Life After Debt: What’s Different?

Last week, I decided to start a series of posts about what life is like after debt. I introduced the topic by outlining some of the resources that helped me get out of debt in the first place. After chipping away at it for two years, I made my final debt repayment on May 21st. Obviously, I’m proud of what I did and am happy to be debt-free, but I’d be lying if I said that adjusting to life after debt has been easy. Now, it’s time to talk about what it’s like to have an extra $800+ a month in my budget.

Doesn’t it feel great to not have any debt!?

This is the #1 question that people ask me now and I don’t think anyone expects my answer. Being debt-free feels… good, I guess. I’m obviously thankful that I don’t owe anyone money. And it’s pretty cool that when I get paid that money is all mine – but it still has places to go! For starters, on payday, the first thing I do (as per usual) is log into my online banking and pay any bills I have. Then I set aside half of my rent, half of my savings goals for the month, and then make a list of what I’m going to do over the next 15 days. More often than not, that includes a roundtrip to Victoria and back (which is $134) for some kind of event. This summer has been filled with weddings, birthdays, concerts, etc. And other than the few hundred dollars I finally put into my Emergency Fund last month, my paycheques have seemingly come and gone.

But what can you do now that you couldn’t do before?

This question is easy to answer: I can do whatever I want to – within reason, of course. But if I want to go for dinner, I go. If I want to buy myself a book, I buy it. If I want to travel, I do. However, in having a little more freedom and flexibility in my budget, it seems I’ve actually become more obsessed with my finances. In fact, I would guess I now check the balances of my accounts daily. Why? My good friend Carrie Smith said it best: ”Even normal purchases scare me into wondering if I’ve overextended myself.” When I was in debt, I was lucky if I had $30 left in my chequing account before payday. Now, I usually have $300 in there at all times. But I’m not used to that! In my adult life, I’ve never (until now) finished a month without having a massive amount of debt hanging over me. Even though it’s gone, the memory of that weight still sits heavy on my mind and affects the way I handle my finances (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Do you feel the need to be frugal still? Or do you have more urges to spend?

Those are interesting questions. I won’t lie – for the first few weeks, I wanted to spend money. And it’s easy to see why. After two years of restricting myself from doing and buying so many things, it was hard not to feel… free. Capable, even. (Plus I was just sick of waiting for the things I still wanted.) With that being said, I learned so many things about budgeting, finding ways to save, etc. that I think a part of me will always be a little bit frugal. I’m not going to stop myself from buying something I want at the grocery store (yes, I used to do that) but I’ll probably never pay full price for something again. So, yes, sometimes I have the urges to spend. If it’s in my budget to do so, then I do. But I’ll always be conscious of prices. As Kathleen said, “Once you wake up and decide [to live life on a budget], you can never go back to a blissful life of ignorance.”

So, what’s next?

We’ll get to that on Thursday.

For those of you who once had debt and are now debt-free, what was the first month like for you? How would you answer some of these questions?

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