Personal Finance Goals

Struggling To Get Out Of Debt? Try Minimalism

 
 

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I recently shared my super painful debt story on the Chain of Wealth Podcast. This interview inspired me to create a new series: Rise From Rock Bottom. This series tells every story from my failure years - and how I overcame each one.


Growing up, my parents had a lot of stuff.

We had three cars, including a Mercedes Benz and Cadillac Escalade. I distinctly remember having a TV in each room with a stack of DVDs about as tall as my 4-foot 10-year-old body (and about four of me wide). My stepdad never left the house with out his signature chain and watch.

I just knew we were rich. How else could we afford all this stuff?

I always imagined my future would be the same: I'd have so many lavish things (the best TVs, movie collection, elaborate entertainment centers, etc.) that friends and family would always want to come to my house for social gatherings.

ALWAYS.

As an adult, I felt like I'd won at life when I got my first car: a new(ish) convertible mustang. She was my baby. Before the car note was paid off on her, I upgraded her to a Mercedes Benz truck. I was 24 and drowning in debt, but in my head I was #winning. 

I had a beautiful apartment in the best neighborhood (because my daughter just had to go to THE BEST schools). I "invested" in phones, cameras and computers.

I mean, I had to keep up with our way of life, right? 

Then, I found out about minimalism and I felt like a complete idiot. 

 

What is Minimalism?

Minimalism is the alignment of your spending with your values. This requires that you get crystal clear on what things you want in life and then consciously take things that do not align with your values out of your life.

You might think that minimalism means you can’t have nice things. In reality, you can have anything you want. The key to minimalism is only bringing things into your life that you have a strong feeling about. Things that align with your purpose and your passions.

Why Did I Start Minimizing My Life?

I didn’t intend to become a minimalist. In fact, I intended to be quite the opposite. I planned to have many lavish things.

However, there came a moment, somewhere between the fancy car and the nice apartment that I realized I couldn’t afford my lifestyle. I was constantly working just trying to keep up with all of the bills that this life required.

I was becoming tired, depressed and slightly suicidal just thinking about how much I had to work just to pay bills.

I couldn’t afford anything outside of my bills. No self care. No family vacations. No pie.

That’s when I decided I needed to get rid of my bills. Getting rid of my bills meant that I needed to get rid of my stuff.

I never wanted to get rid of my stuff.

I felt like I was losing. I was a failure because I couldn’t figure out how to afford the lifestyle that I wanted without selling my soul to work.

I minimized because I wanted my life back.

Let me break down what I saw before Minimalism (B.M.):

Fancy Car! = Travel in Style
Nice Apartment! = Best Education & Schools
Computers & iPads! = Newest and Fanciest Gadgets & Tools

I was successful even though I had to work three jobs just to live paycheck to paycheck and barely afford all of my things.

I was successful because my daughter could attend a nice school. I could drive around in a nice car. I could look like a success to others.


Here's what that looked like after Minimalism (A.M.)

I decided I’d only keep things in my life that I absolutely needed to survive. I took a look at everything I had in terms of how much it was costing me every month.

At a deeper level, I started to ask how much I’d have to work to be able to afford each one.

FANCY CAR

  • Monthly car payment: $650 / month

  • Car insurance: $250 / month

  • Weekly gas tank re-fill: $80 ($240 / month)

  • Quarterly maintenance: $900 (This is variable, but $900 was like the standard at the benz store. For example, replacing the windshield wipers cost me $250. I'll estimate $300 / month to make the math easy here.)

 

FANCY APARTMENT

  • Rent: $1600 / month

  • Utilities: $100 / month

  • Internet: $70 / month

 

MONTHLY OVERHEAD

My monthly overhead is the minimum amount of money I would have to make before I broke even.

That means, if I want to save any money, I would have to make at least that much money - and then I'd need to make more to be able to save anything. 

Note: This does not include any credit card bills, groceries or any entertainment. #facepalm

 

Overhead = Fancy Car Bills + Fancy Apartment Bills

($650+$250+$240+$300)+($1600+$100+$70)=$3,210

 

Minimalism and Debt

With this much overhead each month, I couldn't get out of debt, no matter how hard I worked! I kept thinking I needed to work more, work harder and increase my skills so I could make more money. 

In my head, I was living a normal life. Everyone wants cars and their own space... why can't I seem to afford... the basics?

Once I started to minimize my life, I noticed that I no longer need as much money to survive.

I did a voluntary repossession on my car and then no longer needed to pay a car note, car insurance or maintenance. I moved in with my mother and no longer needed to pay high rent every month.

Almost immediately, I stopped working three jobs and eventually got down to just one freelance client.

