Tag: money

That Decade I Earned $0

That Decade I Earned $0

Being transparent with your finances online is interesting. I know it helps to see real numbers which is why I share everything, but there are obvious downsides. Like, all of the times people tell me that they wish they had my income. I can’t help […]

Treat Yo Self

Treat Yo Self

I’ve tried many different spending challenges over the years – not buying clothing for a year, setting up a budget for specific categories, not eating out for 100 days, aiming for a certain number of $0 spend days every month. I can’t argue with the […]

How I Paid Off $30,000 Of Debt Last Year

How I Paid Off $30,000 Of Debt Last Year

My relationship with debt has never been a resolute one. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’m not an expert in personal finance and I still have a long road ahead, but I hope my experiences might help you along your own journey.

I graduated with $130,400 of student loan debt, largely from tuition and living expenses during nine years of my undergraduate, graduate, and law degrees but also from a significant emotional spending problem. Fortunately, I landed a full time position the summer after graduation and was able to start repaying my debt in November as scheduled.

At the beginning of the following year, I began using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) app to track my finances. The plan was to reduce my spending and increase my debt repayment beyond the minimum payments, but at the time I felt that I didn’t earn enough money to pay more. Spoiler alert: I did. Over the course of that year, I tracked every single penny I earned and spent. I never fully embraced the budget during that time, but I was starting to get a handle on what I purchased month to month and that opened my eyes to the amount of money I was letting slip through the cracks.

Step #1: Calculate the amount you’re burning every month (and every year) on interest.

Later in the year, I was coming up on one year since I had started my debt repayment process. I compared my remaining balance and my payments and while I had paid $15,000 over the year, I’d only decreased the balance by $10,000. That’s right, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS went to interest.

I guess you could say that seeing how much I’d paid the bank and the government that year just to service my debt was my breaking point. I felt like I’d piled up thousands of dollars in cash and just lit the whole thing on fire. It was a tough lesson to learn, but in a way it’s the reason I’m here now so I’m thankful for that experience!

Step #2: Know when to seek help if your plan isn’t working.

At that point, I finally decided that I’d had enough. I refused to pay the full projected $20,000 in interest over the remaining decade of my repayment schedule. I desperately searched online for ways to decrease debt, and stumbled across two men who would change my life forever: Mr. Money Mustache and Dave Ramsey. I read Mr. Money Mustache’s blog from start to finish, and I listened to the Dave Ramsey podcast every single day.

Reading and listening to podcasts sounds easy – it wasn’t. I had to face the fact that I was a highly educated, adult person who was failing at money. I wasn’t being intentional with my spending and this behaviour was going to keep me in debt for at least a decade if I didn’t do something to change immediately. I also had to face all of the emotions that put me in this situation in the first place – the death of a parent, the feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment during law school, and the fear of taking on a significant amount of debt without any guarantee of employment.

Along the way, I found a major support network. I started seeing a therapist, which I highly recommend. I told close friends and family about my journey. I also started an Instagram account to track my progress and discovered the #debtfreecommunity, which is probably one of the most supportive online communities I’ve ever seen. If you want to follow my journey in more detail, come say hi to me there: @debtstoriches. If you’re thinking about starting down the path to being debt free, there’s no better place to hang out for motivation, commiseration, and major encouragement.

Now that I had a plan and a team around me, I was on my way to one of the toughest parts of this journey: facing your spending and attempting to change your habits!

Step #3: Track your spending. Not just monthly, but annually! 

After almost a year of tracking my spending, I had a lot of data at my disposal! I knew that I’d spent exactly $3,555.51 on eating out over the year. I saw every clothing transaction leading up to the $3,069.37 balance. That’s not even including the $3,759.40 I spent on shopping or $2,241.52 on entertainment. When you’re tracking things monthly, the details can get lost. Lower months seem to make up for higher months, but averages expose every crack in your delusions.

Clearly I had a spending problem rather than an income problem, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I was wasting my money every single month. I mimicked the excuses I heard others making for why they couldn’t achieve their financial goals: I live in the most expensive city in the country. I have a long commute and I’m too exhausted to cook all of my meals at home. I work hard and I deserve to treat myself. I had to ditch those excuses and the poor decisions that they were masking.

Step #4: Face your demons and challenge yourself to decrease your expenses!

