I know what you’re probably thinking: “Hey, didn’t she publish a whole blog post denouncing New Year’s resolutions this time last year?” And, in a way, I did! However, I think the most important takeaway from last year’s piece was that we should never base our goals and aspirations off of what’s currently trending. Instead, we should identify our biggest personal pain points and strive to resolve them over time, rather than within 12 months.
In the spirit of practicing what you preach, that’s precisely what I did in 2018.
At the beginning of this year, there were two major pain points that I wanted to focus my time and energy on resolving. The first was my own, and entailed getting back into shape and building a healthier self-image. I pursued that goal by attending barre classes and making healthier dietary choices. While I’ve certainly not been the most consistent in recent months, thanks to moving, adopting a new dog, and my hectic schedule in general, I feel healthier, happier, and more confident in my own skin than ever before.
The second, and the real topic of this blog post, was our finances. Jordan and I started the year in over our heads in debt, which spanned across credit cards, car loans, student loans, and medical bills. It was a major source of anxiety and uncertainty for both of us, but especially for me. I would constantly wonder if we would ever fully pay off our credit cards, or worry that we would have to forego saving and truly living for years to come.
Thankfully, our story hasn’t turned out like that. We were both abundantly blessed with new positions and income streams throughout the year, and, most importantly, renewed spirits of determination to rid ourselves of most — if not all — of our debt. In the course of the past 11 months, Jordan and I have paid off seven credit cards, his student loans, and at least three rounds of medical bills.
Now, I don’t say all of this to brag or draw attention to our success thus far. After all, we still have a little way to go before we’re entirely debt-free. However, I wanted to sit down and craft a blog post dedicated to exactly how we achieved this feat, and offer you the same opportunity to buckle down and eliminate financial stress from your life now and in the New Year.
Make the decision and stick with it
I can’t tell you how crucial this first step is. Although it seems like such a no-brainer, so many of us begrudgingly commit to eliminating our debt and often fail due to a lack of determination, self-control, or even perspective. The last point is something I personally struggled with; our debt felt so big while I felt so small and helpless.
Even still, Jordan and I sat down and took a critical look at our spending, our credit card balances, and our monthly income. Seeing how much money we had coming in versus how much we had outstanding was actually a little mind-blowing, and it helped me realize that our debt wasn’t totally undefeatable. With that fresh outlook, we were able to eliminate our first of many credit card balances before January had come to a close. And, we made it a habit to ceremoniously toss each card into our safe as they were paid off. It felt incredibly rewarding, and thinking back on that first instance of locking up a credit card still brings a smile to my face.
I know, I know; those two words hold so much ambiguity and so little direction. However, they swiftly became my mantra this year.
For instance, when we would go grocery shopping, I would find myself scoffing at the prices of nearly everything I saw. So, Jordan and I switched from the “well-known” stores in our area like Weis and Giant to budget-friendly (and totally not-shady) places like Aldi and Sharp Shopper. Sure, you have to take a more critical eye to the expiration dates of certain products (especially at Sharp Shopper) but, more often than not, you could load up one or more baskets with good, healthy food and only spend $75. Needless to say, this was a game-changer, and we still shop at those places to this day.
On top of cutting back our grocery bills, Jordan and I also made it a point to use most, if not all, of the food we bought, rather than deferring to the old “there’s nothing to eat” excuse when we weren’t in the mood for whatever we had on-hand. That way, we learned how to get more creative with our cooking and cut back on eating out. (But, let’s be real, we still have Chick-fil-A nights at least once a week.)
Finally, the biggest turning point in this venture was my decision to stop shopping for clothing so often. (Shocking, I know.) And, if I did need a wardrobe refresh, I would spend my time searching TJMaxx, Marshall’s, Primark, H&M, or Old Navy before visiting my favorite store, LOFT. This held especially true if I was just looking for trendy pieces that I knew I wouldn’t wear a year — or even six months — down the line. (However, if you’re looking for some evergreen pieces that won’t fall apart on you after three washes, just go to LOFT. Seriously.)
Keep your budget nearby at all times
One of the most helpful tactics I employed this year was keeping our budget close, and our spending reports closer. This was achieved through utilizing financial apps like Mint and NerdWallet, which were quick to let us know if our spending habits were out-of-whack, or if we had more wiggle room for discretionary spending than we’d originally anticipated. These apps helped cut out feelings of uncertainty or concerns that we weren’t truly living, just paying bills and existing.
While the above changes sound so easy to make in hindsight, they were actually incredibly difficult to follow through on, especially when I felt the urge to splurge on virtually anything. However, keeping our financial future at the forefront of my mind helped me determine whether a purchase was or was not worth making. Even still, I knew this level of consciousness came with its own risks, especially as I’m a “go big or go home” kind of person. So, I had to constantly remind myself that small, everyday spending was all a part of living, and cutting out the little things I loved like Starbucks runs or my favorite brand of dry shampoo would only make me resent the process. It’s all about balance.
Adjust accordingly (and celebrate!)
As your income-to-debt ratio continues to change in a positive way, it’s so important you adjust your mindset and spending habits accordingly. Stash more money away into your savings account, strategically plan ahead for the good and bad, celebrate your wins, go on that vacation you’ve been dreaming of, and remember that you control your money, not the other way around. Taking these steps will ensure your success is scalable and not just a season.
If you’re reading this, congratulations; you’ve made it to the conclusion! I know this was an especially long-winded post, but all of this information felt so worth sharing, especially with the new year just a few days away. I hope you found my guide helpful! If you have any tips, tricks, or favorite money management apps, be sure to leave them in the comments below! Or, share them with me on Twitter.