This month I will complete my journey to being debt free. I cannot believe I'm here. I thought it would take me ten years to pay off Sallie, but the freedom is just around the corner. The reality sunk in last night when I was talking with my husband. In fact, I was almost giddy with excitement. Anyway, as I talked with Mr. J about the end of our journey, I came up with a top five list of lessons I've learned while becoming debt free. Here they are for you to peruse:
1. Contentment is everything. Before we got serious about becoming debt free, I complained about what I didn't have. The third month into the budget, I realized something very important: I have everything I need. What a novel concept! I have a home, I always have food, and I have clean running water. I know it sounds cliche to say that some people don't have these essentials, but the fact of the matter is that it's true. There are people all over the world who struggle to put food into their mouths everyday. The fact that I don't have a flat screen t.v. in my house pales in comparison to their lack of nutrition.
2. Get busy living your life. The summer of 2009 was a big year for me. I graduated college. I moved back home. I got my first "real" job. I married my honey. Unfortunately, amidst all these wonderful things, I was feeling a little blue. I had no friends. All of my friends from college had gone home, and all of my friends from home had moved away. My husband was working night shift, so I was pretty lonely. I spent a lot of time watching movies, t.v., surfing the internet, and shopping for fun. I was replacing relationships with people by filling my time with escapist activities. The cold hard truth was that at the end of a t.v. episode, I was still alone. So I started inviting people from work out to coffee. I found a church and became involved. I started volunteering in the community. Now my life feels so full that I've had to start practicing the art of saying no. I'm living my life as opposed to escaping it.
3. Stuff is just stuff. Simple living seemed like such a weird concept to me. Why would I want to bake my own bread when I can buy fresh loaves at the store? Why would I want to do without when I can have more? Even though advertisements try to convince us otherwise, stuff can't make us happy. I realized this as I cleaned out my closet for a yard sale. I had more clothes than I could wear in a month, yet I always seemed to wear the same six or seven outfits even though I always complained about having nothing to wear! I simplified my life and cleared out the clutter. I've never felt more organized. I feel like I have power over my house now instead of my house always feeling like it is out of control.
4. Giving is receiving. Money is a piece of paper. I do not want a piece of paper to be the main focus of my life. In order to move away from the widely held belief that money is everything, I needed to start giving some away. I've been focusing lately on giving God my first fruits. Before now, I would give Him my leftovers. Think about that: God, who gave me everything, gets what is left over after I fulfill my every desire. How stinkin' selfish! I've also been trying to volunteer at least once a month. Lately I find working with my hands so gratifying. My new favorite place to volunteer is called the Christmas Store. The store provides low income families gifts for Christmas. I only spent an hour there, but I was so moved by the experience that I know I'll go back.
5. Prioritize your wants. I could probably make a list of all the things I'd like to have over the course of my life, but I have to start with one thing at a time. Instead of buying everything we want on credit, we will start saving in January for one purchase at a time. Once we've paid cash for that purchase, we can start in on something else. I have a limited amount of cash flow, and I've learned throughout this process that I have to pay attention to my outflow. After all, delayed gratification is so rewarding in the end.
So there you have it: five lessons I've learned while becoming DEBT FREE. Isn't it funny that only one is truly money related? This experience was so much more than just getting a handle on my finances. I thought I knew these lessons because I certainly heard my lips saying some of them out loud, but I didn't know squat. The path to becoming debt free has changed my whole perspective on life. What effect could becoming debt free have for you?