One of my first objectives was to tackle my problem categories. I didn’t have a cable bill or a Starbucks habit to cut, but I did have data. I knew I could save thousands of dollars if I spent less on a few main categories that were completely draining my funds every month.

Meals Out

One of the obvious areas for me to reform was my spending on meals out – drinks, lunches at work, takeout, restaurants. All of it added up to $3,551.51 – almost $300/month! Near the end of the year I’d already started cutting back by making the easiest changes first, and I continued to work my way through every area of spending in that category.

  • Beverages: I’ve never been a coffee drinker, so this was one of the easier changes for me. I stopped buying drinks on the occasional morning before work. No mochas or London fogs or iced teas here. Instead I made tea when I got to the office.
  • Breakfast: I’m not a morning person so I’m always rushed at the start of the day and I never eat breakfast unless it’s the weekend. It’s not easy to make good decisions on an empty stomach, so I’d find myself buying something on the way to work. Instead, I made sure I purchased fruit or muffins at first to have something fast and easy just to tide me over. If I was really on top of it, I made overnight oatmeal the day before.
  • Lunches at work: I was also too disorganized to make a lunch the night before work. I gradually stopped eating lunch out during weekdays by keeping ingredients for simple meals like sandwiches or salads in the fridge at work. I continued to eat out for one meal a week at first, and then eventually I was able to stop altogether. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches were a lifeline during this transition period!
  • Dinner: This category was one of the toughest for me, as I’m sure it is for many people. At the end of a work day and an hour on the bus, the last thing I want to do is prepare a healthy meal at home. I pass hundreds of fast food places and restaurants on my commute, a few of them regular haunts, so it was even more challenging to say no. I felt that curbing my routine of picking up takeout on the way home required drastic measures, so I challenged myself to completely stop in order to reset my habits. I tracked whether I had purchased a meal out in a given day, and each day that went by without spending was a tiny boost to my self-confidence. When December had passed and I’d only spent $2.60 on Costco fries because my spouse was craving them, I knew I was onto something. My only spending in January was $21.72 at a friend’s birthday dinner. With these two months under my belt I decided to go all out: 100 days without spending any money on meals out. Guess what? I did it, and it is so satisfying seeing three blank spaces in my spending charts from February to April!

Over the entire year, I’d gone from spending $3,551.51 on meals out to $596.66! It wasn’t easy, but now it’s the new normal and I can’t imagine eating out as often as I did before. I still enjoy the occasional dinner at a restaurant or a quick takeout meal, but it’s so much more special when it’s truly a treat and not a routine. You’d be surprised how much you can adjust to a new pattern of behaviour with a little time and patience.

$250/month 

Clothing

Starting my first professional job and being more mindful of the ethics and sustainability of the clothing industry led to some major clothing purchases: $3,069.37 – over $250/month! I decided that the best way to tackle this would be to not buy clothing for an entire year.

I convinced myself that purchasing clothing was not an option, and I unsubscribed from all of the retailers through email and on social media. I even started varying my route home to break myself of the habit of stopping in to browse the stores. I fully embraced the art of the capsule wardrobe and ironically, I felt better dressed and more confident than I ever had when I was buying clothing regularly!

Near the end of the year, I accomplished my goal! I wrote more about my thoughts on the zero dollar clothing year, but ultimately it came down to loving and wearing what I already owned. At the end of this experiment, I did replace some essential items that I had worn out like underwear, bras, and tights. I also purchased a pair of black pants and a few shirts. In total I spent $901.55.

$175/month  

Shopping

This was one of the categories that devastated me the most, because I had spent $3,759.40 and I couldn’t really give you a list of what I’d bought! It was hard to even write this section, knowing I spent over $300/month on things that clearly didn’t add enough value to my life for me to even remember them in detail. Generally, this money all went to things like cosmetics, books, board games, and complete randomness.

I didn’t have a defined strategy for spending less, but I did start to keep a wish list of items that I was interested in while I delayed the actual purchase. I’d review the list occasionally and delete things I no longer wanted, which reinforced the idea that I was making a significant number of impulse purchases.

Really, just looking at the total was excellent motivation to spend more intentionally the following year: $1,193.70, which is still a decent amount of shopping but much better than before.

$200/month 

Entertainment

Being in a new city, I definitely fell for the fear of missing out hard during my first year. With all of the food festivals and shows and concerts, I’d spent $2,241.52 or almost $200/month.

