I spent much of my 20’s digging myself out of a financial hole. I accumulated debt in the form of student loans and back taxes on self-employment income.I was smart enough to avoid credit card debt, but all debt is stressful. Compound debt with the fact I live in one of the world’s most expensive cities and you have a recipe for high-anxiety.
I have been debt-free for the entire duration of my 30’s and it feels amazing. In fact, being debt-free has liberated me. It allowed me to quit my high paying job to pursue more fulfilling work. Since I don’t owe anyone money, I don’t have to earn as much as many of my peers.
This didn’t happen overnight. I’m 36 years old, it took me a long time to get with the program.
I had very little financial education when I was growing up. High school was no help and I grew up low-income. When money is scarce, it is hard to think about “managing” it.
Here are some tips that have helped me achieve financial peace…
Eliminating debt equals eliminating a layer of stress that can keep you from moving forward in your life. If you have accumulated debt, I urge you to get serious about tackling it. Once you pay down those credit cards, student loans and car payments, you are going to feel so free.
Consider buying a book to guide you through the process of debt reduction. Here are some popular titles:
- How to Get Out of Debt, Stay out of Debt, and Live Prosperously
- The Debt Escape Plan
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke
Are you in debt over your head? You might need to consider debt consolidation or bankruptcy.
If you are in the US, you should check out this page on the USA.gov site before contacting a credit advisor: Dealing with Debt in the US
Here is the Canadian equivalent: Dealing with Debt in Canada
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed about your situation. Own your financial mistakes and make a commitment to correcting them.
Calculate Your Needs
Take a good hard look at your spending habits. What are the essentials? I have a very short list. It looks like this.
- Rent ($730)
- Groceries/Toiletries ($200)
- Utilities ($120)
- Transportation ($50)
This is the base amount of money that I need to earn each month without going into debt. If you do the math, it is only $1100. Everything else I buy on a monthly basis is non-essential and totally optional. If I make $2000 a month, that means I have $900 to spend on non-essentials…or do the smart thing and put a big chunk in the bank. Without debt it is easy to live on a lot less! If your number is unmanageable, you need to find ways to pair down.
Save a Nest Egg
I keep a minimum of 3 months savings in an account as an emergency fund. If I have to dip into it for any reason, I immediately replenish it when money comes in. This is essential to my sanity. Without this savings account, I start to worry about my security
Let me encourage you to abandon the consumer culture and embrace a simple way of living. I don’t buy new clothes often. I stick with a simple wardrobe of versatile items that can be mixed and matched. This doesn’t mean abandoning your personal style; it means you just lock your style down and commit to it fully.
The same goes for your home. I share a 500 sq ft studio space with my partner. That may seems shockingly small to those in cheaper housing markets, but in Vancouver that is what we can afford. We lived in a space that was twice the size before moving in here. It was wonderful to have all the space, but we were spending all our money on rent. By reducing our housing costs, we increased our freedom.
Living in a small space means pairing down. There is no room for impulse purchases. We don’t need to buy things to “fill up the space”. One day, we dream of having a larger home. The only way that will happen is if we work to accumulate proper wealth by making smart choices now. This is what they call delayed gratification.
Sell Your Stuff
If you’ve accumulated more stuff than you need over the years, it is always a good idea to purge. A big clean up can really help you free your mind and free up some extra cash. There is no use holding on to things that no longer serve your needs.
Here are some ways to sell your belongings:
- Host a yard sale
- Start an Ebay or Etsy Shop
- Take things to a consignment shop
- Find a local buy and sell group on Facebook
- Post on Craigslist
Make Room for Small Luxuries
Being fiscally responsible doesn’t mean abandoning all luxury. You just have to think smaller. Sometimes a fancy candle or some beautiful flowers are all you need to feel rich. I choose to buy expensive chocolate bars when I want a luxury indulgence.
Entertain at Home
In my 20’s I spent a substantial amount of money on drinks, cabs, bar covers, restaurant meals, clothes for going out. It was a lot of fun and I don’t regret it, but now that I’m older I’m more inclined to enjoy a night at home with friends. Geek out and play a board game or host a potluck. Don’t let FOMO drain your bank account.
Save for Something Special
I have a savings account titled Dream Cruise. One day, I dream of taking this amazing cruise around the Middle East, India and Africa. It costs a fortune. It might take me years to save up the money, but it is important to have goals. Even if I never go on the cruise, I will have a chunk of savings available to spend on something special when the time is right.
Give a Little
One of the most important aspects of financial sanity is understanding your privilege. If you have a surplus of funds, be sure to make charitable contributions when it feels right. Find causes you believe in and give what you can. Do it because you want to and not because you expect some karmic return on investment. If you don’t have money, give your time and services.