It took me 789 days to pay off my $40,611 in consumer debt. During that time my brain evolved into a calculator that constantly forcasted, adjusted, and problem solved my budgeting challenges.
Even if I was thinking about replacing my running shoes I would think “If I budget the shoes in next month that takes my debt snowball number down to x. If I don’t drive up to Summit County to run next weekend I can save x amount in gas, and by not buying San Pellegrinos at the grocery store the rest of the month bring me to x amount to offset the amount of the shoes…..”
You get the idea. Over time I grew to have a calculator similar to the ticker tape of the New York Stock Exchange constantly running in my mind.
Then came the finish line, September 13, 2019. I made my final debt payment of $991 to pay off my car. I clicked ‘submit’ on-line, my shoulders relaxed, I savored a piece of cheesecake, and that mental calculator slowly sputtered to a halt. The debt number was finally zero.
That moment was some of the purest joy I have ever felt in my entire life. I celebrated the satisfaction of knowing I did a HARD thing. The happiness of knowing that I made a bold goal and stuck with it gave me the elation of knowing I was no longer financially tethered to past mistakes. I could breathe!
In the few weeks that followed that joy stayed with me. While I walked with more pep in my step and more expansive breathing in my chest, something shifted. I began to have mental space for other things!
With the mental calculator quietly sitting in the corner, I began to notice my curiosity taking up space again. I began to ponder different things. My debt-free journey blinders were coming off! Now 18 months after making my final debt payment there are three significant ways my life has changed.
Change #1: My relationship with alcohol
Just three weeks after my debt free date I decided to try a Sober October. I had just run a 100k trail race a few days prior to that and I was open to trying anything that would help me recover faster. From there I did a deep dive into exploring the impact alcohol has on the body, and decided my life was better without it. As of right now I’ve been alcohol-free for more than 17 months!
Change #2: Adopting a plant based diet
Shortly after I started Sober October I also became more open-minded about changing my diet. I was hanging out with a few lovely one-kidney girlfriends of mine and started asking questions. Two of them were vegan and one was vegetarian, and I wanted to know why. Why was eating this way important to them? Now that I had cleared out mental space I could really listen and sit with their answers. On the way home in the car I decided that I’d try a vegetarian diet for 30 days. After a couple weeks I decided to try eating a vegan diet instead since it became obvious that dairy products made me feel like garbage. My 30 day commitment became 3 months, and I am still going strong.
Change #3: Frugality as a way of life
I took more of an interest in frugality since that was something I began practicing while paying off my debt. How else could I be frugal? These thoughts led me to some content related to sustainability and making choices to create less waste. By finding ways to re-use things, and even DIY some things I normally purchased, I was saving money AND helping the environment. That was an intersection I had never really considered. I dove down the rabbit hole of making my own cleaning products and even some of my own facial products. Now I rest easier knowing that nothing in my home or beauty routine has toxins in them, and I also saved money, helped the planet, and created a healthier environment for myself.
It’s wonderful being able to learn more, explore things, and find more meaningful ways to live a life that feels aligned with my values. I absolutely had to get through the two years of intense debt pay off strategy to get here though. That kind of goal required all my focus and commitment. Had I diffused my attention to that AND other new things, I am certain I would not have reached my goal of becoming debt free in two years. That kind of intensity required a 100% commitment from me.
Now when I’m exploring these new ways of living, I can do so with all my attention. I don’t have the financial stress of multiple debt payments, and the incredibly restricted cash flow that came from it.
My time and attention has expanded in such a way that I am contributing to the world on a daily basis while still being fiscally responsible. For most of my life I had debt, which felt like weeds wrapped in the propeller of my boat, keeping me from getting to the ideal life I pictured in my head. Without that tangled up mess of past mistakes, there is no looking in the rear view. No regret over impulse buying a vacation, or treating acquaintances to their dinners. No shame in charging a lavish gift for a boyfriend who would soon become an ex-boyfriend. All. Of. That. Is. Gone. And it is all replaced with the feeling of possibility, hope, and opportunity. All the hard moments of paying off your debt is worth it my friends. So very worth it.