Yesterday marks the four-year anniversary of the day my husband, Jeremiah, and I reached a new level of financial freedom. We got up early that sunny summer Saturday to do something we never dreamed of until just three years earlier. I remember feeling scared, nervous, and excited all at once.
We got ready and drove to the closest branch of our credit union. It was unexpectedly busy so we anxiously stood in line. When it was our turn, the teller asked, “How can I help you today?” I quietly said, “We’d like to pay off our mortgage.” “Oh, that’s exciting,” she said, “just go over there and a banker will be right there to help you.”
Jer and I sat and waited for the young banker. When he sat down, he confirmed that we were there to pay off our mortgage and told us the amount. I then wrote out the largest check I had ever written in my life. I had to triple check to make sure I had all of the numbers correct.
In addition to making extra payments over the previous three years, we had also been stashing extra cash in a money market account. The payoff amount was a large sum of money for us and I questioned whether we were doing the right thing. I had become used to having that large safety net. What if something went wrong?
I slowly handed the check over to the banker and he spent a minute entering notes into his computer. Then he said, “Okay, you’re all set.” The three of us stood up, he shook our hands and congratulated us. He rang a bell and announced to the entire bank that “Holly and Jeremiah just paid off their mortgage.” Everyone cheered and we made our way back to the car. It was a surreal moment.
Back in the car, Jer asked me, “how does it feel?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “How do you feel?” I asked. “It’s weird,” he said, “hard to believe. It feels good, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Three years earlier, we decided to pay off our mortgage because we saw it as a way to get us closer to our long-term goals. We looked forward to the freedom of no longer being enslaved to the debt that kept us doing things we didn’t want to do. We never imagined how much that one decision would change our entire lives.
My writing and coaching are built on the foundation of nurturing your whole life. First and foremost, I believe that we need to feel healthy enough to have the energy to focus on the changes we’re trying to make. Good health includes our bodies, minds, and spirits. Then, as social beings, we need to have healthy and supportive relationships throughout our lives. Financial freedom is next. This means creating a foundation that allows you to live a good life without constant financial worries. The final part of the foundation is personal growth and lifelong learning which directly ties into the other three areas.
While I recommend starting with health, we found ourselves focusing on financial freedom first. Not long after, we became focused on our health. Relationships followed and personal growth has been a part of our lives throughout the entire journey. It’s important to note how interconnected all of these areas are. As you make progress in one area, you’ll find yourself simultaneously advancing in others.
Our lives are not perfect by any means. We still deal with stress, worry, and other struggles. But the struggles we face today are different than they were seven years ago. Since we’re working from a strong foundation, today’s concerns are more growth focused. It’s a fun and challenging place to be.
Having lived with and without debt, we wouldn’t choose to live any other way. Living debt free has been a huge blessing to our life and marriage. So without further ado, here are …
10 Surprising Benefits of Creating Financial Freedom
10 – You’ll have the freedom to focus on what you want to do, not what you have to do.
I recently heard a psychologist talk about reframing the things you have to do, like work out or prepare meals, as things you want to do. Research indicates that people are more apt to stick to habits if they view it as something they are choosing to do.
Since we became completely debt free, most of what we do is because we’re choosing to do it. I don’t have to grow a garden. I choose to put in the work because we want to have nutrient-rich organic produce available in our backyard. We don’t feel stuck working in jobs or with customers who are not a good fit, just to make ends meet. We are choosing to act, not react.
When you have debt, at least part of your life is going to revolve around doing what you need to do to make those payments. The more debt you have, the more you feel that you have to do certain things.
This concept applies to both career and leisure time. Living the good life isn’t something that should be reserved for vacation or retirement. When you’re not worried about making payments, you can set your life up in a way that allows time to enjoy the little things each day. For some that means going for a morning run, others may want to enjoy daily dinners as a family, or perhaps it’s simply winding down with a good book on the patio.
When it’s time for an actual vacation, we now have more freedom to linger. The first trip that Jer and I took together was to get married in Hawaii. At the time, it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Since then, travel has become a normal part of our life. Realizing that there’s no longer a rush to see everything in one shot has allowed us to really slow down and enjoy the journey.
9 – You’ll make decisions based on long-term goals, not immediate survival.
