It’s my fault my family is in debt.
Grabbed your attention didn’t I? Let’s visit the me of several years ago.
You see, I liked material things. I craved the momentary comfort and thrill that I felt when I purchased something, even knowing that in moments to days later I would suffer from extreme buyer’s remorse. The more my spending habits spiraled my family into the world of debt, the more I spent. Doesn’t make sense, does it?
I became so depressed about my family’s financial situation that the temporary joy I felt during the purchase helped me forget about that debt for a moment. What’s that saying about insanity? That it is the act of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That describes my actions perfectly.
Oh, and I should clarify that when I say my FAMILY is in debt, I mean that my husband and I bear this burden equally. We look at our finances as a collective situation. I don’t spend my husband’s money and I don’t charge his cards without him knowing. We discuss every purchase I make with his debit or credit cards. We incurred 90% of our debt before we had children and we are no longer adding new debt.
So, compound the debt that I got myself into with out of control spending (store cards, credit cards, etc), and add in current real-life debt: student loans that I’m struggling to keep up with, paying for my portion of our bills like insurance, car payment, groceries, and kids’ activities (because my husband and I split things equally.)
I’ve basically spent my paycheck the moment it hits my account, with whatever remains going straight to bills and groceries.
For years now I’ve read amazing debt success stories. You know the ones that make you so sad with your situation and wonder why that can’t be you? The ones that, in reality, are so far fetched and entirely out of reach for the common person. Currently, I’m looking for at least ONE success story of a person who paid off a large sum of debt without one or more of the following factors:
- Using a large sum of money from savings
- Selling their LARGE house and downsizing
- Selling an investment property
- Downsizing to one vehicle and selling one they owned outright
- Starting a blog and making $100,000/month from it
- Not having kids
Unfortunately, none of these factors for success apply to me. If anything, every single one of those factors makes me feel even worse about myself for not being able to, “Pay off $200,000 in 18 months.” That’s not my debt number, but you get my drift.
Fast forward to today.
My spending habits have changed. I hit rock bottom financially, but thankfully, I have an incredible support system. I refused to allow my debt to become my spouse’s debt. It wasn’t his fault that I had a spending problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love material things, but my need for them has changed. I will always be the quality over quantity kind of girl, but I now have been able to narrow that down. My best example is denim. I love good quality denim and I will only purchase higher quality brands. I would rather have just one nice pair of jeans (which is honestly all I own right now) in my closet than have 5-10 that would total the cost of my pair. So, how have I changed? I no longer NEED to own multiples of that high priced denim.
My financial situation has also brought awareness to me of what really matters. Awareness of the changes we have been making in our home. Awareness that includes:
Intentional living. I will no longer purchase or bring something into my home that is not useful to us (I also prefer multi-use products when possible). I’m removing duplicates of things. Example… do I really need 4 mixing bowls of the same size? No.
Realizing that there is so much more to life than work. I mean, I need to work to pay off the remainder of my debt, but I’ve put a pretty hefty dent in it. Working for a paycheck to only buy more things? That’s no longer my goal. I want to be present for my children and my husband. I want to create memories and moments rather than having a house full of “stuff.” I want to be happy and relaxed during the day so my family can have a happy mom (and a happy wife).
And when it comes to our home — I always had this dream of the huge home, with a fenced yard and acreage. I no longer yearn for that. My small, under 1,000 square foot home is beautiful to me. It’s our first home and is the only home I want as long as we stay in this area. While we have plenty of renovations that need to be done, my ultimate goal is to pay for those in cash and to do what we can on our own. We will not allow ourselves to take on a renovation that puts us further back into debt.
The biggest financial awareness I have gained relates to my kids. My spending habits and debt were impacting my kids because I couldn’t hide how scared I was when the mail brought bills, or how upset I was that we couldn’t do the things we wanted because I already spent my money on those bills.
Circling back to that search for the success story that will actually fit my situation, I’ve come to realize the only way I’ll find it is to write it myself. My debt is my responsibility, and with my new awareness, and implementing the following changes, I have made progress in reducing my debt:
- We only purchase the things we need. Household and lifestyle essentials that are practical and useful.
- We keep a constant eye on our family budgeting spreadsheet and always know how much we have, where it should be allocated and what our progress with our debt is.
- We got rid of cable, which was a huge expense, and just kept the internet service. Now we have a streaming service for a fraction of the cost.
- We no longer charge anything. The only exception is if we have the funds in our account and we are purchasing for rewards and immediately pay the debt.
- On smaller debts, we’ve been adding additional payments mid billing cycle to go straight to the principal.
- We have trimmed down on meals out, limiting them to once a month at most. This includes treats after hockey and during road trips, so we prepack whatever we will need.
- As a family of 4, groceries are our biggest weekly expense. We try to make larger meals or casseroles that can spread out over a couple days, and we try to reduce waste as much as we can.
- I cancelled all monthly subscriptions that we had that weren’t essential to our household.
I know it will get easier over time, and that once the debt is fully repaid we will be able to find our new sense of normalcy. I can honestly say that we will continue to budget the way we have been, because the positive effect it has had on our family is incredible. But being able to worry a lot less day to day will be even sweeter.