If someone had told me seven years ago that I’d be debt free by now, my first reaction would be to laugh in his or her face and then beg them to let me in on their secrets and tell me how this would ever be a humanly possible feat. I had just bought a sweet brand new vehicle (hello, car payments) and had moved to Vancouver, the most expensive city in Canada.
I bought the SUV before moving and believed I needed it, as I wasn’t comfortable driving hunk-of-junk cars anymore that would break down at the drop of a hat, in minus 40-degree Celsius weather, on the side of an ice-encrusted skating rink of a highway.
I was living in a frigid prairie town and needed this jeep to give me a false sense of warmth and security (thanks to the heated seats and command start) while I navigated my way around the city as a young adult.
At the time, I had been a couple of years into working a cushy government job with a pension and thought I was doing pretty good for myself as a 25-year old. I’d finished my degree, bought a fancy car, and had gotten myself a pension.
I was doing all the things my well-meaning elders told me that I should do to be successful in life. If I kept this up, I could perhaps find myself entering the housing market by the time I was 30!
And yet, I wasn’t fulfilled and I wasn’t able to save any money. I looked around at my middle-aged coworkers who only seemed to be trudging through the workdays with the promise of retirement coming in just another 20 years and only looking forward to their next vacation away from the office.
I quickly realized that I didn’t want to turn into any of them. I yearned to live my ultimate life now and not wait for the weekend, the next holiday, or the ultimate goal of retirement.
My newish boyfriend (now Husband, Kyle) was on the same page as me. We enjoyed living in the moment and brought the best (and sometimes worse) nuances of this quality out in each other.
Our gutsy, go-getter attitude helped get us into debt, but it ultimately helped get us out eventually too.
We believed life was meant to be enjoyed and wanted more than what the time-warping, the fishbowl of a feeling, drunken, freezing prairies were offering us.
Having spent much time in California as a kid, I knew I was meant to one day live on the west coast and when Kyle said “let’s move to Vancouver!”, I was more than down.
With my goal-seeking attitude, we gave ourselves a move date of 6 months from the time we first discussed it and started putting money away for the move as best we could. There was no going back. No matter where we were in 6 months from now financially, it was going to happen.
The time came, and as we devilishly dared ourselves and each other to take the plunge, we found a pretty apartment in the sought-after Kitsilano area of Vancouver and commenced our life paying $1850/month in rent.
It was a considerable increase to the rent we were accustomed to paying, but we were determined to make it work.
I brought my SUV along with me and kept making the $400/month payments on it. I kept wondering if I should just cut my losses and sell it while I could, but I wasn’t a quitter, and since I already had brought on this sunken cost to myself, I believed, for some illogical reason, that I needed to carry it through.
In a city like Vancouver, you don’t need a car and driving around is enough to drive you bonkers most days. The traffic and lousy drivers don’t make driving a pleasurable experience whatsoever.
However, the Jeep helped make for really lovely trips to Whistler and Squamish on the weekends and the Indie music that reminded me of our festival trips to Coachella and Sasquatch I had banging out the rear made me feel happy at the time.
There was always a song for every experience we were going and growing through. I don’t regret my decision to keep it, but if I had cut my losses and sold the damn thing, I would have saved myself a ton of money in the long run.
Moving to Vancouver also meant leaving my government job behind. After trying a few office jobs out in the big city, I realized that the office life just wasn’t for me.
I took a full-time job as a nanny, and it helped pay the bills okay. While I love children, it wasn’t fulfilling work. I wasn’t crushing any goals, and I wasn’t exercising my brain.
But I thought, hey, at least I live in a gorgeous place and can enjoy all the activities that come with living next to the ocean and the mountains, and I’m not living a soul-crushing, albeit, pension-earning existence.
Kyle eventually had to start working up north in the oil rigs to help support us better because city pay wasn’t cutting it. Because of our hard work and determined attitudes, we never missed a rent or vehicle payment, but we certainly didn’t have much money for other things.
The money we did have, we blew on festival passes, ski-lift tickets, and a boogie van to allow us to live the true west-coast style.
We did get to do many things that didn’t cost money that we love like hike, camp, and go to the beach with our dogs.
However, we didn’t exactly earn all the money to support our hippie, free-spirited lifestyle. We used credit cards a lot and would only be able to make the minimum payment every month, racking up quite a substantial amount of debt.
Soon enough, Kyle decided he wanted to get his business up and running again as a contractor but quickly found that he couldn’t compete with the low-balled price offers Vancouver’s market was bringing.
We decided to make a bold move again and relocate to slightly less expensive Vancouver Island. He would be able to run his business successfully from there and charge the prices he knew his high-end work was worth. Fast forward four more years and we’ve managed to pay off our debts in the last two and keep it off.
Here’s what I’m doing now, that I wish I had done sooner, to get into this debt-free, worry-free position:
1. Develop a Healthy Mindset Toward Money
As a child, money was something my parents were always fighting over. My mom liked to spend it faster than my dad could make it.
