Today’s Debt Free Story is from Maureen. She writes at A Debt Free Stress Free Life.
1. Tell us about you and your family. Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What are your hobbies? Include anything that you’d like to add to give the reader an idea about your personality.
Hi, I’m Maureen! I’m single, have a grown daughter, I’ll soon be a grandmother and I’m a care taker to my elderly mother. I’ve lived in the Greater Boston area my whole life. Boring I know, but I’m a home body so it works for me.
I love photography, archery, yoga, reading self-help books, taking spinning classes and being with my friends and family as much as possible.
Besides writing on my personal finance blog, A Debt Free Stress Free Life, I’m an adjunct professor at a local college and own a residential and commercial cleaning business.
2. How much debt did you pay off? What kind of debt was it? How long did it take you?
I had $50,784.35 in credit card debt, and an additional $28,756.17 in student loan debt that was a combination of my master’s degree and my daughters undergraduate degree. I was debt free in less than 3 years; 2 years, 11 months and 6 days to be exact.
3. What inspired you to get debt free? Was there a particular event?
Losing my job should have been the event that made me change my ways and catapult me into living a different lifestyle, but it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until I received the foreclosure notice on my home that I finally snapped out of my haze and decided something needed to change and fast.
4. Did you follow a particular debt freedom plan or book, such as Dave Ramsey or Debt-Proof Living?
No, I didn’t. In fact, I used the best strategies I read about and developed a plan of action that best suited my particular situation. What I realized when I read Dave Ramsey’s books and others, was there was so much more involved to getting out of debt than just cutting your spending and living frugally.
I realized early on that my use of money (overspending, shopaholic behavior) was tied very specifically to how I felt about myself as a person, and began to see that I used money to fill my unmet need for love and belonging.
I explored this by reading some of the best financial books out there that tackle the psychological issues in which people use money in unhealthy ways. Having spent many years working in the mental health field, this approach worked for me because psychology, spirituality and self-help was of particular interest to me.
Of course I had to tackle the biggest issue which was my feelings of unworthiness. I did this through some personal therapy, meditation and yoga practice.
I believe in being totally transparent about this because I know how many people struggle with the same thing and if my honesty can help just one woman, well then I’m okay with sharing this information with you.
5. What are the top 3 – 5 ways you found money to put towards debt.
Well, my cleaning business grew very, very fast and I was making multiple six figures by the end of the second year. During this time I literally worked and paid bills. That was it. I worked like a dog and paid bills. It was the primary way I paid off the debt.
With that being said, I also learned about couponing and began to learn all I could about bargain shopping and using coupons and deal sites to garner the best price I could no matter what I was purchasing.
I changed many of my habits. Instead of going to the local coffee shop each day and dropping close to $6 for a coffee and breakfast sandwich, I started making my own coffee and eating breakfast at home. This one simple move enabled me to save over $1200 a year.
I always asked myself if I needed what I was going to purchase, BEFORE I made the purchase. If I couldn’t honestly answer yes to that question, I didn’t buy.
I adopted a simple lifestyle, got rid of all the excess crap in my house and began enjoying life in a different way. Now, excess seems ridiculous to me and I see how all that stuff was just a substitute for what I was lacking in my life.
Meditation helped me to see things differently and to accept myself in a way that I hadn’t before.
6. What are your top 3 – 5 tips for saving money/pinching pennies to put towards paying off your debt.
Use coupons because you can really save money this way. I don’t eat processed food so for me most of my savings come from health and beauty and household products. I spend almost zero on those items because I use coupons and stockpile.
Evaluate where you are spending your money and on what. Track your spending for a month and then see how much money you’re blowing. With some small changes you could save hundreds. When I did this I ended cutting my cable bill in half, rewrote my car and house insurance saving me $300 per year, stopped the coffee runs, and just about eliminated my dry cleaning bill. Every penny I saved went to paying down debt.
