Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Here's a story I know many of you can relate to ... A few years ago, I was living a life of total deception. Deception regarding money, that is. I was working my editor-in-chief job in an office, believing that I needed all the trappings that go along with that title. If I wanted a new, expensive pair of shoes, well, I had a credit card. If I wanted new kitchen appliances, well, just open a Lowe's credit card! If I wanted new furniture, that's what credit cards are for! I was living well beyond my means, believing that "one day" I'd eventually pay off all those debts and the money I earned would actually be mine. Wrong.
Well, a change in "life circumstances" (as a friend calls it) occurred and I no longer had a paycheck that enabled me to keep riding that merry-go-round. I was faced with a huge reality check. I realized just how crushing and devastating all that debt really was. It caused fear in my heart (Will they come to get me? Will I have to file bankruptcy? How can I save face?) and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I immediately sold on Craigslist anything of value that could provide some cash. It's amazing how things looked differently to me. Why the hell did I spend $300 on that handbag ... those shoes ... that baubble? I ate through my freezer and pantry--no more shopping at Whole Foods--and somehow managed to survive. Every dime, every penny was cherished and every purchase, no matter how necessary (toilet paper!) was scrutinized. I went through a process of transformation. My mindset was that every time I felt the urge to whip out a credit card, I asked myself "Do you really need that? Or do you just want it? Why do you want it?"
Flash forward two years later, and the reason I'm writing this blog is because this morning I officially became debt free. I've been working for about a year and a half as a freelancer, and every time I'd get a paycheck for a writing or editing job, I'd put 3/4 of it toward that monster debt. My newly formed, farm-based bread business, The Local Loaf, funded groceries and provided needed cash flow. (Thank you Shannon Hayes for inspiring me to become a "Radical Homemaker.") The process caused all kinds of squabbles with my new husband ("Pay off those credit cards!"), and many "sacrifices" on my part--can you believe no haircut/color for 8 months?--but for the first time in my life I could see the forest through the trees. My husband's Midwestern upbringing and natural frugality, combined with our ever-increasing mission of self-sustainability and rejection of consumerism has led me to this day. Dave Ramsay's "I'm debt freeeeeeeeeee!" was also ringing in my ears. It has definitely been a journey to get here; but the journeys where I've learned the most have always been a result of having the least.
Now the fun can really start!