We finally did it.
We paid off just over $180,000 in debt in 10 years.
Was it easy? Nope.
Did we work hard at it? Yep.
Have others done it faster than us? Yep.
Did we think it was even possible when we started? Big giant NOPE.
Did we do it anyway? Absolutely!
Now that debt is a thing of the past, it seems appropriate to take look back and see what things helped us the most on our journey to becoming completely debt free.
Here are the 3 moments that we believe helped us stick with it and reach success.
1. Playing the Comparison Game Wisely
Let’s be honest. We all compare ourselves to others. We secretly judge their photos on Instagram or their vacation stories or even the kind of cars they drive – and wonder why our lives aren’t all perfect and wonderful.
But perfect and wonderful are a lie. The illusion is easy enough to cultivate on social media. (When was the last time you saw someone take a picture of their spouse’s angry face when they were in the middle of an argument? Nope, that doesn’t make the social media cut.)
We knew we didn’t have the nicest clothes. We drove older used cars. We were very aware we looked different, and we often felt very different, than others.
Knowing our human proclivity for comparison, we did our best to stop comparing ourselves with a bunch of rich Americans. And by rich Americans, I mean just about every middle-class family we encounter every day.
The top 1% of money earners in the world make $32k a year or more. So from a worldly perspective, we are all extremely rich already.I learned that every time I turn on the shower, hot water comes out. Oh...and we have FREAKIN' WATER...and a shower...IN OUR HOUSE!Click To Tweet
But if we only look around at our friends and co-workers we won’t feel very rich at all. They have such nice things. And we like nice things too. But eventually, we had to learn how to be content with what we already had.
How did this happen?
Traveling the World
Traveling outside the US has been extremely empowering.
We’ve had fantastic opportunities to take multiple trips to places such as Panama and Haiti. These were much-needed reminders that our “good enough” was downright luxurious relative to the means of others in the world.
Even during our fancy vacations to Aruba and Cozumel, it was easy to see the extreme lifestyle differences between those of us lounging on the beach and the locals working in the local restaurant/bar.
Suddenly, back in our own home, we started to see such luxury all around us in our “older” stuff.
We discovered we have more square footage in our living room than some have in their entire house.
I learned that every time I turn on the shower, hot water comes out.
Oh…and we have FREAKIN’ WATER…and a shower…IN OUR HOUSE!
Our living room furniture is all the same furniture I bought used when I moved out of my parent’s house 12 years ago. Pretty it ain’t, but it works just fine.
Our TV in the living room is a 32-inch box thing that nobody has anymore, but it was a birthday present from my wife’s parents 10 years ago.
Pretty? No. Works just fine? Yes.
Our entertainment center? A hand me down we got 9 years ago from a co-worker at my old job who was literally throwing it out because it was old.
Walk into our bedroom and you’ll find my wife still has the same dresser she had from Jr. High. My dresser is the same I’ve had since elementary school.
Do they match? Nope. Do they hold clothes? You bet.
We are living like kings!Many of our friends probably think we're broke.Click To Tweet
Of course this doesn’t mean we didn’t ever buy anything. It just means we rarely bought things because we realized we didn’t really need anything else.
But when we did buy things, we bought smart.
We started small. The rug in our living room cost $40 at a garage sale and we borrowed a steam cleaner from a friend.
Clothes were bought rarely and only on sale or at the thrift shop. Some of my favorite shirts and shorts are in great condition and came into our home “gently used” from the thrift shop.
Something about getting a $50 shirt for $2.99 at the thrift shop just feels right.
And as we saved money in these areas, we were eventually able to upgrade our “buying-used” philosophy to cars. From a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee to a 2002 Toyota Highlander and most recently our 2009 Toyota Sienna minivan.
All bought used and with cash. Not a new car in the bunch.
But this means we haven’t had a car payment in 8 years! Which means a lot more money to invest and pay off the house.
Of course over 10 years we have bought some things new because we had to. (Having a baby forces you to do some drastic things, you know?) But for the most part, we’ve lived in a used, outdated, non-matching environment.
Think the “before” pictures on HGTV.
Many of our friends probably think we’re broke.
But being content with what we have is really just a byproduct of the perspective and gratefulness we’ve slowly discovered as we’ve become more familiar with the lives of many others around the world who would love to live in our luxurious environment.