Debt Story, Motivation

You. Can.

In April of 2005, I had an ‘ah ha’ moment.  As I sat staring at the paltry amount of money in my checking account, it occurred to me that I had been working for more than half of my life, and yet, I was broke, in debt, and I had no plan for my financial future.  I had less than $1000 to my name.  I had worked, hard, for more than fifteen years, and yet I had no savings, no emergency fund, and no idea for how I could ever retire or pay for my kids’ college.

Scared, and more than a little frustrated, I made up my mind, then and there, to do SOMETHING about my situation.  I took out a piece of paper – actually, the back of an envelope – and I began to list my creditors.  I then went online and found out just how much money I owed.  The total?  I owed a little more than $11,500.  Now, since that time, I’ve met a number of people who owe much more and and a number who owe much less than $11,500, but, three years ago,$11,500 was a LOT of money.  Remember, I had never lived on a budget, I had always depended on credit cards to get by, and I was used to living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Now, in 2008, my life is completely different.  I am debt free.  I have a fully-funded emergency fund, and I’m working hard, along with my wife, to ensure that we adequately fund our retirement and education savings accounts.

I didn’t type the above paragraphs so that I could “toot my own horn.”  After writing about debt reduction for more than three years, I’ve met people who’s stories make mine pale in comparison.  No, I shared my story for one reason:

You.  Can.

You can get out of debt.  You can save for your future.  You can live on a budget.  You can retire with security.  You can live a more peaceful life.  You can be and do and see and know more than you ever thought possible.

Three years ago, I had the back of an envelope, a desire to get out of debt, a borrowed copy of one of Dave Ramsey’s books, and a silly little blog – but, I also had two more things – the two most important things.  I had determination and I had a plan.

I lined my debts up on another piece of paper – a proper sheet of college ruled, if memory serves – and I began to plan.  I narrowed my focus, I stopped worrying about what other people thought, and I began to work as hard as I could to rid myself of debt.  Even when my son got sick, and was hospitalized for a week, and we used up our entire emergency fund, I would not give up.  Even when my original goal date zoomed by and I was still in debt, I would not give up.  For some reason, whatever fire that was lit in April of 2005 refused to go out, no matter what the situation and no matter what the setback.

I don’t know anything about you.  When you read this article, you might find it inspiring, or corny, or even off putting.  I can’t do anything about your reaction.  All I know is, I’m looking around at a world filled with people who look like they’ve lost hope.  My goal, and it has become the singular goal of my site, is to let people know:  If a dude like me can, anyone can. I’m serious.  There’s nothing special about me.  I’m the most average guy on the planet.  I want my kids to grow up and be happy and healthy.  I want to spend a long, blessed life with my wife.  And, I want to be able to leave a little behind when I pass on.

What is special, however, is what happens when you couple your plan with your determination.  So, if you are where I was, and you’re feeling discouraged or down or depressed, maybe this post will serve as a “pick-me-up”.

Now, go to your kitchen table and sort though that stack of bills.  Take out an old envelope, flip it over, and get to work.  Tomorrow, you change your life.

You. Can.

19 thoughts on “You. Can.

  1. I fully agree with you, if you don’t do anything things will probably only go for the worse. You have to act, start by writing your current situation down and then make a plan.

    Things don’t have to happen over night, they just need to start happening and with every day that passes you must be a little closer to your goals.

    It probably won’t be easy but it probably will be rewarding.

  2. Any hints on keeping motivation? I’ve been trying to stick to a budget every month for the past year and haven’t made it once. But it is so difficult to do it realizing the end date of having no debt is 7+ years away. And that is only if I live on the bare minimum for those 7 years. I don’t even remember my life 7 years ago but here I am having to scrape by planning for 7 years from now.

  3. Excellent post. I think it’s important to keep a history of your progress so that you can see where you’ve been. I have a spreadsheet that I’ve been using to keep track of my personal finances for the last eight years, and it’s always nice to look back at how things have progressed.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. I came across the info in Dave Ramsey’s book, too. Never heard of him or his money makeover plan. I am divorced now for about 5 years and just at the point where I am starting to feel financially “hopeful”. This has all happened in the last month or so. I officially start my living on a budget on Sept. 1st with my envelope plan to help keep spending controlled. I already have the beginning emergency fund set aside and am on my way to tackle the credit card debt. I’ve made financial mistakes in the past, but am learning a new and better way to handle my money. And I enjoy reading what you have to say. It keeps me motived and hopefully will get others to see that they can do it too! Wish me luck.
    Keep writing!

  5. I keep track of my finances with quicken, I can go back to when I started using this software and see where I’ve been. Sometimes that is eyeopening!

  6. @Angie you have to have a plan, and you have to trust it… and, be happy, even when you only make a small amount of progress… rejoice in the little things… analyze, analyze, analyze and always look for opportunities to spend less / save and earn more….

  7. I went back and read some of your first posts which mentioned Dave Ramsey’s baby steps qutie a bit. I’m interested… did you continue on the Dave Ramsey baby step plan all the way to debt elimination and beyond?

  8. Angie:

    I had the same issue with going back to Grad School many years ago.

