My Journey to Financial Freedom | Part 2: The Climb

Emergency FundThis is a guest post by my “virtual” friend Dena from Evolution You. I have admired her work for some time now, and am happy to be able to share this post with you here on EOD. It is truly inspirational! Be sure to subscribe to Evolution You so you can receive her awesome updates each week.

Enjoy!

Three years ago, I was nearly $60,000 in debt. I had a Bachelor’s degree that didn’t appear to be worth its weight in salt and a job that couldn’t cover a fraction of my monthly bills. I was terrified.

Today, I am closer to complete financial freedom than I ever dreamed possible. Last week, I paid off my last remaining credit card balance. This two-part post is a celebration of this incredible milestone in my journey.

In part one, I explained how I got to that terrible place. In part two, I will explain how I’m getting out of it (and how you can do it, too).

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1. Change the way you think about spending money. For most of my life, I believed that money was made to be spent. I believed that I deserved to spend every dollar that I earned on some material thing that would “make me happy.” I coveted material possessions—clothes, jewelry, electronics, cars. What I realize now is that money is not meant to be spent. You only need to earn enough money to survive. You should have enough money to buy only what you need. There is no need for excess.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f***ing khakis.” (Fight Club)

This shift in mindset is hard to adjust to at first. You may not like the reactions that you receive from people. Believe me, I’ve been called cheap a few times, but I pay no mind to it. I would choose cheap over poor any day.

2. Keep a budget. I highly recommend using Mint.com. I started using it in September and it has been one of the most transformational and useful tools throughout my journey to financial freedom. It allows you to sync up all of your accounts (loans, checking, savings, etc.) in one place. Then it keeps track of every transaction that you make and sorts/organizes all of the data for you. It allows you to track your spending over time and by category. It gives you incredible perspective and insight about where your money goes each month/year. It has been a truly eye-opening experience for me.

If you’re unwilling to try Mint, you can keep a budget on a spread sheet or even by hand. However, the important thing is to be completely conscious about where every dollar you spend is going.

3. Use a debit card. To reap the full Mint.com experience you should use a debit card for every purchase you make. Using the debit card will automatically flag each transaction you make into the appropriate category. So if you go to Shoprite, it will get marked as groceries. If you go to Home Depot it will get marked as home. If you stop at the gas station it will get marked as automobile, and so on.

I use my debit card (linked to my checking account) for almost every single transaction that I make. I also have all of my monthly bills (like my auto insurance, utilities, and gym membership) automatically debited from the same checking account each month. It makes keeping track of my spending that much easier. Plus, I do not like dealing with cash. The debit card is quick, easy, and is accepted almost everywhere now.

Whether or not you use Mint.com it is a good idea to use a debit card simply because you can review all of your purchases and purchase amounts on your monthly statement. Trying to keep track of receipts is a hassle that I don’t have time for.

4. Pay off credit cards and cut them up. Paying off my credit cards was my first priority. For awhile I tried “credit card surfing.” Let me just tell you from experience, it’s overrated and it really doesn’t work. The idea is that you surf from credit card to credit card by transferring balances. A lot of companies will give you 0% APR for 6 months if you transfer your balances over to them. After the 6 months, you “surf” to a new card with another promotional rate.

The problem with this tactic is that it gets messy quickly, it becomes difficult to keep up with, and if you lose track you will end up getting burned by high APR, finance fees, cancellation fees, etc. Also, it probably doesn’t look great on your credit report if you’re opening up a new card every 6 months or so.

It is much safer and wiser to just stop using credit cards! My theory is simple and has taken me very far: If you can not afford to buy it, then you can not afford it. Period. It is simple logic.

5. Eat in. This is one of the easiest changes to make, but it also comes with an enormous, positive impact. When I started closely tracking my spending habits, I was shocked to see how much I was spending on eating out. A meal at a decent restaurant goes for about $25 per person. If you eat out twice a week, that is $3,120 a year. If you grab lunch out during the work week, it’s about $8 a day. That’s $2,080 a year. Put those together and you could be spending $5,200 a year or more on dining out! That is outrageous and completely unnecessary.

Since I started eating in and packing lunches, I’ve taken my monthly food spending from $500 down to $200 or less! Over time, that means enormous savings. Check out 5dollardinners.com for some awesome, inexpensive recipes. I love it! Also, investing in a crock pot was one of the wisest decisions I ever made—chili, sausage & peppers, and goulash will be your new (delicious, cheap) best friends. (Here are some more tips for eating healthy & mindfully.)

6. Direct deposit money into savings every month. This is my final—and perhaps most important—tip. When I began my journey to financial freedom, I opened a savings account with ING Direct. It is an easy-to-use online savings account and it gives you interest on the money that you save. It also allows you to set up easy direct deposits.

I started out small, depositing $50 a month into my savings. As I learned to keep my budget tighter and tighter, I increased the amount that I put into my savings each month. Currently, I am putting away $500+ per month and hope to get closer to $1,000 per month in the very near future.

When you direct deposit the funds, it comes out automatically. It is painless because you don’t have to do a thing. Because it’s automatic, after awhile you don’t even notice that it’s missing. (I remember reading that on another blog several months ago and thinking, “Are you out of your mind?! I’m not going to miss it? Yea right!”) But I can honestly say that after a few months, you adjust to the missing money. You truly do not miss it once it becomes normal for that amount to be deposited into savings automatically each month.

