budget · debt · finances · goals · meal planning

I’M DEBT FREE! How I got here and what’s next?

I made it a goal this year to become debt free once and for all. At the end of November I made my final student loan payment. Then a few days ago, Christmas came early for me. I received the official letter stating that my loans were paid in full. I am now debt free! It wasn’t easy, but it’s been so worthwhile. All of those sacrifices have finally paid off. But just because I am debt free does not mean that I can now spend my money frivolously and ball out of control. I still ball on a budget.

How did I become debt free?

When I first began this journey about three years ago, I had to list all of debts and face my reality. I was drowning in debt, but I didn’t realize it because I was able to make every single monthly payment. Once I saw the number written down on paperI knew I had to take action immediately. Otherwise this cycle of debt would just continue and it would take even longer to pay off.

I began following blogs on saving money, how to coupon, living a more frugal life and budgeting. These blogs helped me tremendously and gave me the tools that I needed to start my journey. I also read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Reading the success stories just helped me realize that I can do it too! The hardest part is just beginning the process.

Once I had the tools that I needed, I took a deeper look at my spending. I began by writing down my daily spending habits so that I could see where I was spending most of my money. Those daily trips to Starbucks added up quickly. Spending money on eating out was also costly. I agree it is easier to just grab something for lunch, but think about how much you will save if you bring in your lunches and snacks to work.

Using coupons did and still does help me save money at the grocery and drug stores. I won’t lie – you do have to dedicate some time to it, but for me it’s worthwhile. It’s been a key factor as to why I was able to put more money towards my debt.

Sacrifices and adjustments were made throughout this process:

  1. There have been limited vacations. Most of them have turned into stay-cations.
  2. Monthly visits to get manicures? Think again. I learned how to perfect a DIY mani at home. I only visit the nail salon now as a special treat for myself.
  3. Caramel macchiatos at Starbucks? Nope. I just learned how to make my own lattes at home by watching YouTube videos. It’s crazy how much great information is available on the internet. We just have to go find it and actually utilize it.
  4. Cable TV package? Nope just the basics and I added in Netflix for some variety.
  5. Weekly meal plans so that I knew I would be less likely to eat out and eat at home instead.
  6. Shopping? Definitely cut that down. Even more so now that I have some a major purge at home and realized I didn’t need half of the stuff that I had. I don’t even remember what I got rid of. I still go shopping, but I’m mainly shopping the sales. 
  7. Goodbye gym membership. One of the reasons why I love running is because is can be done outdoors. Plus I prefer running outdoors versus on the treadmill.
  8. Limited book purchases. I absolutely love reading, but instead of running to the closest bookstore I went to my local library and checked a book out. If I do want to purchase a book for my collection, I will purchase them used on Amazon.

These are just some of my personal changes. Do what is right for you and your family. These might not seem like big changes, but when I add them all up they were eating away at my bank account. Just remember that whatever you decide to cut back on, it isn’t forever. It will just help you get to the finish line quicker. Who knows you might even realize that you don’t need XYZ and won’t waste your money on it again.

So what are my next steps?

  • Continue to create a monthly budget and do my best to stick to it.
  • Find creative ways to trim the budget where I can.
  • Work on Baby Step 3 which is to save up 3-6 months of expenses.
  • At the same time I will be working on Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 3B. This step is where I will begin to save the down payment for my future home!

I’m excited for what’s next and looking forward to how 2017 will continue to bless my life and my finances!

Where are you on your financial path? Are you still paying off debt or are you debt free?

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