As part of the sobriety and spending series I’m doing, I wanted to talk a little bit about some bigger life changes we made in the past few years that allowed us to pay down debt dramatically.
Previously I wrote about the small every day changes that have allowed me to sustain our choice to pay down our debts, but today I want to focus on more dramatic life changes.
Let me start by saying that like sobriety, not everyone is going to have the same path.
Not everyone is going to have the same resources, privileges, or options.
These were my choices and what I had available to me, and everyone will have their own versions of what they’ll be able to do. I can only write from my own experience and POV.
Some backstory and context: Right at the end of my first ever dry month, we were living in Chicago and I was laid off from my job. At that time we did not have kids (we have a 1 year old now) and we were both open to the idea of a change if the opportunity presented itself.
And the opportunity did.
When the layoff from my job happened, we did the following:
- I made the decision that I would NOT use this as an opportunity to binge drink. Although I had not yet made the decision to give up alcohol entirely, rather than running from my problems by going on a bender, I didn’t. I had a single drink maybe once a month in the 6-8 months that followed, but it was a DRAMATIC difference to how I had handled things in the past. It also saved us a ton of cash.
- We cut out everything we didn’t need immediately. Gym memberships, online entertainment memberships, amazon prime, everything. If it wasn’t a MUST (like health insurance or cell service) we cut it.
- We lived in different places for a few months. My husband had a work contract he was obligated to finish so I moved home to start applying for jobs in Vegas and he stayed in the Midwest for about 6 months to finish his contract. To be totally honest–this was the hardest part. Not drinking was hard, but it was REALLY hard to be going through the transition and change so far away from each other. In the long run it was very worth it, but at the time, it was really fucking hard and I felt like such a failure in every sense of the word.
- We decided to move home. Not just home to Vegas (which was a much lower cost of living city than Chicago and has no state income taxes) but we also moved in with family. I think we both realized that we didn’t have enough saved financially to try and start over in the expensive city of Chicago where we were living, but we also didn’t have enough saved to really move to a totally new city. So when my mom offered to put us up for a bit (rent-free…which I realize is not a situation most people would find themselves lucky enough to be in) we said yes. In our 30’s as a married couple we moved into a very small (>1000 sq. feet) 2-bedroom house with my mother and our combined 2 cats in exchange for buying groceries, doing yardwork, cooking, etc.
I think the hard truth about deciding to do something big (like stop drinking, pay off debt, change careers, etc) is that it often includes difficult life changes. Not always, and I know there are people out there who have done it all in small steps, but often times it does.
It also sometimes involves adjusting your pride and adjusting your definition of success. I had to remind myself over and over in the two years we were in transition that this WAS going to be worth it. That in order to get to our goal of starting a family and paying off school debt, this was the most responsible way to use the resources we had available to us to attain those goals.
Different people have access to different resources. I realize many people would not have the option to move in with their folks, or be lucky enough to have their hometown be a metropolitan area in a state-income tax free city.
So maybe for some people it might look like moving into a smaller place.
For some people it might mean a career change.
For some people it might mean sharing a car, or cancelling cable, or a part time side hustle.
It might even mean declaring bankruptcy and starting from the ground up.
For me and my husband, it meant swallowing our pride and saying to our family, “We need help.”
Our family wasn’t in a position to say, “Sure, let me just pay off that school debt for you” but they were in a position to say “I can offer you a rent-free room” or “I can try to help you with job connections” or even “I can listen and not judge.”
The way that the life changes manifest will look differently to everyone. And it’s not an overnight fix. I feel like anyone or any program that promises to “make you rich overnight” is probably not real.
Four years after we started this journey we are STILL working on it every day.
We’re working to pay off car debt and house debt. Working to get smarter about planning for retirement. Working to create better long term habits.
I’m still working to examine the why behind mindless spending which I still struggle with at times.
What I can say though is that it has been SO WORTH IT.
When we finally paid off my student debt last year I was dumbfounded. There had been SO MANY times in my 20’s and early 30’s where I thought it would NEVER. EVER. EVER. not be in my life.
But little by little we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Fellow readers out there also working on financial life changes, what are you still working on?
And what big changes did you make in your lives, if any?