How did you acquire $79,500 in debt? What did that debt consist of?
My debt consisted of $50,784.35 in credit card debt, and an additional $28,756.17 in student loan debt that was a combination of my master’s degree and my daughter’s undergraduate degree.
What did it feel like to have that much debt?
It felt like a huge, crushing burden that filled me with dread, worry, anxiety and fear. I hated opening the mail because I didn’t want to see the credit card balances and I hated answering the phone for fear it was a creditor on the line who would then pressure me into making a payment. It was overwhelming and consuming.
How long did it take you to pay it all off?
I was able to pay off the debt in under three years.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
I’d like to say I used one particular method to get out of debt, but I didn’t. Instead, I used the best strategies I read about and developed a plan of action that best suited my particular situation. What I realized when I read Dave Ramsey’s books and others, was there was so much more involved to getting out of debt than just cutting your spending and living frugally.
I realized early on that my use of money (overspending, shopaholic behavior) was tied very specifically to how I felt about myself as a person, and began to see that I used money to fill my unmet need for love and belonging.
I explored this by reading some of the best financial books out there that tackle the psychological issues in which people use money in unhealthy ways. Having spent many years working in the mental health field, this approach worked for me because psychology, spirituality and self-help was of particular interest to me.
Of course I had to tackle the biggest issue which was my feelings of unworthiness. I did this through some personal therapy, meditation and yoga practice.
I believe in being totally transparent about this because I know how many people struggle with the same thing and if my honesty can help just one woman or man, well then I’m okay with sharing this information with you.
But ultimately what I learned transformed me from a broke, credit card wielding shopaholic to a responsible, debt free woman who values and respects herself.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
My biggest challenge was when I was faced with the desire to run out and spend money recklessly. I was forced to have to evaluate what was missing, what need wasn’t being met and address it head on. It was a very difficult process but one that I know was necessary if I wanted to stay out of debt permanently.
Many people think once you get out of debt you’re golden.
That’s not true.
In fact, I continue to work on the issues that got me into debt in the first place. I don’t ever use my charge card anymore but from time to time I still struggle with the urge to go out and spend a ridiculous amount of money on something I don’t need.
When I get the urge, I stop and assess what’s going on. I ask myself, “In what ways am I not getting my needs met?” It forces me to evaluate what’s going on in my life and to find a healthier way to meet my needs that won’t get me into debt.
It’s easy to get out of debt. It’s like going on a diet. Losing the weight is easy, keeping it off – well, not so much. Debt is the same thing.
You’ve got to be diligent and aware of what’s going on to stay out of debt. As soon as you fall into a haze, reckless spending can easily take over. You’ve got to be committed to staying out of debt too.
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
I lost my job in 2002 and had no savings, all this debt, my elderly parents living with me, a kid in college and no plan. Desperate to change my financial situation, I picked myself up from my bootstraps, dusted myself off and started my residential and commercial cleaning business. Over the next several years I grew that business to multi six figures and began to slowly dig myself out of debt.
Because I was fortunate to grow the business quickly, it enabled me to keep a roof over our heads, my daughter in college and eliminate the debt I had created.
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
Tremendous! It was one of the best days of my life when I wrote that final check. I almost couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream in some way, but luckily it wasn’t. It was my new reality. A debt free reality.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
1. Cut up your credit cards and don’t look back. You don’t need them and you don’t need the points.
2. Convert to cash. Cash will reacquaint you with your money and you’ll immediately use money differently.
3. Track your income and expenses religiously. You can use an pen and paper or an online tool like Personal Capital. Evaluate it regularly and make adjustments to your spending plan to meet the financial demands month to month.
4. Develop a spending plan so you know exactly what you’re spending your money on each month.
5. Be willing to make sacrifices. If you’re not willing, you won’t be successful. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is the truth.
6. Ask yourself if you need something, BEFORE you make the purchase. If you can’t honestly answer yes to that question, don’t buy it.
7. Adopt a simple lifestyle. You don’t need all the excess in your life. It doesn’t add anything to your life.
In closing, the biggest secret to my success was rooted in acceptance.
You see, getting out of debt and staying out of debt required me to, above all else, accept where I was in that moment. From accepting my desperate circumstances to accepting my financial triumphs they were and still are important in my overall financial journey.
In my past I was surrounded by people who were wrapped up in keeping up with the Jones’. I fell into that trap too. My best friend’s motto was “Bigger, Better, Best”! And although it’s fine to want nice things, what I know is it becomes very detrimental to your self-worth when you focus solely on what you want and how you’re going to get it.
Through a long and sometime painful process I’ve come to accept my circumstances, find joy in the simple things in life and have learned gratitude is the most crucial attitude you can cultivate when you’re moving through any difficult journey.
To learn more about Maureen and her journey to debt freedom through self-acceptance, you can find her blogging at www.adebtfreestressfreelife.com.
Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.