Because I didn’t need money to cover my excessive overhead, I could now pursue my Master’s Degree that I had been wanting to find time (and money) for. I could focus on finding a job that fit my personality and values. I could spend my time networking and making the right connections in order to help me move forward.

Related Content: How to Guarantee Grad School is Worth Your Time and Money

Freeing myself of the things allowed me to reduce my monthly debts and gain the freedom to choose how I wanted to spend my time. (Because for the first time, I had free time!)

Minimalism gave me my first taste of freedom… and I was never going back.

How To Minimize Your Life


DEFINE YOUR VALUES

The key to minimalism is defining what’s important to properly make decisions that align with what fills your soul and makes you happy.

In my life, I had to realize that my car and apartment weren’t making me happy. They were just taking up my time and energy.

RE-EVALUATE THE THINGS YOU ALREADY HAVE IN YOUR LIFE

Take a look at all of the things you currently have in your life and ask yourself whether each thing truly brings you joy or serves a practical purpose. If an item doesn’t do either of those things, then see if it’s possible to remove it from your life.

When I moved back in with my parents, I decided I’d only take things with me that aligned with my core identity. I got rid of a ton of things:

  • Arts and crafts materials that I hadn’t used in years

  • Books I never planned to read again (Ex. College Textbooks)

  • Wine glass sets I wouldn’t need at my parent’s house since I wouldn’t be entertaining there

  • Promotional items from a failed startup

  • Clothes in the back of my closet that I never wore

I started to equate getting rid of things with freedom. My stuff would no longer weigh me down or hold me back.

BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU BRING INTO YOUR LIFE

Once you’ve purged all of the things that you don’t want in your life, your next job is to ensure you don’t over-complicate your life going forward by bringing in things you don’t need.

One of my favorite sayings is “If it’s not a HELL YES, it’s a HELL NO.”

That means if you’re not super excited and enthusiastic about something, than feel confident in saying no to bringing it into your life. This is true for friends, associates, colleagues, opportunities as well as material items.

Only bring things into your life that align with your values and what YOU want out of your life.

Minimalism allowed me to reduce the amount I was spending on things that I didn’t care about, and to start spending my money on the things that mattered the most. It gave me freedom. It gave me choices. And I’m forever grateful.

Do you have any examples of how minimalism improved your life? What’s the next step you are going to take?

Ready To Rise From Rock Bottom?

  1. Listen to my full debt story on the podcast that inspired this series. 

  2. Take a FREE personal development class on CreativeLive

  3. For more fun stories and tips on how to improve your life, grab my book Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams. - Only $3.99 USD!

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This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.


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About Chantl

Chantl founded Thrive Lounge to give women the kick in the pants they need (lovingly, of course) to uncomplicate their goals, stop making excuses, get productive and start living the life they always wanted. Her book, Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams, gives women a step-by-step guide to create, plan and achieve their grandest goals.

5 Ways Ordinary People Can Start Achieving Extraordinary Results

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Get Crystal Clear On Your Grandest Goals

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GOALS.

I’ve always had a problem with “SMART” goals. The concept just seemed too easy, too unfinished. Like… I set a goal, but what’s next? There are millions of people who set goals every year that do not finish them. I’m sure their goals are smart.

But why aren’t they finishing?

Goals are not really the end of the journey. They’re just the destination. Once you figure out your destination, you have to figure out:

  • What you budget is for the trip

  • When you’ll make time in your schedule to take this trip.

  • Whether you’re going to get there by bus, train or plane.

  • Who is going with you

  • How long it will take

  • And as you go, you’ll likely be checking your progress with Google Maps the entire trip (Am I right?)

To truly start accomplishing your goals, you must think about the end goal as a destination. And then begin the journey, step by step, to get from where you are now to where you want to be in your life.


My Destination

I started paying off my student loan debt three years ago. I had $42,000 of total debt from my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Finally, I got my first “real job” and couldn’t even enjoy my income because I felt crushed by my student loan debt.

Related Content: How to Guarantee Grad School is Worth your Time and Money

I felt #defeated, every time I made my minimum payment and it wasn’t even enough to cover the interest on my loan. (Facepalm).

That's when I decided that I had to start aggressively paying off my student loan debt. I set the SMART goal first, but then I also had to use every tool in the goal setting garage, not just toolbox, in order to make this big dream a #reality.

Here’s how you really build the habits to accomplish your largest goals:

Start with setting measurable goals.

This means setting your goal in way that you can measure whether or not you’ve achieved it. Make sure you have an exact number associated with your goal and a date you want to complete it by.

For example, here are two ways you can set a goal to tackle your debt:

Example #1: "I'll pay off $42K of student loan debt by December 31st of this year."

