Almost five years ago, I had a net worth of negative $23K, $200 in savings, and ample amounts of credit card debt. Fast-forward to now and you'll find a far different financial picture: A net worth of over $130K, $87K in savings, and $0 in credit card debt. Plus, I own my first home, and I'm planning to purchase an investment property next year.
How did I go from the self-proclaimed Princess of Interest to a home-owning, reformed spendaholic? I made my debt payoff efforts a game!
You can, too, by following the steps below.
Setting some basic rules for your game:
Post & follow goals. I was religious about posting my goals, and I still am. I started with annual goals, then broke those down into tangible monthly goals. When I felt extra motivated, I'd post a weekly post-it note as a reminder of everything I hoped to accomplish. I challenged myself to have as many “blow out” months as possible; where I literally would blow my goals out of the water.
Track every penny. At first, this was a huge chore. Eventually, it became second nature to track where every single penny of my money went. My current system is to keep a weekly post-it on my desk where I record my daily spending. At the end of the week, I transfer all of those numbers to my detailed Excel budget sheet and total up how much I have left in each category.
Pay yourself first. In an effort to curb my spending and build savings while also paying down debt, I automated my savings and retirement contributions. I started with only $50/month into an online bank account and $100 to a Roth IRA. Once I paid off a credit card, I immediately rolled the amount I used to pay towards it to the debt of another card. When I'd finally paid off every cent of credit card debt, I began to pay myself–by upping all of my automated savings amounts.
Rolling the dice:
Be creative. I found ways to cut back on everything including groceries (coupons! less processed foods!), rent (got a roommate), utilities (cut out cable, haggled with companies), insurance, etc. I also learned the fine art of bartering–I traded baked goods for haircuts, homemade dinners for gift cards which I'd use for new shoes, cleaning supplies, and meals out. Basically, I tried to be as creative as possible when it came to saving and spending money.
Boost your income. During my debt-payoff game, I challenged myself to become a side gig guru. I scoured Craigslist for side jobs, and I threw myself into bringing in some extra cash 100%. Because I hadn't had the extra income in the first place, I made sure to send every single cent to my debt.
Frugal vs. cheap. Realize that living a frugal lifestyle does not mean one is cheap. You can find great ways to socialize, exercise, and even travel on a shoestring budget. The key here is not being afraid to pass when something doesn't fit into your budget and being able to confidently suggest free/cheaper alternatives.
Keep your eyes on the prize. There were times when I felt like giving up, when I felt as if I'd never see the glory of living a consumer debt-free life. But when my focus waned, I reminded myself of why I was working so hard. I reviewed my goals, and I looked over my progress in an effort to reignite my motivation. I never stopped moving forward because I believed in my ability to reach my goals…no matter how long it took.
Bringing home a win:
Never stop improving. Above all, I've maintained my solid financial foundation because I've applied what I learned during my debt payoff game to my permanent money management strategies. While I may not have boatloads of credit card debt to pay off anymore, I still have aggressive goals for saving and investing. To me, a bit of game playing in an effort to reach these goals is more than worth a bit of sacrifice.
Do you play any games with your money?