I’ve officially been debt free for two and a half months now, after paying off $38,000 in debt in 24 months. In these two and a half months, I’ve oscillated from pure, unadulterated joy to wanting to go fetal on the floor and sob about my future financial plans. Now that some time has passed, I thought I would look back on how I’m feeling about being debt free.
Focusing on My Debt Helped Me Deny Reality
Now that I’m debt free, I’ve really been able to step back and examine what made me want to get out of debt so freaking bad in the first place. I think there were a few reasons that paying off my debt was so appealling.
- I was terrified of having so much of my take home pay being claimed by debt. Every week, 25% of my net income went to minimum debt payments.
- Because so much of my income was being claimed by debt, saving for “real” things like travel and a home seemed laughably out of reach.
- As a new graduate just starting out in my first job, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot I had control over, except for how quickly I could pay off my debt.
Paying off my debt was another way that I could delay my adulthood. Instead of thinking about all of the things I wanted but couldn’t afford, I instead focused on paying off my debt. It was the millennial version of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, “La-la-la, I can’t hear you, hopes and dreams!” As long as I was paying off my debt, I wouldn’t have to figure out how I was actually going to afford all of the things I want in life.
Now that I’m debt free, I have no choice but to pull my fingers out of my ears and face the facts:
I need to save a bunch of money.
How Much Money Will I Save?
I’m not greedy, I don’t need to have the three-bedroom house with the big backyard and granite countertops. I don’t need two new cars in the driveway or nice clothes. I want to be a one car household forever, because it’s better for the environment, I want to live in a small space because I’m a minimalist. I’ve adjusted my aspirations a lot since I’ve realized that I’m not going to live my ideal life, and am instead living my alternate life – and I’m happier for it.
The thing is, even with those managed expectations, my alternate life is still going to take a ton of work to achieve. Even with these downgraded aspirations, I’m going to need to save a whack of cash to achieve my goals while legitimately being able to call myself fiscally responsible.
I want a 10k emergency fund.
I want a retirement fund.
I want to put down 20% on a home (preferably after the housing bubble bursts).
I think the reality that I’m going to have a severely restricted cash flow for years while I save for these things is almost as tough to face as owing $38,000 in debt. (If you are still in debt, feel free to verbally b*tch slap me in the comments)
I know how getting out of debt feels. I know the hopelessness and the despair that sets in when your best efforts produce such small results. Unfortunately, saving money shares some aspects with paying off debt, just without the pure-terror-of-defaulting part.
Two and a half months after paying off the last of my debt, and I’m still very happy to be out of debt. I’m glad I paid it off as aggressively as I did. At the same time, after two and a half months of getting used to the idea that saving is the name of the game from here on out, I’m still not thrilled with the idea of buckling down for another five or so years of aggressive saving in order to achieve my goals.
What do you think? Is paying off debt different from saving?