Paying off all my student loan debt was the best thing I have ever done for myself and my finances. It’s made everything better. Becoming debt free doesn’t mean suddenly becoming wealthy though, or even financially stable. While not having to make a debt payment each month does mean ownership of my money I am still a low income earner. My next step in my financial life is determined by my every day money mindset.
In my post debt haze I had a month of being incredibly lax on the financial front. I spent a lot of money (for me) in June and for the most part didn’t think twice about. I bought a few dinners out, a few cups of coffee and a lot of alcohol. Having spent the last 10 months on total spending lockdown and working my butt off to earn as much as I could, I allowed myself to have a whole month of ‘treat yoself’.
It was a strange experience and ultimately, not something that made me happy. Even though I was giving myself permission to spend willy nilly I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. The thing about it is, I like living frugally. Spending money when and where I didn’t have to doesn’t make me feel good. And at my current salary, spending mindlessly is something that can easily hurt me.
When I was in debt I always had the thought in the back of my mind that any non-essential spending should be spent on my debt. Not a dinner out, not a weekend away but straight to my debt. Thinking like that allowed me to pay off almost $16,000 in 10 months. I lived that money mindset day in and day out.
Now that I’m debt free I’m realizing that that mindset is still there but in a different form. Rather than the thought that any non-essential spending should go towards debt now it’s that any non-essential spending is keeping me from financial freedom. My money mindset is now to procure financial stability and then freedom.
This is especially true as a low income earner. The fact that I make less than $28,000 a year means that saving is all the more crucial to me and my future. I have to be acutely aware of where all my money goes because there just isn’t that much of it. Just like with paying off debt though, you have to start somewhere if you want to be financially secure. I plan on continuing to live my frugal lifestyle and funneling all the money I can into my savings and my investments. I’ve spoken before about wanting to max out my IRA this year and increase my emergency account. Those are still very definitely my short term plans.
I will achieve these short term goals through frugality. By keeping my money mindset in a similar place as it was with my debt payoff- funneling extra money towards savings- I am becoming more financially secure each day. That security is my biggest dream.
My longer term plans though, are to live a life where money is not the focus. I was totally obsessed with paying off my debt. It controlled my life. I would spend my free time calculating how to make it diminish faster. I read every single article out there about debt payoff. It was always on my mind. While in the end it definitely got me what I wanted I certainly don’t want to live my whole life with that kind of focus and energy on my money. Money is a tool I want to use, not something I want to be used by.
So I guess you could say that my money mindset post debt is one where I value each dollar for what it’s potential is. A dollar saved is a dollar earned right? I identify very strongly with that idea and it’s one I feel comfortable living my life by right now. There are a lot of things I want out of the rest of my life that money can help me get. I want those things more than I want to spend thoughtlessly right now.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.