Sadly, there were quite a few things I wish I had missed out on! That tacky Oktoberfest with an insane cover charge and $10 beers & pretzels? Just thinking about it annoys me because we left after our first drink, refusing to waste any more money there.

We also went to the most pretentious picnic ever – Dîner en Blanc, where you buy tickets and then set up your own table and chairs and food to have dinner with hundreds of strangers all dressed in white. That one was actually a great experience, but definitely not enough to pay for it more than once!

Last year we focused on the events that we enjoyed the most, not hype or novelty. We saw the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra a few times, caught Cirque du Soleil, and had a couple of movie nights on half price Tuesdays. I went to see some of my favourite speakers – The Minimalists, Courtney Carver, and Jason Silva. I also attended a Millennial Money Meetup where I got to meet two of my favourite bloggers in person – Cait Flanders and Jessica Moorhouse. Starstruck!

Every one of those experiences was so memorable and absolutely worth the money: $823.31 for the year.

$125/month

Total

$750/month – $9,000/year!

I was amazed that being more intentional with my money could have such a huge impact in just one year. The $10-20 purchases of food or drinks or small items added the most excess to my spending, and they seemed so innocent at the time! Of course, these were just a few of my highest spending categories. Some of the other categories increased, particularly electronics when I purchased a laptop, phone, and Nintendo Switch all in one year. Not exactly recommended by any of the personal finance experts, but all things I love and use often!

All in all, I was able to decrease my spending from $36,000 to $29,000. That’s a difference of $7,000! My income also went up from $65,000 to $78,000, which allowed my to allocate even more money to debt repayment.

In total I was able to pay off $30,000 of my student loan debt last year – $34,311.07 including interest!

I would never have been able to achieve my goals if I hadn’t started tracking my spending and challenging myself to change my habits.

I’m also extremely grateful that I found a position after graduation that allows me to afford my student loan payments while enjoying my success too. Spending nine years in university and $130,000 was a major risk, one that doesn’t work out for many students. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I want to make the most of it.

Step #5: Forgive yourself and move forward.

I’m so proud of myself for exceeding the goals I set for the year. It feels like the weight of my debt is finally starting to lift and as the balance decreases I’m letting go of the shame and disappointment that came with it.

I’m also trying not to feel guilty when I spend money. There’s a difference between the pain that accompanies change and the unnecessary pain that we impose on ourselves when we’re just out for punishment. We can improve without enduring suffering as some skewed form of reparation for our poor decisions. Developing a positive relationship with money isn’t going to be about deprivation for me. I’m determined to find a balance between clearing past missteps, enjoying the present with intentionality, and securing a thriving future.

So what’s next for me? Well, I still have $89,200 of debt left to go! I’m hoping to pay off $40,000 this year, by doing largely the same things as I did last year: decrease expenses, increase income. It sounds simple, but it’s a lot harder in practice! At least I won’t be spending so much money on electronics again!

The Worst That Could Happen

The Worst That Could Happen

In some ways, the most enjoyable moments of our life are when we haven’t started yet. We haven’t added up the debt we owe, we haven’t calculated how long it will take to pay it off, we haven’t started saving or investing. All we know […]

90 Is Still An A

90 Is Still An A

My former roommate and one of my best friends in university was the textbook example of an overachiever. She would study at all hours, survive on coffee and adrenaline, and exist only in a frazzled, constant state of imposter syndrome. At times I was so […]

The Zero Dollar Clothing Year

The Zero Dollar Clothing Year

I’m a fan of experiments, particularly ones that test boundaries and challenge complacency. In the past I’ve hit step targets and weight loss milestones (decent), skipped eating meals out for 100 days (manageable), and waited to purchase a new cell phone for a week after the previous one died (torturous).

Last November I decided to push another boundary – no clothing purchases for an entire year.

Why I Stopped Purchasing Clothing

A few factors led to my decision to stop buying clothing for a year:

  • I had recently purchased a work wardrobe and wanted to focus on enjoying these items rather than being distracted by anything new.
  • I had finally let go of all of my too-small clothing and needed time to adjust to the idea that I’d probably never wear that size again.
  • I was in the early stages of learning more about the dark side of the fashion industry and the impact that our purchases have on the world.

My Clothing Spending

One of my biggest discretionary spending categories last year was clothing. I was in a new career and buying professional clothing for the first time in my life, and I wanted to buy pieces that I knew would hold up over time. In total, I spent $3,069.37.

