7 Things I Didn’t Do When I Was in Debt

It may surprise you to know that since graduating from college, I’ve dug myself out of credit card debt not once, but twice. The reasons I got into debt are best saved for future posts, but both times I got out because I reached a point where I basically put the cards away and settled in for the long haul of paying it off. In both instances, becoming debt free again involved some significant lifestyle sacrifices. Here are 7 things that I do today, some big and some small, that I DIDN’T do when I had debt:

1. I didn’t take cabs. One of the things I love the most about living in Chicago is that there are literally at least four ways that I can get from one place to another. When I was facing a $12,000 credit card balance while trying to build a business and working a minimum-wage retail job in 2011, I rode my bike everywhere. If I couldn’t ride, I took public transportation. Riding in a cab was out of the question unless my personal safety was in question. These days I’m more inclined to hop in a cab to save time or if I’m tired, but I still try to avoid paying to get from place to place if I don’t have to.

2. I didn’t go on vacation. This is a tough one, especially since I had a sense of YOLO exacerbated by the fact that I have some pretty major personal travel goals, but part of the reason I was in debt was due to meeting some of those goals. Sure I went places. Friends and family got married and I didn’t miss that, but I’ll always remember the time a close friend got married in Florida and while I attended the wedding, I was unable to extend the visit into a real vacation because I couldn’t afford the extra nights in a hotel or the time away from work. These days, we plan ahead for travel and don’t go if we can’t pay ahead of time.

3. I didn’t shop at Nordstrom. I honestly didn’t even know what the inside of a higher-end department store looked like until I was debt-free. If I needed to buy clothing, I shopped at discount outlets or Target. It didn’t feel right to me to spend money on luxury brands while I was still paying down debt. Now I’m more of a Nordstrom Rack aficionado but only if I can turn around and pay off the charge card the day after I shop.

4. I didn’t drink $12 per glass wine. When I went out with friends, I usually stuck to cheap beer or limited myself to one glass of wine before attempting to move the party to a BYOB situation. Nothing sucks up extra money like alcohol and while these days I can afford to be picky about what I drink, I definitely couldn’t afford to be a wine snob when I was debt-ridden.

5. I didn’t get my nails done. To me, having manicured fingers and pedicured toes is a luxury. And while no one can make my nails look as nice as a pro, this was not a “need” in my book while I was in debt. I did my own or occasionally traded my mom for a good foot rub. (We still do that!)

6. I didn’t get massages. I am well-aware of the health benefits of a good massage and during my years of credit card debt, a fair share of birthday and Christmas gifts were massages, but it was not something that I scheduled on a regular basis. If I could afford a massage, I could afford to pay more on my debt.

7. I didn’t get my hair colored.  I’ve been coloring my hair since the age of 25, and I really appreciate having a colorist fill in my roots every 6 weeks or so. Back in the day though, I did it myself with color kits purchased at BOGO sales at the drug store.

This is what worked for me and my values and it may not work for you. But if getting out of debt is a top priority, then I encourage you to take a look at where you’re spending your money and see if you can cut out one or two of these things in order to increase your payment. For motivation, plug it into the “New Monthly Amount” of the Debt Blaster calculator to see how much sooner you can be debt-free.


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