A couple years ago I finally got out of debt. I was thrilled! I shared my story with others and I was really surprised as most of those I shared it with congratulated me, but shared the sentiment that they would not be able to become debt free themselves. I was sad that these people didn’t feel it was possible to achieve the level of freedom and joy I was feeling. Furthermore I know that they were wrong! I know that God loves you and can help you! Here are a few things that I learned along my journey that I hope will make a difference for you.
WAIT! Don’t run yet. This is the one thing above all else that will help you the most. I know it won’t be easy and in some cases it will FEEL impossible. The truth is getting out of debt is impossible on our own. If we want to succeed we NEED God in our corner. He will make miracles happen, but you have to trust Him. In my own personal experience, I made the decision to pay tithing, which has not only blessed me physically, it gave me the emotional, mental and spiritual strength to move on. It took me a decade and a half to get out of debt and there is no way I had the stamina to do it without God’s help. I also had very tangible evidence that I would not have made this journey on my own. I had multiple people in my life drop large sums of money to help eradicate my debt and I have no doubt this was a gift from God because of my determination to pay tithing and fast offerings.
Have an emergency fund
To be honest, I didn’t see this as possible most of the time I was struggling to get out of debt.
I had people try to tell me I needed one and I would always adamantly reply that I couldn’t have money sitting in the bank while I had high interest credit cards to pay off. There is logic to this, but I also eventually realized that If I wanted to actually get out of debt I needed to stop using my credit cards, and the only way to do that completely was to have an emergency fund. There are always unexpected expenses that come up and credit cards cause us to lose our sense of reality because they give us a false sense of how much we have. They also make it a lot easier to spend money when we can actually survive without.
If you want to get out of debt you are going to have to get a little crazy. You are in debt and you can no longer just be good with your money you have to sacrifice in order to pay back the money you already spent, that you didn’t yet have. Disclaimer: I wasn’t great at these, especially not throughout the whole 15 years. It took me a while to personally develop these habits, but I promise the end result is worth it. It feels amazing.
One sacrifice that I eventually decided to make was to not buy new clothes unless I could get a steal of a deal, which was rare, or replacing worn out shoes that I couldn’t avoid. This became a fun challenge when I unexpectedly lost a bunch of weight when I was trying to clear up some health issues. I decided that as exciting as the chance was to have a valid reason for going on a shopping spree, I wanted to get out of debt more. It became kind of a game. I gave away the clothes that were much too big for me to wear and kept the rest. I probably looked a bit funny, but to be honest, I have no memory of anyone giving me a hard time for wearing big clothes. I wore my over-sized clothes for a couple years until my mom found a friend from church whose sister in law had passed away. I got an entire walk-in-closet full of gently used clothes that I still wear some of today! More than enjoying the brand new wardrobe I felt God’s love and blessing for being willing to obey his counsel to get out of debt. I also have to say I wasn’t perfect at this, but I did try to be good and definitely was blessed when I did.
Another thing that helped significantly at times was to walk. I love the freedom a car brings, and sometimes driving was necessary, but more often I found that I could do without a car. It did take a lot of work, but it also usually replaced boredom at home ie. tv watching and reading. When you walk or ride the bus it may take more time and planning, but it saves on gas, insurance, car payments and repairs. It freed me from a huge chunk of bills and became an easy way to “hire myself” for a bit of extra money.
Don’t eat out. Eating out is expensive and I tried to avoid it except for rare occasions. It did take planning, like packing extra snacks when I knew that I had to run errands after work, but I found I enjoyed the food I brought just as much. It actually saved me the time of finding a restaurant and waiting for them to make me food.
Don’t Give Up
The fight can be long and intense and it may feel that you will never make it, but I promise you can and you will. Even when I was in the trenches I knew that even though the end was far away, I WAS making progress. I still remember my granny telling me, “you didn’t get in [debt] in one day and you won’t get out of it in one day.” I was either making progress on my fight against debt, or I was getting more in debt. I knew I did NOT want to be more in debt, so I pressed forward.
You need to dream a little and have a goal you are working toward. Decide what you want life to look like when you are done, so that when the days are monotonous and hard you can remember what you are working toward and stay motivated to keep working hard. For me, I put pictures on my closet door to remind me what I was achieving. I had two things on my bucket list that I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to visit somewhere outside the US, and I wanted to swim with dolphins. The summer after I became debt free I did both, well almost. My friend and I chose to go to Hawaii, but it was close enough to leaving the country for me. It was amazing. I had a wonderful time experiencing culture, history and nature all with a good friend I hadn’t seen in years, all completely paid for in cash and guilt free!
Watch the Blessings Come
Another dream I had was to serve a mission. I am thankful for the peace I have found and I wanted to be able to share it. I got out of debt in the spring of 2017. It came a bit sooner than anticipated because of some generous and unsolicited financial support from others, but the timing was God’s. He was prospering me and preparing me for important spiritual experiences. On February 9th 2018, my world fell apart. Despite my best efforts, I lost my job and I was devastated. This was more than a temporary set back, it was a career ending loss because of the circumstances and online appraisal that would be visible to all my future potential employers. I was bullied and pushed out of the industry. I was not only crushed, I was unsure of what to do next. The next day, I called my sister and informed her of the devastating loss. She immediately said, “You should serve a mission.” I had wanted to for a long time, even planned on it, but the timing had always been wrong and at this point I was going to wait until I was retired, but again the timing was God’s. I had no idea this was the last chance I would have to serve a proselyting mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was almost 39 years old and I had no idea the church considers women 40 over senior missionaries (their missions are more administrative) but I was given a precious chance to have a third dream and a desire of my heart fulfilled. Serving a mission was the best thing, I grew so much. I learned to be a more consecrated, happier person.
Being debt free, no matter what the cost, no matter how long the journey, will always bring freedom, joy and untold blessings. It is not wishful thinking, it’s an attainable goal for all those willing to seek it.