8 Debt Free Lessons I Learned From Paying Off $100,000

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When you’re paying off debt, it feels like it’s going to take forever to finish. At least that’s what it felt like when we were in the midst of paying off over $100,000 in debt in our debt-free journey.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It can definitely take some time to pay off debt, but there are also things that we could have done differently to make it go faster.

Are you about to start paying off debt? Or even better, have you already started and are looking for ways to speed up the process?

Here are a few debt free lessons that I wish I had done differently when paying off debt. And how they might work for you on your own journey!

1. Stopped adding to restaurant funds

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

We (I) tried to justify having money in our restaurant fund for days that work just got on top of us and we didn’t want to cook. Looking back, I really wish we put that money toward debt instead.

I’ll use a fast food restaurant we visited quite a few times when paying off debt as an example. When we went to Chick-Fil-A, we would spend around $20 for our dinner.

Doing that a couple of times a week throughout the month adds up to around $160/month! That’s how much super frugal people spend on their entire grocery budget for the entire month.

And if you add that up over the course of a year (our debt took a little over 2 years to pay off), then you’re spending almost $2,000 on fast food alone. $2,000! Think how much faster your debt could be paid off without eating out twice a week!

I know it’s more work, but the cost savings of cooking at home is substantial.

What we like to do is have a master meal list to choose from when we choose our meals for the week. That master list is made up of not only tried and true meals that we love, but meals that we’ve found to be on the cheaper side.

Related reading: Grocery Shopping on a Budget: How to Save Some Serious Cash

2. Used a debt tracker

I found the idea to use a debt tracker pretty late in the game. I wish I could have found it sooner because it was one of the biggest accountability boosters we had.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a visual person. I need to see something with my eyes to fully get it. Same thing with paying off our debt: I had the numbers written down and amounts to pay off in our spreadsheet. But I didn’t really understand the progress we were making until I started using a debt tracker.

What is a debt tracker?

It’s anything that shows you your progress in paying off debt. For ours, I just drew something on a sheet of paper that symbolized a thermometer. Every time we paid anything on a debt, I would fill up the thermometer a little more.

That action of filling in the thermometer with the visual of the needle moving was everything to me. Our debt free chart gave me a visual that we were making progress!

3. Found more free (or cheap) things to do

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

When we started paying off debt, we were working off of adrenaline. It was easy to shovel money at our debts because we had just started and it was exciting.

Fast forward a few months, and it wasn’t exciting anymore. Sure, there were little victories that gave us temporary excitement (like paying off one of our small debts!). But it can get old, quick.

So we found ourselves putting some money away for entertainment. We loved going to the movies, so we would save up and go see one. Trouble is, going to the movies is expensive. When you add up the tickets and the cost of concession foods/drinks, you can really spend a lot.

I wish we would have made a better effort to find cheap or free things to do while we were paying off debt.

Those cheap or free things might not be as exciting or easy as going to the movies, but they will save your budget! Plus, these could be things that you fondly remember back to when paying off debt is behind you. You know, kind of like how you and your friends entertained yourselves when you were broke in college.

Related reading: 100 Fun Things to Do With No Money

4. Canceling cable adds up

Photo by Juan Ordonez on Unsplash

I was kind of addicted to HGTV. And the latest episodes of my favorite sitcoms.

We didn’t cancel cable immediately, and I wish we would have. We were paying somewhere around $100/month for cable, or about $1,200 a year. That’s quite a bit of money!

I had a hard time letting it go because I really enjoyed being able to watch what I wanted. But looking back, I wish I would have done it at the beginning of paying off debt. Especially knowing how much more we could have been shoveling at the debt with that money!

Instead, we kept our Netflix subscription up and going for around $12/month. No, it didn’t have the latest episodes or all of my HGTV shows, but it had enough! And it doesn’t have to be forever either. Although, even now that we’re out of debt, we still haven’t turned cable back on. I guess it wasn’t that important after all!

If you’re looking for a totally free streaming service, Pluto TV has tons of channels and is available for FREE!

