Starting from zero

Starting from zero

There is something to be said for starting from a clean slate. Finally, after 2 years of struggling, we’ve broken through the shackles of debt. I am actually worth $0!

The process was long, it was painful, it made me anxious… it made me take another look at my life, at our future, at my needs and my wants. It made me re-evaluate almost everything and look at this world somewhat less naively. It made me ask myself who I really was and what I was. Was I the stuff that I owned, the domicile I inhabited, the job I was doing? Am I my experiences? Are the existentialists right? Are the nihilists right? Is there such a thing as right? Does “Fight club” sum it up well?

I asked myself a lot of questions. I asked myself too many questions. I made people around me worried about my questions and the increasing importance I was giving them… the increasing anxiety they were causing me. But I learned that in life questions are more important than answers and this experience shocked me out of the rut that got me confused in the first place. The confusion which for a couple of years prior was making me believe that I could replace the void of my desired experiences with stuff. And then I saw the debt I have accumulated and I thought of my future and the two were in terrible disagreement. Throwing fits wasn’t getting me anywhere so I moved forward, made a make-shift plan, improvised a lot and somehow stuck through it for two years. Kicking and screaming at times, with a few small and valuable setbacks, but we pushed forward. She thought I was crazy but she supported me. That is all I needed to keep going. And, miraculously, it worked.

What have I learned? One can get out of debt. Saving works. Debt is slavery. It chains your future to your present. It is not a way to live, merely a way to deal with emergencies, a temporary band aid. But it should never be comfortable enough, especially not for the sake of stuff. Always ask yourself, will this credit card purchase give my future more possibilities? A car might give your future more possibilities but a fancy car doesn’t unless it is important for your job/status and directly results in better possibilities. A book only gives you more possibilities if you cannot find it at the local library or if you will constantly use it for reference over many years. A stack of games when you don’t have time to play games gives you no possibilities. Evaluate what you buy. Even sleep on it. One night… two nights… a week. If it is truly important to you the decision to purchase will stay firm. If you can live without it then not buying it saves your future from the burden of paying it off. The amount of money you have directly influences the amount of things you can achieve in this world. As a guy I once knew said, “Money doesn’t buy happiness but it helps.”. And debt takes away from that.

Do you want to quit your job and spend time studying, hoping to start a new career? Well, if you have debt, you can’t really do this. Debt means that you not only have to pay for your living expenses, but for some expenses you’ve made some time ago, perhaps you have even forgotten what they were for. Experiences are one of the most treasured things in life and they require time and money… Debt, too, requires both and takes those valuable resources from the fulfillment of your dreams.

I used Quicken. I moved money around constantly, always searching for lower interests. It took a lot of energy but without it this struggle would’ve dragged on even longer. Time really has an effect on morale. Two years ago, two years seemed like forever. I was not as motivated. I started moving slowly. But as the first couple of goals were achieved things started to look up. I could spend less time on finance, more time working. Less time worrying, more time enjoying my life. I was motivated to do even better. I started competing with myself. Things took off. I didn’t sacrifice many experiences but I started planning and thinking 10x more about what stuff money was going to. I trimmed monthly expenses. $Even 10/month really adds up. It is also a drain on mental processes as every time I look at my account I had to think that a $10 charge was coming in. Eliminate regular monthly expenses as much as possible. Companies love them but they drain you as a consumer and sometimes you don’t notice by how much.

I read blogs. Blogs about financing. Blogs about living. Get Rich Slowly made me realize that I wasn’t alone. This post summarizes the best pieces of advice I’ve found there.

I taught myself to be more patient but still far from the way I should be. Suddenly realizing that your finances have become a nightmare is far from pleasant. The worries start and then you want to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. You become impatient. But impatience is your greatest enemy in any battle. It makes you either lose the battle or lose your mind. You have to resist. You have to persevere with the small steps and leave your worries there with those steps and enjoy your life. Change your habits but re-evaluate what is really important to you and never take away from that. Remember that not all money spent is bad. Money is there to get you what really matters to you (at least when it comes to things that money can buy). Spend on those things. An expensive house, however, can rarely embody what really matters to one. A wish like that requires re-evaluation, it requires going back to why it matters to you that much. Just because? That’s not good enough. Learn to do more with less, that will make you happy. Treasure the meaningful human connections. Treasure the knowledge that you acquire. Treasure the unique experiences. And be weary of the noise. Learn about yourself so that you can tell the signal from the noise.

I thought about my future. A lot. I realized that it is important that your present points to what you want your future to be. Unless you have achieved Nirvana, align your life so that you can get there. Don’t do something just because that is what everyone else does. Your life is yours to live. Learn about yourself, and live accordingly.

Starting from zero. How I longed to get to this point. What will we do next? I have glimpses of the destination but the path is a bit of a mystery. But that is what I want out of my life. I want to have the freedom to have that mystery.

Until next time…