Your Debt Payoff Journey; Blazing Your Own Trail

ID-10053064I’ve spoken many times before about doing what you feel is best for you in your debt payoff journey.  I’ve also spoken about how important it is to learn to deal with criticism, with roadblocks, with the scarcity mindset and with the monsters of your own mind that will work to tear you down as you try and make your way to debt free.

A year and a half in, we are still dealing, in some way, shape or form, with all of this stuff.  Whether it’s financial emergencies like home repairs or broken appliances, spiteful comments from Internet trolls, or simply the discouragement we make up in our own minds, there are still plenty of days and mishaps that make us want to throw in the towel on this debt free thing and just live with massive amounts of debt like everyone else.  Luckily, we’ve got an amazing support system, both in real life and via our blogging pals, that encourage us to stand strong and not give up.

Your debt payoff plan will probably not look like other people’s plans, nor should it.  Each person/family has different definitions of what value-based spending is to them.  Each one has a different debt load, different income, and different ideas about what debt freedom and financial independence means to them, and that’s okay.

As I’ve said before, what’s most important about a debt payoff plan is that you stick with it through to the end, no matter what roadblocks come your way.  Being we started our debt payoff journey with such a high debt-to-income ratio (65%), and being we’ve chosen to cut some expenses (such as cable tv and vacations) and keep others (such as our beloved pets), our journey to debt free is taking longer than many other people’s journeys.  Some people don’t like this and think we should do things differently, and although we eagerly welcome constructive criticism, at the end of the day, we’ve got to do things in a way that helps us sleep at night  – and you do too. 

When planning your debt payoff journey, you need to decide what you’re going to give up and what you’re not going to give up.  And it has to be a list you can live with.  Yes, you can eat ramen noodles every day for three years and spend zero dollars on entertainment and clothing, but if that’s not going to work for you, or if that strict of a lifestyle is going to tear apart your family or make you give up your quest for debt freedom, then you’d better figure out another plan, because it’s only money, and it’s not worth your family, your relationships, your health or your happiness.

My point is this: Yes, you absolutely should start and finish a plan to debt freedom.  The peace it grants you is immeasurable.  And yes, you have to commit to truly making an effort to change your ways and cut expenses and dump that debt.  HOWEVER, it’s vital that you customize your plan to fit your life and to fit your situation – no matter what anyone else thinks. 

83 comments

    • Kipp says:

      Lol, I haven’t gotten trolls yet either, just spammers (was surprised how quickly those spammers can find your site too, only been blogging for a week at that point).

    • Haha, I was thinking the exact same thing! 😀

      Good luck with the debt, Laurie! I’m 100% sure you’ll manage your way. Never let anyone else tell you differently!

  1. Kipp says:

    I agree that you need a balanced lifestyle plan that allows for living now, paying off debt, and investing / saving.

    I can’t do an all or nothing approach… all investing and just min payments on debt OR all debt payments and just matching on savings. To me life requires balance and that is why I am all over the place, but to push yourself you need to have goals in each category so any increases in income don’t “disappear”.

    Keep up the fight and get those debts gone! Don’t be too fixated on a certain date in my opinion, you need to be flexible as life changes, but still move in the right direction.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Kipp, and I’m right there with you on the all or nothing approach – it only discourages me. Moving in the right direction – your own way – truly is the key!

  2. I couldn’t agree more Laurie. No one’s sacrifices are going to look the same, nor to they need to be approved by anyone else. Family relationships are way more important than paying off debt a little faster. I’m glad you can let the criticism bounce off you because I think you’re doing great!

  3. So true…that’s why personal finance is personal. Everyone’s journey is not going to look the same. If everyone was forced to sacrifice the same things…then it’s likely that they’ll just give up all together because they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. As long as you have goals and on the right path…that’s all that really matters.

  4. CT Mommy says:

    Hi Laurie, I just want to say that I am so happy that I have found your blog. I am starting my own debt payoff journey (again) and have felt discouraged, actually all out panicked /sobbing by the total debt numbers and by the how I paid off $100,000 in student loans in 18 months at 4% interest with a super large income stories. I have mapped out my plan and it will be a five year journey (hopefully sooner but I haven’t really gotten the rest of my family on board with cutting expenses yet). I wanted to thank you for both your honesty when you hit road blocks and your emphasis on making a plan that works for your situation. Reading some of your blog entries had given me the hope to push forward and not simply stick my head in the sand.

