Becoming debt free was one of the best things we ever did for our family. The things I learned after paying off debt are lessons that will stay with me (and my children) forever!
Maybe you really want to start your own journey out of debt, but you’re not sure it will be possible right now. Or maybe you are in the middle of your debt-free story and are starting to lose that spark and motivation that is so prevalent when you first start out.
Friend. I’m begging you. Stick to it! It will be so worth it one day.
When we were paying off our debt, we had a super tight budget to follow. In the most eloquent way possible, sometimes it really sucked eating at home when all of our friends were going out to eat all the time. But we stuck to our guns and paid those loans off. With zero debt, I was able to quit my full time job so I could stay home more with my kids. Our family now has so much more peace, both in our finances and our pace of living.
We learned a lot of life lessons in those years. And our lives are so much richer because of them. In an effort to encourage those who are fighting this battle right now, I want to share some of the lessons we learned by paying off all of our debt. Ironically, only ONE of them is even about money.
Life Lesson #1: How to Work as a Team
Sadly, many marriages dissolve because of a lack of trust and communication related to money. It breaks my heart. It really does. Money is so much more than paying bills. It is finding a common goal and working as a team to make it happen. It is trusting that you have each other’s backs. It is being honest with your spouse instead of selfishly hiding receipts and new purchases.
Very quickly, my husband and I realized we had to be on the same page or we were going nowhere fast. We sat down once a week and had five minute meetings to touch base about finances. I called them “Money Mondays” because, let’s face it, everything is more fun with alliteration.
Sometimes these meetings were a quick recap. “Here is how much we have now, here is what goes out this week, this much is left until payday on Friday, don’t forget to take cash for the oil change, the next poopy diaper is yours to change.” Wait, whaaaaaaaat?
Other times these quick meetings grew into hours of talking, planning, and dreaming. We set goals together, and we worked together to meet them. We sacrificed together. We planned our future together. We reached our goals together. It made us a team.
Life Lesson #2: Finding True Contentment
One of the biggest lessons we had to learn was being content with what we had. For the first eight years of our marriage, we lived in a teeny tiny 900 square foot rancher. I still don’t know how our family of four lasted that long in such a smaller home, but we loved it! We learned to love the tiny size and the tiny mortgage payment.
Of course we would have loved to host all of our friends for a get-together at one time. But since that wasn’t possible, we found other ways to entertain. We regularly hosted only one couple over at a time. Quality over quantity and all that jazz.
We learned to be content with what we had instead of wasting our hard-earned dollars on things we wanted, unless we knew it was a need and we were able to plan for it. Fancy toys and shiny cars are all fine and good. But the inflated payments that came with them were not for us.
I always thought as soon as we paid off debt we would be able to buy whatever we wanted. And I guess, yes, we CAN buy whatever we want now. But we don’t WANT to buy much. We’ve learned to be content with what we have.
In fact, after building up our fully funded emergency fund, the one thing we want to splurge on is a mattress. Our current mattress is almost ten years old, so it is definitely time. Five years ago, I thought our big splurge would be something like a jet ski for the lake or a fancy trip to celebrate our progress. Nope. Now we are officially the boring couple who gets excited looking at mattresses.
Life Lesson #3: Giving is the Heartbeat of Our Family
Ok. I’m going to try my darndest to keep this one short. But, y’all. Giving is my jam. I truly believe that what I have in life is meant to be shared with others, not hoarded all to myself. This includes my home, my time, my talents, and my finances.
When we were broke newlyweds, friends and family would surprise us every once in a while with a gift card for a restaurant or the grocery store. People from church would give us a pack of diapers just to be a blessing. My sister would always show up with the most adorable little outfits to fill my girls’ closets.
These were very small gestures, but they came to mean so much to us. We were always encouraged by someone’s generosity and we decided that one day we wanted to be those people to someone else.
Right away, we were strategic in our giving. We give part of each paycheck to our church. We open up our home weekly to host others. We have an open door policy for friends going through a rough patch. Many have crashed on our couch, or borrowed a space in our home for a season. We even took in a little girl who was homeless for several months until her family was able to take her back.
