What Paying Off Debt Taught Me About Myself

I recently became non-mortgage debt free. This is a huge accomplishment and something that I am immensely proud of. It took a long time, too. Five years (just ask Lady Gaga. She thinks five years is a long time, too). Five years of cutting back, skipping vacations, forgoing home improvements, making do with what I have, shopping eBay and sales for pretty much everything…whatever you’re supposed to do to get out of debt, I did. Mostly. I’m not going to say that I was perfect during those 5 years, but I did the best I could. And I never thought the day would come where the only debt I had left was my mortgage. Now I understand why people who call Dave Ramsey are so stoked when they scream “I’m debt freeeeeeee!!!!!”

Getting out of debt taught me a lot about money and how to manage it. It taught me the importance of being calculating with purchases. It taught me how to make a budget and stick to it. It taught me how to be content with what I have. It taught me how to find creative, inexpensive ways to have fun.  It taught me that an emergency fund is crucial. Most of all, it taught me about myself.

I am not one of those people who are brimming with confidence. You wouldn’t look at me and think “Wow! That chick has got it together!” You wouldn’t think that because it’s not true. But 5 years of paying down debt made me realize that I’m a lot more capable than I thought. For instance, I learned that:

  • I have more patience than I thought. Paying off debt is tedious. There were times when I wanted it all gone now. I wanted to quit paying it off because I couldn’t take it anymore. I would entertain those feelings and then push them aside. I had to teach myself to calm down and exercise patience, telling myself that one day, it’ll be done. It may not be when I want but I will have it. Tom Petty said “The waiting is the hardest part”, and he’s a smart man. That patience I learned in paying down debt has extended to other areas of my life and
  • I am resilient. When you’re in debt, it’s easy to feel like a failure. You look at all the people to whom you owe money and you are ashamed. You beat yourself up because you never thought you’d be in this hole. And you’re frustrated because you feel like you’ll never get out. Well, at least that’s how I felt. But I learned that I can bounce back from that. My debt and financial mistakes did not have to define me or my future. And now they won’t.
  • I can learn things I never believed I could. Prior to paying off debt, I didn’t have a financial education. If I had had one, I’d like to think I wouldn’t have wound up in the situation I was in. That lack of education—formal or informal—was partially due to the fact that I didn’t think I could understand money. I thought it was something that only a specific kind of person could comprehend and I was not that person. Turns out, I am that person! Out of necessity, I learned all the concepts I previously thought I couldn’t understand—budgeting, saving, insurance, investing. I understand them now! My future, and my family’s future, is so much brighter because of this.
  • Organization and I are friends! I am terribly disorganized. I’m not messy or anything, I’m just scatterbrained. I will remind myself to do something and then 10 minutes later, I’ll forget. While this didn’t spill over to my finances that badly, I did occasionally forget about a bill or due date and would pay it late. When debt was no longer an option and there was no money for late fees, this was a skill that had to be improved. So I committed myself to keeping track of bills on a sheet of paper and creating a spreadsheet to document our debt repayment. It’s a skill that I continue to improve upon but I learned that as long as I write it down, I remember. Organization is not something to fear; it is something to embrace.

What has debt taught you about yourself?

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7 Responses to “What Paying Off Debt Taught Me About Myself”

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  1. Marissa says:

    Patience is definitely key. There are days where I get so frustrated, but seeming progress, however small it may be, motivates me to keep going.

  2. PK says:

    Respect… that’s a big deal! There is no equivalent on the ‘savings side’… but maybe $1,000,000?

    Seriously, congrats!

  3. Bob says:

    This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read and I agree with you 100%. I am not quite there ($12,400 to go) but the end is in sight and it will be gone in a few more months. I believe 1,000% that I would not have got into such a situation had I had even a tiny bit of education or awareness about something that seems so basic and simple to me at this point. As much as I hate the fact I got into so much debt ($40K at its peak last August) this process has brought a feeling of peace for the first time in many years, even though I still have a way to go. This has not been an easy lesson and I regret every single wasted dollar on dumb purchases and interest payments, but it is a lesson I needed to learn and my life has changed forever as a result.

    Congratulations on your achievement.

    • Jana says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Bob! While getting out of debt is never pretty, there is a lot to be learned from it. Good luck to you as you finish!

  4. Marie says:

    I’m 2-3 years away from being debt-free other than my school loans, but since I’m in it for the long haul for my Ph.D., I’m putting those out of my mind for now and just dealing with the rest. What I’m really struggling with now is forgiving myself. It’s not all my fault–I have had heavy medical challenges and a vindictive ex-husband who uses the courts and lawyers to punish me for leaving him 6 years ago–but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the self-recrimination when I have to pay so much out every month. And some of it is from me being careless at times, too–I grew up with so much shame and fear regarding money, it still intimidates me. In the end, it doesn’t matter, though. I’ve just got to get myself free and I’m willing to work hard and be patient and focused to get it done. Just being sick of it and having the self-respect and desire for a prosperous future is enough to spur me on. I will do this.

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