Most recommendations give three to ten percent as an appropriate amount of your net income for clothing, which would have been between $1,400 and 4,800 for me last year. I fell around six percent, which isn’t terrible but it wasn’t exactly a number I was proud of either. I hoped that the initial cost of quality, versatile pieces followed by a few years of lower spending would decrease my average.

I knew I wanted to maintain a capsule wardrobe of carefully selected items, but I needed to break through years of impulse shopping habits before I could begin purchasing clothing more intentionally.

Clothing My Aspirational Self

I’ve never been a natural at selecting clothing. I would buy almost items. They almost fit, they almost worked, they were almost perfect. Except that they were a little tight around the waist so I never wore them. Or the patterns were beautiful but the fabric was 100% polyester so I never wore them. Or they looked great for the first wear but as soon as I washed them once the shape was gone – so I never wore them.

If your body isn’t suited well to fashion industry sizing, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you find a clothing line that fits off the rack or a great tailor. Having a full closet but nothing to wear is a struggle for many of us. We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time – I wanted to wear 80% of my clothing 80% of the time.

Last year I focused on letting go of thin, stylish, aspirational me and only purchased perfect items for real life, casual, comfortable me. They had to fit perfectly, they had to drape perfectly, and they had to suit my lifestyle perfectly. This was not an easy task, especially considering other factors like longevity and sustainability, but I persevered!

Impact

The fashion industry has created a seamless disconnect between our clothing purchases and the manufacturing process. We see the price tag and the item, and then it’s basically a race to the bottom. The reality is that the price tag is only a fraction of the cost. We don’t just pay for clothing with our money. We pay with our time, our environment, our values, and even the lives of others that we’ve never met.

Imagine if the number of garment workers killed or the amount of water wasted or the volume of toxic chemicals dumped was listed right beside the care instructions on every garment tag. The information might not be right in front of us, but the reality is still out there.

More than 1,100 people died in the Rana Plaza collapse of April 24, 2013, and experts warn that there are still dangerous factories like it – everywhere. A typical pair of jeans takes 7,000 litres of water to produce and the indigo dye has turned Chinese rivers blue. The apparel industry is the largest employer of women, and approximately 80% of garments are made by women aged 18-24 earning low wages while putting in long hours and dealing with unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and sexual assault. These garments are then worn a few times, sit in our closets, and eventually maybe get donated. Even donated clothes aren’t reducing harm in the way that we thought – in the U.S. only 10 percent of donated clothes are resold; some countries have stopped accepting our donations altogether because of the impact on local industry. In reality, about 75% of our garments end up in a landfill or incinerator, where toxic chemicals and dyes contaminate soil and groundwater and contribute to CO2 emissions.

This is just a sampling of the reality behind our clothing – to learn more about the impact of the fashion industry, check out the documentaries The True Cost and River Blue. You might also want to head over to Fashion Revolution, an organization advocating for greater transparency, sustainability, and ethics in the fashion industry.

The Challenge

The objective was to avoid purchasing any clothing for one full year. No work clothes or casual clothes. No underwear, no bras, no tights, no pyjamas, no socks. I even abstained from purchasing footwear or accessories because they were too clothing-adjacent!

I’m happy to report that I spent $0 on clothing in 365 days! 

I did purchase some outerwear, specifically for snowboarding, which I excluded from my challenge. The reason I created an exception for snowboard equipment was that I didn’t want to limit my experiences or activities, just my unnecessary shopping for clothing. Since this was specialty equipment that I wouldn’t be wearing unless I was snowboarding, I gave myself a pass!

Keys To Success

It was difficult at first to switch off that instinct to purchase something when it looked appealing. The habit of wanting to bring an item home right that moment or risk losing out was a tough one to break.

Stop Browsing & Unsubscribe

I had a habit of visiting stores occasionally to ‘see what was new.’ The act of walking into a warm, brightly lit, well organized space and browsing soft fabrics and interesting combinations was comforting to me.

Following brands by email wasn’t much easier. Some of them – you know the ones – seemed to have a sale every month. I struggled with passing things up, because in previous moments where I hesitated the item was sold out when I was ready to purchase.

I needed to reinforce the idea that there is an endless supply of new products, and missing one isn’t a big deal when there are new items just like it moments away. Retailers try to create a false sense of urgency by offering sales and limited edition products. My rational brain knew this, but my lizard brain didn’t. By restricting the flow of information, I made sure I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. If I didn’t see the products, I wouldn’t have to use precious reserves of self-control to resist them.

