The Road to Financial Freedom

piggy-bank-saving-moneyThere is something about the new year, with all of the promise it holds. It’s a fresh start; a chance to make your life over. To completely reinvent yourself if you so desire. And that is exactly what I plan to do each January 1st.

This year marks the next leg of my journey out of debt. 2017 is the year I resolve to pay off my car and student loans—all $31,803.57 of them. To accomplish this in under 12 months takes the kind of dedication and willpower I have been working toward building since 2013.

My financial journey began exactly three years ago today. On January 1, 2014, my resolution was to pay off more than $5,000 in credit card debt by the end of the year. I’m happy to say I accomplished that goal 4 months early in mid-August of 2014. That was the first year I made and adhered to a budget.

Now, I can’t possibly imagine living without one. A budget gives your money a purpose and direction. It tells it where to go. Without a plan, how do you expect to accomplish your goals? Chances are, you won’t. I sit down with my husband weekly to update our debt payoff chart. Tracking how much we have paid helps to keep us motivated. We update our budget regularly, too, with any changes to income or expenses. You have to stay on top of things in order to be successful.

plan-budget

Yet even then, success is hard won. Consumerism is rampant in our society. Everywhere we turn, someone is trying to sell us something (particularly debt, which I will get to in a later post). And, here’s the kicker—the things they sell us are targeted to fill emotional needs. No wonder so many people are unhappy and don’t know why!

While I am more financially fit now than I have ever been before—I live by my budget, spend well below my means , and save regularly—I know in my heart that I need to make some fundamental changes. I am, at my core, a compulsive spender and shopaholic. Growing up in a materialistic society, I do value material objects. However, I realize something: The more stuff I have, the more deeply unhappy I feel. It is a cycle that traps all of us into working to pay for stuff, rather than having our money free to work for us.  Not only that, but I cringe to think of the hours we spend on material possessions: The time it takes to look for and acquire them, organize them, clean and care for them. I finally understand the meaning of the phrase “The things we own end up owning us.” And I want out. I want mental and emotional freedom in addition to financial freedom.

Which brings us to today. I am embarking on a 365 day self-imposed challenge to not purchase anything outside of basic necessities in an attempt to cut costs, save more money, and reach my goal of financial freedom faster. It is about far more than just saving money, however. I want to learn to live—no, to be truly happy—with less. To find fulfillment outside of material objects and consumerism in order to lead a more enriched life.

The year of 2017 shall hereby be known to me as the No Spend Year.

wallet-vice-spending-lockdown-credit-freezeThe rules are simple. Starting today, I can only buy the following things:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Phone & Internet
  • Insurance
  • Medical Expenses
  • Car Repairs
  • Food
  • Gas

My husband Alexis and I are allowing ourselves some small exceptions. These are a graduation gift for my niece and wedding gifts for our friends (because, hey, those are some major milestones that only come around once in a lifetime), replacement running shoes when the old ones wear out (because running a half-marathon is one of our goals for the year, and keeping our feet healthy is important), and a meager Fun budget lest we go completely insane. We decided together that one dinner out per month is important to our marriage and maintaining our relationship.

We are also taking measures to cut costs. Alexis called our internet service provider and negotiated our bill down. Total Savings: $15/month. We never had cable to begin with, but we cancelled our subscriptions to all streaming services save one. Total Savings: $38.33/month. I switched to a pre-paid plan for my phone that offers unlimited talk and text, but no data. Alexis plans to follow suit. Total Savings: $105/month. And we cut our grocery bill significantly. Total Savings: $212/month. Rather than buy new books or e-books, I will instead open a library card. Total Savings: $16.67/month. All together, that is $387 per month that we are saving, or $4,644 per year!

numbers-money-calculating-budget

Another area in which we made significant cuts to our budget is gifts. While we both feel it is important to give to others, we made the difficult decision that we will not be buying ANY gifts this year aside from those outlined above. We plan to make everything by hand instead. I’m looking forward to learning a new skill or two and showing my appreciation for others in more meaningful ways. Handwritten letters, poems, baked goods, homemade jam, soap and candles are all fair game. Luckily for my friends and family, I am a fairly crafty person, so this should not turn out so bad for them.

Though it has only been one day, I can already tell the No Spend Year is having an impact on me in profound ways. I am considering my purchases more carefully when I do need to buy something. No longer do I have the luxury of buying something else down the road if I change my mind and decide I don’t like my initial purchase. Also, my limited budget means that the money I do have to spend has more value to me. That’s the law of scarcity and demand at its finest.

I look forward to the changes that are yet to come. It’s sure to be an interesting ride.

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