Friday, January 16, 2015

Making It Count

Nothing feels as good as success, does it?

Last month, I had the joy of reaching a long-time goal: paying off $6,500 in credit card debt.  Thanks to medical bills and grad school followed by a career change and a 60% pay cut, I'd been carrying that load around for years, making very little progress when it came to reducing the balance.  When the opportunity came to receive a promotion and small raise, I was determined to make every extra penny count.  Two years of hard work and determination later, I'm debt free and wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned in case they can help or inspire someone else.

1) It's possible to be content with less.  The world says more is better... more house, more vacations, more clothes, more stuff.  More of anything will make you happy.  Guess what-- it doesn't.  I down-sized from a two bedroom apartment to a mother-in-law suite with less than 500 sq ft.  My car has almost 190K miles on it.  I travel 3-4 times a year instead of once a month (or more).  All of these things have not only saved me money, but time and stress as well.  Simpler really is better.

2) It costs money to have friends.  In some circles this might not be the case but in my experience, friends can be expensive!  They want you to go out to eat, attend concerts and movies and sporting events, and every year have birthdays that deserve to be celebrated.  Despite the cost that can come with relationships, they are worth every penny.  In some of my more frugal times, I declined every invitation to socialize that came my way, and I was miserable.  I need my community, and if it means working a few extra social events into my budget, I'm happy to do so.  It's possible to be reasonable and have fun at the same time.

3) Working for free pays off.  Whenever I take spiritual gifts inventories, the gift of service always ranks in my top 3 scores.  Obviously, I love helping people!  What I've found, though, is that my willingness to serve can sometimes be a means for provision.  When people know you're willing to do anything, they're more likely to ask when they need your help- and often, they're willing to pay for it.  I've been hired as a baby-sitter, pet-sitter, house-sitter, tutor, life guard, plant-waterer, office organizer, interior decorator... you name it, I've probably gotten paid to do it.  I would do (and have done) many of those things for free, but my side jobs have played a big role in getting out of debt!

4) Giving is a lot more fun when you don't owe the bank.  No matter how frugal I tried to be, I never skimped on tithing to my church.  In my leanest months, I gave more just to test the idea that you can never out-give God.  (And yes, it's true!)  But once my credit card balance hit $0.00, the grip I had on my wallet loosened even more and giving to non-profits became not just an obligation or experiment, but a source of joy.  It's a great feeling knowing your money is making a real difference in the world, and not just going to the bank or getting wasted on a late-night trip to Starbucks.

5) Consumerism is a much bigger problem than we realize.  It isn't until we start tracking every dollar spent that we begin to notice how much of our  money is thrown away.  Everywhere we turn, there are advertisements telling us we need this.  Even if we're smart enough to realize we don't, the world will tell us that we deserve to get what we want.  And so we buy.  We spend.  We wear those labels proudly and post pictures of our stuff all over social media in the hopes that people will like us.  The bad news may be that consumerism isn't going anywhere any time soon.  The good news is that it's a game we don't have to play.  Be intentional with your money and rise above the gotta-have-its.

Getting out of debt is a slow and seemingly pointless race.  It takes work and time and sacrifice, but I know from experience that it's absolutely worth it!  The truth is, money is not ours but God's, and it's not until we have full control over it that we can truly be the stewards we were meant to be.  Stop making the rich people richer and start making your money count!

No comments: