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Friday, April 4, 2008

Winning the war on debt. . . .

I am now less than $3,000 away from paying off my credit cards (again!) and becoming consumer-debt free. There have only been a couple of times in the last twenty years when I’ve been anywhere close, and I can almost taste the freedom. Then it’s on to the student loans and mortgages, but that’s another post for another day. . . .

After years of pulling out the credit cards to pay for clothing, gas, entertainment, car repairs, and travel, I’ve lived primarily on cash for the past five months. Although I’ve been ‘here’ before---meaning, I’ve vowed previously to deal with my debt---this time feels different. I truly believe that this time I’ll be successful. Why is that?

There are several factors, which, when combined, are helping me to finally face and conquer my debt ---and this time I know I will come out on top. Here’s why:

Discovering the blogosphere: debt has always been my ‘dirty little secret’, something to be hidden and tended to anxiously, while pretending to the world that my income was greater than my outgo. Last year, I discovered blogs---and learned that there are hundreds, probably thousands of people just like me, all of them struggling to banish debt from their lives. In writing my own blog, I feel like I have joined a community that supports and understands me and my ‘secret’. Not only have I been offered heartfelt encouragement from complete strangers, I have learned a great deal about the nitty gritty of saving money, increasing income, and getting out of debt.

Hiding my credit card: Of the many blogs that I peruse, and the many books that I’ve read on the subject of personal finance, debt reduction, and frugal living, one idea appears in about half of them. That is the notion that credit cards---in the hands of people like me---are a dangerous tool, which should be ripped from the wallet and destroyed. Having nursed my credit like a babe at the bottle, I could never wrap my brain around this. I decided on a half-measure: I would remove my credit card from my wallet and leave it at home, far from my reaching fingers. Well, I must be getting old, because I literally can’t remember where I put it! This has kept me from making quite a few purchases which---at that moment in time---I thought I HAD to have, whether it was a new pair of boots, a raincoat (of which I have plenty), an expensive haircut, or any number of unnecessary items. Perhaps I’ll never find my credit card; now that I have an (albeit tiny) emergency fund, I’m not as worried as I would have been five months ago.

Rethinking my attitude about ‘stuff’: I have been blessed to find a second job at which I can work from home, a couple of hours each evening. I do computer research in the field of environmental health---I read all sorts of articles about pollution, global warming, and toxins in our food and consumer goods. Depressing? Yes. However, learning about the role humans have played and continue to play in the degradation of the earth has made me much more aware of everything that I bring into my life. I pay attention to the packaging of my food and other items; I shun the offer of the ubiquitous plastic bag at the checkout counter, to walk my tiny purchase 100 yards to my car; I consider each purchase not only in terms of whether I want it, but whether I need it, and more importantly, what will happen to it when I’m finished with it? Will it go to a landfill? Is it biodegradable? Will it end up swirling in the Texas-sized vortex of plastic in the North Pacific Ocean? This has helped me to whittle down my purchases substantially, and conversely increased the amount of money I have available to make increased debt payments and increase savings.

In spite of my debt and the long hours at work and school, I feel incredibly lucky to have finally realized that I can get off the ‘earn and spend’ rollercoaster. That I have the power to change the way I live my life and how I spend my money. In September I’ll have paid off my credit card completely----after that I’ll begin the next phase of my journey toward debt freedom---and I’m looking forward to the challenge!

2 comments:

Frugal Dad said...

You are on the home stretch now - congratulations! As Dave Ramsey says frequently on his show...never again!

Finally Frugal said...

thanks, frugal dad! I'm definitely getting excited. And thanks for the Dave Ramsey reminder; I read his book (Total Money Makeover) late last year, and it definitely keeps me motivated. . . .

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