In January 2010, I was on fire to pay off my debt.
I had read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and I had the “I’ve had it!” moment. I signed up for Financial Peace University, the 12-week (at that time) class where Dave walks you through his signature Baby Steps process to guide you to financial freedom. I had already started my Debt Snowball before beginning the class, determined to pay my $56,000 in debt off as quickly as possible.
In Dave’s book, he shared stories of paying off debt fast. His philosophy was to pay off your debt quickly, within 24 to 36 months, by going at gazelle pace. The reasoning was to be able to stay focused and get your debt mess cleaned up, so you could focus on putting those freed up dollars to work. The many real-life examples he used in his book along with the debt-free scream stories on his radio shows gave me the motivation and confidence to really believe that it was possible for me to accomplish.
So, I began a mission to pay off my debt fast using any way legally possible. I cut back expenses. I sold single stock that I owned. I took on teaching an additional accounting class in the evenings. I was bound and determined to reach my debt free goal within 24 months. The competitor in me wanted to stop at nothing to make sure that I reached that goal.
By the end of 2010, I had paid off almost $30K in debt. Based on that track record, I was poised to become debt free in 2011. Based on my carefully crafted timeline of what I expected to happen, I was planning to shout to the masses that I was debt free by September. I felt amazing, invincible. Over halfway through the journey and I felt like nothing could stop me from reaching my goal. I was on my way to victory!
However, there was one big variable that I wasn’t factoring in, one thing that could throw a wrench into my perfectly devised plan.
Life. And the unexpected twists and turns it takes.
You see, when I was planning and executing my debt free schedule, I didn’t take into account that life may decide to take its own twists and turns. Twists and turns that were out of my control. Changes to life priorities that would cause me to slow down and put my aggressive, debt free payoff mode on hold.
For me, it began with not getting the bonus that I was expecting to get paid. This was planned money I was going to use against my remaining debt. Then in April 2011, I made the decision to move in with my grandparents to help take care of them and to work on contract for my former company rather than as a permanent employee. By July, the hours dried up and I was frantically searching for work. It wasn’t until October that I was finally able to land a local job. By that point, my house back home was going into foreclosure and there was no way I was able to redeem the house. By March 2012, the home was sold at a sheriff’s auction for 30% of what I paid for it.
At that point, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. From going at warp speed to pay off my debt to having to change gears and be a caretaker for two older family members to dealing with job and home loss, I was done. I had nothing left in the tank to attack my debt. I needed a break and a way to re-group. And for two years, I maintained status quo by paying minimums on my remaining debts.
Two years later, I was re-energized when a friend of mine posted a challenge about what we wanted to accomplish in the next five years. I knew that the remaining debt was hanging over my head as a reminder of what I hadn’t completed. I knew that I needed to finish slaying the dragon, so I could finally feel financial peace. And in March 2015, I made my last debt payment.
There were various times throughout my financial journey that I felt like a failure for not hitting that 24-month mark. I will be the first one to tell you that I tend to be very all-or-nothing with my goals. If I start faltering and I’m not on track to execute them exactly as I have planned, I throw in the towel. It’s a little ridiculous to say the least – who cares when you hit the goal as long as you finish, right? And, of course, I kept hearing those Dave Ramsey debt free calls or reading about how someone paid off a huge amount of debt in a short amount of time. That did not help my confidence or my motivation when I started getting “off track”.
So, what I would I do if I had to do my debt payoff all over again? Cut myself some slack. By not pressuring myself with a deadline, I probably would have continued with my aggressive debt payoff at a slower but steadier pace and probably would have completed my debt payoff at a faster rate than I did. Kind of ironic, huh?
Now that I have learned this lesson, I don’t focus as much on the timeline to goals as I do about actually hitting the goal. I know that there are going to be life interruptions. I know that the numbers and results will not turn out exactly as planned. The main goal is to stay the course, make adjustments as needed, and be sure that you are learning and enjoying your financial life along the way. After all, it’s your life and your journey to travel. Don’t compare someone else’s debt free journey to yours.
What roadblocks have you encountered with your financial goals?