In the early days I learned that I needed to completely switch up my routine. I got off at a different bus stop and walked a different route home to avoid the shopping areas. I unsubscribed from every email and unfollowed every company on social media. I told friends not to invite me shopping. I deleted my credit card information from websites. I put up barriers everywhere I could to set myself up for success.

It was also important for me to find ways of self-care that evoked the same emotions as browsing. I needed a replacement for these activities or I would have to rely solely on willpower – side note: willpower is so not effective and we need to stop putting it on a pedestal. You are not a weak person if you struggle to change your habits – you’re a person. The emotions around an inviting space and a sense of accomplishment can be created by getting a massage, taking a walk outside, meeting a friend for a drink, or talking to a therapist.

Create A Capsule Wardrobe

For a while, I thought my problem was that I didn’t have enough items of clothing. My real problem was that I bought individual pieces rather than items that would work well in the context of my entire wardrobe. I had items that I could only wear with one other item. I had items that didn’t go with anything else. It was a jumbled mess of other people’s styles obscuring my own.

Now when I consider clothing purchases, I ask myself how often I would wear them – not per year.. per week! If I don’t plan on wearing an item at least once a week, it’s a lot tougher to justify that purchase to myself. There are exceptions, of course. I have a dress I wear for special occasions that I might put on only a few times a year. Back to the 80% rule – most of the clothing I own is worn regularly and only a few pieces are worn occasionally. I usually rotate through almost my entire wardrobe every couple of weeks. For a year I’ve worn 6 dresses about 50 times each, with a few skirts and tops or casual outfits thrown in.

A side effect of this capsule wardrobe is that I always know what to wear, I always feel comfortable in my clothing, and I have so much more decision-making capacity for the important things.

Let Go Of Your Aspirational Self

Have you ever bought an item of clothing in a smaller size, as ‘motivation?’ I have, and let me tell you – it was the furthest thing from motivating. It was guilt-inducing and discouraging. I felt like a failure every day I opened my closet and saw items that no longer fit or never fit. What do many people who struggle with their weight do when they feel like a failure? Eat more and move less. Not the desired effect!

I didn’t start losing weight until I donated all of my smaller clothing. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting frustrated with myself for not fitting into a certain garment or an ideal size. I didn’t have a closet full of items but nothing to wear. Everything I owned fit well and made me feel confident.

Sometimes my aspirational self nudges back in, but at least she looks a lot more like me.

What’s Next?

Now that I’ve finished my Zero Dollar Clothing Year, I want to continue to develop a healthy relationship with clothing. I’m not planning on repeating this challenge anytime soon, but I do want to carry with me everything that I learned as I make more intentional choices with my wardrobe.

Guidelines

After a year of wearing quality fabrics, I feel more confident in my choices and I don’t think I could ever go back to most conventional brands. They fit differently, wear differently, and launder differently.

Buying used clothing to keep it from the landfill is a great way to reduce our impact. I haven’t had much luck finding garments in my size and preferred fabrics, but I know second hand stores can be a treasure trove if you have a good eye and the right body shape for it!

If buying second hand isn’t a feasible option, I think it’s just as important to support retailers who are doing it right as it is to avoid ones who are doing it wrong. That’s why I plan to continue to purchase new clothing from a select list of retailers that I’ve curated based on my values. My aim is to focus on Canadian companies who either make their garments in Canada or have strict and transparent supply chains for garments manufactured in other countries. I prefer to shop with retailers who design versatile basics, rather than attempt to keep up with trends or cycle through multiples styles every season. With smaller, local companies it’s easier to meet the designers and stay connected with their process.

Emotions & Motivation

I don’t think conscious, deliberate purchases should evoke a sense of guilt. I’ve struggled with the guilt of consumption my entire life. At first, it was self imposed because I felt wasteful with my money and our resources. Then, the internet stepped in and gave me a whole new way to feel guilty, either by comparing my spending to someone else’s or by me posting and receiving virtual feedback from others.

I know some people thrive on the accountability, but I had to stop participating in certain areas online because I’m already in the habit of making myself feel guilty enough and I don’t need laser-focused stranger guilt too. There’s a continuum in terms of spending money and I am not on the frugal end, that’s for sure! Now I try to connect with people who are only slightly more frugal than me and aren’t into shame-based encouragement. I’m not discounting motivational masochism – it’s just not for me; I prefer the carrot.

