2 Lessons I Learned While Paying Off Debt

Charleston Tea Plantation (SC), October 2013

“Oh my god, I love this. Smell it! …

…Aghh, $12.50?? Maybe next time.”

“Babe, go ahead and get it. It’ll be fine, we’ll figure it out.”

[She loves all things tea. It sure smells nice, and she did that flirty giggle thing she does when something truly makes her happy.]

“But it’s 12 bucks. Chris, stop, I don’t need it that bad.”

Four Years Later…

“Wow, Chris, look what daughter_01 found! Do you remember when I got this at the tea plantation?”

“Ha, yes… still smells good, too.”

“Man, I felt so guilty because it wasn’t in our budget. Things have changed so much…

I love you.”

Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

No, we definitely didn’t need a 6-ounce bottle of tea-scented lotion for $12.50. In debt destruction mode, that would have easily been 2-3 meals for both of us (not healthy meals). We had only $25 of “fun” money per person, so this would have been half of her month’s budget, dissolved in five minutes.

But I’m glad she finally caved and bought it.

Some Context

At that point in life, and over the last two years, we had paid off about $100,000 in debt, and we still had about $50,000 to go, between our car and house. You know, in the end, I actually paid off the house first because I wanted to say that my house was mine, more than anything.

Note: In case you’re saying, “What? Why wasn’t the house yours? You owned it right?” Yes, the house was in my name, but the bank fronted the money. If I didn’t make the payments, the bank would start the foreclosure process. This didn’t give me the sense that the house was really 100% mine. Some people dislike this argument, but there ya go, I wanted the bank out of the picture.

So as I was making our last mortgage payment, we still had a car loan for $10,241. Hey, whatever it takes to get you motivated, right? The house WAS FINALLY OURS!!!

It wasn’t about math or interest rates.

It was about going for the throat. Slaying the giant.

This little dialogue between my wife and me happened this past weekend, and I want to share two lessons I learned from our experience in paying off 100% of our debts, with you.

Lesson 1 – Intensity Amplifies Results

This is your life. YOU will decide how radical you want to be.

If you don’t want to do without that latte, hell, order one for me, too.


Actually, I’ll just take a dark roast.

And you know what, it’s on me. You get the next one.

But make no mistake, intensity amplifies results.

Your timeline for completing your goals directly correlates with your willingness to work harder and sacrifice more.

So if you want to have more now, and get to your end goal on a later time table, make it so. I could see some scenarios in my own life where this is the path I would choose.

However, if you want to demolish your debt in record time, like I did, then you have to really go bare bones with your budget. In my opinion, things like a $12, 6oz bottle of hand lotion have to cause some heartburn.

Lesson 2 – Intensity Flips the Script

Once you come out on the other side, buying little luxuries is a non-event.

That $12 bottle of lotion doesn’t even make a blip on our radar now.

I have so much cash lying around now days that I have to constantly challenge myself with “is my cash working for me or just sitting there?” Is that a nice problem to have or what?

You’ll be there soon, I promise.

Last month, I moved about $27,000 into the stock market because it was just collecting dust in my checking and savings accounts. I’d actually like to begin investing in the real estate market to see if I can get better returns on my cash, and at least diversify my investments.

The thing is, I wouldn’t even have this problem to deal with if I had decided to take it easy and extend my timeline for getting out of debt. I’d still be in debt, but at least I’d have my fancy lattes dark roasts.

The point is that, once you complete your sprint of intensity, you come out into the clearing. And you can afford things like never before. How fun would it be to have an extra $200 to $800 freed up each month? What would you do with that kind of cash?

Bonus Lesson

Small luxuries every once in a while can feel really special when you’re living on a tight budget.

And sometimes it’s just what you need to help keep you going and to stay motivated.

This is why I’m glad my wife got the lotion in the gift shop. We found a way to make it work. The amount of satisfaction she experienced was exponential because we were living so strictly.

Every once in a while, take a break. Even if it’s just grabbing a meal at your favorite spot, off-budget.

What About You?

Do you have an experience you can share about how you sacrificed and it paid off? Can you share an example of how you’ve given yourself a brief break to keep from burning out? I would love to hear from you.


14 Replies to “2 Lessons I Learned While Paying Off Debt”

  1. “Your timeline for completing your goals will be directly correlated with your willingness to work harder and sacrifice more.”

    Love that Chris and it’s SO true!

    1. Melanie, thanks for stopping by and saying so. Budgeting for expenses that truly bring pleasure is an exercise of timing and balance. A sweet spot that has huge potential (thinking of 80/20 rule), but if done poorly can lead to inconspicuously diminished returns, imo.

  2. This is so true. If I don’t give myself little luxuries every once in awhile, I go on a total spending binge and end up in a hole. Thanks for this reminder 🙂

    1. Great point, Brittany – not unlike diet or exercise. You have to give yourself a break and keep things in perspective, or you *will* abandon your plan out of sheer survival.

    2. Amen to that and it is so true. I need to do a better job of buckling don and just getting this wasted debt out of my life. 🙂

  3. I love this line and hope you’ll let me buy you a latte one day… “If you don’t want to do without that latte, hell, order one for me, too.”

    Haha. But honestly I wasn’t aware of how wealthy you actually are behind your debt free mantra! A paid of house? That’s more than I can claim! WAY TO GO!!

    1. Hey Billy! Thanks for stopping by! Somehow, I think we will be seeing each other for sure, at some point. 🙂

      Thanks! and I look forward to that cup of joe!!

  4. I was never a hardcore debt guy… I budget and grow my net worth, but have a mortgage and have a mortgage for my investment property. I send extra payments on my main house, and my investment property.

    I budget for random expenses…. I think I wouldn’t have lasted if I didn’t. I believe you have to give yourself a break sometimes or you end up causing more harm…. just my thought….

    1. Nice work, Gabe! You know, I’m big on killing debt, but I can see doing your method as well. I’ve thought, at times, about the cash I have tied up in my primary home. If I could do it over, I might at least try to buy a fixer-upper for 40-50% under market value, and try to force some appreciation. Overall goal would still be to live in a paid-off house.

      Having over $100K of my own cash tied up in the house burns as I begin learning more about real estate investing. 🙂

  5. Intensity does amplify and speed up the results as well as flip the script. Great post, I like how you point out that small luxuries are nice on a tight budget.

    I always get in my head about the small things, even though over time they can and do add up however, every once in a while is ok. I currently have 13k left on my debt free journey and try to remember the whole journey doesn’t need to be a struggle. Small rewards along the way help.

    1. Completely agree, Carmen. Doing something amazing like becoming debt free requires a ton of sacrifice. But I think it’s important to find ways to keep the journey sustainable. Sorta like a cheat day.

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