1. Create a BUDGET and stick to it! This is hard as we’ve found that most of our extra income (after savings and responsibilities) was going to entertainment & food, and God-knows what else. We learned while still college students that it doesn’t hurt to wait until a movie leaves the theaters to see it and that we can learn to do our own hair/cuts, etc., so the expenses of up-keep is minimal for us. We also realized that the definition of sale is that you paid less than you thought you would. That’s all a sale means. It does not mean that it was a deal. If we go to the grocery store and something is not on our list (that isn’t an absolute necessity), we do not purchase it. We cut coupons where we can, and when shopping online, we always do a Google search for a promo code, when applicable. We also only use cash. That’s mainly because we are abroad and card systems are not as common where we are, but we’ve learned that we think twice when breaking bills as opposed to swiping our card. Budgeting is a way of writing goals so that you know what you can enjoy when you are ready. We actually have more freedom with having control over our money. It’s about discipline. We can’t believe that we once thought budgeting was bondage. No. Being in debt is and we must break free.
2. Learn to say NO. This used to be really hard. We used to give money to family who were in a bind, or pay for situations that were not our responsibility. As adults who were child-free and stable, we were happy to help as we never knew who we’d need to call on in an emergency of our own. However, once we started realizing that the more we bailed people out, the more we financially handicapped them (and the more we set ourselves back), we started saying “no.” It wasn’t easy at first, especially as humanitarians, but now we attempt to teach loved ones how to fish instead. It’s amazing how people will swiftly accept our hard-earned money or money we’ve saved with discipline (even if appreciative, as they often were/are), yet when we provide resources for how they can make more money on their own or how to manage their money better or offer to help with their resume or tell them who to contact for an opportunity, they tend to shy away, get quiet, get offended, ignore us, or not even follow-up. Only few actually listen to the advice we’ve provided and at least tried to improve their situation, or are people we know would never ask unless they truly needed it (as opposed to them asking because they just choose not to make changes) – and those are the ones we have no issues with saying “of course” to.
3. Have multiple streams of income. The main gig is fine if that works for your needs. It pays the bills and provides comfort. Thankfully for us, we actually love what we do in our careers. We each have six-figure salaries, yet with debt and not-so-smart decisions made earlier in our marriage, we are still playing catch-up. She came into the marriage debt-free and with a masters degree. She never intended to have debt. He came into the marriage with student loans. We then purchased a house, cars, furniture, etc., and I then took out $70k in loans for my doctorate degree in a lucrative field (which has been the best investment I’ve made as the promotional opportunities have been phenomenal)…so we racked up debt. Side consulting, on-line teaching, tutoring, refereeing as a basketball official, and standardized test scoring are some of the things we’ve done to make a few extra dollars towards getting back on track. Thankfully, being abroad, we are tax-exempt from federal taxes and our all-inclusive (all utilities, furniture, rent, security) housing is paid for six months at a time, so we are able to have more disposable income than when in the USA. However, we are not free until this debt is paid off.
4. Surround yourself with like-minded people. It’s unfortunate to share, but most of the people who are encouraging us to debt-freedom and financial security are not family nor friends. In fact, to-date, we haven’t had any family even ask how our financial journey is going even though our success will impact our ancestry (which means we are in this together, so they should jump on board). The genuine support system we have are often those who have no emotional connection to us. Folks are usually able to be more straight-forward in their feedback and advice if they are already where we wish to be or are also on their own journey. We really wish more of our loved ones would surrender to learn this discipline with us. Why not? This change is not only good; it is necessary.
5. Scapegoats should stop; comfort zones must be abandoned. It’s weird to us when people say that they have children to take care of or that they only have one income or that they do not have a degree or that they can’t do #2…all the while, not even attempting at doing #1. The thing is, you can do anything and there are many people with those same characteristics who do so, have done so, and are also on a journey – it can be done. It is not about making more money. It’s about managing the money you do make. If you cannot manage the money you currently make, then making more will not make a difference. And as a health informaticist, I’ve learned that if a medical facility uses paper patient records and the clinician records the wrong diagnosis or prescription, it does not matter if the hospital upgrades to an electronic system – the bad habits will still transfer and it can still impact one’s life, treatment plan, etc. Make improvements with what you already have. I had a salary increase of fifty-thousand dollars per year from 2012-2016 and who knows where the extra money went. We had no budget, so it wasn’t accounted for. And before that, Terek had a salary increase of thirty-thousand dollars per year from 2012-2014 – we also don’t know where those extra funds went. Leaving excuses at the door can really open doors for new heights if salary increases are used appropriately. We all do what we really want to do. If you are comfortable where you are, then be at peace with it (that’s great!). But realize that you owe it to your livelihood and future to live the best life you can now. That’s what we are doing. Debt is a form of slavery and it’s okay to desire to be free…When we became more disciplined a couple years ago, it was not fun as we did it alone. Well, there were a few folks who encouraged us here and there, but for the most part, we read read read read read, and are still reading while putting what we learn into practice. We knew when we had children that we needed to be an example – actually walking the walk. We realize that this is about generations to come. And we owe it to our lineage to set them up for financial success.