Life Lessons from Paying Off $25,000 of Debt in Three Years
When we first decided to do Finance February, I decided to write about what I’ve learned over the past years while paying off debt. I had guessed an arbitrary number and amount of time, however, when I calculated the numbers, I realized that we had actually paid more than twice the amount ($53,000) in less time (two years.) Yikes! I was in awe because: 1) I was still trying to figure out how we got all this debt LOL but, 2) We didn’t make any significant life changes in order to pay down the debt. So I sat in awe of the power of God. What does God have to do with this, you ask? Let me explain through the lessons I learned from paying off $53,000 in debt two years. Let me be clear, I’m not writing about how to get out of debt, because everyone’s situation is different and there are many strategies out there. Instead, this is about the spiritual and mental things that I experienced during the process, that I believe contributed to our ability to pay off the debt.
God Is able.
Whenever something happens in my life that I can’t explain, I know God worked in that situation. In fact, I believe that a testament of faith is setting enormous goals that you can’t possibly do on your own and then watching God make it happen. It’s saying, 'I trust you, God.' That’s essentially what happened in paying off our debt. In January of 2017, I set a goal in faith that we would be debt-free by December of 2018. It was laughable and by any measure of what we could do with our salaries, it was impossible. But with God—you know—all things are possible. Now by the end of 2018, we were not debt-free by any means, but we didn’t have any more credit card debt, we had paid off my car, and we’d made significant dents in our student loan debt. I’ll take $53,000 less debt, more disciplined behaviors, and a greater sense of peace, even if it wasn’t entirely what I prayed for.
You can’t out-give God.
I have my husband to thank for developing a discipline of tithing in me. I won’t lie and say the spirit moved me. My husband had tithed faithfully and because I believe in our income as being one, I was encouraged to do so also. Initially it was one of the hardest things to adjust to, because I had given God something before, but the WHOLE 10% was a new practice. You know how much debt I could have paid off with that?! But God says ‘trust me’ so I followed my husband and my life changed. There was a point when I questioned whether we should stop tithing MY amount and put it towards debt, but both God and my husband said ‘no' and I responded, 'I trust you, God.’ So we have been diligently giving 10% and God has diligently been giving us significantly more than we ask for. Random checks arrive in the mail. Opportunities for financial blessings present themselves out of nowhere. Free meals, free travel, and a host of other things that lift the financial burdens in our life have started popping up. We noticed that the more we gave, the more we were blessed. In fact, we were giving a friend some money monthly over a year, while in the midst of paying off debts, and God not only blessed us but blessed them as well.
My faith isn’t determined by my works.
There was a time when I believed we needed to work, work, work in order to see our goals come to fruition. I tried to put in as many hours as possible into a part-time side gig to bring in more money. Whenever my babe had opportunities to make more money, I strongly encouraged him to take them. I tried so hard to make sure God could help us reach our goals (read: I was trying to make sure we reached those goals in my own way.) But this wasn’t the true way that God intended for us to be debt free. In fact, it was in these moments that I was working to earn an extra dollar that I was the most miserable in my life. As soon as I sat down, chilled out, and focused on serving others, that’s when our financial blessings began to flow. We got more money when we were giving than we did when we were working extra.
I can live on less than I think.
In many ways, society sends us messages about a certain lifestyle that we are meant to live. You get the messages every day—fancy trips, lavish meals, expensive bags, blinging jewelry, big houses, and fancy cars. Let me be clear; it’s totally fine if you can afford these things and there is no judgement for those who have them. The questions to ask are ‘can you AFFORD those things?’ and ‘do you NEED them?’ You work hard for your money and you deserve to treat yourself but consider the good in learning to live with less. In my case, we rarely eat out. We’ve spent several special occasions at home, eating food that we cooked and liquor that we bought. We meal prep so that we don’t have to spend money on lunch every day. I generally do my own hair and he cuts his own hair. We do without cable. We live farther from the city to keep our mortgage less than most people’s rent, and while I’m still imagining my dream home, I really focus on being grateful for what I have.
Be content and grateful.
The more grateful I am for what I already have, the less desire I have for more. The more content that I am with what I already have, the less urgency I feel to obtain more.
Be disciplined, be honest, and be patient.
Just like we’ve talked about all month, I had to take a long, hard look at where my money was going. I was honest with myself about my spending habits, and patient with the process. Also I had to be disciplined to spend within my budget, be honest with people who wanted me to do things outside of my budget, and be patient with others who think that my financial situation should allow me to do the things that theirs does. Don’t you love when other people try to spend your money? Being disciplined to resist buying what I wanted in the moment, being honest if I needed those things, and being patient to save until I was able to afford those things have gotten easier. I needed discipline to not compare myself to others, honesty to recognize when my want was coming from a place of jealousy, and patience to see how God blesses me with everything I want as long as I just trust Him.
I have a lot of ideas about paying off debt, but like I said, that’s not what I’m writing about. We give monthly, over and above our tithes, we live in our own home, we have two cars, no kids, we’ve been out of the country at least once a year, both of our credit scores exceed 800, I get my nails and toes done regularly, we don't eat rice and beans every day, and we are still living our best life while paying off debt.