The way we make decisions today is very different from how we made them as little as four years ago. When we had big debt payments that were due each month, our tendency was to not rock the boat. We were focused on a short-term false sense of security. We just needed that next check to come in.
Today we look at things very differently. The first major difference is that our timeframe has extended out much farther. Conversations typically begin with where we’d like to be ten years from now and what we need to do today to get there.
We also tend to think much bigger. Instead of thinking about what we need to do now to meet a particular need, we ask, what do we really want?
8 – You’ll improve your relationship with money and spending.
I can’t think of a subject that creates a more visceral reaction than the topic of money. It’s simply a medium of exchange. It’s a tool to build lives, businesses, and create change. But the subjects of student loans, wages, or taxes can make some of the most rational people fly off the handle.
As Jer and I became more secure in our finances, we’ve experienced quite a few changes in how we relate to money. First, there’s less of an emotional attachment to money. We see it as a tool to create a life that’s meaningful to us. Not something that defines us.
The journey to pay down a fairly large amount of debt quickly also forced us to reframe how we see wants versus needs. We lived pretty leanly during those years. In 2013 we spent a mere $455 on clothes and shoes. (Yes, for the entire year!) In the process, we learned that very little of what we used to spend money on were things we actually cared about. Today we only spend money on things and experiences that bring us joy.
The final change that happened throughout this process is caring much less about impressing others. When I was entering the working world after college, I thought the ultimate goal was to show how successful I was by driving around in a luxury car (with payments of course). I’m grateful we saw the light before that happened. When we had to replace a vehicle last year, instead of buying something that would make me look like I “made it,” we went with the most practical choice. We also waited until we found a great deal and drove halfway to Fargo to get it.We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like. ― @DaveRamsey Click To Tweet
7 – You’ll change your perspective about making sacrifices.
Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I made a sacrifice. Everything I do is a choice. How’s that for empowerment?I can’t remember the last time I made a sacrifice. Everything I do is a choice. How’s that for empowerment? Click To Tweet
As I mentioned in number eight, we pulled back a lot during those initial three years. One of the first things we noticed is that those sacrifices weren’t as painful as we expected. In many cases, they were kind of fun.
Many of the spending cuts that were meant to be temporary haven’t been added back. We continue to camp because we enjoy it, not because it’s the cheapest way to vacation. We’ve come to prefer eating at home and so our dining and entertainment budget hasn’t increased either. It’s a new way of life.
6 – You’ll have more money and financial peace.
Several months after becoming completely debt free, Jer and I began making arrangements for me to leave my job. The numbers worked out on paper, but I was still worried. After I left, other things fell into place, but there was still a significant difference in our in our monthly take-home pay. We eventually got used to our new income and found that even though we made less, we were able to better manage what was coming in.It’s amazing what you can do with your income when you’re not using most of it to pay back the bank. Click To Tweet
It’s amazing what you can do with your income when you’re not using most of it to pay back the bank. For example, we set up automatic transfers to set aside money for investments and other expenses. We now have an emergency fund, a car fund, and a taxes and insurance fund. These accounts ensure that we won’t fall back into the cycle of debt again.
No matter who you are, stuff happens! When you’re not giving all of your money to banks, you can set some aside for unexpected expenses. When you need a new furnace, a new roof, or a new car, it’s a minor inconvenience instead of a complete disaster.
5 – Your actions will consistently be aligned with your values.
When I had a “real job,” there were times when I was told to do things that I felt were wrong. Since I felt like I needed to keep my job to keep the income coming in, I had to play along. But once we felt like we were no longer dependent on these jobs for survival, it was like a switch was flipped. I began to speak up in meetings and say, “we’re approaching this all wrong.” (In case you’re wondering, my new voice was not well received. 🙂 )
From this experience, I truly understand how living in resistance to our values is unhealthy, both physically and emotionally. I can’t tell you how many times over those last couple of years I called Jer crying because I was being forced to do something that was utterly ridiculous. I felt like my soul was dying a little each day.
Jer has expressed similar feelings. While discussing our last four years of freedom, he said, “One of the best things is not feeling constant stress at work. I no longer feel trapped and I don’t make decisions based on fear.”
