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Motivation to live a debt-free life

Nearly 6 years ago, I became consumer debt-free by eliminating over $20,000 in credit card and student loan debt in just 12 months after graduation – and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I struggled a lot with trying to end the cycle of using my credit cards, cutting back drastically on spending, and staying motivated. Because it certainly seemed a lot easier to just live with my debt forever. Or take my sweet time paying everything off. So what I ended up doing was writing down all of the reasons I wanted to become debt-free on a yellow sticky note. Then, I stuck it around my debit card to remind me on a daily basis why I was doing this to begin with.

Here were my reasons:

Your pay cheques will become yours

When I get paid, my money belongs to me. I don’t owe money to family, the government, credit card companies, or the bank – aside from my mortgage. I chose how every dollar I make is spent, saved, or invested, and nobody has the right to dictate how I allocate my expenses.

The bills will get paid

I don’t have to play the balance transfer game in order to make ends meet, and I don’t get anxious or stressed out about paying my rent/mortgage, bills, or having enough money to pay for groceries every week. If you’ve ever transferred money between accounts in order to make ends meet, or had a panic attack about how you were going to pay the bills, you know how amazing it feels when you can finally meet all your financial obligations.

There are more important things to life

Before I became debt-free, I could never completely focus on enjoying my time with friends or family because I was always obsessing about money. Thoughts about making my rent payments, or having enough money to eat for the next week consumed my thoughts. Now, that I am debt-free, I can focus on enjoying a relatively stress-free life.

Having debt means living in the past

When you burden yourself with debt, you are burdening yourself with the past. Living with debt means you’re stealing money from your future, and paying interest in purchases and decisions that you might have made months, or even years ago. Being debt-free means living in the present, and being able to look towards the future.

Debt will hold you back from your dreams

Having debt limits your options. So many doors open for you when financial problems aren’t holding you back. Whether it’s pursuing a new career, giving to c harity, buying that dream car, travelling, or retiring early – when you are debt-free, you are able to do whatever you want to do in life.

Your money now works for you

Instead of paying high interest rates on borrowed money, the money you would have put towards debt repayments, can be utilized to buy a house, save for retirement, or invest it in any way you see fit. It’s an extremely liberating feeling.

You can buy a home

This was potentially the biggest motivating factor for me. I’ve always been interested in real estate, but knew that in order to bet the best mortgage rate possible, I needed to first become debt-free, and then save for a down payment. Eliminating debt means your credit score will improve, and that means a better interest rate when it comes time to get a mortgage for your very first home.

While I was working towards my dream of becoming debt-free, I never held a job that paid over $45,000. Instead, I chose to increase my income by creating multiple streams of income (I had three jobs), ditched my car, and found small ways to save on everything else. The pay off of being debt-free as soon as possible was worth it to me, and the idea of living the life that I had always envisioned for myself was what motivated me to keep going.

What’s your motivation to live a debt-free life?

You can have anything you want, but not everything

Recently a couple of friends have sent me e-mails (they are also bloggers), and they seem amazed that I’m able to live off of just writing. They asked if I was going into debt, dipping into savings, or somehow making 6-figures as a blogger (hah!). The answer is “no” to all of those questions, and it reminded me of that quote: you can have anything you want, but not everything.

Half of being able to afford anything you want is learning how to prioritize, and understanding what you really value in life.

If your dream is to move to NYC to become a fashion designer, get out of credit card debt, buy your very first home, or have the wedding of your dreams, what are you doing to bring yourself closer to that goal? Because just talking about your dreams won’t make them come true.

I recently had a conversation with a friend whose goal really is to move to NYC to become a fashion designer. She was accepted into her dream school for this September, but the 2-year program will cost a staggering $80,000! She also applied to schools that were less expensive, but her heart has always been set on this one particular school, so she had to make some serious decisions. After much thought, she decided to postpone her start date for 1 year so that she could save up more money. That way, she gets to go to her dream school, but in exchange, she’s going to have to make some serious cutbacks in her lifestyle, and start saving like crazy over the next 365 days.

We are faced with decisions like this on an everyday basis, and it’s how we react that will determine what we value. My neighbour in Vancouver goes to Starbucks every morning. She knows that by spending her money on caffeine, she won’t be able to go on vacations as often – and she’s okay with that. She knows she can’t have everything that she wants, so she has chosen to spend her money on what she values.

If you want to get a dog but can’t afford it on a monthly basis, why are you eating out at restaurants so often? If you want to visit your family more often but you can’t afford the plane ticket, why are you spending so much on cable television?

Six years ago, I was the perfect example of someone who wanted (and bought) everything. And as a result, I was over $20,000 in debt. But I wanted to become a homeowner. I wanted to stop stressing about bills. I wanted to stop having to monitor my bank accounts to make sure I wouldn’t go into overdraft. And I knew I couldn’t keep living the way that I was, AND have the life that I wanted for myself. So I made a choice.

Take a few minutes to think about what you truly want in life. You can take that trip to Africa, you can buy that fancy sports car, and you can retire early – you can have anything you want in life… just not everything. The problem is, many of us are unwilling to make sacrifices in order to afford what we really want. So we end up settling, stuck envying the lives of others, and wishing we had the money to do the things we’ve always dreamt of.

Turning dreams into goals

Have you noticed now I’m always talking about running more? Almost every month I try to make it a goal to run X amount of times, yet almost every month I never achieve my goal. My intention is to get back into running and enter in a couple of races (it’s been a goal of mine for the last couple of years), but I never wanted to take the plunge and sign up for a race until I knew I could actually run the distances.

But here’s the thing: unless I set a a goal, I’m not going to do anything about it.

It’s the same with finances. It’s great that I wanted to get out of debt, but I did nothing about it for years. It wasn’t until I actually I gave myself a deadline, that I actually got off my butt and created a plan to help me achieve my goal.

When I was a teenager, my dream was to make it to the Olympics in field hockey. So I set myself a series of goals to help me achieve that dream:

  • Run every morning before school
  • Play field hockey 10-12x/week
  • Lift weights 2x/week during my lunch break
  • Try out for every elite team I could
  • Find a part-time job that would be flexible with my sports schedule

I did this from grade 10-12, and I made it on every elite team that I could. I played in the national championships, and as a result of my efforts, I was scouted for major universities in Canada, and eventually earned a full athletic scholarship to a Division 1 university in the USA.

Now, obviously I never made it to the Olympics. I never even made it onto Team Canada. :| But look at what I was able to accomplish by the time I was 19!

What have I accomplished in the last 10 years with my running? Pretty much nothing. Not even a fraction of what I accomplished as a teenager. And that makes me feel pretty bad about myself, considering I really have no excuse. I was busier then, than I am now.

So instead of always talking about getting back into running, and always thinking about how great it would be to start entering races, I’m going to finally do something about it.

That’s why I’ve made a commitment to running by deciding to run in the Times Colonist 10km race in April 2013, as well as the Good Life Fitness Half Marathon in October 2013. 

I’ve never attempted to run more than 12km in my life. So, this will be interested.

We are travelling for most of August, but as soon as I get back, my goal is to run 2-3x/week for 30-45 minutes, and eventually get back to where I was running 5x/week when I get back to Vancouver in mid-December.

Now that I’ve actually written this post out, I am seriously pumped to start running! :)

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