I write a lot about our goal of becoming debt free because at the present time it is my family’s number one financial priority. A number of my recent posts have been centered around the mechanics of getting out of debt, such as sharing strategies for repaying debt faster, earning extra income, to snowball or not snowball, etc. One aspect I haven’t covered much is the “why.” Why do I want to be debt free? Before embarking on any personal improvement project, financial or otherwise, it is important to identify the “why.” When motivation starts to fade along the way revisiting the “why” can often fire you back up to the level of inspiration you felt day one.
Identifying the “Why”
A couple of my favorite blogs recently shared their motivation for getting out of debt, and the motivations of their readers. I agree with many of their points, but wanted to identify my own and record them here.
Financial Security for My Family. Long-time readers know that nearly 100% of my motivation is derived from my wife and kids. I’ve worked bad jobs, worked side jobs and worked several jobs at once to support my family. I’m not a martyr – just a Dad who cares far more about the security of his wife and kids than his own well-being. I recognize that carrying around debt has somewhat reduced my ability to provide additional security for my kids’ futures. Before they were born I wondered if it was even wise to have a baby while in debt. I’ve had to scale back college savings, and a few other financial goals for my kids while paying down debt. It’s hard not to play the “what if” game. What if we were debt free? How much more would we have in college savings? How many more memories could we have created on family vacations? Playing “what if” isn’t very healthy. The past cannot be changed, but the path of our financial futures is certainly within our control.
I want to save more so I can give it away. That sounds like a strange statement, doesn’t it? What I mean is that over the last couple years there have been several opportunities for us to help a neighbor, family member, and even a stranger or two, but we have had to pass because the majority of our earnings is going to debt reduction. I long for the day when I can help others, financially. I want my children to be givers, and I want to set the example. However, I also believe charity starts at home. Until my own financial house is in order it makes little sense to try to help others in a significant way.
Reduce stress. Debt has a way of eating away at you. When I was deeper in debt than I am now, and before I had a real plan to get out, my debt balance was the last thing I thought about before falling asleep. And falling asleep was harder to do back then. I can’t help but wonder if the increased cases of depression, suicide and anxiety disorders aren’t directly attributable to the increased amount of debt we carry as a society. I’ve heard stories of people taking their lives to escape the bondage of debt, and it is always such a sad reminder of the chains debt can have on our lives.
Simplifying our financial life. Having payments means more to keep up with each month, and I’m trying to eliminate the number of things to worry about for a more simple existence. If you have a balance on five credit cards, a mortgage, a car payment, and a department store account you have eight debt payments to keep up with each month. Sure, they can be automated, but they still have to be recorded, balanced and tracked each month.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Forrest Gump is when Forrest tells the story of Lieutenant Dan investing their shrimp boat money in “some kind of fruit company” (which we know to be Apple Computers), and then told him “we don’t have to worry about money no more.” Gump replied, “That’s good. One less thing.” Gump lived out the remainder of his life in a beautiful debt-free family home caring for his wife and son and not worrying a bit about money. What an enviable lifestyle!
Having options. I mentioned working in dead end jobs and toxic work environments because I simply didn’t have a choice. I had payments to make and mouths to feed. But what if I had not had those payments? It is a lot easier to walk away from a bad job when you don’t owe anyone money. How many people do you know (yourself included) who are just going through the motions at their job because they can’t afford to quit? Just think of all that unrealized potential bottled up thanks to credit card payments. I want to be free to live out the rest of my life energy applying it to a cause I truly believe in, and doing something that I truly enjoy.
If you are working towards debt freedom, have you identified your “why?”