This is the first post in my new series called Debt Diaries. This is a series that allows readers of Debt Roundup to submit their financial story. If you are interested in taking part of the Debt Diaries, then submit your personal story.
This Debt Diary is from Tony Standin, who has made his fair share of financial mistakes but also knows that hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. He now contributes personal finance and debt relief articles to debtconsolidation.com.
In early 2011, the owner of the printing company I was working for had a heart attack. One week later, her daughter announced that the owner would not be coming back to work and that the business was closing by the end of the month. In her words, the business was “no longer viable” and had not been for quite some time.
On top of all this, a friend of mine told me about an article he recently read in Newsweek about how “Mom and Pop” printing companies were failing to compete with Internet companies who could do bulk printing at much lower prices. People like me who had built their careers around the printing industry were scrambling for retraining in other fields because small printing businesses were dropping like flies.
I had already been doing some freelance writing and graphic design work on the side, so I decided to make a go of it full-time while I went back to college to get a bachelor’s degree. However, before I could do anything, I had to make some serious changes to my budget. I figured that between unemployment and the freelance work I had lined up at the time, I would have to live off less than half of what I made at the printing company.
The Loan Hurdle
When I ran into money trouble a few months before I lost my job, I unfortunately did not have the good sense to go somewhere reputable to borrow the money I needed. Instead, I took out a payday loan and a car title loan. Obviously, I could not default on these loans. I took my last two paychecks and every cent I had in my bank account and completely paid off both loans. Yes, it wiped out my finances for a while, but it was a long overdue relief to get those high-interest monkeys off my back.
After the loans, I had to tackle the monthly bills. Simply put, anything thing that was not strictly necessary had to go. I cancelled the gym membership that I rarely used anyway. I also had some websites that were costing me more than they were worth, so I abandoned those projects as well. I also said goodbye to Netflix. All those little $5 – $20 per month expenses add up when you put them all together and after they were gone, I really did not feel like I had given up anything that was significant.
I will be the first to admit that I had a terrible habit of ordering take-out excessively. I also hit several fast-food chains on a routine basis. Not only was it terrible for my health, but the amount of money I was spending on food was obscene. The next thing I decided was that I would only eat out on special occasions. I set a grocery budget for myself and forced myself to cook my meals at home. The effect on my finances was amazing! I saved at least a hundred dollars or more a week or more just by cooking my own meals.
Paring Down and Getting Organized
My final hurdle was the toughest. First, I had to drop full insurance coverage on my car. As much as I hated to do it, the fact of the matter is that car was old and if it were totaled, I would not have gotten much for it anyway. Secondly, I started looking at ways to reduce the other monthly bills that I could not eliminate like my cell phone bill. I signed up for automatic EFT transfers and lowered my cell phone bill to $45 per month without sacrificing any features. It may not sound like much, but as I said earlier, all these little things add up. Even though I preferred to manage my own bill payments rather than have them scheduled, I set-up automatic EFT transfers for every bill I could in order to make sure that I would never have to pay late fees. I also wrote all the dates on a calendar so that I always made sure that I had enough money in my checking account.
The hardest part of living on less income was adjusting my mindset. I had to break many bad habits, and yes, I had to make some sacrifices as well. I had to make myself think more carefully about whether my “needs” were truly necessary or if they were just “wants” that I was justifying to myself. Yes, I made some financial sacrifices, but ultimately I am far happier now working as a freelancer than I ever was in the printing industry.