We have helped pay for missions trips, mortgage payments, car repairs, groceries. We buy backpacks filled with school supplies for underprivileged kids. We sponsor Thanksgiving dinners for families who can’t afford to buy their own. We buy Christmas gifts for families with chronically ill children through an organization our church partners with.
I don’t share all of this to brag about myself. Actually the opposite is true! Our family would never be in this position if we didn’t realize that what we have is meant to be used to bless others. When we changed our priorities, not only did it change our finances. It literally changed our lives! And, yes, we can give so much more now that we are debt-free.
But we learned this lesson very early on, when we were struggling to meet our minimum payments. The whole time we were strategically paying off debt we were still intentional with our giving. No matter how hard your situation, there are others who have it so much worse than you.
There is such a freedom that comes in giving to others and I wish with all my heart that everyone would experience this for themselves.
The ways you can choose to give are unlimited. And the joy that comes in giving to others is the best lesson we ever taught our children.
If you are not giving to others, make a point to start. Even just $5 a month. Pay the bill for the car behind you at Starbucks. Give a single mom’s child a gift card to get ice cream. Purge your closet or playroom and donate everything to a local charity. The size of your gift doesn’t change the amount of joy you will get in return.
When your priorities line up to bless the world instead of just filling your pockets, you will truly have so much more peace in your season of life.
Life Lesson #4: Our Priorities Shifted to What Truly Matters in Life
Having fancy cars, name brand clothing, and drool-worthy vacations are fun. No doubt about it. But at the end of the day, we learned that the amount of time we spend working to pay for those things is not worth it.
Straight up. How does it make sense to bust your butt at work away from your family for months to pay for this fancy schmany trip? A trip that is specifically taken so you can spend more time with your family. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend time with your family? At home? For a fraction of the cost?
Don’t get me wrong. We love to travel. And we go on trips. A lot. Summer time hits and we are practically nomads, traveling to visit friends and family, and our family’s lakehouse.
But in general, we realized that the point of life is not cars, clothes, trips, shoes, tech toys, TVs, or any other flashy new object that others scream we have to have right now. At the end of our life, no one thinks, “Man, I really wish we had upgraded our cars more often.” Or, “I regret not having one or two more sundresses hanging in my closet.”
No. When we are lying on our death beds the only thing that will matter your last few days of life will be your family and the close relationships you have with friends. I guess we realized we don’t want to wait until we are 80 to live that way. We want to start now.
We might not make as much money as we used to. But our expenses are lower, too. We might not have cool cars and toys. But we have more time to be together because we aren’t working those new things off.
Chances are, if it doesn’t involve friends or family directly, spending quality time with people who are important to us, we won’t be spending money on it.
Life Lesson #5: We Need Less Than We Thought
Similar to learning to be content, we have also learned that the less we have, the less we have to work to pay for those things. We have learned that we actually don’t need as much as we thought we did. And we definitely don’t need as much as our culture wants us to think we need.
A home, clothing, food, cars that get us from point A to point B. We need that stuff. But everything else? Probably not a need.
We splurge every once in a while. We travel often. We do spend money, I promise. But we aren’t consumed with going out and spending our money just to spend it. We are very purposeful with what we have, and we’ve learned we don’t need a ton of things like we once thought we did.
Life Lesson #6: We Go Through Things in Life to Help Others
Are you noticing a pattern yet? Be content. We don’t need a lot. Work together. Give to others. And finally, share! Share your heart with those who are hurting. Share your wallet with those who have needs bigger than yours. Share your experiences so others can be inspired or learn from them.
Sharing is caring, people!
I know this might seem counterproductive to be reading on a personal finance post. But I would venture to say this is the most important post I will ever write. My life is not meant to be lived for me. My life is meant to be lived for others. To be shared with others. That might look different in different seasons. But it doesn’t make it any less true.
The sooner we learned this lesson, the more peace we had in our lives. And our finances.
To sum it up….
- Always try to better yourself, while also finding contentment where are you are right now.
- Manage your money well, but find ways to give instead of hoarding it all.
- Treat your spouse as your partner, not your competition.
- Learn to work together, communicate openly and honestly, and celebrate together when you start reaching your goals.
- If you are paying down debt, know that it is hard sometimes, but sooo worth it in the long run.
I am cheering you on, friend!