    My issue was it was going to take 4 more years of school and by that time i would be 28

    I said to my mom “If I go, I won’t graduate until I am 28.”

    Her advice still rings true, whether it is school, debt, or whatever and that is this:

    “That time will be here soon. You are going to be 28 in 4 years regardless of whether you go to school or not, so would you rather be 28 and have a grad degree, or 28 and not have it”

    I could not answer back. I sat there, and said “you are exactly right. I have never ONCE, not ONCE ever questioned the time any one of my goals has taken since then.

    Seriously, so what if it will take seven years. It is better than 10. That is 2015. 2015 will arrive whether you pay off your debt or not. The question should be, on Jan 1, 2015, do you want to be debt free, of do you want to be looking at your stack of bill s that never got paid off because it was too far away and realize it wasn’t that far off after all.

  9. @JB yes, i followed his baby steps.. and still do, w/ some modifications… maybe i should write a post about that… thanks for the idea! 🙂

  10. Loved your post. What gets me through are faith and hope in the future. And a genuine love for what I do 🙂 . If things are rocky, it helps to focus on the positives. As you said — believing in one’s capabilities is a huge thing. Confidence and determination to do what seems to be insurmountable can make quite a difference.

  11. Excellent post. I have been thinking about this very issue lately. Sometimes the “two steps forward, one step back” nature of debt repayment can be a little daunting to me. I’m a single mother with a kid in college. His financial aid unexpectedly came up $1,000 short this semester. I managed to scrap up $500 in cash this month and will have to do the same next month to take care of it. Then I had to charge $270 on a credit card to pay for his books. That throws a monkey wrench into my careful plan for the next two months. Pretty depressing. I’m reminding myself to take the long view and ignore these little bumps in the road! I think it’s like being on a diet. Just because you ate a brownie today, that doesn’t mean you should give up and eat whatever you want for the rest of your life. It means you stumbled and you start again tomorrow. I try to keep that in mind.

  12. I agree! Yes YOU CAN!
    For my wife and I, the most important thing in helping us get out of debt (we’ve paid off over $30,000 in the past year) has been building our extra stream of income. Our home based business allows us to pay off more debt and still do some fun things like travel (on a budget).

    Thanks for the article!

  13. For sure this is an inspiring post. I’m also in my way to live a simpler life, against all way of consumerism and marketing traps that make you roll over and over again in a cycle of debt.

    So is good to know that a lot of people is taking the decision to be free now, to take the responsibility to manage their debts and their life.

    Thanks for this post

  14. Wanting is the biggest motivation we can have. I think the desire for freedom keeps me going through the ups and downs of re-learning. I have to learn not to spend. I have to learn to shop differently. I have to learn to live on a budget. I have to learn to start over when I mess up. But that sweetness of freedom and relief that I feel when I do it right – when I resist, when I tell myself “no”, when I shop the specials at the grocery store, when I use a coupon, when I shop at Goodwill for clothing and spend 3.99 on something that was orignally 75.00…I know that I can do this too.

  15. The great thing about debt is that it works both ways. Have you ever noticed how compound interest can pile up? When you’re debt free and you issue loans (debt) to others, your profits pile up the same way.

  16. Thanks for the continued motivation! It helps me to see others that have acheived some of their big goals.

    @ Angie – It might be hard to un-remember that big debt number, but I started out just tallying up 1 thing, our unsecured credit card debt. I pretended like our student loans, car loan, mortgage etc did not exist… and just focused on one card at a time. Also as MoneyBeagle says, start keeping a few stats.

    Here are the stats I record each quarter:

    401K Balance
    Net Worth
    CC Debt Total
    Interest/mo paid on CC
    Minimum Payments on all CC

    After 11 months of just watching those numbers I also added
    Credit Ratio (mine is simplified to just CC Debt/available CC credit)
    Non-Mortgage Debt

    Sometimes even when you know you overspend your budget every month, and always end up with zero in the bank by the time pay day rolls around, seeing that Net worth number creep up, or savings and the CC interest and minimum payments decrease can keep you motivated to keep going. No offense to men, but this is one of the only ways I can quantify to my husband that our current scrimping and saving is paying off, not just in the long term but the short term too! When he gets discouraged I tally up some numbers to show him how much MORE of the money we put towards debt goes to principal now than it did 3 or 6 months ago.

    My husband and I also were working towards automating as much of our bill paying as we could. It didn’t help our bottom line, but it helped our sanity, just as important if you ask me!

    You also might want to look into a simpler way of budgeting, google “60% Solution” and take the first link to an MSN Money page to learn more. I found I alwyas set up a budget of what we WERE spending, but can never set up and make targets about the future. There was too much flux in financial priorities from week to week and too hard to get on the same page with my husband.

    My 60% SOlution budget currently looks like…

    Bills and Commitments 65% (all these are % of the household gross income)
    Retirement 8%
    Emergency Fund 3%
    Short tem expense fund 4%
    FUn Money 3%
    Debt Repayment 17%

    Ideally it would be more like this (or a modified version if I had different priorities)

    Bills and Commitments 60%
    Retirement 10%
    Long Term Savings 10%
    Short Term Savings 10%
    Fun Money 10%

    Sorry for the long post, I guess I had a lot to say today…

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