One of the biggest complaints I hear when I discuss becoming debt free is the dread of living on a shoestring. We did enough of that in medical school, and we don’t want to do it again. Let me make something perfectly clear right up front, you absolutely do not need to scrimp and sacrifice to get out of debt and live debt free, but if you choose to, it will speed up the process. Simply continuing to use the things you already have and don’t buy any new stuff until you are debt-free will work wonders. After all, the stuff you already have was good enough yesterday; it should be good enough tomorrow as well.
Let me offer you a great example of this process. Shortly after we set out to become debt free, a burglar hit our house and among the things stolen was my bicycle. Bicycling was an important family event for us. Our children were young then, and we liked to ride bikes around the neighborhood as a family. We liked it, and the kids liked it.
The loss of my bike would have caused a hardship on our family’s fun time. If we didn’t replace the bike, we could no longer ride around as a family. But there was this notion of not buying any new stuff while we are trying to become debt free. We were channeling all of our extra money to that goal. After discussing it, we made the decision to replace my bike.
As I looked over the bikes at the bike shop, I thought this would be a great time for us to get matching his and hers bikes. Carolyn’s bike was old; she used it in college. Now was the perfect time to replace it, or so I thought. This was another moment where my wife reset my attitude. She uttered the simple phrase, “Are we debt free yet?” Her bike seemed to work just fine last week, and nothing about it had changed. Why was there a need to spend money replacing her bike, which worked fine, and diverting money away from our goal of becoming debt free?
She was right of course. Not replacing my bike would have caused a family sacrifice. Replacing her bike at this time would not improve our family, and it would delay our goal of becoming debt free. Her new bike would not ride around the neighborhood any better than her old bike. We only replaced my bike, and no sacrifice ensued.
My wife’s question, “Are we debt-free yet?” became the slogan in our house for the duration of our quest to become debt-free. Every time I was tempted to buy something we really didn’t need, she would ask me, “Are we debt-free yet?” That was all it took. She reminded me of our goal, and I could then put off the purchase until we finished paying off our debt. After we made the last house payment, she couldn’t use that line on me again. That’s when I bought a convertible sports car. With cash. One of the many benefits of being debt-free.
During our debt repayment period, we never once felt deprived. We weren’t deprived when we didn’t buy the second new bicycle. We would have felt deprived, though, if we didn’t replace mine and couldn’t go on the family rides anymore. If you really must have something during this period, look into estate sales. We were able to get a brand new bed frame, box springs, mattress, sheets, and comforter for my son’s college apartment for the price of a new set of sheets.
By avoiding the purchases we didn’t need, we had even more money available to pay down our debt. These little things add up. Bonus money, tax refunds, family gifts, and any other money we weren’t counting on for our spending plan went toward the debt. You will discover, as we did after becoming debt-free, that you will be able to buy things with cash like never before in your life! Once you gain momentum, you may even decide to divert some money from other categories in your spending plan for a while to speed up your debt elimination.
Buy only what you need.
Postpone what you don’t need.
If you will live by that philosophy, only purchase new things that are needs and not wants, you will be able to reach debt free in record time, and you will never feel like you had to sacrifice anything. Of course, there is that little problem of being able to distinguish between a want and a need. Once you conquer that issue, you are home free. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey to becoming debt free today.
Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett. He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right, The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt, and The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.
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