14 February 2012

Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life

A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Thinking about setting your finances in order and venturing on a debt-free life you need to reconsider your habits and your needs. After Vanessa powerfully revealed yesterday how she learned to live with less, today I have prepared a blitz interview with Anna Newell Jones, who got famous for going on what she called a "Spending Fast" for a year, followed by a "Spending Diet" and getting rid of her $23,605.10 debt in 15 months without the help of professionals. Anna has been writing about  living a debt-free life on her blog, where she has done a pretty amazing job at motivating other people to confront their spending habits and change their lifestyles.

How did you get in debt in the first place?
By not being conscious with my money, by living outside of my means, and by not wanting to honestly look at my financial situation. 

Did your debt bother you? Were you able to sleep comfortably at night? In what way did it affect your everyday decisions?
It really bothered me but I didn't think there was any way out so I got comfortable with it. Since I thought that I would die with my debt I adopted an "Ahh, screw it, might as well enjoy myself!" mentality.

When was the break-through moment? What made you decide to go on a spending fast?
It was after 3 consecutive years of rolling money from account to account to cover my over-spending. I was on a flight to visit my family for the holidays (after acquiring EVEN MORE debt from gift shopping) and it just hit me. Enough was finally enough.

What was the first step you took to cut expenses?
I made a "wants and needs" list and I decided to be committed to the process for a year. I only spent money on the "needs" side of the list.

You've cut on so many "wants" like eating out, buying clothes, makeup, driving your car. Are there moments when you regret starting this journey?
Yes it has not been a completely perfect and joyous experience at all times. Doing a Spending Fast and changing your life, habits and comfort zone is very hard work. There are a lot of fun things I missed out on: trips, movies, hanging out with friends at certain events, cute new clothes, and dinners out (among other things) but, I'm still happy I went through the process.

I'm debt-free now (I eliminated $23,605.10 in debt) and I wouldn't change that for the trips, clothes, meals or movies that I missed out on. It was completely worth it and I am beyond happy that I did it.

How much is enough? In what way did you change your buying habits?
I stopped all superfluous spending.

What new skills did you have to learn to adapt to your spending fast?
I had to get very crafty (which is really fun!) and I had to allow for a little more time to get things done since I couldn't do the "quick fix" solution of just going out and buying what I needed to remedy whatever problem I ran into.

Is this a family affair? How does your husband relate to your decision?
It was not a family decision. I didn't ask my husband if he was okay with it. We were 6 months into our marriage when I decided to do the Spending Fast and start my blog. Honestly it was hard on our marriage, but at the same time my husband is a natural saver so he was like, "Finally!"

The fast you initially planned to last 1 year has gone to a bit over 2 years now, how long are you going to go?
I did the Spending Fast for a year, and then the Spending Diet. I'm still doing a Spending Diet and I don't plan on stopping. It's a way of life now.

Do you feel truly happy now?
That's a tricky question. It's more that a weight has been lifted and my debts no longer angle my decisions like they used to. I have an autonomous life now which is more freeing than anything.

What advice can you give to anyone who is struggling with their debt?
Oh, I have a lot of advice if people want it! The main thing is this: you are not alone and you can get out of debt.

See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it 
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism
Step 13: Declutter Your Life 
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic 
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

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  1. So inspiring, thank you for a great interview and insight into Vanessa's story!

  2. *Apologies, insight into Anna's story

    1. You are welcome! I can understand why you mixed up the names though :) Both Vanessa's and Anna's stories add up to each other and help build a common simple future!

  3. Nothing you can buy is as satisfying as being debt free. I am striving toward this goal too.

  4. Great post. I think not using credit cards is the best step. If you don't have the money, you don't get it!

    Stopping by from Blogging Buddies

    Happy Valentine's Day!


    1. You are right, a great deal of the problem lies in the promise of being able to spend money you don't actually have. Eliminate the craving could be easy with eliminating the credit cards. I personally have one but never use it.

  5. Ah yes, I just recently came out of my shopping phase. My husband has always been a big "do we really need that?" influence, and it's finally starting to stick. Aside from student loans and our mortgage (which aren't considered bad debt, at least not in the US), we don't owe anybody money. Maybe a couple hundred dollars on a credit card, but that will be paid off at the end of the month.

    Like Anna said, it's tough to retrain yourself, but I'm glad I did it before I got myself into too big of a hole. Whew!

    1. Ah, so we're going back to the second post in the challenge, right? Thank God for women who embrace their men's simplicity!

  6. Happy Valentine's day! I am your newest follower from the Blogging Buddies Team. Great info, thank you!

  7. Great post, what a brave and ultimately rewarding challenge to get rid of such a substancial debt! It is an amazingly rewarding feeling to be debt free ~ good for you Anna!! :)

    Happy Valentine's Day Sonya. :)

    1. Happy Valentine's Day to you too, Melinda! Isn't today a great day to send love to all people who've taken a challenge to change their habits, just like Anna did. Changing yourself is the hardest task possible!

