Part 1: How I ditched $12,000 of debt in 6 months flat
This post is part 1 of a 3 part series, where I share some key moments on my journey to financial freedom. It was originally featured in Notes & Stories Magazine on October 17, 2018.
The Money Edit truly began in 2014 when I paid back my student line of credit of $12,000 in 6 months. The first kernel popped and I was hooked. Exploring money as energy, currency and a way to get ahead, all I knew in 2014 was that I had to know more.
It’s Christmas 2013 and I’m at my mom’s house in Ottawa, sitting on the floor in the spare room talking to my boyfriend on the phone. The twinkle lights are up & everything smells like fireplace and holiday baking. My whole family is around and I am grateful for this season of love and joy. My boyfriend and I are 4500 km apart, and I know this will be my very last holiday without him. 2014 is going to be a big year. I’m pretty sure I found my person. The one who I want to be with forever.
At this (supposedly) blissful moment, the one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind was my (lack of) money. I was great at pretending that I had it all together. I always had cool outfits, lived on whole foods take out and was fiercely independent. This was the moment I knew it was time to take the reigns and step up my financial game. I made it a personal goal to be debt free before merging finances with my (soon to be) fiancé. I did not want to start our life-long money partnership on the wrong foot.
At the end of 2013, I was facing $12,000 in student loans and consumer debt. I had never spoken to anyone about my money habits. No conversation was ever deeper than admitting I had a student loan. On one hand, it felt like everyone else was in the same boat – clueless about money, always having fun and eating out. On the other hand, I was stressed and overwhelmed about my growing debt. My inability not only to pay it back but be able to spend money on how I wanted my life to be was staring me in the face every day.
Making a change
With some deeply real self talk and a personal kick in the ass, I decided to tackle my debt the only way I knew how: blunt force. I would pay it back in 6 months by saving $2000/month. Easy math! Nailed it. Little did I know this would be the hardest thing I’d ever done and the best learning experience of my life to date.
At the time, I took home ~$1700, twice a month. That makes $3400. My rent and utilities were $900. And food… well I treated that as variable since I mostly lived off the Whole Foods coffee & muffin combo, leftovers for lunch, more takeout coffee and some sort of easy veggie dish (with an occasional side of chicken) for dinner. Let’s just say, I’ve never been very gourmet. So far, the budget looked like:
$3400 - $2000 (debt repayment) = $1400
$1400 - $900 (rent) = $500
$500 for food, transportation, vitamins, fun times and pretty much anything else that came my way.
Looking at this now it’s pretty obvious why I didn’t have any money left at the end of the month. At the time, it was truly mystifying. There was always something more fun on the docket than sitting at home and saving money! By December 2013, I was hell bent and determined to be rid of debt once and for all.
On my way to being debt free, I learned a million lessons. I felt like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail except I was taking the bus to work everyday, reading my library book and drinking free office coffee. It was an epic quest of humbling experiences and changing habits. Here are my top 4 take aways:
1. Saving money is a refreshing change of lifestyle. Once you determine your goals and align your life to reach those goals, you reduce stress by gaining control.
2. When you decide to get out of debt, you learn A LOT about yourself. For example, I place a very high value on access to coffee. I don’t like the feeling of not having a choice. Saying no is hard for me. I deeply value generosity. I struggle with prioritizing my needs.
3. I got real about saying no. Yes, it did disappoint people and yes, I survived. Saying no to friends who enjoy paid entertainment, restaurants and weekend trips is a quick way to find all of the wonderful free, fun things to do in your city.
4. I realized that every single dollar counts. I picked up side hustles including painting, cleaning, babysitting and editing papers. I stopped mindless consumption. I had a serious chat with myself before I bought anything other than nutritious food. I wore the clothes I had and traded clothes with friends to change up my wardrobe.
Can I get a HELL YES?
2014 was the year of committing to my first big crazy money goal, earning extra income and challenging the limits of my self discipline. And you know what? I wasn’t “ready” when I jumped in with 2 feet. I said HELL YES to what I deeply wanted and then figured it out along the way. And my biggest gift: I learned how to live when it’s not all about spending.
So that’s the beginning of The Money Edit story. Paying back my debt in record time felt like the first kernel popped. I was hooked. I loved exploring money as energy, currency and a way to get ahead. By the middle of 2014, all I knew was that I had to know more.
Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 of my story as featured in Paper and Coin’s weekly Magazine, Notes and Stories: http://paperandcoin.ca/magazine