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.

Take Action

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.

being debt free