catering, 57 Flavors Seasoning, and Pied Out Cookies. Outside of work, Ashley is a wife and mother of one energetic daughter, Riley, who is the 4-year old boss of Joosy Lemonade. Ashley is also a lifelong foodie and loves practicing and teaching personal finance.