    • Laurie says:

      CT Mommy – you go, girl!!!! You CAN do this, no matter how long it takes. Make your own trail, adjust it when needed to fit changes in your expenses, and never, ever give up. 🙂

    • debt debs says:

      CT Mommy – we have a long payoff journey as well – six years in total. So I totally understand your perspective! Sometimes it is so overwhelming but you can’t give up. It gets easier, then it gets harder for a bit, then easier again. i’ll cheer you on! If you decide to blog for sanity’s sake please let us know! Or swing by for a virtual coffee chat. I’d love to help you with your motivation, same as Laurie helps me too!

  5. I really love this message Laurie, and think it’s so so so important to try and find that sweet-spot for yourself where you’ve aligned your debt repayment plans (or other financial goals) and spending habits with your own values.

    I think it can be pretty hard though to dig down and find what your own values actually are with this stuff. Especially if you’re used to just doing what everyone else does. I know I’ve swung from super-frugal to free-spending at various points as I tried to bed down my own true values, but I’m 100% with you on putting in the effort to get it right!

    • Laurie says:

      It’s a constantly changing game for us too, Jason, but I think the important part is that one keeps working on finding out what works best for their situation. Love what you said about finding that sweet spot – so true!

  6. FI Pilgrim says:

    I’ve had a few people leave “constructive criticism” regarding my debt payoff plan, but that’s OK. People come from all kinds of backgrounds. By and large I think that most people understand but don’t feel the need to “heartily agree”.

    When I’m done with my mortgage later this year I REALLY won’t care what those people think. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      I’m so surprised that you guys have received criticism – you’re doing so well!! I guess there are those that can always find something to complain about, LOL. 🙂

  7. Brit says:

    “it’s only money, and it’s not worth your family, your relationships, your health or your happiness” This is what matters to me. Every journey is different and like you said as long as you get there is what counts.
    Comparing yourself to others and trying to live like others is what got me in trouble with debt. This could get you in trouble as well when you are working on killing your debt. Each debt payoff plan is different. Great post.

    • “Comparing yourself to others and trying to live like others is what got me in trouble with debt.” Brit – I could not agree more!! The way to debt free is to stop comparing ourselves to others.

  8. Amen Laurie for doing what works best for you and your family! No one else can know exactly what your priorities and dreams are. I love this: “it’s only money, and it’s not worth your family, your relationships, your health or your happiness.” And I think this works both ways–in saving and spending: it’s only money and it’s not going to BRING you happiness, or fix your relationships, etc by spending it. Thank you for sharing this and stay strong (haters and trolls not welcome!).

    • Exactly, Mrs. FW!! Money does not bring happiness. Yes, it’s awesome, brings peace in a way, and allows us to do things we wouldn’t normally do, but happiness comes from inside and from loving others, IMHO.

  9. brandi says:

    Awesome post! You are right, there are things that we do differently than the recommended path. We continue to save toward retirement to minimize our tax burden and take advantage of my company match while we are working our debt snowball. We make a few other choices that if we decided not to do them could accelerate our process. But we will get there.

  10. E.M. says:

    Very true, Laurie, and sometimes hard to do considering how many stories we read from others. I always wonder if I’m doing the right thing, or if I should take a more drastic stance on my student loans. I’ve seen so many people get rid of them in such a short time, and while I really admire their will, I don’t think it’s the right path for me. I like having my pets, and to some extent, that also means having an emergency fund. I am pretty happy with the choices we have made, but fatigue does set in every once in a while.

    • “and while I admire their will, I don’t think it’s the right path for me.” This is a pivotal statement, E.M. Like I said in the post, we (or you) could live on ramen noodles and be stuck in the house until the debt is gone, but would that really be the healthiest way to rid yourself of debt? Maybe for one person, but not necessarily for all people.

  11. Awesome post as always Laurie! These same principals go with anything in life. You make a plan, you start, you hit hurdles, you get knocked down, and if you’ve got the drive to make it to the end, you get back up and keep moving forward!! Thanks for the inspirational read!

  12. That’s one thing I enjoy about personal finances. Not a single situation is the same for two different people. Everyone has different income, expenses, debt, goals, careers, investments, etc. It’s pivotal to take information and customize it for yourself.

  13. There is definitely no one size fits all approach to debt repayment and financial freedom, and we all need to find the best path that works for us. I hate when people judge someone else’s journey. I am not a fan of judging people and would much rather support them on their journey than try to knock them down. I work with so many different clients and they are all on unique paths and need to do things that make the most sense to them. Keep rocking your path and have fun along the way Laurie and you will get there when you get there!