5. What it would be like to be debt free

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We toyed around with “paying off our debt” for a long time before we actually pulled the trigger. Every time we started, we would run out of adrenaline and, instead of reminding ourselves why we were doing it, we just quit.

If we had known how it would feel to not have any debt payments, we would have been serious about it the very first time we started.

Looking back at all the time we wasted accruing interest and spending half our paycheck on debt payments makes us wish we had started much earlier!

Related reading: 9 Tips to Staying Patient While Paying Off Debt

6. Logged off social media

Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

Social media can be really great. It’s a time for connecting with others, especially when connecting in the real world can be challenging (thanks, COVID).

But there are true cons to social media too.

One of them is comparing your life to those you follow on the platform. I can’t even count the number of times I have scrolled through Instagram or Facebook and stopped when I saw a beautiful picture of a family I know on their vacation. A beautiful beach, snow-covered mountains, or maybe some pretty landmarks.

Then I start to feel sorry for myself.

Before I knew it, I would start asking myself what they did differently to get to where they are. Or how they were able to afford something like that. Did they use a credit card and go into debt for that trip? Or do they just have enough money to afford a beachfront bungalow?

Do you see how dangerous that is?!

It not only creates more impatience when you’re trying your best not to be impatient or discouraged, but it also keeps you from enjoying your own life and where you are.

This lesson was a big one for us. It helped us stay focused on the now and getting the debt paid off quickly. And not derailing our journey completely to keep up with the Joneses!

7. Unsubscribed from marketing emails

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I know it’s a lot of work to go through and unsubscribe to every sort of marketing email you receive, but trust me, it’s for the best when you’re paying down debt.

Think about it: if you’re subscribed to a company’s email list, it’s very likely because you enjoy their products and have maybe even purchased their products before.

So when you’re going through your email and see that one of your favorite online shops is running a huge Labor Day sale on everything you love, I bet it’s pretty darn tempting to click on the link to see the sale!

By unsubscribing to these marketing emails, you’re removing that temptation that comes through your inbox.

8. Figured out the difference between WANTS and NEEDS

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This last lesson is one that I am most grateful for learning when we were paying off debt. And it sounds so subtle and small, but it’s really a big one!

Before we started paying off our debt and lived more carefree with our finances, we would buy whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.

And if we didn’t have the funds in our bank account, we’d use a credit card.

HOW DUMB WAS THAT?

Going through our debt payoff journey made us really evaluate the things we needed versus the things we wanted. Sure, it was tough to rule things out that were just desires instead of true needs, but the amount of money it saved us was substantial.

But we had to go through our financial struggles to really understand the difference between wants and needs. It took making stupid mistakes like buying whatever we wanted on credit, only to see how much we were really paying for it with the compounding interest tacked on.

I have to say though, while it was tough letting go of our wants, it helped us have a much better grasp on where our money should be going and when.

And it’s important to know: giving up your “wants” is not for long. Just while you’re paying off debt and not struggling!

Related reading: Wasted Money: 33 Ways You Could Be Wasting Money

What are the benefits of being debt free?

Before you start paying off your own debt, you might start asking yourself questions like this. If I were to pay off my debt and go through the arduous process of it, do the benefits outweigh skimping for months/years to pay it off?

We asked ourselves the same question. And we had to not only ask that question but really know the answer to it before we got started.

First, throwing your hard-earned money at accumulating interest on top of what you owe in principal can be a tough pill to swallow. Just look at your statements to see how much in interest alone you’re paying! That amount, invested over years, could add a good chunk to your retirement fund.

Next, think about not having those debt payments every month. We were shelling out over $1,000 in debt payments each month. Once your debts are paid off, think about how much richer you’ll feel with that extra money!

I could seriously go on and on about the benefits of being debt-free. Ultimately, it’s in your hands to start the debt payoff process and go through with it.

We learned a lot of lessons while paying off over $100,000 in debt. Here, we talk through some of the biggest debt free lessons we learned. Some are so simple! budget | debt payoff | debt free | debt free tracker | paying off debt

That’s our list of debt free lessons I learned while paying off debt!

Are you in the process of paying off debt? Or have you already paid off your debt and have something you wish you would have done differently?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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