Tomorrow marks my debt freedom anniversary. On June 5th, 2015 I paid off my final $2,000 in student loans and became debt free. I promptly went out to my favorite bar (that I hadn’t been to in months, because of said debt pay off) and got super drunk with all my friends.
In the ensuing three years I’ve stayed out of any and all other kinds of debt. More so than that, I’ve started a personal finance event company, hired help for Bravely, grown my personal net worth, and have grown a career as a writer, speaker and event planner. My world has changed dramatically, and it all started with becoming debt free.
Life With Debt
I was in a fairly distinct position when it came to my debt burden. I was unmarried, childless, living a low cost lifestyle, working in the food industry, dating a fellow low income earner, and living with three roommates. In some ways I was primed to slash my budget and dedicate myself to becoming debt free.
So I did. And it was crazy, let’s be real. For literally all of February 2015 I lived off catering leftovers and didn’t buy groceries. I walked anywhere that was less than a mile from my house. One time, I sewed up a pair of Forever 21 leggings that had ripped, because I didn’t want to spend the $6 on getting a new pair. And anyone who has ever worn anything for Forever 21 knows just how desperate to save money you need to be to not be willing to shop for $3 leggings.
I did all this arguably nonsensical and hardcore frugal stuff with one goal in mind: to make my life better. Because my life with debt sucked. I was stressed out and unhappy. I was constantly comparing myself to others and coming up short. All I could see was what I didn’t have and I honed in on my debt as a barrier to get rid of. Once I was debt free, I could be other things. I could be someone who travels. I could be someone who goes out to a $50 dinner. But first, I had to reach debt freedom.
Living a Better Life
I hate to sound like a bootstrapper, but becoming debt free really did change my life. My life is infinitely better than it was three plus years ago. I still live with two roommates, though one is my boyfriend. I still bike and walk a lot. Most of my clothes are from Goodwill.
The difference? All of these things are a choice now. I choose to live with a roommate so that my rent is cheaper, and I can save more. Similarly, my clothes from Goodwill mean more money in my savings account.
I still deal with some financial anxiety, and I imagine that will be a part of my life as long as I’m a freelancer and business owner. But whereas my concerns when I had debt were ‘will I be able to pay my student loans AND rent,’ my concerns now are more ‘should I max out my IRA or save for a house?’
I understand money now, and I finally have a little bit. That’s a huge game changer for the type of life I can lead. Having money is better than not having money in our capitalist system, and that’s just the truth.
While I’m glad to be happier and better off than I was three years ago, I do still feel close to my past self. I am keenly aware of money in a way that I don’t think people who never had debt are.
And I feel a responsibility to help other people who are in the same position that I was. I feel a responsibility to create content for low income people (check out our resources page if that’s you!) and I feel obligated to share my story and struggles so that other people don’t feel so alone. There’s a lot of work to be done on financial literacy in the US, and I am to be on the front lines for a long time to come.
Here’s to more years of debt freedom, more years of learning and teaching financial literacy, and more years of talking about money.