Example #2:  "Take control of my debt."

The first example outlines exactly how much you want to pay and when you want to complete it.

In the second example, you're setting a vague goal that's difficult to track. How do you know when you’ve taken control of your debt? Is it when you’ve started making the minimum payments? Is it when you’re doubling the minimum? Is it when you’ve deferred that payment again to tackle your other priorities?

If you haven’t set a CLEAR goal in the beginning, it’ll be impossible to measure your success.

Set Milestones for your goals.

Since I knew I wanted to pay off $37K in my first year, I set a monthly number that I would have to pay in order to reach that goal.

$37K/12 months = $3K per month

Once I knew how much I needed to reach my goal, it was really easy to look at my budget and plan how I could make it happen. Also, I could easily track whether I was on track to reach my goal on a monthly basis.

Use a goal tracker.

I am a VERY visual person so I like to see things on paper. When you're working towards a long term goal, (like paying off a ton of debt) it can get boring and you almost start to wonder if you're actually making any progress.

I created a chart where I could color in one square for every $1000 of debt I paid off. If you like to track electronically, there are lots of good apps where you can track your progress on your phone.

Slowly, but surely, I started to fill my chart with colorful boxes. I hung it on the wall so I could see how much progress I had made and how much I still had left.

Use an accountability partner.

I had a friend that I'd call monthly to make sure I was paying my debt off in a timely manner.

We'd have a 30 minute call once a month and talk about how much debt we'd paid off, how much we had left and what the next steps would be. This helped me build the habit and keep the habit of paying off my debt, right from the beginning.

A Note on Habits

All of these goal-crushing tools help you build the right habits so that you can take the right actions every day. Your goals are the result of taking the right actions over and over again until you reach your destination.

If you can master your habits, you can reach any goal you want.

It hasn't been a short journey, but I've made great progress toward this goal over the last two years. And by the end of this year, I’m proud to be able to say I’m student loan debt free!

What will your next SMART goal be?


Ready To Accomplish Your Greatest Goals? 

  1. Start planning out your largest goals with the FREE Goal Planning Worksheet.

  2. Take a FREE personal development class on CreativeLive

  3. Do you struggle with finishing the goals you start? Get clarity on your goals and the strategies to reach them with the ebook Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams.

Get Crystal Clear On Your Grandest Goals

Download the FREE Goal Setting Clarity checklist and set goals that will create MIRACULOUS change in your life.

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About Chantl

Chantl founded Thrive Lounge to give women the kick in the pants they need (lovingly, of course) to uncomplicate their goals, stop making excuses, get productive and start living the life they always wanted. Her book, Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams, gives women a step-by-step guide to create, plan and achieve their grandest goals.

How I Increased My Debt Payoff by $1100 Per Month - Without Making More Money

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Freakin' DEBT. 

Many Americans are walking around with a huge cloud following them everywhere they go. Some are fortunate enough not to think about it often though they know it exists. 

I am not one of those people. 

From the moment I realized what my $42K in debt was costing me from month to month, I decided there was no way in HELL I was going to keep living my life this way... especially since (for the first time in my life) I could finally afford to start paying it. 

Once I dedicated my entire life to paying off my debt, I realized one crucial thing: 

I didn't have enough money left over at the end of each month to make a dent in my debt. 

Every month, I was struggling to find new ways to pay my debt off. I cut back on everything I could think of.

  • I started turning the lights off during the day time and instead opening every window possible.

  • I didn't use the heat in the winter or the air conditioner in the summer unless I was dying.

  • I went on a strict (read: cheap) diet and stopped going out to eat.

 

Then, when that money wasn't adding up to much savings, I got a little more drastic.

I even let my girlfriend's 80-year-old grandfather move in with me for 5 months. 

After all of that, I STILL only managed to save a tiny bit. 

I realized as passionate as I was, my lifestyle would not allow me to pay any more. 

So I did what any reasonable person paying off debt would do: I decided to change my lifestyle. 

Over the next few months, I implemented a few tiny lifestyle tweaks that took me from making tiny payments on my debts... to massive ones. 

In this article, I'm going to walk through exactly how I did this:

Loan Payoff - 2017.PNG

How Did I Get Here In The First Place? 

Student Loans

I went to four years of undergrad, mostly with scholarships, and was able to graduate with only $15K of student loan debt. Unfortunately, companies didn't give a crap about my degree after college and I struggled to find a job. 

I began working as a babysitter while I tried to figure my life out. I loved the families I worked with and I got really comfortable. 

After my last babysitting gig, I was coming up on 25 (prime quarterlife crisis years) and I knew it was time I found one of those adult jobs.

