Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Year of Progress - My Journey 1 Year Later

35% paid! Holey Moley!

This year has truly been transformational for me. Can you believe that a year ago, I began this incredible challenge to reduce nearly $40,000 worth of debt down to nothing? Admittedly, I was very skeptical about the outcome of this challenge and there were a few cynical responses from friends and family when I first started. But those responses were certainly justified if you look back at the way I was spending money. Right after finishing university and racking up a bunch of student debt, I quickly turned to my credit to start racking up my consumer debt. It was so easy to do, and it felt completely justifiable because I was no longer a student, so why worry about paying off debt, I was making so much more money!

Before I started out on this adventure, I never imagined that I would get this far ahead in my debt repayment and I really felt kind of hopeless about the whole situation. My debt left me feeling really stressed out and I was always living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t think I really remembered what it was like to not have to wait every two weeks for a check to come in, and now, I can go days after I receive my paychecks before dipping in and taking out some money from my chequing account. I often found myself frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere and that my debt was constantly climbing even though I wasn’t using my credit card. But this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise because I never even opened my bills! My debt was making me being to feel hopeless and uncertain about my future because I had nothing in my savings account and didn’t seem to be anyway for things to turn around for me.

Gail's loving every moment!
Then along came Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I know that I talk about her a lot in my blog, but it was thanks to her book, Debt Free Forever, that I was able to actually get this process in motion. My budget became the key to my success and it has made it simple for me to see what it is that I need to do to get ahead and be happy. Not only did Gail teach me about making a budget, she taught me the importance of setting goals. Do you remember a time when you were a child and you had to save up for something you wanted? Whether it was an album or clothes, or maybe a toy or something? It was always so rewarding once you finally got to have it. It’s the exact same principle now, but on a different and grander scale. Things that we want now are going to cost us a lot more money (e.g. school, car, house) so it’s important to try and make realistic goals for when we will pay these things off and reduce the amount of money we waste on interest charges.

Holding myself accountable to you all has also been a tremendous success for me. If I mess up, you guys know about it, and now I can look back on the past year and know where I have been spending my money and when I spent it. Improving on my communication with my friends and family has worked exponentially well because they now understand the situation that I am in and understand when I say, I can’t go out for dinner tonight, or I can only go to one concert this month because I don’t have the cash to go out that often. It took a bit of training for some of my friends, but once everyone realized how serious I was, it got better and better, and even they got on track to being as nifty and thrifty as me.

You know, you never going to be able to get aggressive on paying down debt until you are able to acknowledge the things that you spend you money on and find ways to cut back where it’s possible. My gym membership was one of the first things to get kicked to the curb, and I began to start cooking more meals at home, and that saved me a fortune. Can you believe I was spending about $2,000 a year just on eating lunches? That seems like a bit much since that much money would pay for about 20 weeks of meals now.  I had to cut out other toxins in my life also. Drinking was something I did excessively almost every weekend, but now cut back and don’t go to bars near as much as I did (which is great because I like house parties more). Now that I don’t use my MasterCard and my debit card as much too, I am able to save all the money I wasted on bank fees.

The Amazing Seane Corn
Without a doubt though, I have to say that volunteering my time at a yoga studio has been a great way to keep me healthy and keep me from spending so much. I have been really fortunate to find this opportunity and I really feel as though the studio is karmic in the sense that I am getting everything that I put into in back out in the form of less stress and more focus. This weekend I was incredibly fortunate to participate in a workshop by the fabulous Seane Corn, a renowned yoga instructor who gave an amazing detoxifying workshop. I was able to physically and mentally drain my system and really get a clear focus for the path ahead and it left me feeling incredibly humbled and appreciative that I get to enjoy the luxury of living where I do and having what I have. I really hope that one day I will be able to give back all that I have learned to others in order for them to find ways out of the debt dungeon.

All this to be said, my actions certainly were instrumental in getting my finances in order, but there are other elements that I needed to make this function; first of all, you need to be disciplined. My will power is tested around the clock and I know better than anyone that we are creatures of habit. It is so easy to get into the routine of buying a coffee on the way to work, or picking up a lunch down at the food court, stopping by the mall once a week to buy something that you want, but the reality is that those habits are what can get us into situations like $40,000 of debt in the first place. The key was to identify the things that were holding me down and make a conscious decision to change. It is so easy for us to get into the habit of being miserable or lazy, but it takes a realization that sometimes we need to light a fire under us and do something about it. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, ask yourself why you’re putting yourself in that rut. All the information you need to succeed and get onto your life path is available for the taking, you just have to want to go and get it. But this isn’t always something that you can take on all by yourself, which is why I strongly encourage people to talk about your change with your friends and family and they will be there to support you along the way. Sometimes your choices will actually end up influencing their decisions and in the end, your relationships with these people can only get stronger.

Truly, I can say that I see change in my relationships. I spend less time hiding behind my stuff and I feel more like myself again, and I think that has been evident to my friends. Money is still the centre of my life right now, but it is positive now, because I know that I can tackle this challenge. I now have more than 35% of my debt paid off, which means that I am ahead of the goal and there is a very good chance I will have all my debt paid off in less than 3 years, which feels so incredible. I can even say that now I have a savings account with more than just a couple of bucks in it, so I can use that money to pay for trips home, or help me out in times of need, like when my computer died during the last time I wrote this entry!

Happy and healthy, this year has been so good! Can you believe that through all of this I have flown home three times and had a vacation in Las Vegas and somehow I still have my debt getting paid off? I can’t wait to see what this next year will hold for me. At this point next year, I vow to have 75% of my debt paid off! I feel like there’s no stopping me at this point! Thanks again for all the reads and all the support, you all help me through this so much more than you know!



1 comment:

  1. Proud of you, John. :) I need to get restarted on my budget tweaking, too. (It's a bit tougher with 3 kids, but sooo important!!)