Paying back debt isn’t fun.
Sending a big chunk of your hard earned cash toward debt every time you get paid…well, it sucks. It really is that simple.
I feel qualified to make that assessment, too: after all, over the last two years, we have sent about $35K toward reducing our debt — and we’ve still got $30K to go.
It’s certainly been a journey — and as is the case with most journeys, we have learned a lot of lessons along the way.
Two years in with at least a couple more to go, here’s a look at some of those lessons.
Five lessons I’ve learned while paying back debt
You learn lot of lessons paying back $35K over two years. Here are five of the big ones from the first part of the journey.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Paying back debt takes time.
There are steps you can take to speed up the process, but unless you catch a lucky break along the way, it’s going to take time to pay it back.
Accepting this has been an important part of our debt-free journey so far. As much as I wish I could just snap my fingers and be finished paying back our debt, that’s not how it works.
It took time to accumulate it. It will take time to pay it back.
It’s good to be prepared
I’ve have said it once, and I’ll say it a million times more: having an emergency fund is absolutely necessary when you’re paying back debt.
Luckily, we have not had many reasons to use our emergency fund over the last two years — but boy, were we happy when we did. For example, having cash available in our emergency fund meant we didn’t add to our debt when our alternator died.
Saving an emergency fund was the first step on our debt-free journey and I am so glad for that. If you’re getting started paying back debt, I absolutely recommend doing this first. Your future self will thank you!
Obsessing doesn’t help
When we started paying back debt, I was obsessed with checking the numbers.
I’d log into whatever account we were working away at every day, as if I expected the number to magically change.
They never did, but that didn’t stop me from doing the same thing again the next day.
I knew our numbers backwards and forwards, often right down to the cent. I made spreadsheets that went several years out and spend a lot of time creating different payoff scenarios.
It was a bit much.
Of course, it’s good to know your numbers — it’s important to know what you’re dealing with. And I think my attitude about it all came from a genuine place of wanting to create change. But that obsessive focus is not necessary or healthy.
Two years later, I don’t obsess about it nearly as much. I still check in sometimes — mostly to see how much interest we have accumulated — but it’s not a daily habit.
I don’t need as many things as I thought I did
One incredible by-product of paying back debt for me has been how it’s shifted my views on owning stuff.
Specifically: it has taught me that I don’t need nearly as much as I thought I did.
Shopping is something I’ve always enjoyed. I don’t think I would go as far as to call myself a shopaholic, but I certainly do enjoy a bit of retail therapy once in a while. Prior to starting the process of paying back debt, this often led to accumulating new clothes, new books, new candles…you get the idea.
Since we started paying back debt, my shopping habits have changed. I still do some shopping, but I put a lot more thought into my purchases than I have in the past.
As a result, I don’t buy as much. This has been good both for my wallet and for keeping our space tidy.
Paying back debt is absolutely possible
Getting started on the debt-free journey can be intimidating.
Our debt-free journey began with about $65K of debt. We had credit cards, a car loan, a credit line and a massive student loan.
Fast-forward two years and all we have left is the student loan — and after starting at $47.5K in January 2019, we are on track to begin 2020 sub-$30K.
Some of our life circumstances helped make this possible — we are both employed full-time at jobs that pay above minimum wage, we don’t have children and we are renters.
That said, I believe one big factor that helped make this possible is our consistency.
For the last two years, paying back debt has been a priority for us — and that is reflected in how we use our money. Our circumstances have made it possible to dedicated a large sum of money to debt repayment most months, but it’s less about the amount and more about the discipline of consistently making payments.
As with most difficult things in life, it always feels impossible until it’s done. So if you’re on a debt-free journey — just starting out or slogging through the middle — remember: it may not always feel like it, but paying back debt is absolutely possible.
The debt-free journey is exactly that: a journey.
Paying back debt hasn’t always been enjoyable, but I have learned a lot of lessons along the way. These lessons helped over the first two years. I’m sure they will continue helping us as we move forward.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about money?