Here’s the truth: I have $109,940 in debt.
More than $100,000 in debt. And paying it off has been painfully discouraging and slow. In December, I managed to pay down a whopping $60. Sixty bucks! That’s it!
If I continue at the rate of $60 per month, I will die before I possibly can pay off my debt. At $60 per month, my debt actually will continue to grow due to interest.
So, I’m hopping on the Spending Fast bandwagon…er, again. When I first read about the Spending Fast, my first instinct was to yell, “YES! I am IN!” I pledged to do the Spending Fast. Then a few hours later I found myself buying chips and soda at a gas station. I sort of tried again the next day and then the next, but let’s face it—I had done nothing to prepare for a successful Spending Fast.
I’m renewing my pledge to the Spending Fast. This time I have taken appropriate steps to improve my odds of success. Here are five steps I’m taking to prepare for a successful Spending Fast and why I think they might help you, too.
5 Ways I'm Prepping for My Spending Fast …
1. Commit to a reasonable time period and then break it down into smaller chunks.
I am committing to a one-month Spending Fast. If it goes well, I’ll commit to another month and then another and another, for as long as necessary to pay down my debt. (Remember, folks, I’ve got $109,940 to get rid of!). If I think about an entire year, or even just a full month, all at once I end up with a headache. Then I want to take a nap or go buy a soda and a bag of chips to calm my nerves. Neither option is really productive. I’ve opted instead to break down the first month into three days at a time. Three days seems manageable. Three days doesn’t feel like an eternity. I can look ahead over three days and have a reasonably good idea of my responsibilities, commitments and possible pitfalls and then plan accordingly.
2. Leave your bank card, checkbook and cash at home so you can’t submit to temptations.
I know I have enough gas to get to and from work and we have plenty of food in the kitchen. I can’t think of anything we will NEED to spend money on during the next three days, but I can think of plenty of temptations! The cafeteria at my day job is not only on the same floor as my department, it’s practically right next door. It’s easy to think, “It’s less than $5! No big deal!”—but that money would be better used being put toward my debt. An even bigger temptation are the many coffee shops on the way to my job. My favorite is just a very short detour away. It’s easy to justify because they are incredibly generous with their stamp cards—I almost always end up with three stamps instead of one and ten stamps equals a free drink. But, that’s easily $12 before I reach a full stamp card, even with extra stamps. Hardly a deal! By leaving my money and all ways to access it at home, I am forced to avoid temptations like these. Instead, I will be bringing lunch from home, as well as home-brewed coffee.
3. Learn to say no.
This past December was filled with invitations to holiday parties, but with every invitation I felt nauseous. I found myself pondering the costs of these events—transportation to and from each, food for potlucks, gift exchanges, an ugly sweater for one party and more. I saw dollar signs in every invitation. I found myself saying, “No, thank you. I’m sorry, but I can’t attend.” It was incredibly hard. But, thinking back over the month now, I don’t feel like I missed anything. I took walks with a neighbor and my dogs, spent time with my son, caught up on a lot of reading and more. It was hard to say no, but my time was filled in other non-financially fraught ways. The more I said no, the easier it became.
4. Tell a trusted friend.
Saying no to social events is hard, but telling a friend about my debt journey and my Spending Fast plans helped. It’s important to find a friend who will be supportive. The friend who says, “It’s just a couple of bucks. What’s the big deal?” isn’t the right choice. Instead, I chose a friend in a similar financial situation who also has made a habit of turning down social invitations to spare her wallet. When I was feeling bad about saying no to holiday parties, I've been able to turn to her for support. She understood the costs of social events. She also understands that “It’s just a couple of bucks” won’t help me reach my goals. Whenever I lose sight of my goals, my friend has reminded me of why this journey is important, reminding me that financial freedom later is worth sacrifices now. She also has reminded me that by saying no and saving my money to put toward my debt, I am setting an example for my teenage son.
5. Track your journey.
I love visual aids. I also love to draw and color. I had a large blank canvas leaning against my bedroom wall for more than a year before I decided to make it into a debt reduction visual. I’ve drawn several abstract shapes on it and, for every $20 I pay off, I will color in one shape. Although I only paid down $60 last month, I have paid down $1,800 total during the past two years. I colored in one little shape for every $20 of the combined total. This also has been a great way to involve my son in my debt freedom journey and open the door to talking with him about debt and personal finance. He’s 17 and on the cusp of going out into the world himself. Involving my son by having him help color in my canvas will help keep me on track and, hopefully, will help in preventing him from getting into debt in the first place.
Debt is NOT normal. Debt is NOT good. Debt is shackles around your ankles and a clamp on your future.
I’m done with being trapped by debt and lack of financial stability. With these five tips, I am planning a successful Spending Fast three days at a time for the next month, and then the next month, and then the next.
What about you? How could you make your Spending Fast more successful?
Malea Baer is a working single mom to a teenage son and two dogs, as well as a freelance writer and artist. She rents a two-bedroom apartment and drives a 17-year-old car and she's totally OK with that. She owes $109,940 in debt (almost none of which is consumer debt) and she's totally NOT OK with that. However, she has a plan to pay it off that includes doing a Spending Fast and selling her art as coloring pages on Etsy.
P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!