One year ago, I became debt free.
I paid off my student loans in three years, making my last payment on Nov. 15 2014. That day changed a lot of things – I suddenly had more money to spend, a weight lifted off my shoulders and more capacity for charity. But a lot of things stayed the same.
I thought when I became debt free, my attitude about money would change. I would suddenly feel rich and wouldn’t have to worry about saving, buying a pair of shoes or going out with my friends. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a $200 dress or go out for dinner.
But except for not making my student loan payments every month, not much changed. I still worried about our budget, whether we were saving enough, and if we were on track for retirement.
Even now, my husband and I are making more money than we ever have and I still worry about money. I’m pretty sure I could make $20,000 a month and still fret about buying coffee at Starbucks.
That’s because my financial issues aren’t tied to a number. They’re tied to how I think about money. I still think of it from a scarcity mindset, that it’ll go away one day. I still worry that I don’t save enough or that I spend too much.
I still regret the mistakes I make on a regular basis, like letting food go bad, forgetting to look for a coupon or buying something full-price.
But being debt free has meant that I can live on less. It means that when my husband and I decided to move to Denver, we could save up six month’s worth of expenses, a moving fund and afford to buy new furniture. It meant that we could start a new life without going into debt.
Being debt free has made it easier to save money, donate to charity and celebrate with friends and family. It’s made us think about expanding our revenue streams and dream about retiring early.
The fewer obligations you have, the more chances you can take. It’s why you rarely see people with two kids moving across the country.
Being debt free has given me so many opportunities. It’s what made me sure about my husband and I both being self-employed. It’s what allowed us to move to a new city while starting new careers.
That’s why I encourage people to become debt-free early. It’s not that you can’t do what we’ve done, but you’ll have another obligation holding you back. When you have debt to pay off, you have one more bill that needs to be factored in.
Being debt free won’t make you more thrifty or more fulfilled. It didn’t make me less neurotic about money or more content with what I have. I still fear that one day our money will go away, that the work will dry up, that we’ll face something our emergency fund can’t handle.
But I know I’d be more stressed if I still had debt. It’s like losing weight. You might still have body image issues, but at least you’re healthier. The rest? I have to figure out on my own.