Up until just a year or so ago, I was a very different person than I am today. Stressed to the max, working an all-encompassing job that often left me with little energy for anything else, I was honestly pretty miserable much of the time. I was short with my husband frequently, and I rarely contacted friends. I didn’t take care of myself well- I ate poorly and didn’t exercise as I should.
In short, I wasn’t running my life. Rather, my life was running me.
What was the driving force behind this twisted set of priorities?
In a word: Money.
Well, I guess in all honestly I can’t blame it entirely on money. Part of the issue was our struggle to start a family, and all the struggles that we faced throughout the adoption process.
But money was an awfully big part.
Money owed to others, to be precise. In other words: debt. Yep, that ugly D word.
Is Your Life Running You?
Here’s a quick and easy way to figure out if your life is running you or not. Ask yourself this question: If money were no object, would I continue to do the same activities that I do every day? Would I work the same job? Would I stay home with my children, or would I go back to work? Would I pursue my dream job? What would I do differently?
If you find yourself answering that you would make major changes in your daily activities if it weren’t for all your responsibilities (to your spouse, your kids, your employer, etc.- not to mention all your financial obligations!), then there is a chance that your life is running you rather than you running your life.
But I’ve got to tell you, if you feel like you are drowning in obligations both financial and otherwise, you’re not alone. I’ve certainly been there (and I’m still there many days- hello, parenthood)! I think these days a LOT of us are feeling the financial strain, especially as we get older and work to balance raising a family with potentially assisting aging parents.
Take Charge of Your Money
Of all the changes that have occurred in my life in the last year or so, one of the biggest ones has been seriously taking charge of our debt. For wayyyyyy too long the hubs and I were pretty blasé about our student loan debt. We figured that since the loans were locked at pretty low interest rates then we could just take forever to pay them off and it wouldn’t matter much.
But when I quit my job to be a stay-at-home parent last year, it became clear that the student loan debt was even more of a risk to us now because we were down to one income. I know some would argue that perhaps that’s a good argument to go back to work instead of stay at home- and I won’t argue that in some cases that probably makes sense- but instead we took it as extra motivation to get the debt gone ASAP.
We did everything you might expect to achieve this goal. We ruthlessly slashed the things that we did not care about from our budget. We worked hard to get our fixed expenses as low as possible. We sold things on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon. We found ways to make money in our spare time and through side hustles. We stopped eating out so much and started cooking a lot more at home. I started making some of my own cleaning products and just stopped using other cleaning products (for example, I stopped using dishwasher detergent a few months ago. So far my dishes don’t seem to care at all).
Take Charge of Your Money = Take Charge of Your Life
Since April we’ve managed to knock out about a third of our student loan debt. At this pace, we fully expect to be rid of student loan debt completely by summer 2016 (autumn 2016 at the absolute latest). We feel really good about that.
But aside from some degree of relief from our debt load, the other thing (and perhaps, the more important thing) that we have gained is a feeling of control. We just feel a lot more in control of our money now. We are telling our dollars where to go, and they are obediently do our bidding and working diligently to lower our debt load.
This translates into a feeling of more control over our life. Every dollar that we throw at our debt incrementally increases the power that we have over our own destiny. With every less dollar that we owe, we have more and more say over how we ultimately spend our time. In short: we are feeling more and more like we are running our lives, rather than our lives running us.
Now, I’m not saying that we are on the doorstep of financial freedom and early retirement, because we are not! But I think that becoming debt free is the first and most important step on that journey. And the first step on the road to debt freedom is taking back control of your life.
What do you think? If money were no object, do you think you would continue to do the same things every day? What would you do differently? What do you think you would have to do to get to the place financially where you could choose to make big changes in your daily activities?
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