I started my debt-free journey back in March of 2015 after a series of events led me to realize my husband and I were one emergency away from bankruptcy. We had over $212,000 in debt, not including our mortgage.
After pulling myself out of a pit of anxiety and despair, I knew that we had to do something immediately to change our financial picture. After being denied for debt consolidation loans and not wanting to turn to my family for help, I decided to change my approach. Rather than viewing our money situation as something negative or shameful, I would feel proud of the positive financial actions we were taking to pay down our debt.
I would be "Broke on Purpose." That was what I decided to call the blog I started to hold myself accountable. And the idea paid off. During the first month of living Broke on Purpose, we were able to pay off over $2,500.
For three years, every month, I posted about our money milestones, sharing our monthly debt payoff numbers. I was on a high, tallying up our numbers and posting a stylized photo with my husband to celebrate our success.
These types of posts were always met with positive comments. People were encouraged. They saw regular people just like themselves achieving their financial plans. They saw that it was doable. What they didn't see was the overwhelming burnout that was hiding behind my smile in each photo.
I knew something had to change. Today, I've traded in that burnout for sustainable money objectives that I'm proud of. We are still paying off our debt and have about $80,000 left worth of student loans. But the slower pace has allowed us to fund other priorities too, like IRAs, home upgrades, saving up for our next car, beefing up our emergency fund, and doing some nonretirement investing.
Here is what I've learned about letting go of the money goals that no longer work for you to make way for a stronger financial future.
Our debt numbers were going down, but our mental health was suffering as a result of the pace. On the surface we were meeting our debt goals, but we hadn't taken a vacation in years, we didn't dine in restaurants (instead, we opted for takeout pizza every few weeks), we didn't treat ourselves, and if I wasn't working a side hustle to bring in extra money, I was looking for a way to do so.
The benefits of paying off our debt so quickly began to be outweighed by my overwhelming feeling of resentment. I wasn't happy, and I also wasn't giving myself grace. Sometimes, I would see other people in the space apologize on social media when they didn't hit their goal in a given month, or if they decided to take a vacation. And I found that I was holding myself to that same standard.
Video by David Fang
I would feel anxious about what people would think if I didn't hit my goals or share payoff numbers as big as the month before. And it was starting to feel like I was going on this debt journey for other people, not for myself.
As much as I knew I needed a break, I worried if I could do that without completely going off the rails and falling back into the bad financial habits that got me here in the first place.
After paying off over $100,000 of our $212,000 debt in less than three years, I realized a couple of things. I was missing out on key life events like family reunions and weddings because I was so focused on meeting an arbitrary deadline for our debt payoff.
I knew that if I wanted to make it to the end of our debt payoff journey, safe and sane, I would have to change my perspective. I had to come up with some new financial goals that would help me lead the life that I wanted now.
While we are not on track with the debt payoff journey we set for ourselves in 2015, I'm happy with the decisions we've made and what we've accomplished. I've learned that even though taking a new direction might be scary, pivots are just as valuable as your initial goals.
At first, I was concerned that I would fall back into old habits if I altered our debt payoff schedule, but it turned out that my budgeting and saving skills didn't disappear. If anything, having them in my back pocket made me feel more confident about tackling these new objectives, because I knew that we wouldn't put ourselves in the position of taking on more debt to achieve them.
Video by Courtney Stith
My husband and I also decided to begin buying things that we needed, like a new mattress, instead of lamenting about how that money could have paid off a student loan. We also took the plunge and moved to a new state and bought a home. In 2017, for the first time, I fully funded my Roth IRA, which I couldn't have done if I wasn't so focused on paying off debt.
I also know that there were years of compound interest that I missed out on because I couldn't allow myself to look past our debt, but now I'm able to take a longer view.
And even though my perspective has changed, I still run Broke on Purpose today to help people manage their money and lead the rich lives they deserve.
Switching gears without giving up can be as simple as saying, "I want to be able to enjoy at least one vacation with my family a year instead of putting all our money towards debt," and then sketching out in your budget or payoff plan what that actually looks like. The last thing you want to do is feel resentment towards a plan that is supposed to give you more room to breathe. Pursue the the financial goals that make you feel confident and help you build a legacy you're proud of.
Melody Robinson Wright, Ph.D., is a financial empowerment coach, certified financial education instructor, and the creator of Broke on Purpose. She has been featured on the Rachael Ray Show and named a "new money expert" by Glamour magazine. When she is not helping her clients experience financial breakthroughs, she's spending time with her husband and her dog Jujubee, tending to her rare plant collection, or curling up with a good book.
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