Still, not one job would call me back. So I did what any self respecting woman with no job prospects would do:  I went back to school. 

That would buy me enough time to figure out how to put a resume together that made me look good, make some high-powered connections (after I learned how to properly network), and get some type of internship under my belt that would knock the socks off these hiring managers. 

My trip to grad school worked. I got the piece of paper and landed the job... and it only cost me $25K.

Undergrad + Grad + Interest = Total Student Debt 

In total, I ended up with $42K in student loan debt when I finally had enough income to start paying. 

 

Why I Committed To Paying Off My Student Loan Debt

To be honest, the concept of capitalized interest pissed me off. 

I got an email saying

Hi, your principal has been updated... and we're adding $1000! 

I might be paraphrasing a bit, but you get the gist of it. 

So I called my student loan company and realized that my loans had 25 year loan terms where I'd end up paying 3x what I took out at the end of the term. I felt like the entire loan system was a scam. 

... and I don't like being scammed. 

Plus, I now had this cushy adult job. I figured that now was as good a time as any to get started paying that debt off. 

 

Before I Made These Life Changes

I made the decision to pay off my student loan debt in January 2017. Over the next few months I struggled to make larger payments on my loans. I would pay an extra hundred here and there as I could, but the interest was increasing at $210/month (and accruing daily) so every payment felt like throwing money into a black hole.  

Loan Payoff - Early 2017.PNG

That's when I realized if I was going to get out of debt, I would have to do soemthing drastic.

 

What I Did To Crush That Debt

In the top image, in 274 days (10 months), I paid off $4,021. That's an average of $402 per month. Now let's take a look at what happened next:

2018 debt payoff.PNG

In the ten months that followed, I paid $15,582 in student loans. That's an average of $1,558 per month --- and an increase of $1,156 towards my debts. 

Here's what I did to get there:

 

Radically Reduced My Rent with Geo-Arbitrage

My largest expense was the same as many Americans: Housing.

Every month, I was spending about 50% of my income on housing. I had rent, heat and electricity, valet trash (which was rolled into rent and you couldn't opt out) and water.  

While I could pay it every month, it was a struggle to pay that and make higher payments towards my student loan debt. 

On a vacation trip to New York, I visited an aunt and realized that she has a guest bedroom. That's when the idea hit me. I pitched her to move in and pay her a fraction of my current rent. That would mean that she got some extra money coming in - and I would be able to put all of those housing savings toward my student loan debt. 

She agreed. 

This move meant that I would be able to reduce my rent and stop paying for utilities, valet trash and internet all together. 

Total Savings: $900

 

Got Rid Of My Car

To be honest, I've always hated cards. I mean, I could literally rant for hours on the topic. But for the purpose of this post, I'm only going to talk about the costs. 

Car Note: Fortunately I bought my car cash so I didn't have a car note, but that's not typical. 

Car Insurance: My least favorite of the car expenses. You pay a monthly car insurance hoping that you never actually have to use it. Because if you do get into an accident, your car insurance will increase and you'll still have to pay a deductible to get your car fixed. 

Gas: If you're fortunate to live close to your job (or not have to go into an office at all) you can still easily spend $20-$30 per week on gas. Many people have to spend much more than that commuting to and from jobs that are an hour or more away.

Maintenance: Generally speaking, cars have something weird that goes wrong every 2-3 months. Whether it's breaks, tires, windshield wipers, oil changes, miscellaneous fluids or random noises that go bump in the night - you will have to get something fixed on your car. 

Tickets: I was living in Maryland, in between DC and Baltimore. Both areas have great opportunities for you to accumulate tickets. There are strategically placed cameras pretty much everywhere to surprise you and take your hard-earned money. 

Side note: In addition to all of these expenses, you'll also have to give up some of your time. Cars take time to clean, maintain and process. I hated that micro pain I would feel when I got yet another ticket in the mail. You'll spend a lot of your time at a dealership or body shop or in line registering tags or whatever random things you need to do to simply own a car. That's on top of the time you spend earning the money to spend on it. 

I got rid of my car - and earned my inner peace. 

Monthly Savings: $200-$300 (and a hell of a lot of peace of mind)

 

Once I lowered my expenses, I had a giant gap between how much I was earning and how much was going to bills every month. I started to put all of those savings towards my student loans. With my rapid pay down strategy, I plan to be out of that 42K of debt in less than 2.5 years from start to finish. 

 

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About Chantl

Chantl founded Thrive Lounge to give women the kick in the pants they need (lovingly, of course) to uncomplicate their goals, stop making excuses, get productive and start living the life they always wanted. Her book, Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams, gives women a step-by-step guide to create, plan and achieve their grandest goals.