Wish List

In the spirit of intentional spending, I’ve implemented a wish list system where I keep a note of any items I’m interested in purchasing. If they stay on the list for at least a month, I know they’re probably a worthwhile purchase. Here’s a sampling of my clothing wish list, which has stayed mostly the same for the entire year!:

  • black dress pants
  • tights
  • underwear & bras
  • black hoodie
  • basic short and long-sleeved shirts

Clearly I haven’t built myself up into a spending frenzy during my period of self-deprivation. In these categories I currently own one pair of pants – jeans that I’m unable to wear to work, two pairs of tights that have seen better days, some threadbare undergarments, a worn hoodie, and two basic shirts that lost their shape months ago.

Knowing exactly what I do have (and wear regularly) and comparing that to my wish list has been extremely useful. Ideally, I’ll purchase these items when I find the perfect ones over the next few months. Stay tuned!

Have you done a zero dollar clothing month – or year? What do you consider when shopping for clothing?

My Heisenberg Moment

My Heisenberg Moment

Facing a desperate situation – a six figure student loan debt with no six figure income – I did what many graduates do at first.. I ignored it. I decreased my spending enough to make slightly more than the minimum payments. In some months I […]

I Love My Job / I Hate My Job

I Love My Job / I Hate My Job

My emotions surrounding my career are all over the place. Sometimes, I’m proud of my accomplishments and excited for the future. Sometimes, I want to curl up in a ball under my desk and sob until I pass out. Sometimes, I swing between these two […]

Everything I’m Not

Everything I’m Not

Labels are tools that help us make sense of the world, and the links we create between and among us. These defined categories are one of the ways we cultivate belonging, but they’re also one of the ways we promote othering. When we mentally classify individuals or groups as ‘us,’ we automatically create the opposing classification – ‘not one of us.’ We use labels to connect with like-minded people, to justify or explain our own actions, or to provide support or criticism for someone else’s behavior.

Ironically, there is often a segment of followers of a labelled movement or philosophy who take the concept further than their leaders. If you fail to obey a rule or structure to the letter, you risk the strict adherents popping out from nowhere to enlighten you. I’ve probably done this many times myself – it’s a natural reaction in a species built on community. We somehow feel moved to defend the practices of an individual we’ve never met, clarifying their gospel for the masses. We do this even though the leader of the movement likely wouldn’t feel the need to defend themselves or their philosophy personally. We do this even though we might be missing the main purpose behind the movement while we debate the minutiae. Only now am I realizing how bizarre that sounds!

I’ve never followed any particular philosophy or method completely, so I often find myself saying things like “I’m not a minimalist, but I think it’s important to reconsider the value we place on our possessions.” These caveats help to preemptively steer the conversation away from any unnecessary, off-topic tangents, albeit limiting the usefulness of labels. I’m fine with adding a little human complexity to my interactions, so let’s talk about everything I’m not.

If you happen to identify with any of the following labels, I’m not criticizing you in any way by any stretch of the imagination. I just want you to know that it’s okay to admire someone and not strictly apply every component of their philosophy to your own life. You are not any less of a person if you’re more turtle intense than gazelle intense, or if you want to retire early but not that early, or if you’re only sort of a minimalist. If you’ve found a plan that works for you in its entirety, awesome! If you’ve modified that plan to fit your objectives and desires, fantastic!

I’m Not A..

Gazelle

Dave Ramsey coined the phrase gazelle intensity after reading Proverbs 6:4–5, “Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Basically, the way to get out of debt is to realize that a CHEETAH IS CHASING YOU and then run like crazy in the other direction.

I get that the cheetah is chasing me, but I can’t run at a sprint for years before I finally stop to catch my breath. Dave Ramsey’s plan works for many people, and the average person is debt free (excluding mortgage debt) in 18-24 months while maintaining a high level of intensity. My debt will take significantly longer than 24 months to finish, and the risk of abandoning a debt payoff plan is higher on an extended timeline. Long term deprivation can lead to attrition, so I’m careful to keep my motivation high.

Instead of starting with the gazelle mindset, I’m gradually building my intensity over time. I’m not giving up absolutely everything, but I’ve increased my payments to the point that my debt payoff timeline will be reduced from 11 years down to 4-5. Decreasing my spending more wouldn’t reduce my timeline significantly, but it would increase the likelihood of debt payoff fatigue that could lead to abandoning the plan altogether.

