Being Debt Free is NOT the Goal

I recently registered for the Twin Cities marathon, which will be held in October of this year. It will be my third marathon, so I’ve been through the training before. However, as a refresher, I dusted off a marathon training book I had purchased several years ago and began reading.

The first chapter is quite inspirational. It reflects upon the time and effort it takes to train for a marathon. By the time race day arrives, months of work have been put in, and hundreds of miles have been logged in preparation of the big event.

The thing that stands out for me is that the author urges the readers to remember to enjoy the actual race. After all, the goal of marathon training is to condition the mind and body to push through adversity and run for hours continuously. Any marathon training program will have already had the runner perform this several times. By the time race day arrives, these goals have already been accomplished. All that is really left to do is to put those skills on display.

The emphasis of the writer is on the journey. It’s through the journey of increasing mileage, losing toenails, sore muscles, and weekly long runs that the next 9 months of training will transform me once again into a marathon runner. On October 7th, starting at 8:00am, I will enjoy the crowds cheering, the music blaring, and the mystique of a race called marathon.

The race is not the goal. It is the reward.

Paying off debt can be put into a similar perspective. My wife and I have been making payments to our debt management program for two and a half years, and have another two and a half years remaining before our credit card debt is completely gone. During this time, we have been and are continuing to figure out how to handle our finances the correct way. Budgeting, communicating, as well as learning and practicing self control.

It is through this 5 year journey of arguments, tears, failures, practice, successes, and repetition that my wife and I will become financially responsible. By the end of our program, our goal is to be living within our means, have an emergency fund, and be saving for our kids’ education as well as our own future in retirement.

Our last projected payment to our debt management program is June 28th, 2014 after which our credit card balances will all be zero.

But that’s not the goal, It is simply the reward.


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11 Responses to “Being Debt Free is NOT the Goal”

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  1. Katie says:

    I definitely used to believe being debt free was the goal. In the beginning, that’s all I cared about. Now that I’ve gotten there (yay!), I realize that the journey to this point was so much more meaningful and important than reaching the reward of being debt free. I said this on my blog yesterday, but this journey has forever changed me. (Or at least I hope it’s forever!) It’s made me try things I never would have given a thought before, and I’ve come out of the journey knowing what’s important to me. That’s something I thought I knew before I began paying off my debt, but I didn’t really. Actually, I probably would have *said* certain things were important to me then, but my spending didn’t reflect those things at all. Cheers to the journey! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Katie. In the beginning paying off my debt was definitely the “end game.” As Vonnie and I have progressed through our journey, and as I’ve followed the journeys of other people (including you!), I’ve realized that paying off all our debt wouldn’t accomplish anything if we didn’t fix the underlying problem. If we fix the underlying problem, then being debt free forever is simply a positive side effect or result of being financially responsible.

      Once again, congratulations on being debt free!

    • I’m with Katie. I guess we were all fooled into believing it’s a goal when in fact, it actually feels so much better when it’s THE REWARD. Rewards are encouraging while goals may be ideal but often exhausting when you fall short of them. Changing our perspective about being debt free helps making the race even more exciting, so much more interesting and worth finishing.

      • “Making the race even more exciting, so much more interesting…”

        Great perspective, Jonha! Most people digging out of debt don’t think of it as exciting or interesting, but having such a perspective would certainly help get you closer to your reward!

  2. Suzanne says:

    I love that you put your marathon goal and debt free goal in the same perspective…and you are right its not accomplishing our big goals that’s the win its the little milestones and learnings you gain along the way that make the end goal that much more sweeter. Great post!

    P.S. I want to know when you have time to read???

    • Travis says:

      Suzanne, this is a perspective I’ve been adopting for many aspects of my life. For all of 2011 I focused on my weight loss. The weekly weigh in number was the goal – what’s my weight, how much weight did I lose, how close am I to my goal? When I should have been concentrating on forming new habits of eating right, exercising smartly and consistently. If those habits can be formed, the weight loss will take care of itself.

      Going in reverse (focusing on the weight loss without defining the “how”) now seems painful and less effective. This same perspective seems easily applicable to marathon training, debt reduction, and any number of real life challenges.

      When do I find time to read? Well, I just reduce the amount of sleep I get each night by 30 minutes…LOL. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great article Travis! With most other things I have realized that the journey along the way was the rewarding part, I’ve honestly not looked at getting out of debt that way! We are learning so much about ourselves and our characters ‘along the way’, though, that it is worth paying attention! Thank you for the reminder that the rewards also come in the lessons learned on the way.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Sherrian! Another thing I’ve realized is that not only is the journey where the learning occurs, the journey is also something that can be enjoyed! Sure, my journey out of debt has been painful at times, but there have been positive things to reflect upon and enjoy too! Meeting great people, a trip to Baltimore, #Fincon11 (and upcoming #fincon12), as well as many other positive things have resulted from my journey out of debt.

      The most awesome thing is when you actually realize the importance of the journey you are currently on, and the impact it will have on your life. This is true of my journey out of debt….my life has been changed forever, and I’m a better person because of it.

  4. I will never run a marathon. I know never say never… but you lost me at losing toe nails. No. Thank. You. Not that I had any desire to run before that but you just put a deadbolt in an already closed and locked door. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Travis says:

    Too funny, Ashley! The most common cause of losing toe nails is wearing shoes that are too small. A runner training for a marathon (or one that commonly does longer runs – like into the ‘teens’ for miles) will have shoes that are a half a size larger than their normal size. The foot tends to expand and bloat as you put that much of a pounding on it at one time. However, I’ve lost toenails even with the larger shoe size.

    I can certainly understand your feelings, running a marathon isn’t for everyone – but I will tell you this. There are a handful of events in my life that make me literally tear up when I think of them: 1.) walking into the reception hall on my wedding day 2.) the birth of both of my kids, 3.) the instant I walked into the room meeting my CareOne friends last September, and 4.) crossing the finish line of my first marathon.

    I’d give a toenail or two to experience that feeling again…and it’s coming in October. ๐Ÿ™‚

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