  14. Love this post Laurie! Much like you said, I’ve given up and scaled back on some things. Could I give up more and be out of debt sooner? Sure, but instead I chose to live a little along the way. I still have TV (naughty, I know), but I enjoy it and it means taking a bit longer along my journey I’m ok with it. I know that by taking a little longer but still enjoying myself along the way, I WILL get there, where if I gave up everything I may not complete the journey entirely because of feelings of lack.

  15. Brian says:

    We continue to struggle with tough decision 49 months into our debt repayment, it’s never easy, and always personal. What works for us, may not for you. What is good this month, may not be next. All the ups and downs of this journey. I just keep thinking of life after debt repayment and what that will be like that keeps me motivated everyday.

    • Well said, Brian – well said. 🙂 Your story shows that these decision will be with us up until the very last dime is paid off, and so in order to succeed we must make those decisions in a way that best allows us to complete our journey.

  16. Kassandra says:

    Very well said Laurie. When I was working my butt off to pay off debt I did catch a bit of flack from a couple of people when I told them that I wouldn’t be going out/attending events in order to focus on my financial situation. As you said, people will judge or pass dismissive comments on what you’re trying to accomplish or the financial choices you and your family are making. Just do like the lead penguin in the movie Madagascar says “Smile and wave boys, smile and wave” lol.

  17. Nicola says:

    Great post; everyone is different and different things work for different people. Keep going – I think you’re doing great.

  18. Well, you already know what I have to say about it Laurie. 🙂 But, that said, the haters can stick it! You have to do what’s right for you and your given situation no matter who you are otherwise you’ll be chasing the wind. Keep on keepin’ on Laurie, you and the fam are doing great!

    • Thanks so much, John, and thanks for your continued support. My biggest fear in this whole thing is of giving up, and so we will do what we need to do in order to make sure we have the will to keep moving forward to the finish line.

  19. You’re right, Laurie! The important thing is that you stick with it. People don’t have to fall into the trap of thinking they have to do it a certain way. It’s not one size fits all. 🙂

  20. jim says:

    Laurie,
    Ironically, we happened to have started our debt-free journey the same time you did. Looking back, the past 18 months have flown by. Looking forward, the next 18 months looks impossibly long. But when I take a breath and relax a little, it hasn’t been all that bad or hard. It’s had its moments, but we’re kind of relaxing into this new way of living and I’m hoping that sustains us for “round 2” ’cause I swear every time we turn around it’s one more thing. Best of luck to you and your family. Hang in there and you will get there.

    • Hey, friend! I couldn’t agree more. It’s amazing how success can seem easy one month, and unreachable the next. Big party for both your family and ours when we cross that finish line, Jim. 🙂

  21. anna says:

    Great post, Laurie, and I’m glad you aren’t throwing in the towel! Know you have so many people rooting for you, and who understand that your choices are YOUR choices, and all you gotta do is keep moving forward!

  22. Great post, Laurie! “no matter what anyone else thinks.” – so important to remember that. Like you said, everyone’s journey is different because even though the ultimate goal may be the same, how they will get there is personal to them and what they value. I have seen people get so austere that they couldn’t keep up with it and went a little spend crazy. Then they felt defeated and gave up. You have to find your own path. One that you can maintain through all the ups and downs and yet still allows you to enjoy life too. You and Rick are a great example of following your own path and I know you’ll reach your destiny!

    • Laurie says:

      That kind of failure is truly why we aren’t going “all out”. We’ve cut back LOTS, and continue to look for ways in which we can cut back, but are trying to do so with balance. Thanks so much, Shannon, for your constant support. We appreciate it!

  23. Do you get spiteful comments from internet trolls? (I had to look up what that meant.) You know what that means, right? It means you’re having an impact. Let that fact sink in : )
    I have found, with regards to people customizing their own debt-reduction plans, that we modify ours from time to time. As we conquer one area of frugality, we’re inclined to take on another, and so on. But no one else can impose that schedule on us. We make the changes when we’re ready.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Prudence. 🙂 Yeah, we analyze our plan on a regular basis and look for modifications. Maybe too much, LOL, but we want to stay on top of things and make sure we’re not missing anything. Thanks for the comment!

  24. It’s funny, but I worry almost daily about what people will think after I retire early. Will they think Mrs. Done by Forty is supporting me if she chooses to keep working? (One of my big worries.) Or will they think I’m mooching off the government?

