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This is a guest post by Alaya , the blogger behind Hope+Cents. After dumping her own debt, she has become passionate about helping others do the same and shares tips, encouragement, and hope for those looking to take control of their finances.
There’s a lot of talk about being debt-free.
From blogs chronicling their author’s debt-free journey, to a radio show that invites callers to celebrate becoming debt-free, it seems as if there is a subculture of debt-free fanatics that are challenging our “buy now, pay later” culture.
And it seems that way because there is. There is a growing debt-free community. It’s made up of people who have an “I paid off (insert crazy amount of debt) in just (insert short amount of time)” story; people who are working towards some ambitious and inspiring goal like paying off their mortgage in under ten years or retiring by forty; and people who have always been debt-free and are committed to staying that way. The debt-free subculture exists. And it’s growing.
But, perhaps you’re not convinced about the whole debt-free thing. You can manage your car payment, student loans, credit cards, and other debt just fine. You make all your payments on time, and sometimes you even pay more than the minimum amount due. That’s pretty good, right? If you’re able to “manage your payments” why is being debt-free necessary? What’s the big deal about being debt-free?
Debt Is Normal
Being debt-free is a big deal. In fact, it’s pretty amazing that living a debt-free lifestyle is gaining popularity, given the fact that it is the complete OPPOSITE of what our culture encourages.
Our culture tells us that if we want to go to college, we do it with student loans because that is, after all, good debt. Our culture tells us the only way to buy a car is to have a car payment—it’s just what you do. Our culture tells us to put our purchases on credit cards. Vacations, clothes, furniture, groceries, gas…“Put it ALL on the card,” culture says. “You’ll get cash back—and a free plane ticket.”
Culture doesn’t do too much to champion the debt-free lifestyle either. Sometimes those who are debt-free are portrayed as just plain weird. Remember when the Extreme Couponing show was popular? Almost every person on that show was either debt-free or aiming to be debt-free and was using coupons to help them reach their goals.
That show did its best to highlight some of the most bizarre behavior we’ve ever seen. 52 bottles of mustard, anyone? A year’s supply of cat food when you don’t have a cat? Culture does a good job of taking a picture of the dark side of saving and making that the poster child of frugality and debt-free living.
Well, our culture also lives paycheck-to-paycheck, is overwhelmed by debt, and can’t handle a $1,000 emergency with cash. Maybe we shouldn’t listen to culture. In this case, perhaps we shouldn’t want to be normal.
Related: 6 Habits of people who stay debt-free
The Why Behind Debt-Free
So, why choose to be debt-free? If our culture points to the opposite, then why is debt-free a thing? Why would anyone embark upon a journey to rid their life of debt when they can get by making payments just fine? While everyone’s “why” is and should be personal, there are some universal reasons why people choose to be debt-free.
Relying on debt means you’re living beyond your means.
People who make the choice to pay off all their debt even though they can manage their payments come to a revelation. They realize they are living beyond their means.
That’s right. If the only way you can “afford” that car/vacation/living room furniture is to use credit, then you are living beyond your means. You can’t actually afford it. Affording the payment is not the same as affording the purchase. Waking up to this (harsh) reality usually is the catalyst to most debt-free journeys.
Being debt-free gives you choices.
Think about it. Are there choices in your life you wish you could make but can’t because of your debt? Perhaps you want to be home with your kids, but there’s no WAY you could even dream of getting by on one income considering all your payments.
Or maybe you want to leave a career you are no longer passionate about, but you’re chained to the current one because you’ve built up your lifestyle to your present income and making any less just isn’t an option. Been there! Debt steals your choices, but being debt-free gives them back to you.
There is freedom in being debt-free.
If you currently have debt, dream with me for a moment. Just imagine if all the debt was gone. Even if you’re perfectly fine with the level of debt you have, just image if you didn’t have it. Imagine if the payments you make every month could go towards something else…like a trip abroad, your retirement account, or towards helping others.
