Photo by: Jeff Kubina
This is a guest article by Otherdeb (Deb Wunder). Deb is a 55-year-old writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to her writing (she is a published short story writer, and has a blog called The Dangling Conversation), she makes beaded jewelry and knits (and takes commissions for both), reads anything she can get her hands on, and gets paid to keep a high school cafeteria under control ten months a year. She is between half and three quarters of the way to becoming debt-free.
You wouldn’t go to play football without a helmet and knee protectors; or go to fight a fire without protective gear and a hose. By the same token, you don’t go into battle with debt without arming yourself first. In order to win the battle and make the win stick, there are a few basic things you need (no, not scads of money, although that wouldn’t hurt).
Retrain your thinking
First, you need to be willing to retrain your thinking. You don’t do this all at once, thank God, or none of us would ever get started. It’s an ongoing process. You make a change or two, are pleased with the results, make more changes, get more positive reinforcement and a greater sense of control, and it spirals from there. Further you need to be willing to become responsible for your own financial well-being. Taking back your own power from all the people running your financial life is heady stuff, and it does take a bit of adjusting to, but I find it a hell of a lot more seductive than anything advertising hype can offer me!
You also need to get organized. (Oh. My. Did she just say the “O” word? Yep. She just said it.) This is one of the bigger deal breakers for a lot of people, but it needn’t be. This is where you figure out what you owe, who you owe it to, what your resources are, and how much of those resources you can allocate to the project. (Yep, this is the beginning of acquiring project management skills, you betcha!) It also means planning, which is the other deal breaker. (Yikes She just used the “P” word, too. What does she expect from us?)
Planning consists of deciding how to allocate your resources, and setting deadlines, benchmarks, and goals, oh my! While a lot of people find this part scarier than looking at the extent of the mess, this is also where you begin to redefine and set up rewards that will fill your soul and keep you going when it gets rough.
Next comes a willingness to be persistent in the pursuit of those deadlines, benchmarks, and goals. Note: I said persistent, not consistent! While consistency is a good thing, we all hit snags in the road, and it’s your persistence that will get you past the snags. Between a government that taxes many levels of society to the breaking point while ignoring others on the one hand, and preaches consumerism to all levels of society, especially those who cannot afford it, there are economic temptations everywhere. Resisting these blandishments takes a healthy dose of what my grandma (and probably yours) called “gumption.” You do have gumption within you, I promise, although finding it may take a bit of a search.
Along with the above, you need to know yourself, and where your “lines in the sand” are drawn. That way you can make realistic decisions about what you are willing to change to achieve your goal. Can you give up your Time subscription and read it online? Instead of a taxi home for $30, can you take an express for $5, or even a subway for $2, with a short walk from the station to your home? Can you learn to do that fancy manicure at home, or is it the break in your routine that keeps you from going postal? Once you know what your realistic trade-offs are, it’s a lot easier to make a plan you can stick to without feeling deprived.
Finally, you need to educate yourself. I’m not talking about an advanced degree in economics here, just a few basics. For example, how does your bank process do its end-of-day processing? What are the exceptions to the check-clearing laws and how do you keep from falling afoul of them. These are important to know because they directly affect you. They govern not only how you get access to your money, but determine how banks charge you for overdrafts and such. This information is fairly readily available, usually in the material the bank gives you when you open an account. (If you have long since lost that paper, call or visit your bank; they will most likely have no problem replacing it.) If you are at the point where you are dealing with collection agencies, you will want to get a copy of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, so that you know if the creditor crosses the line into illegal harassment.
Find a support network
You may also want to think about who your support network will be While you can do this totally on your own, it’s a lot easier to build a network of like-minded friends (both online and in real life) who will support your efforts and not try to sabotage you when things get rough. There are all sorts of blogs, chat rooms, and forums to help you keep your head high when things are looking particularly rotten.
So. You have now armed yourself appropriately. Is there anything else you need? Yes, one other thing. In the words of one of my favorite writers, Natalie Goldberg, “Be kind to yourself.” If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up Get through it, and get back on track. Each time you do that instead of knocking yourself around emotionally or mentally, you pick up another piece of your lost power.
Good luck to you on your journey, and may you find your dreams and reach your goals!