    The ability to silence these internal critics (and the external ones,too) is something I, legitimately, don’t have yet. I figure it can come in time. But I really admire your ability to combat those things so well.

    • Laurie says:

      You’ll get there, DB40. You have to. Otherwise the negativity will take you down. Don’t let it. God knows the truth, and you guys know the truth, and that’s all that matters.

  25. You are doing great, Laurie! Sometimes I feel like I could be doing better, other times I think I’m crazy for putting so much to debt at the expense of everything else. It all comes down to what you want and need out of life. We’ll both be on this journey together for a few more years, so I’m right here with ya. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Melanie, thank you SO MUCH. Yep, we are standing strong and doing the best that we can, regardless. Sometimes you just have to keep your eye on the prize and go from there.

  26. Sarah says:

    Yes, it is important to blaze one’s own trail with debt pay-off and lifestyle choices! Nobody knows our family’s situation in its entirety. It can be a long, tough road, though.

    I don’t think one should always call people “trolls” who simply have differing views or perhaps are challenging us in our thinking. I do see this a lot on PF blogs. Those of us who have PF blogs may be very tentative about constructive criticism simply because it is often viewed as being negative. (I closed my blog when I paid off all my debt. It was a little blog, and I removed it.) 🙂 People are sometimes positive to the point of insincerity. I did see some tough love from time to time, but that was OK. I think it is best when we do receive a critique, that we take it to heart objectively. Often, it was very good advice. Let it roll off, and don’t blog about it. Just move forward!

    Have confidence in yourself and your goals. Look at every angle in the debt pay-off and be honest with yourself about how you are getting there. There were a lot of things I justified but had to give up. (Our family had to downsize, which was very painful.) I cried tears about other things too, but in the end, it’s just stuff, right? Good luck! I hope you get there sooner than you even hoped.

    • Laurie says:

      Sarah, thank you so much for your encouraging words: we appreciate it! I’ve said several times on the blog that we are so grateful for those who choose to be honest in a kind way. We’ve got a few regular commenters here who are amazingly supportive that way and not afraid to be honest with us if they see something that looks extravagant or could be cut out. However, I’m talking about the truly mean-spirited commenters. When a blog really starts to grow and get more views, these angry, spiteful commenters seem to come out of the woodwork. I’ve got friends who are totally debt free and working now towards financial independence who get the crap beat out of them by these cruel commenters. Those are the ones I’m referring to when I say “internet trolls”, and honestly, I feel like I’m being pretty nice when I just mention a quick sentence about them and move on, because there are days when I’m tempted to give their verbal abuse right back to them.

  27. Handling criticism is a tough part of blazing your own trail – at least that’s what I’ve found. I am really transparent about my reasoning, but it doesn’t make sense to everyone. It doesn’t matter though. What matter is that I’m doing it 🙂

  28. Great post Laurie! I think you’re absolutely right- it’s about doing what is best for you and not letting other people get in the way of that. We had plenty of friends that didn’t understand why we stopped going out as often or spent less money when we did. We took some ribbing for it, but now we are in a much better place and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Ryan, for an inspirational short story. I’m quite certain that crossing that finish line makes one all the more sure they’re on the right track.

  29. People tend to forget that personal finance is, well, personal! It’s easy to judge someone’s splurges than it is to judge your own. As long as all of your purchases are in line with your own personal values, then you’re on the right path.

  30. Kim says:

    It’s so easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong when others criticize you, even if it’s none of their business. How a family pays off debt is different than how a single person might. It’s easy to say take on a roommate or stop buying this or that, but it doesn’t work in all situations. I think you’re doing a great job all the way around.

  31. Joseph Brown says:

    Excellent advice. However the easiest way to overcome a scarcity mindset and take on an abundance mindset when it comes to finance it to shift thinking from cutting expenses to making more money. Instead of focusing on cutting expenses, when we focus on creating more income we focus on abundance thinking. Abundance thinking will create an abundance reality. Getting out of debt is critical if one wants to enjoy financial freedom. Great post!

  32. Having a debt payoff plan is a good strategy to pay all your debts. True, we need to be making an extra effort to make a change and pay all the debts, so that we will live a debt free life.

  33. Yep, everyone’s financial choices and plans are personal and need to be tailored for the people involved. I have a 0.9% car loan and will be taking the full 5 years to pay it off. They can have their $322 in interest and I rather use the excess day-to-day money for investments like our Roth IRA’s, which make more.

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