Borrowing

Paying Off $52K in Debt Was Hard—Here’s What Kept Us Going

Before I could enter the firefighting training academy in 2007, I had to pass a series of physical tests to determine whether I was fit for duty. The most strenuous one was called the Treadmill Test.

Here’s how it works: After connecting to an EKG and blood pressure monitor, I pressed start on the treadmill. At first, it was set to a walking pace of 4 miles per hour. But every minute, the treadmill either sped up by 1 mile per hour or the incline increased by 1 percent.

Around the seventh minute, my brain and body started arguing with each other: I wanted to keep going, but my body begged me to quit. There was just one thing that kept me on the treadmill for another four minutes—until I was running at a 10-mph pace on a 5-percent incline: grit.

What’s grit, you ask?

According to psychologist and author Angela Duckworth, it’s the passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

In the case of The Treadmill Test, I understood my performance would result in either the beginning or the end of my career in fire service—something I was passionate about. But it wasn’t easy. I had to endure those minutes of pain before I could achieve my long-term dream of entering the training academy.

Turns out, grit has been key in hitting my money goals, too.

In 2011, my wife Andrea and I were completely broke—a result of living way above our means. But we created a plan, implemented it and ultimately wiped out $52,000 of debt in seven months.

It was one of the toughest things we’ve ever done—but not because our payoff plan was so complicated. In fact, it’s not that hard to budget and find ways to save, like canceling cable, trading in an expensive car or cooking at home. What is hard: actually sticking to the plan, even when you don’t feel like it.

Because let’s face it: Paying off debt isn’t fun. No one wants to say no to friends in order to stay home, cook chicken (again) and submit an extra credit card payment. It takes grit to do that over and over again.

That doesn’t mean we never failed.

When you’re working toward any financial goal, not every moment is a win. We made plenty of mistakes, like overspending while hanging out with friends, and went backwards more than once—like when the hot water heater broke right after we’d dealt with a termite infestation. Even now that we’re debt-free and have savings, there are times I’d rather take a vacation or buy a new car without a torn seat instead of save for our kids’ college or tithe—two things we value as a family.

But this is when grit matters the most—when you have to regain control, forgive yourself for screwing up, remember your past successes (they’re great motivators) and keep racing toward the finish line. And don’t stop until you get there.

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