And Then What Broke?

There are a few things in life that are guaranteed:

– If you wash your car or water your lawn it’s going to rain

– If I meet the perfect guy I will also meet his wife

– If you leave the house super early because you know there will be traffic the road will be open and clear

As I get older I have discovered one other universal truth- as soon as you decide to be financially responsible (i.e. pay off debt) something REALLY expensive is going to happen.

Last week I had lunch with a girlfriend I had not seen in months.  As we were driving to eat this was the conversation we had:

Her- “… when we got the check I told him we were going to do something responsible with it- like pay off one of the credit cards.”

Me- “And then what broke?”

Her (staring at me in amazement)- “Transmission.  How did you know?”

It ALWAYS happens once you decide to pay off something.  The car breaks down, the water heater stops heating or your kid comes home needing money for  lessons/uniforms/field trips.  And the money you saw going toward debt gets mixed up in some other project.  And it happens month after month until you feel like giving up.

If you are one of those people who feels like giving up I promise you there is hope.  And I can personally attest to that.  I paid off $22,500 in debt in 18 months- even after getting laid off.  It was NOT fun.  It was A LOT of work.  I went to bed every night exhausted.  And the day I paid it off I bought myself the most expensive steak I have ever eaten without feeling guilty.

Nothing I did was revolutionary but for those of you who just need a little push here are some things I did:

1.  I cut the bills.  The bottom line is if you have a ton of debt or no savings what you are doing right now is NOT working.  You  may think you are living lean but most people really don’t.  Do you have cable?  You can function without it and save the $100 a month.  Turn up the thermostat a few degrees for help on the electric bill.  Eat meatless one or two nights a week.  Stop eating out.  You can cut the bills.

2.  I put a healthy amount in savings at a bank where it was a pain to get to it.  Here’s the thing about savings- if you know you have it you will spend it.  So I put some money in a savings account at a bank no where near my house where I don’t have an ATM card.  If you don’t have the money- make it.  I lived on ebay for about 6 months selling stuff.  (To quote Dave Ramsey “sell so much that the kids think they are next.”)  I worked hard to get extra voice and piano students to supplement my income.  I taught tons of coupon classes- some Saturdays I taught as many as three.   I did everything for extra cash except baby-sit (which was for the sake of the children- trust me).

3.  I had to tell everyone.  For most people this is a very difficult step.  Pretty much it means admitting you have a problem.  I made sure all my friends and family knew what I was trying to do.  My debt was from graduate school- no shame in that- but it meant saying “no” to movies, drinks and road trips.  It meant that the Christmas shopping list got whittled down to the bare minimum.  My friends and family were crazy supportive and I hope yours will be too.

4.  I had to make goals.  $22,500 was an enormous and intimidating amount.  I had to break it down into smaller segments.  Every time I paid off $5,000 I would splurge- buy a show I like on DVD, get a new outfit not from the thrift store or get a manicure.  These little rewards made it easier to keep my eyes on the prize.

So if you feel discouraged that the transmission fell out of your car, your pipes burst or your air-conditioning broke don’t worry.  It’s happening to all of us.  We can get through it together.

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