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The big trade-off: Do you have what it takes to pay off your debt?

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) As seen in this October 2011 file photo, Bernadette Llaga likes to visit her local Goodwill store in Quincy, Massachusetts several times a week and looks for bargains on used clothing and household items. Our personal finance expert and his wife made secondhand shopping part of their routine as they spent five very frugal years sacrificing various comforts in order to pay off all their debt.

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Over the course of about five years, Sarah and I managed to pay off two car loans, replace both of those cars, pay off several student loans, pay off seven credit cards, pay off three or four additional consumer loans, and buy a house and pay for it in its entirety. We’re debt free because of those moves.

Don’t get me wrong, we were aided by the fact that Sarah and I both had strong jobs and The Simple Dollar and my computer consulting work were both notable revenue streams for our family. However, you don’t pay off $280,000 or so in debt over five years without other serious changes in your life.

Along the way, we made a lot of sacrifices.

We made our own laundry detergent, our own window cleaner, our own bread, and countless other things.

We strived to make every meal at home, and strived to make as many of them under $10 as possible (with enough food to feed the five of us with leftovers).

We gave up many of our older forms of entertainment (like going to the movies and going to live baseball games) and sold off many of our collections, some in their entirety.

We strung up lines in our basement to hang up clothes so we could save the fifty cents or so it would cost to run the dryer.

We made most of our Christmas gifts from scratch.

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We would spend long stretches – more than a month at a time – not engaging in any entertainment with additional cost. That meant no going out and no buying of new entertainment material.

A large portion of our wardrobes came from secondhand stores.

On top of that, Sarah and I both devoted a lot of our time to earning as much as we reasonably could. Together, we built up The Simple Dollar and the computer consulting work and Sarah was able to take advantage of a few additional professional opportunities as well. These choices ate up a lot of our remaining free time for years.

These decisions (and many others) were not ones we had to make. They were decisions we chose to make. We achieved our goal of debt freedom so quickly because we made a lot of sacrifices along the way.

Naturally, we could have rejected any of these things. If we had listened to the siren’s call of “we deserve this” or “oh, this treat is just a part of my morning routine” or “it sounds like too much work” or “I want it and I want it now” or countless other excuses to open up the wallet, we would have never achieved our goal this quickly.

Trust me, I know. I make similar excuses when it comes to working out and eating a healthy diet. There’s always a reason not to do it.

That means I know firsthand how those excuses result in not achieving what you want and not making progress toward your goal.

If you want something in your life, you’re going to have to give up something else to get there. You can’t have everything. It doesn’t work that way.

What are you going to give up to achieve what you want? It really comes down to how important financial freedom is in your life. For us, we finally came to the realization that it was paramount.

For others, it might be a high priority, but not the highest. For yet others, it might be pretty low on the priority scale (but, honestly, those folks aren’t reading The Simple Dollar).

The higher the priority you give it, the faster you will achieve it. Keep that in mind every time you’re faced with a tough decision when it comes to your financial goals or other big goals you have in your life.

As for me… I think I’ll go jogging now.


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