My mom was all about living the good life, but my dad had some serious hangups about money that came from his upbringing of parents who had come from war-torn, impoverished Germany.
I learned from an early age that money was something to be feared and was the cause for much strife. Money was, after all, the straw that broke the camel’s back in my parent’s marriage.
Money is something that makes people very emotional, and I wanted nothing to do with that type of emotional anguish any longer.
So, in my early twenties, I developed the mindset that “money is just money, and I could always make more of it.”
While this was slightly better than getting emotionally hung up and worrying about lack of funds, my carefree attitude wasn’t a much better one to have because I became too complacent.
I avoided checking my credit card statements, didn’t keep a budget and just came to accept that debt was a part of my millennial future.
My dad would say, “but what about your future? You need to start thinking about retirement now!” I would be quick to respond with “what future?”
At a time when the world and its politics seem to be going to hell in a handbasket, I believe it’s tough for our generation to stay positive about the future. When we’re just trying to get by life day to day, how can you even think about what you’ll need tomorrow if you don’t have what you think you need today.
Recently I’ve developed a more positive attitude toward money. I’ve begun loving my money and have stopped seeing it as an enemy and “something the man uses to keep you down, man,” but instead something I need in this society to keep me motoring along happily and healthily.
While money itself won’t make you happy, it sure as heck helps. Whether you want to believe it or not, you need money to live, so you might as well respect the hell out of it.
I think this mindset will help you appreciate the money you are bringing in and therefore start to save and spend more wisely, giving you the necessary steps to push your way out of debt.
2. Get Yourself a Supportive Community
Realize you are not alone and that young people are struggling everywhere but that so many of them are wanting to do something about it.
As Forbes eloquently put it, “Millennials are done accepting their debt death sentences, and are building support communities around digging their way out.” Know that there is hope and a community out there to help you build strength in numbers.
To help pay off my debt, I turned a blind eye to those who looked down on me for it and took a waitressing job instead of working an entry-level “respectable” position.
By doing this, I was able to earn quick cash at a faster rate. Putting in my time as a server has helped lead me to the point of building my own business now because I’ve had the time to figure it out by not working a 9-5. Forget what others think of you.
Work that sucky job for a short period if it’s going to help propel you further later on.
While shopping and buying are such normal activities in our culture, these aren’t activities that make us any happier as human beings.
By getting around people who genuinely care about you and make you feel like a part of a community that cares, you will lose your need to keep up with the Joneses. It is a futile gesture, trying to impress those that don’t care about you.
Once you have a secure network, you’ll be less inclined to try to live a shallow, expensive life that you really can’t afford anyway. Find the things that fulfill you for real.
In high school, I learned the value of earning my own money, which was great, but then I spent all that hard earned cash at the mall.
I quickly got swept up in the notion that buying stuff would somehow make me a more likable person or that those objects would bring me happiness. It wasn’t until I looked within and relied on myself, rather than materials, to be happy, that said happiness came to fruition.
3. Learn to Enjoy the Process
We live in a culture that expects immediate gratification. However, we find that even when we do get whatever it is we’ve worked toward, that we aren’t any happier.
We’re always trying to race toward the finish line without pausing to stop and enjoy the journey it takes to get there.
We believe that some item, whether it be a pair of shoes, a purse, a car, a watch, or whatever, will make us happier once we buy it, but really we need just to start living in the moment and being happy with what we have now, because some arbitrary thing is never going to cut it.
As my wise mama used to tell me when I told her I couldn’t wait to be finished school and to become an adult, “don’t wish your life away, Katey.”
Boy, was she right! As time goes by, it seems that the clock is speeding up. I have this feeling that I’m going to blink and wake up and be 70 any moment now.
As I’m getting older, I’m learning to enjoy the process, rather than the result and this is helping lead to a more content and joyous life.
4. Invest in Yourself
I used to be all about the trends and contributed plenty to our throw away society. Now I try to buy clothing that is more expensive up front, but that is from quality material that will last for a much longer time.
Go out and get yourself some threads that are purposeful and have a more timeless style, are made with organic materials from an ethical company and are things that you can feel good about wearing.
Once you’re done buying things you don’t actually need, you’ll be able to build wealth over time that will help you contribute toward your future, purchasing a home or investments.
These are well-worth investments that will help you develop a better sense of security and wellbeing over time.
Develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Be the boss of your wealth and don’t let our society dictate how you should be spending your hard earned money.
If that means having money so you can work remotely and live in a van that travels all over North America, cool. If that means buying your dream home, that’s cool too. Just make it count.
By developing these four positive qualities with myself over the past few years, I have learned to crush my debt by being more mindful and self-aware. By getting out of a negative mindset, you too can work toward a more debt-free and happier existence.
About the author:
Katey Gudmundson is a freelance culture and lifestyle writer for hire, specializing in content writing, blogging and ghostwriting. She writes compelling copy from the heart, making her readers want to come back for more. When she isn’t writing, she can be found lost in space, wondering if she came from a watery planet millions of galaxies away.