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Living debt-free sounds like a dream. For a subset of individuals, it’s a reality that they work towards every day. So what does it take to avoid the debt that most Americans carry?
More than anything, it takes discipline and changing your mindset. These tips are a good place to start for anyone interested in tightening up their finances or getting out of debt.
1. Commit to yourself.
Tackling debt isn’t easy. There will be moments where you want to give up, abandon your strict saving goals, and just take a vacation. Envision living in a debt-free future where you can make more choices.
Now, you have to commit to it—this isn’t something you can do halfway.
2. Set goals and review them often.
Once you’ve decided to knock out debt, you need to make a financial plan and set goals. This will be your North Star in your debt-elimination journey. Vary your goal sizes, too — living debt-free is the end goal, but what smaller milestones will you have along the way?
3. Don’t be afraid to question norms.
What’s the point of getting a new car? Is there really a benefit to buying a house versus renting? The more you poke holes in American culture, the more you’ll realize you don’t have to go the traditional route just because “everyone else does.”
4. Treat your money as a tool.
Many people think of money as a finite resource. Powerful savers treat their money as a tool. Resources can be depleted, but if money is a tool you can wield, you’re totally in control of what you build with it.
5. Stick to the essentials.
In many ways, debt-free living looks a lot like practicing minimalism. Buy only what you need, and be very critical about the definition of “need.” Eventually, you’ll stop craving the thrill of spending money.
Look around the room you’re in now — what do you see that you haven’t used all week or all month? There are probably things you’ve purchased that made you happy at first but quickly fell into disuse.
Practice owning less and treasuring what you do own.
6. Experiences matter more than what you can buy.
This is a tricky one for savvy savers, because experiences like trips are costly, too. Seek out fulfilling moments that don’t have a price tag: hanging out with friends at home, volunteering, spending time in nature. You’ll find those memories are just as valuable.
7. Say “no” to anything that doesn’t help you reach your goals.
“No” is the word you’ll find yourself saying most often as you try to eliminate debt. There’s nothing wrong with holding off on dinner dates, fancy vacations, or holiday sales if they’re going to set you back. It takes practice to say no, but it’s a muscle that strengthens with time.
8. Enforce a waiting period for certain purchases.
Put your feelings and impulses in check by waiting 24 or 48 hours before making a big purchase you’re unsure about. Many stores will even let you put an item on hold overnight. Usually, by the time your waiting period is over, you’ll find you don’t mind letting the item go after all.
9. Focus on the big picture, not the present.
Most of these tips require a lot of self-discipline. It’s easier to follow your plan when you can remind yourself of what you’re working toward. Focus on what financial freedom unlocks for your future and have that be your guiding light.
No matter how much you have to save, the peace of mind you’ll gain from eliminating your debt is priceless. Debt-free living can be your reality — just take the first step.
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