How I Paid off $60K of Debt in 35 months and Didn't Get Fat
One of the most common excuses people tell me about why they can't start exercising or eating well is that it's too expensive. I'm sharing my story to show you that cheap and healthy aren't mutually exclusive.
Before you read on, however, you must ask yourself this question:
HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT IT?
If the answer to that question is that you want it more than the inconvenience of having to work for it, then keeping reading. It's not easy and it takes a long time, but I promise that you ARE capable of changing your life.
At the start of 2012, with $46,000 in student loan debt and a $14,000 car loan, I decided that I didn't want to succumb to being a broke college graduate. It took almost 3 years, but I truly believe that I changed my destiny. This is how I did it.
1. I had a WRITTEN plan - for every week and every month.
This tip applies equally to both fiscal AND physical fitness. Every single month, I wrote down where each dollar of income was going to be spent. In the beginning, it can be difficult to nail this down if you don't already have a good sense of what you're spending money on. It will probably take a few months until you figure it out. I recommend this "Zero Sum" budgeting worksheet. You put your income at the top and give every dollar a name until you reach the bottom where the balance should be zero.
If you don't plan, nothing will happen. You will spend haphazardly and never make any headway on your goals.
The same is true for exercise and eating. If you don't put a time on the calendar for when you will workout, or write a meal plan and go grocery shopping, you'll find yourself picking up pizza and will never "have enough time" to work out.
It is amazing what kind of time and money you can find when you are INTENTIONAL about it. I cannot stress this enough. You MUST plan for success.
Want proof? In August 2013, I ended up trading in my car for a different one for work purposes. I was really distressed about it because I felt like it was taking away from my debt freedom goal. So, I wrote down my plan (again). I was already over a year into my journey but I needed to re-focus. I still had over $45K to go and this is what I wrote:
The exact goal was my 26th birthday (Nov 6, 2014). Unfortunately, I missed that date. It was one week later, on November 14, 2014 that I made my last car payment. That is the power of a written plan.
2. I used CASH - period.
This is the one that many of you will argue with me on. You will tell me about "all the points you are earning" on your credit cards. Or "how you pay them off every month". I said the exact same thing. And yes, I did pay them off every month. That is not the point. That point is that cash is more straightforward and when you don't have it, you can't spend it. It's that simple. Once again, this is not easy to get the hang of but once you do, it becomes second nature.
Every week I went to the ATM and took out my spending money for the week. This included spending occasions like, groceries, hair cuts, dinners out, etc. I still used my DEBIT card for gas and recurring online payments but used cash on things that I would normally overspend on. It's really easy to walk out of the grocery store having spent $20 more than you budgeted and then say you will "make up for it later in the week." Well, guess what? You won't. By the time happy hour rolls around on Friday, you'll have forgotten all about it and there goes your budget.
3. I worked out with other people - find accountability partners.
I would consider myself a very independent person. I don't mind being by myself or doing my own thing. It surprised me when I realized that at least 80% of my workouts over the last 3 years have been with at least one other person. From gym buddies, to running groups, to Crossfit and boot camp classes, friends (or soon-to-be friends) make all the difference. You have someone that you don't want to let down by not showing up and someone to call when you fall off the grid for too long. If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend finding a workout partner or group!
The other great part of working out with others is that it's often much cheaper! You can train with a certified personal trainer for almost nothing in a group compared to the cost of a 1-on-1 session with that same trainer.
If you are paying $30/month for a gym membership but never go, that's a waste of money. You're better off spending twice that to make sure you have an appointment and are actually moving toward your goals. It's all about what the money you spend is contributing to and if it's in line with your goals.
4. I never deprived myself - all or nothing doesn't work.
By now, some of you probably think I just camped out in my little apartment prepping food and working out for 35 months.
Although I could be found with a book and the Crockpot more often than I care to admit, I also had a LOT of fun. I traveled to visit friends in Boston, to the beach in Florida, went wine tasting in California, and skiing in Colorado (twice). I went out with friends and played sports and generally enjoyed life.
I talk about this in relation to health all the time, but deprivation doesn't work. You can sustain times of scarcity for only so long before inevitably it gets to be too unbearable.
Could I have paid it off sooner? Maybe. Could you lose weight faster? Maybe.
But then what happens? When it's all over, you go crazy and none of the good habits you developed stick around. To this day, I do every single one of these tips I'm outlining. My lifestyle has not changed at all. That is the ultimate goal! If you can create exercise and dietary habits that are sustainable for life, then you've won. There is no need to go on and off diets when you've found habits that are easy to maintain.
5. I was okay with being WEIRD - prioritize according to your goals.
You don't want to be normal. Normal is broke and fat.
We all have limited time and limited money. You wouldn't be here reading this article if you had a private chef, personal trainer, and hours to spend working out. We have to make decisions and choices. If you are doing it right, someone will notice that you are not like everyone else. You are choosing a lettuce wrap instead of a bun or asking for a cup of tap water at the airport Starbucks instead of spending $4 on a bottled water. Maybe you are showing up to work a little flushed after lunch because you worked out on your lunch hour. Do things that make people wonder. Be apologetically weird in order to reach your goals. You don't have to announce it - just let your actions do the talking.
The key is choosing what is important to you and making the most of the resources you have to get there.
Not to sound cliché, but YOU CAN DO IT.
If you're still reading, I hope this helped. Please share this article so more people can be fit, and debt free, and weird!