I have a tendency to use money saving apps to help cut costs and control spending. My favorite apps include: Checkout 51, Snap, Red Laser, Gas Buddy, and Shop Kick. I can earn money back on fruits and vegetables with Snap and Checkout 51, find the best gas prices with Gas Buddy, comparison shop with Red Laser and earn free gift cards just for walking into certain stores with Shop Kick. You’d be amazed the money you can save by using these apps.
7. How did you celebrate when you became debt free?
Well, I can tell you I didn’t go out and buy myself something. I’m not sure I really celebrated. I felt a lot of relief when I was finally debt free and actually made a new goal to pay off my house as quickly as possible. I have less than two years left on my mortgage and I will be completely debt free from all creditors.
8. What habits did you form while being debt free that will now stick with you for the long term?
I’m so glad you asked this because it gives me the opportunity to speak about the notion that once you get out of debt, you’re good.
That’s not true.
In fact, I continue to work on the issues that got me into debt in the first place. I don’t ever use my charge card anymore but from time to time I still struggle with the urge to go out and spend a ridiculous amount of money on something I don’t need.
When I get the urge, I stop and assess what’s going on. I ask myself, “In what ways am I not getting my need for love and belonging met?” It forces me to evaluate what’s going on in my life and to find a healthier way to meet my needs that won’t get me into debt.
It’s easy to get out of debt. It’s like going on a diet. Losing the weight is easy, keeping it off – well, not so much. Debt is the same thing.
You’ve got to be diligent and aware of what’s going on to stay out of debt. As soon as you fall into a haze, reckless spending can easily take over. You’ve got to be committed to staying out of debt too.
With that being said I established what I call my Good Money Habits:
1. Put bills in one place
2. Open all bills when they come in
3. Track income and spending
4. Pay bills according to an established schedule
5. Review bank accounts daily
6. Live according to a spending plan
7. Balance checkbook monthly
8. File paperwork immediately
9. Keep wallet clean and organized
10. Use cash
11. Pay attention to my money
9. Was there something that you gave up that you will go back to now that you are debt free?
No. That was the past and to me there’s no reason to go backward. Moving forward is always the direction we want to be going in.
My past behaviors weren’t helpful and so for me to pick up something that was detrimental to me doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
If we look at the coffee example, I do grab an occasional coffee when I’m out but I have never gone back to that old habit. To me it’s a waste of money to buy coffee every day. But grabbing one every now and then is a treat which I get to occasionally enjoy.
10. What are your financial goals now?
Like I said previously I want to pay off my home. I also need to finish fully funding my retirement and I’d like to fully fund my grandsons college fund. I’d like to buy a piece of property at the beach if possible, but the college fund would come before the beach house.
11. What advice do you have for someone that is paralyzed by their debt load, but wants to be debt free?
First, I get it. I get what it’s like to feel paralyzed by debt. I felt like that for a long time and of course it only got worse when I lost my job and almost lost my home.
Your thoughts and actions must be in alignment. What I mean by this is if you are really serious about getting out of debt. then your actions must match your desire. If it doesn’t, you won’t be successful and you’ll stay trapped by debt.
I’ve met many people who say they want to get out of debt but their actions say otherwise.
So, take the time to think about what you really want to accomplish and develop a plan that supports your thinking. If you find yourself rationalizing and justifying purchases you need to take a step back and figure out why you’re hesitating to do what you know you need to do to get out of debt.
Do it with a dose of compassion. It’s not easy and it takes time to get out of debt. But, if you really want to make it happen, you can. I’m a testament to that along with the countless other women and men who have done it to.
I welcome email questions from anyone who would like to seek any advice. If you’re stuck, feel free to drop me an email and I will do my best to support you any way I can.
12. Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think would help the readers who want to become debt free?
Just remember to be compassionate to yourself as you navigate the debt free waters. Be patient and kind to yourself too. You can do it.
Thanks, Maureen, for being so open about your story. For more stories like Maureen’s, go to Debt Free Stories.
Would you like to share your real life debt free story? You don’t have to be a blogger to share. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Debt Free Stories” in the memo line and I will send you a questionnaire.
Please note, I AM NOT A FINANCIAL PLANNER. This series was written based on the experiences of others who have become debt free. If you feel you need additional advice, please consult a certified professional.
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