The last six years have helped me understand just how important values are. Not just your moral values, but also what you value in your daily life. When we’re stuck in the cycle of debt, it’s not uncommon to sacrifice what’s most important to us to make ends meet. I’ve been there and I learned a valuable lesson. You don’t have to stay stuck there. Decide what’s important and figure out how to make it a part of your whole life.
4 – You’ll view life and your future with a new perspective.
The plans and ideas we’re discussing for the next ten years weren’t even imaginable seven years ago when we started this journey. In the past, we’d have big dreams but eventually had to face “reality.” For instance, when we got married in Hawaii almost 15 years ago, we came back and announced that we were going to retire there. Everyone said, “There’s no way you’ll be able to afford to live there.” Defeated, we started looking for cheaper options, like Mexico, Nicaragua, or Thailand.
Today we have a new perspective. Instead of accepting defeat we ask, “What can we do to make this happen?” With the freedom that comes from living debt free, our dreams have grown far beyond retiring somewhere warm. Our dreams are continually growing, but more importantly, we believe that we can get there.
As I mentioned, our lives are far from perfect. Yet even when we discuss our current struggles, I can’t help but feel excited about the future. We believe that there are infinite possibilities. And that belief is enough to keep doing the work.We believe that there are infinite possibilities. And that belief is enough to keep doing the work. Click To Tweet
3 – You’ll enjoy better health.
I’ve already mentioned all of the ways we feel less stressed. And there are many other ways our health has improved. We’ve been able to take back a lot of control over how we live our everyday lives. We’ve created the foundation that allows both of us to exercise daily and consume healthy home-cooked meals. We’ve been able to work in rest and healthier morning routines.
We also have a greater sense of emotional peace. There’s less anxiety about making money. We’re happier and more content overall.
2 – You’ll become more confident.
This is a big one for both Jer and I. We struggled with low self-confidence the majority of our lives.
In a recent newsletter, I wrote, “confidence is something we carry within us and not a series of particular behaviors. As we begin to feel more secure in ourselves and our abilities, our confidence will become visible on the outside in its own special way. Confidence is a skill. We can’t read, wish, or meditate ourselves into more confidence. We have to practice the things we’re trying to become more confident in.”
Confidence requires action. We took action and ended up achieving a goal most people never achieve. According to credit.com, 73 percent of consumers had outstanding debt at the time they were reported dead. Achieving a maintaining debt-free status is a pretty big deal and something we deserve to feel good about.
Like so many things I talk about, this confidence has spilled over beyond our financial life. We’re more confident with our health, looks, and body image. We’re more confident in our relationships and communication. We’re more confident in our careers and life choices. It was an unexpected yet wonderfully welcomed bonus.
1 – You’ll enjoy better relationships, especially with your spouse.
It’s hard to express what working on and achieving a goal like this does for a marriage. Working on something like this as a couple requires a high level of honesty, follow through, and trust. Your success depends on your ability to communicate and work as a team. If you can stick to it, it will surely bring you closer together.
There are so many ways our relationship has improved. There’s less stress overall. We have more quality time together. And we continue to learn and grow as a team. This is something we will always share. The experience of a lifetime that brought us closer together.
I want to invite you to think about how some of these benefits could improve your life. Then take some time to think about what financial freedom might look like to you. I share my story, not as the only strategy that works, but to inspire you to write your own story.
Ask yourself these questions.
- How much money would you need to have saved to reach the next level of financial freedom?
- Does financial freedom mean living debt free?
- If so, how much debt do you have to pay off? How quickly can you do that?
- If not, how much and what kind of debt are you willing to live with?
- How much would you need to earn to not have to worry about making ends meet?
- How will you manage your finances in order to maintain this level of financial freedom?
Now take some time to think about why this is important to you and your family. Answer these questions and visualize the answers as though they’ve already come true.
- How would your life be different if you reached this level of financial freedom?
- How would your daily life be in better alignment with what you most value?
- How would the relationships within your family develop through this process?
- How would it feel to achieve this goal?
- How could you create more effective change in the world?
Finally, there is no change without action.
Write down one small thing you can do this week to start moving toward more freedom. If you’re feeling brave, hold yourself accountable by sharing it in the comments below. Or join the conversation on Facebook.
What tips do you have for creating financial freedom?
Share in the comments below.