Doesn’t that sound good? Doesn’t that feel good? When you don’t have debt, you can do those things. If you’re already doing them, you can do them to a greater degree. There is freedom in being debt-free, and the feeling of not owing anything to anyone is just awesome.
The Journey Before the Journey
I don’t think people, in a single instant, decide they want to be debt-free—even though it may seem that way—even to them. I believe there is journey most people go on before they start the process of becoming debt-free. If you’re less than convinced that debt-free is for you, I suggest you do a couple things.
Stop thinking about your payments.
I think one of the biggest things that keeps people from attacking their debt is that they focus on the dollar amount of their payments. I have my own “I paid off (crazy amount of debt) in just (short amount of time)” story, but for 15 years I did what most people do and racked up debt—except I didn’t think of it as debt. In my head, I just had payments. Payments that I could manage—until, of course, I couldn’t.
I encourage you to stop thinking about your payments and start thinking about the debt behind it. Sure, $200/month seems manageable, but what about the $25,000 it represents? Even a million dollars can be broken down into what seems like manageable payments. Change your thought process from thinking about the payment to thinking about the whole amount that payment represents. That will give you a different perspective of your debt.
Find your “why.”
Earlier, I shared common reasons people decide to live debt-free. I encourage you to identify your why. This is essential and more important than anyone else’s reasons.
Ask yourself what specific things YOU wish you could do if you didn’t have a bunch of payments? What choices are you currently forced to make (or not make) because of your debt? What would your money go towards if you didn’t have the debt? Let the answers to these questions guide you.
Even if you’re 100% convinced that embarking on some crazy debt-free journey is not your cup of tea, ask yourself why. Why do you prefer to have payments? Why does that benefit you? Either way, define your why.
Wherever you stand—from not convinced about this whole debt-free thing to ready to drink the debt-free kool-aid—I encourage you to give it some serious thought and to go ahead and take that first step.
Choosing to be debt-free is a big deal, and if you do decide to go down that path, you won’t regret it. I can guarantee that. I’ve never come across anyone who complained about being debt-free or who went back to a life of payments because debt-free wasn’t for them.
Gain back freedom and choice in your life, declare war on your debt, and and join the underground debt-free subculture. We would love for you to join us!
Where do you stand? Love the idea of a debt-free life? Already on your way? Not sure it’s for you?
P.S. Because saving money is a key part of being and staying debt-free, I would love to send you 51 Ways You Can Save Money Every Day to help you during your journey. Sign up to receive your free download.
13 thoughts on “What’s the Big Deal About Being “Debt-Free”?”
My number one reason I desire to be debt-free has got to be freedom! I want the freedom to have a little margin in my life. For example, if I wanted to quit my job and take a little time off to work on other passions, that just would not be an option with the debt payments I have to make every month. I am a huge believer in just taking action, and I cannot wait to be debt free by this time next year! 🙂
Sandie I am so excited for you to be debt free this time next year too!! A year will literally fly by – and you will be FREE!
It’s great to see others really pushing against the “culture” of debt. You’re absolutely right that having debt is manageable, but definitely limits people. In addition to what you said about payments, a lot of people forget that their payments are not even going to the actual product. Most payments, particularly on houses and cars, are interest. So people do not realize the additional payments they have to make to adjust for interest and how it is essentially throwing money away. Getting out of debt faster, while seemingly expensive, is in the long run a much cheaper option.
(Also, I’ve been reading about starting about a blog for weeks and your resources and guide and have been the best that I’ve found and I can’t wait to start thanks to your help. You’re awesome. Congratulations on the new baby!)
HI Cat! Thanks for stopping by – I think YOU’RE awesome 🙂 I have to agree – interest is the number one scary reason to avoid debt – you’re literally GIVING your money away – with nothing in return!
