I’ve mentioned before that we are debt free.
And we’ve decided that we will STAY debt free (not including a mortgage. Someday we will have a mortgage, and hopefully soon.)
But, our decision to stay debt-free means we have never been able to buy a new car (so I’ve always driven a total beater), take a vacation or make any other major OR minor purchase unless we happened to have the cash on hand.
The decisions we make that help us to stay debt-free sometimes feel like hard decisions.
Juuuuust in case you think I’m exaggerating about my car:
– no, I didn’t give it that dent, it came pre-dented. (BTW, car currently for sale. $
400 $250 takes it and it runs great!)
But all these hard decisions would have been wasted if we hadn’t developed the habits you need to GET and STAY debt-free.
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
In your pursuit of the debt-free life, there are some things that you will need to do often, and some things that you will just never do again.
Whether you are currently trying to get OUT of debt or trying to STAY out debt, these habits should be your way of life.
They have served us VERY well.
Here’s what I think are the 7 most important habits you can cultivate to get – or stay – debt-free.
Actively practice contentment.
Some people will tell you that paying for everything in cash is the number one most important thing you can do to stay debt-free. I disagree. Paying in cash is certainly up there, but I don’t think that there is anything more powerful than practicing contentment when it comes to spending less money.
We live in this culture of “never enough” and we are constantly being bombarded by the message that we won’t ever be happy until we have more.
This is one of the most life-destroying lies I’ve ever heard. The truth is that we will never be happy until we can be happy with what we have. If you can’t be happy driving an 18-year-old rusty dented car, you will not be happy in your brand new $40,000 car.
I’m not saying that a new car can’t bring you any joy – I love the car I drive now, and it certainly does bring me joy. But we only bought it because it was necessary and we got an amazing deal on it.
Not because we believed that it would make us happier. I was content to drive the old car.
Be content in the home you’re in, with the holidays you can actually afford, with the clothes you have, and you will not feel the need to spend above your means. Redefine what enough money looks like to you.
When you are practicing contentment, the hard decisions don’t seem as hard.
Know how much money you have coming in and going out.
It doesn’t matter what system you use to do this, but do it. (I have heard AMAZING things about the You Need A Budget (YNAB) app. I personally use Quickbooks but it’s MUCH more involved.)
If you don’t know where to start with budgeting, then learn. We seem to be living in a generation of people that were never educated about money. We (or many of us) don’t know how to budget, we don’t know how to save, we don’t know how to invest. And it’s biting us in the butt, big time.
If you are not in control of your money, then your money will control you.
It will be this way for your whole life. Nothing will change unless you change it. Do you know what people who make more money have, if they don’t learn to control their money?
They have more debt.
Always, under all circumstances, pause before a purchase.
Now, I don’t mean your groceries, but any time you’re buying something that’s not regularly on your list – a couch, a pair of jeans, a cute set of wine glasses… anything, pause as long as possible.
A pause can last hours… or days, or MONTHS!
So often, I’ve found that by walking away from the thing I want to “think about it”, I discover I don’t need it that badly anymore, and more often than not I never make the purchase. On the rare occasion I DO go back and buy, I KNOW it’s something I’ll love.
I don’t have a lot of buyers remorse.
Make savings a non-optional priority.
Every single month, painfully large (well, not really, but to me they seem large) sums of money leave our bank account on their own and go directly into savings accounts and investment accounts.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wished that we could just keep (and spend) that money this month, one time, so I could buy the *thing I don’t really need*. But savings is a non-optional priority. It comes before ANY OTHER “non-necessary” PURCHASE – once you have no debt that is.
(Although when you are still in debt, the bulk of your “extra” money should be going to pay down debt.)
We have two avenues of “savings”. Investments – where 60% of our savings goes (for retirement), and a savings account – where 40% goes (for emergencies). Just remember – without savings it only takes ONE emergency to make you NOT able to stay debt free.
Find opportunities to make extra money.
If you are feeling like you need to buy extra stuff, then make extra money. Even if you’ve finally got that “content-with-what-you-have” thing down, then make extra money anyway, because situations where you need to spend extra money will arise.
But don’t just jump into anything that looks like an easy way to make money!
9 times out of 10 (actually, 9.9 times out of 10), if it looks like an easy way to make money it’s not worth your time.
Check out this list of side hustles to make you money now, or consider starting a blog – here’s an easy to follow how-to (- yes, I make very real money doing this, read September’s income report!). If blogging isn’t for you, here’s some REAL Work From Home Options for people serious about escaping 9-5 (all of these suggestions work as “extra” income earners!)
Related: 30+ Work at Home Ideas for Moms (or anyone!)
Never stop looking for ways to spend less.
Even though we aren’t in debt and we don’t NEED to pinch every penny, money-saving articles are still among my favorite reading. (And they’re some of my favorite to write, too. 10 things I quit buying to save money is the single most popular post I have ever written.)
There is never a good excuse for turning a blind eye to your spending, even if you aren’t in debt. Make a game out of it; learn to enjoy saving money more than you enjoy spending it!
Do not buy anything you do not have the money to buy.
I see articles like “how to pay for a vacation in cash” and I think – how else would you pay for a vacation? It doesn’t even cross my mind to pay for it with credit. I have never, ever, bought a cute purse or pair of shoes that I didn’t have the money for in my bank account.
I have never gone out for dinner without knowing that there is enough money to pay the bill in my bank account. (And to tip. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out. Just sayin’.)
(EDIT: Ok, I have to concede an exception here. Recently I saw a go fund me account set up for someone who needed a multi-thousands of dollars medical procedure or they were going to die. And honestly, if that was me I would get a loan. I would pay the loan off, the same way I pay into my savings account. When it’s literally life and death, I might buy something I don’t actually have the money for.)
Are you in debt or out of it? If you’ve managed to stay debt-free – what are the tops tips you would share with those who are just getting there?