At one point in my life, I was like many today, living paycheck to paycheck with a credit card debt as much as $25,000 and student loans as much as $10,000. It seemed hopeless to pay it off when I was using my credit card to buy groceries and living in Irvine, CA. I was wrought with fear and could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Today, I have been free from credit card, student loan and auto debt for almost 5 years. Without a doubt, this has afforded me the ability to continue meeting my home mortgage commitment despite being unemployed almost 9 months now. All the hard work and sacrifice paid off when I needed it most and I am grateful. There were so many contributing factors that brought me to that difficult financial state, but I want to focus on how I got out of it. Instead of going over all the mistakes leading up to it, I would like to share my journey in liberating myself from the debt chains. I hope this story will allow the light to shine brightly at the end of that tunnel for those of you still living paycheck to paycheck or struggling to pay the bills.
Like most attempts at a significant life change, it required investment. You have to spend to gain. In this case, it required expending time, energy, commitment and discipline. My road to becoming credit card debt free began with the most common techniques such as:
- Create a budget sheet distinguishing fixed spending versus flexible.
- Consolidate balances to lowest rated cards
- Transfer balances to credit cards with 0% promotional rate and continue to do so for as long as possible
- Prioritize paying more on cards with lower or 0% rated cards and $10 over minimum on the higher rated cards
- Once one credit card is paid off, close account and take the payment budgeted for it and apply it to the next credit card in line.
- Applying large portion of tax returns to reducing credit card balances
It was definitely not easy, but it was effective in stopping the increases to my debt ceiling. However, I still found myself living paycheck to paycheck and completely obsessed with my insufficient disposable income. It wasn’t until I acknowledged my beliefs about money and released my fears; that significant changes occurred. It’s as if the universe took over and everything began to get better on its own.
It started with a book a good friend recommended called 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman. I was very familiar with Suze Orman from the Oprah Show and her practical advice is what helped me to get control of my credit card debt. I was prepared for her to reinforce the practical steps I had already applied, but I got more than that. She begins with a focus on our emotional connection to money – from the beliefs created based on how our parents treated money to any fears we held or lies we told about money. There was an underlining spiritual element too. I found her technique at integrating emotional and spiritual elements to approaching one’s finances easier for me to relate to. I have always looked at areas of my life holistically, because it made any changes I made much more sustainable.
The book was exactly what I needed to begin decreasing my debt. It was sound advice relative to the economic climate at the time. To this day, Suze Orman continues to be a financial mentor in my life. Following are the 9 Steps:
- See How Your Past Holds the Key to Your Financial Future
- Face Your Fears and Create new Truths
- Be Honest with Yourself
- Be Responsible to Those You Love
- Be Respectful of Yourself and Your Money
- Trust Yourself More Than You Trust Others
- Be Open to Receive All That You Are Meant to Have
- Understand the Ebb and Flow of the Money Cycle
- Recognize True Wealth
The first 5 steps were probably the most impactful because they helped me develop a new belief system about money which in turn impacted my approach to spending and saving. Ultimately, I released my fear of scarcity and simply set my budget in place and stopped obsessing over what I didn’t have. “Set it and forget it” is how I looked at it all. Little did I know that from that moment; my circumstances began to change. The universe began working with me, instead of against me, and was on the path to financial freedom!
It took about two years or so but I remember the day I finally reached the financial state I worked hard to attain. I was already living in Atlanta just short of a year, when my University of San Diego Grant Promissory Note was returned to me via snail mail, stating I had fulfilled my financial obligation. As I took a moment to reflect, I did a quick assessment of my other financial commitments and realized that I had just finished paying off my Stafford Loan, my last car payment was sent a few months earlier and that upon receipt of money from a contract gig; I would be able to pay off my remaining credit card debt! It all came together at the same time…it was unbelievable and overwhelming at the same time. I was so proud of myself but more importantly grateful for Suze Orman’s emotional and spiritual look at my relationship with money. Had I not released the fear of scarcity, I would not have had the energy or ability to make better choices or take some risks; financially. To add cherry to an already full sundae, I ran my FICO credit score about a year later and it had rocketed to over 800! I felt triumphant and free.
I probably could have shaved some time off the 10+ year journey, had I been given the book sooner (and moved from an excel budget sheet to Quicken!), but I believe everything happens as it should. I found what worked for me and stuck with it. It was more important that I was making progress and when I felt I wasn’t, I made the necessary adjustments so that I would be. Some adjustments were as small as closing out all unnecessary credit cards to as big as moving to another state for a higher paying job with better quality of life. It goes without saying that it took a lot of discipline but I also learned how to set personal boundaries in my generosity, which was a difficult for me. I soon came to learn that by making this personal commitment to financial freedom, I would find myself in a much better place to share and give.
Today, I am still credit card debt free with no car payment and very grateful, but I still have moments when fear creeps in. However, the moment I release that fear by focusing on my blessings and how God does and always provides; money becomes a non-issue. I will continue to practice the arts of gratitude, “set it and forget it” and respect for money because it seems to work for me. I’ve learned that I can value money while also living an emotionally and spiritually rich life. In fact, I’m finding that focusing on the latter often yields the former. They are not mutually exclusive, but interdependent.
So, begin preparing for your journey by working through emotional and spiritual beliefs – attitude towards and relationship with money; that may be holding you back. Make the necessary changes to release the fear of scarcity and build on your faith that there’s enough for everyone. Attend to the development of a practical plan that includes developing an achievable budget. Then set that plan in motion and forget about it. Begin living your life knowing you’ve done all that you should and that you will begin making better choices in support of this commitment. In doing so, the journey to financial freedom will commence and the universe will naturally take over. Just make sure you don’t get in it’s way!
Note: Image above is courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net