  8. One of the best ways to live a more simple life! I admire Anna very much, it is so so hard to break that cyle of spending. We went through this when we were first married as well. I hope your advice reaches many people with this!

    1. I can hear John Lennon's "Imagine" right now. Something in your comment relates so much to the song! It would have been so easy if there were no possessions... but there are and, we might as well learn to live in a healthy relationship with them. Nice to see you again, Debbie!

  9. WOW! Thanks for a great post...I must have to stop by Anna's blog and get some advice...I have almost to the penny the same amount of debt she did...and have the same goal...to rid myself of it in a year...but don't know how to go about it! The dreaded student loans...so easy to put off! This gives me hope it can be done! Yippie...I am doing a little happy dance! : )

    1. Anna's blog is a rich source of inspiration, so I encourage everyone to drop by. I wish you to achieve our goal even sooner than you have imagined! I am sure you can do it!

    2. I'm heading there now! And...before I forget...
      Happy Valentine's Day Sonya!
      You certainly are a sweetheart in my book!

  10. I like the idea of living debt-free. I am not a big spender, but any ideas to cut back and get rid of debt sound good to me. I am going to check out her blog, thanks for sharing her store with us today.
    Happy Valentine's Day Sonya!
    Everyday Inspired

    1. You are welcome, Valerie, and happy belated Valentine's day!

  11. Great story!! Thankfully I do live debt-free. There are enough stresses in our lives without adding any extra ones. At times it means missing out on an activity or purchase, but when you really distinguish the difference between your wants and your needs it's actually pretty easy!!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. You are right, Meeling. Once you have determined your priorities, missing out on activities is not that big of a deal. Plus, there are so many free and enjoyable ones!

  12. Anna's story is really inspiring, but I personally would not be able to stay on a total Spending Diet for my whole life.
    Just to be clear, I'm not a spender at all, actually I hate shopping. The only objects I buy quite regularly are books. And I've never been in debt with banks in my whole life thanks to my parents who paid for my studies (well here in Italy university is not expensive at all and nobody has students loans) and most of the price of the apartment where I live (the rest was paid with a loan from my aunt, that I gave back in 5 years).

    In Italy we don't have the same debt problem of the USA, people usually pay cash or with debit cards for everyday expenses / shopping, using credit cards only for big expenses. Even then, 95% of credit cards are set so that the money gets debited on your account all together the next month (no interest). So the only long term debts people have here are usually the house mortgage and/or a loan for the car or furniture.

    That said, I'm less of a spender than the average Italian, and if I had to extinguish a debt I could do a spending fast for a year or so. But after the debt is gone, I would start spending again some money (not all, not going into debt again) on the things that make life more pleasant: eating out a couple of times a month, going to the cinema every now and then, and most important for me TRAVELLING. It's my drug, one of the main reasons to live for me. I want to see ALL of the world. How can you do that without at least some money? I was reading also step 10, Vanessa's article, and I thought "yes she's right, what makes us happy is freedom, not money, but what would make ME happy would be freedom to travel all around the world whenever I want, and to do that, unluckily some money is necessary..."

    1. I totally understand what you mean. I think that Anna's advice is good for people in her situation - those that have been spending to impress, for example.

      Also, we Europeans, are spoiled with almost free education, free medical care and what not, so we have even less reasons to live on credit, haven't we! Getting on a spending diet would work miracles for people who cannot control their spendings and need drastic measures!

      Thank you for the important input!

  13. Wow! It sounds like a big undertaking, but also a big success. And it's true - when you go extreme with anything, it's difficult to get used to at first, but then it just becomes a way of life. :) Good for you, that's a lot of debt paid off! :D

    1. She is an inspiration, isn't she! and a great example :)

  14. I struggle with a lot of student loan debt, and other debts accrued during that time. Even though I was working several part-time jobs while going to school, I didn't make enough to cover the high tuition costs. I also ended up having some medical issues, and didn't have health insurance. I have finally paid off those health bills, but am still working on the student loan debt. Sometimes debt isn't accrued through frivolous spending, but by means of necessity. IO am glad i went to the collage I did and got the degree I did (I am using it), so I have no regrets about that.

    Just a note that some debt may be necessary in the short term, for the long-term benefits.

    1. Yes, some debt turns out to be necessary. In moments like this, I am truly thankful for having grown up in European countries where I didn't have to pay for either college or university, and where medical care is free. That gives me the freedom to live without credits nowadays.

      Luckily for you, you can use your degree and I think this is the most important - to have no regrets!

      Thanks for commenting!

  15. Thanks for having me as a guest Sonya!