Debt has become so normalized in our culture that we no longer believe it is possible to live without it.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are constantly bombarded with messages about how to live a “normal” life.

These messages come from a variety of different sources – advertisements, schools, our parents, relatives, friends…our entire society promotes the idea that debt is normal.

Here’s what my original life plan looked like.

Life Plan for Financial Failure

Step 1. Go to college immediately after high school, and take out student loans to pay for it.
Step 2. Go to grad school and take on even more student loan debt.
Step 3. Get married (and spend the majority of my savings on the wedding).
Step 4. Buy a house with a $200,000+ mortgage.
Step 5. Buy a car that isn’t 17 years old with a car loan.
Step 6. Start a family a couple years after buying the $200k house.
Step 7. Live paycheck to paycheck and use credit cards for emergencies.
Step 8. Wait to start saving for retirement until I have extra money to do so.

Being “Normal”

I bought in to the lie that if you don’t go to a 4 year university immediately after high school, you’ll end up flipping burgers for the rest of your life.  I worried a lot about the $40k I had in debt from my undergrad degree, so I decided to make myself a more marketable job candidate by getting a master’s degree…and taking on even more debt.

Ridiculous, I know.

I managed to save about $15k while I was in grad school and I spent the majority of it on my wedding because having a “normal” wedding is what “normal” people do, right?  Thankfully, it was at this point that I finally had an epiphany.

I was buried in student loan debt, and my minimum monthly payments were nearly 50% of my income at the time.  I didn’t know what to do, and a wise friend lent me a copy of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover.  For the first time, I realized that I didn’t have to do what “normal” 20-somethings do.

I knew that if I wanted to live like no one else later (debt-free and financially secure), I would have to live like no else now.  I could no longer continue to do things just because it was what others expected of me.

Here’s my new life plan (starting with Step 4).

Life Plan for Financial Freedom

Step 4. Live with my parents while I pay off my student loans as quickly as possible.
Step 5. Start contributing to a Roth 401(k) and an IRA as soon as my loans are paid off.
Step 6. Buy a reasonably priced townhouse or small home (closer to $100k rather than $200k+).
Step 7. Save a sizeable emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses).
Step 8. Save cash for vehicles if possible (or pay off a car loan ASAP).
Step 9. Pay off mortgage early.
Step 10. Continue to live frugally and start building wealth.  Attain financial freedom.

Living Differently

Following a debt-free path is unconventional and people will call you crazy.  Many people will judge you because debt has become so “normal” in our culture that most people see debt as a necessary evil or even as a helpful tool.

For the most part, I’m pretty good at not caring what other people think.  I know that the sacrifices I’m making now will be worth it later.  I’ve seen people make bad choices and I’ve seen how that has played out for them (not well).

I don’t want to be 65 and wondering how I’m going to retire.  I don’t want to get stuck putting every emergency on a credit card.  I’ve been tied down by debt for long enough, and I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in debt.

People criticize my choices all the time, and that’s something I’ve gotten used to it – it’s inevitable as a blogger.  By far, my most controversial choice is my decision to live with my parents.  I’ve been called “entitled”, “pathetic”, and numerous other rude things.

I don’t care because these people don’t know me.  They don’t know every detail of my story – they know only a small piece of it.

What’s more difficult is when people who do know your story – people who love you and care about you – don’t support you.

Tuning Out the Noise

My husband recently decided to get a smart car because his old car died and smart cars are cheap enough that we could easily pay cash for it.  We felt it was worth it because we didn’t want to take on more debt.

Smart cars look a little silly, and we’ve gotten plenty of crap for it (especially my hubby, who loves cars and has a lot of friends who are obsessed with fast cars).  Still, that’s easy to tune out.

What’s harder to tune out is when people who love us say things like “that car scares me.  I hope you don’t kill yourselves in it”.  When my 17 year old car needed $500 in repairs recently, the same person said to me “this is why I have a car loan”.

These types of comments are harder to ignore because I know this person cares about us.  This person isn’t some random troll on the internet who insults people for fun.  This person truly believes we’re making mistakes that will hurt us.

Suddenly, I start to doubt our choices.

Is it wise to drive a tiny smart car on snow covered roads in Minnesota?  Am I right to keep getting my 17 year old car repaired instead of taking out a car loan?  The problem with cars is that they’re unpredictable, and there’s no good answer to either of these questions.

So we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing.  We’ll avoid debt as much as possible, we’ll do what we think is smart (not what others think), and we’ll hope for the best.

Whenever I start caring too much what others think, I remind myself to do these three things.

Consider the Source

If my most frugal friend were telling us to get rid of my car (instead of getting it repaired) or to not buy a smart car, that would certainly give me pause.  It’s not frugal people who are telling me that they disagree with my choices.

It’s people who are buried in debt and see debt as “normal”.  If I followed every piece of advice that these people give me, I’d end up as broke as they are.

Focus on the Long-Term

Getting out of debt requires making sacrifices.  You’ll have to do things others don’t approve of.  That’s okay because it will be worth it.

When you’re retiring early, traveling the world, or not worrying about how to pay for emergencies, the people who criticized you will be wishing they had done what you did.

Accept Uncertainty

We don’t always know what the best decision is because we can’t predict the future.  I could put in $2,000 worth of repairs into my car and then have the transmission die shortly after.  Or I could take out a car loan and end up with a newer vehicle that is a lemon and requires plenty of repairs of its own.  Who knows?

We don’t always know what the best option is – all we can do is make the smartest decision we can with the knowledge we have at the time.  We need to make peace with that and accept the fact that there will always be uncertainty in life.

If we end up realizing that we made a mistake, we learn from it, forgive ourselves, and make smarter choices in the future.

One Last Thought

If you want to get out of debt, you need to stop caring what other people think.  If you’re focused on living a “normal” life, it will be incredibly difficult to pay off your debt.

“Normal” in our society means having student loans, credit card debt, an overly expensive mortgage, and two car loans.  I don’t want to be tied down by debt for the rest of my life.

I don’t want to be “normal”.

Do you find it hard to tune out others’ opinions?


Other stuff you might like:

How to Start a Blog in 5 Easy Steps
How to Ditch Your Student Loans with the Debt Snowball
My Personal Finance “Aha” Moment
The Appeal of Minimalism
9 Ways to Get Free Yoga Classes

Personal Finance Resources:

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
YOLO: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life by Jason Vitug
Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach
It’s Only Money and It Does Grow on Trees by Cara MacMillan

Blogging Resources:

How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup
365 Blog Topic Ideas for the Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About by Dana Fox
Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income by ProBlogger