March 5, 2015 is like another birthday for me. That was the day that I became debt free.  I had so many emotions that day – from no emotion at first to utter disbelief and then crying at all the positive kudos I received from family and friends. It was a day that I will not soon forget.

The real journey began that day as I began to navigate the world being debt free.  I think many people may think that once you become debt free, suddenly life becomes a scene of flowered fields with puppies and butterflies scampering about – wild and carefree and not a worry in the world.  However, just like with weight loss, you still have to continue the good habits that helped you get out of debt – a monthly budget, purposeful saving and investing and long term goals for career and financial wealth. And now a year later, I can reflect on how my life has changed in the past year after becoming debt free.

Being debt free brought my anxiety level down. I have always been stressed out about money even though I continued to rack up credit card debt.  When I was laid off in 2008, I was so worried about my credit and making sure to keep paying things on time. Now that I have paid off all my debt, my monthly expenses have been cut by 25% just from the debt payments I used to make.  Car repairs are no longer a crisis – merely a big inconvenience. Being able to put the money I was spending on debt into savings or investments provides me assurance that I will be prepared for what life brings.

Being debt free allows you to take on amazing opportunities. I am not sure where I would be with my personal finance business if I had not been debt free.  I have been able to completely bootstrap my business and having the extra funds to infuse into my business has been game changing. I am able to build my speaking business by being able to afford to speak at events across the country pro bono to reach a larger audience and build my resume to apply for paid speaking events. Since I am 100% debt free (I am currently renting), I also have the freedom to move at a moment’s notice, if needed, to take advantage of a new opportunity or possibly choose to live in another country.  The possibilities are endless!

Being debt free allows you to give, serve, and help others in ways you were not able to before. Giving and helping others has always been a big part of my life. However, being debt free allows me to be more generous with others while not jeopardizing my own financial situation.  I have been able to give more to the charities I love and to help people on an individual basis. Being debt free also allowed me the opportunity to travel with my cousin and some of her friends to Haiti to see what kind of financial need we could help support.

Being debt free allows me think of my career path differently. This was arguably one of the biggest benefits of becoming debt free because it provided me more freedom to accomplish the things in life I feel I was meant to do.  Being debt free allows me to make less money if I would want to move to a new career path – there is room in my budget to afford a pay cut for that move.  I currently work a contract job which allows me to work less hours while I am building my personal finance business. Contracting allows me the flexibility to travel to build my side business. I can build up my savings while contracting so that when I am between contract positions, I have the money to live on and I can work on my business.

Being debt free and telling people about it leads to some interesting conversations. Sometimes I forget (yes, forget!) what an amazing feat I accomplished in paying off $56,000 of debt.  All I have to do is talk to people about my story and I get amazing reactions.  Most people are astonished and congratulate me. Some warn me that I am putting myself in a bad position by not maintaining a high credit score – especially when I tell them that I no longer use consumer credit (mortgages may be another story someday). And then there are others who will pour out their life story and tell me about their financial hardships and where they are struggling to make financial headway.  It’s like telling my story gives them permission to confess their personal finance woes. They feel like they are not alone and that they can talk to me about some of their most intimate financial details because I won’t judge them for it – because I have made the same mistakes and had similar financial problems.

Some days I kick myself that I waited so long to become debt free.  However, I am grateful that I took the first step back in 2010 to completely change the course of my life.  I am looking forward to helping many others reach their financial goals and hopefully help them live their dream life.