And YAY for starting a blog… it has been one of the best things I have ever done for myself (and my family) and I am so excited for you! I’m SO happy you’ve enjoyed my blogging tips and I wish you ALL The best in your blogging journey. Take your time, learn to do it properly and BE PATIENT! Remember most blogs don’t get a 6 month anniversary because most people aren’t willing to wait to see their work pay off (I also think this is why lots of blogs don’t ever make a profit. They don’t ever have a chance!) Stop back and let me know how it’s going for you – and happy new year!
I love this post! Getting out there and discussing the debt free lifestyle is why I started my blog a few months ago. It is so satisfying to not be tied to payments. We are so close to being debt free and I would never want to go back! I wish more people could understand the lifestyle and appreciate it like we do!
Hi! Thank for reading! I love that there is such an uprising of people embracing the debt free lifestyle… I really feel like it’s something that will absolutely change our entire country for the better! (And debt free living blogs are doing great right now – good luck!!)
Thanks so much, K.H. Congrats on getting close to being debt-free. That’s awesome! I can’t imagine going back either. It just simply isn’t an option! I think if we all keep spreading the debt-free message, it will catch on…eventually. LOL
My husband and I have discussed this very thing and we definitely don’t want to be making mortgage payments until we’re 50 or even older. When we got married we both didn’t have a credit card, the only reason we got one was so we could book a cabin for our honeymoon. I can’t imagine living paycheck to paycheck and we are striving to be debt free sooner than later. Thanks for the awesome post, so inspiring to take action in the now.
HI Gladys! I loved this post too – Alaya has some great insights to offer! I’m right there with you… rather skip the mortgage payments if possible… and if not possible then would rather get it paid off ASAP! I think if you make debt free living your goal your can ABSOLUTELY make it your reality 🙂
Thanks, Gladys. You definitely will appreciate the freedom you gain from paying off your debt, especially your mortgage! Go for it!
I’m so glad you’re bringing to light the darker side of debt culture! Society tells us debt gives you freedom, but in reality, it limits your freedom!!
I used to think that debt was just a normal part of life. I thought it was there to help you have fun, live a good life and get what you “need”. But, I’ve really realized that debt is everything but necessary for a happy, good life. Not only is it stressful to always have the debt cloud hanging over you, but it helps perpetuate the idea that we need things to be happy.
Something that helps me on my debt repayment journey is consciously thinking about what actually makes me happy. I used to spend a lot of money on things (I thought would make me happy), but I realized all I was left with was a pile of clutter and financial and household overwhelm. When I started realizing that spending time with people I care about, enjoying nature, and focusing on my health and wellbeing are the things that really make me happy, I had such a huge shift in how I viewed my finances and debt!
I am officially debt free. No mortgage, no car payments, no credit card debt, no student loans, no medical debt. It took me 13 yrs to reach this point but I have finally arrived. All I have is taxes, insurance, utilities, food and internet. It amounts to 700.00 a month. I still work but I am now socking away 80% of my pay. I am 55 and will be retiring in about another year or so. The feeling is wonderful. People complain that becoming debt free is hard……you know what’s hard? Working a job you hate for 30, 40 or even 50 years…..now that is hard. Debt should only be temporary but for most of us, debt has become a life long endeavor. There are only two things I am willing to go into debt for and that is my health and my freedom (jail). There is no material item on this planet I am willing to go back into debt for. If there is something I have to have, like a new car, I save up for it. With have no debt, saving for a new car (depending on the price) only takes a few months now.
I have a decent amount a money socked away and with my bills being so low, I can work the gig economy to pay all of my bills and never have to touch my savings and investments. My goal is to build an online income, live off of that and just have my investments as back up (while still contributing) in the event I am unable to ever earn an income.
I can tell you it is the best feeling in the world. I now have so many options available to me. One of my bucket list items is to live abroad for a year so that’s what I will be doing. I will rent out my mortgage free home, and do a little traveling. I am looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life. I highly recommend that people become debt free……..the benefits of being debt free are so worth it. Less stress, better health, more money……need I say more?