In honor of Military Saves, I thought it would be appropriate to share how I, an Army veteran who had over $32,000 of credit card debt, was able to pay off debt by taking a few lessons from the military and applying them to my finances.
Military Saves is a week when the military community is encouraged to “build wealth, not debt.” Building wealth is always a smarter choice than building debt, whether you are a service member or civilian. By using some good old-fashioned accountability, along with making some sacrifices here and there, you’ll have the determination to win your own battle with debt.
Holding yourself accountable can be difficult, but the first essential step to financial freedom is to start accepting some responsibility for your spending decisions. That means different things to different people. You could start keeping receipts and writing down each time you spend money. You could also select a friend to meet with every other week to review how you have been spending your money. Sometimes the mere thought of having to tell someone where your money went might help you make better choices.
How much are you willing to sacrifice to get out of debt? Don’t let the word sacrifice scare you—some of the smallest sacrifices can really add up. Try to identify some of the low-hanging fruit you can eliminate. It could be that daily $4 coffee habit you can cut back to every other day. Instead of going to the movies, borrow DVDs from the library for free. The more you can cut back now, the quicker you can start earning interest on your money instead of paying interest to someone else.
When I finally came to grips with the fact that I had a problem with credit, I thought I would never get out of debt¬—but I was determined to dig myself out of that hole. There will be times you will feel that there is no hope and it would be easier to just give up. When things get tough, you need to remain positive and flexible, and you need to stay determined. Just as you didn’t get into credit card debt overnight, don’t expect to get out of it overnight. Keep an eye on the long-term prize of financial freedom.
Don’t believe anyone who promises shortcuts or simple solutions. Accountability, sacrifice, and determination might not come easy, but they are crucial to winning your battle over debt. Whether you are in the military or not, if you apply these principles to your finances, I have no doubt you can win your own battle, just like this Army veteran did.
Steve Repak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, CFP® Board Ambassador, and financial literacy speaker. He is also an Army veteran and the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveRepak