The climb to debt freedom is just about complete in the Frugal household, and soon we’ll be enjoying the thrill of living free of the burdens of debt. While I recognize that roller coasters are an overused metaphor for life’s ups and downs, I can’t think of any other feeling to compare to almost being debt free. If you’ve ever ridden a tall coaster you already know what I’m referring to.
It is that feeling you get just before your car has crested the top of the roller coaster’s tallest hill. When everything opens up in front of you. When the long, anxiety-filled climb is almost behind you. It’s an exciting time, and oddly enough that euphoric feeling in the pit of your stomach is nearly identical to the one you feel just before sending in your final debt payment.
By the end of November, we will have crested that hill. A hill that has taken us over two years of blood, sweat and tears (well, at least a lot of sweat and tears) to climb. And as the landscape opens up in front of us, our only regret is that we didn’t get on the roller coaster sooner. We wasted nearly a decade when it came to finances. Yes, we accumulated some debt, but we committed no real financial sins. We just didn’t buckle down like we should have.
I’m not going to rehash how we wound up in debt, or the financial mistakes of the past, because I don’t want to miss the view from the top by looking back the entire ride. The point is, we are where we are, and how we got here has been important in shaping our personal finance belief system going forward.
That’s part of living with no regrets. You accept the mistakes you’ve made along the way as learning opportunities, and keep moving forward. So much of our lives is wasted rehashing over and over again the mistakes of the past, rather than living in the present, and planning for the future. Well, a couple years ago we decided enough was enough. We were sick of being in debt, and we wanted out. So we finally got busy making changes and stopped making excuses.
We developed a plan to boost my income. After dabbling in a number of part time job opportunities, and even resorting to mowing lawns on the weekends, I decided to try my hand at writing. Of the few people I shared this idea with, only my wife and my mom didn’t laugh out loud in response. They knew my passion for writing, and believed in me. One of the things I’m proudest of was that Frugal Dad did become a relative success before my mom passed away, so she was able to know that my perseverance paid off. I only wished she had lived to see us cresting the hill.
Getting the blog off the ground wasn’t easy. I had a $0 marketing budget, very little experience in the online world, and no friends or contacts in the field. I started with a brand new domain name, FrugalDad.com, rather than buying an established name with page rank and traffic. I bought a $5 theme, and had one of my new blogging buddies work up a logo (he’s gone on to become very successful at logo/graphics work for other bloggers. Check out his work at LogosforWebsites.com).
For the first year all I did was write an article every single day and comment on as many other blogs as possible. Some nights I stayed awake well past midnight writing the next day’s blog. Other days I woke up at 4:30am to answer emails, comment on other blogs, and try to network with others. It was an all-out guerrilla marketing assault! My plan was simply to out-hustle everyone else, both with my blog and at my full-time job – the two fastest ways I could increase my income short of selling my own plasma (believe me, I considered it).
In addition to boosting our income, we had to get control of the other side of our personal balance sheet. Our expenses were out of control. At the time we had two car payments, a small pile of credit card debt, student loans, and even medical debt left over from the birth of my daughter. We took vacations when we couldn’t afford them. We shopped when we didn’t have money. We were basically living paycheck to paycheck.
We decided to draw a line in the sand. No more increases to the monthly budget. If we signed up for a new membership, we’d have to cancel another one (or two) to offset the new expense. We started clipping coupons, and actually thinking about ways to save money on groceries. We stopped going to movies, and started using our previously underutilized Netflix account. I sold my beloved Chevy Silverado and drove a 19 year-old van. We basically committed ourselves to a frugal lifestyle at a time when living frugal was not yet very popular.
The result of all this hard work? We now find ourselves less than a month from being debt free. My wife and I have a new motto: “Never again.” Never again will we go back to owing money. Never again will we limit our opportunities, and our choices, by being servants to a lender. Never again will we be at the mercy of bankers’ whose whims exerted control over our lives with FICO threats, interest rate spikes and ridiculous practices such as universal default. We plan to make ourselves immune from such policies in the future.
Our hands are in the air. Our eyes are open wide. This is going to be a fun ride!
Photo courtesy of Hey Paul