I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast for 3 hours every weekday on my commute, and have been making bigger and bigger payments on my debt.. but I’m not a gazelle.

[Dave has so many haters it’s almost comical. Too religious, not religious enough; too harsh, not harsh enough. It’s tough to argue with those debt free screams though – he’s helped millions of people get out of terrible financial situations and start building wealth.]

Mustachian

Mr. Money Mustache is all about Financial Freedom Through Badassity, showing us that it is in fact possible to not be stuck in a 9-5 job for our entire adult lives. He’s one of the original voices in the early retirement world, and I’ve been a major fan of his ever since I stumbled on his blog. MMM was my introduction to the idea that working until age 65 was a choice, not an inevitability, and that one concept has completely changed my life.

I can’t say I’ve been entirely faithful to the ways of the mustache though. I don’t ride my bicycle nearly enough, for one thing. I also often buy items new rather than combing through the thrift store. I still go out to eat occasionally, I still buy expensive electronics like video games and smart phones, and I still purchase tickets for events and concerts. I have a massive amount of student loan debt, but I’m not treating it like the hair on fire emergency that it is.

Instead, I cut back on the things that weren’t as important to me and started to gradually increase my payments over the past year – from $1,300/month minimum payments in 2016 to an average this year of $2,800/month.

Despite my extravagant (by mustachian standards) spending, I’m still planning to retire in my early 40s. Could I cut back everything to the bare minimum and retire in my late 30s? Absolutely. The fact that I plan to only reduce the length of my career by 20 years and not 25 might be a point of contention for some, but it’s a compromise that works well for me personally. I’m not forcing anyone else to work 5 extra years to afford the things I choose to purchase, so no worries there.

I’ve read Mr Money Mustache’s blog from start to finish, and changed my lifestyle enough to shave (pun intended) 20 years off of my working life.. but I’m not a mustachian. I’m a spendypants consumer who could use a punch in the face.

[Ironically, I’ve also been criticized for calling out the comparison game in the early retirement community and encouraging contentment instead of competing for the highest savings rate (maybe I missed something, but isn’t contentment the underlying thread of mustachianism?). I’m not too worried about routinely failing to live up to the mustachian ideal though. It seems like a relatively unachievable target given that MMM himself gets hate from his own readers about not being mustachian enough.. on a forum that started because of his blog. He doesn’t let the detractors impact him though, which is pretty mustachian in itself. The whole thing is almost too meta for me.]

Minimalist

The Minimalists left their corporate careers at age 30 to live meaningful lives with less stuff and more of the important things: time, passion, experiences, growth, contribution, and contentment.

I’ve downsized many of my possessions over the years, even cutting out entire categories like hair tools and nail polish. As The Minimalists often say, minimalism is about only owning items that add value to your life. I think I’ve reached that point, or if not I’m close to it.

I still have an abundance of possessions though, and I still attach emotional value to them. Does a real minimalist keep decorative boxes and multiple copies of the same book? Do I fit in even though I own way more than 100 things? Probably not, according to many self-proclaimed minimalists out there.

I’ve read the blog and the books, listened to the podcast, watched the documentary, attended the live shows, and put many of their methods into practice.. but I’m not a minimalist. I’m a slightly more conscious consumer with slightly less stuff.

[Minimalism has been criticized as a movement for privileged white men with no children, despite the presence of minimalists of all backgrounds, genders, and procreation stances. There are endless forum threads dedicated to agonizing over lists of possessions, and shaming anyone who owns one superfluous item. Once again, finding contentment is a surprisingly controversial topic!]

If I’m not a gazelle, a mustachian, or a minimalist.. What am I?

I guess I’m just a regular person, trying to live my best life on my own terms. Aren’t we all?

Each of these movements is simply a path to one very important destination: freedom. On each path we’re informed by some overzealous followers that we should step exactly where they tell us. Even though so much time has passed that it’s impossible to see where the first person to walk this path stepped. Even though the path is so worn that there are clearly multiple tracks to follow. Even though there’s enough space along the path to forge our own way.

I can’t help but think that by socially enforcing these rigid boundaries, we’re alienating those we could be helping. Does everyone have to fit our perfectly constructed boxes or forever live in a Pinocchio-like state where they’re not real until they conform? Isn’t conformity the construct that most of these movements were opposing in the first place?