It has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made and because I’ve worked so hard to get to this place—I don’t touch that money! I am keeping it there for a rainy day or to pay off my student loans someday in one fell swoop.

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As I stated at the start of this post, three years ago I was almost $60,000 in debt; I was twenty-three years old; and I was scared to death. Today, I have my finances under control! I am on the road to financial freedom and you can get here, too. Truly, it is not as hard as it seems. With common sense and a bit of dedication, it will happen. Paying off my last credit card balance was like taking chains off of my wrists for the first time in seven years. The feeling was completely priceless. If I can do it, anybody can.

So, what are your financial goals? Have you ever been in financial prison? How did you free yourself? If you’re still there, what are you going to do to break free?

Dena is a life coach, speaker, and self-improvement blogger. She coaches, speaks, and writes about how each of us can live the life of our dreams. You can follow Dena on Twitter @denabotbyl or at her blog Evolution You.

About Brad Chaffee

22 Responses to “My Journey to Financial Freedom | Part 2: The Climb”

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  1. Jan B says:

    What a great story about getting free from debt. I have been in prison ever since I left school at age 17 and three years later had three babies and a divorce from an abusive husband. Now, at age 45, I am putting into practice these things that you have talked about. I got serious in January and since then, I have put $1000 into my M.C. Hammer acct "Can't Touch This" and have paid off $4900 in debt. Most of that was because we went to a written budget and started using the tried and true envelope system for expenses other than bills, utilities and housing costs.

    It does work and is a life and marriage saver. I still have $63,790 of non house debt to kill off, but it will go if I keep to this path. Like Dave Ramsey says, it's not a microwave it's a crockpot.

  2. Dena says:

    Thank you, Jan. Wow, I am truly moved by your story. You have taken a life of hardship and are turning it into a life of positivity. Your journey is inspirational on so many levels! Thank you so much for sharing and best of luck to you & your family as you continue on your path to financial freedom.

    I LOVE that Dave Ramsey quote. 🙂

  3. Derek Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Dena. Lots of great tips there. The automatic savings is my favorite. Have it direct deposited or set up a transfer each month. Just treat it like a bill and pay yourself before everyone else. Having that savings is huge and really helps give peace of mind.

  4. Dena says:

    Hey Derek! "Pay yourself first!" Exactly — you are so right, having that peace of mind is priceless. Thanks for the comment.

  5. the Dad says:

    Inspirational. And thanks for the 5dollardinner tip!

    the Dad, Climbing Out

  6. Ted says:

    Thanks for the post. I use mint.com and a debit card as well and love the face that it is easy to track and budget. Helps us keep on track easily.

    @ jan b. thanks for sharing your story!

  7. Ken says:

    Hats off to you for getting on a plan and working it. Good job!

  8. Mick says:

    Dena your story/website motivates me to add a few things to my plan, like adding myself in the budget as you did with ING. As for my situation, I am new to this process. My plan is on paper, three months old, but somewhat disjointed. I need to pull it all together into one place, one sheet, one thought. I am inspired when I see Jan state an exact figure. I cannot off the top of my head state a figure so exact, although I know it is in that ball park and it is in my plan to get it taken care in about two yrs. Nice work Jan. I have work to do! I have one question if I may?? : How to over come the want ?? For me it is like an addiction to want something new and somehow tweek my plan to justify it. I am working on that on !!! advice anyone please ???

    • Dena says:

      Hey Mick. Thank you for sharing your story. In response to your question about how to "overcome the want" — I have to say that that was and IS STILL an obstacle for me at times. There are two things that really keep me in line:

      1. It's about priorities. As much as I want "stuff" (new technology, clothes, vacations, etc) I also want "freedom." In my case, my desire and priority for freedom is greater than my desire for stuff.

      2. MINIMALISM. The other things that has really transformed me and beaten that "want" that you speak of, has been my journey into minimalism. You can read more about that here: http://evolutionyou.net/blog/minimalism-how-to-de

      Hope this helps!

  9. harvestwages says:

    i enjoy your life experience.
    Debt is actually the first thing to eliminate when you think of living a mobile life. I’m glad you realized your mistake and quickly turned your hardship into positivity.

  10. I love all those tips! We use all of them, except we use a rewards credit card instead of a debit card and Excel instead of Mint. Great tips to follow!

    • Dena says:

      Thank you so much for the comment and for sharing how you're making it work! I love those ideas. Rewards credit card & Excel — Yea! There is definitely more than one way to skin a cat. 🙂

  11. Forest says:

    Can't fault the tips here. Eating in saves tons and only buying what you need is essential for getting out…. Thanks for a great 2 parter.

  12. Your two part story has been inspirational. I follow most of the tips but with variation. I keep track of my budget with Brad's Excel budget tool.

    ING Direct is a good way to automate savings and earn more than the typical savings account. Congratulations on paying off $60K in debt!

  13. Trece says:

    Your story is such an encouraging example, Dena. I especially like the Fight Club reference. I am SO much about having enough to survive, with a true Emergency fund, and a bit to bless others. My kids have "mostly" moved out, and so much of their "I have to have this" cr*p is still here.
    Good luck in continuing your climb! I have subscribed, so I can follow you the rest of the way.

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