I’ve talked before about the attitude shifts that I’ve gone through in my quest to become debt free. The frugality by necessity, learning to budget and to assign every dollar a job, and losing my all or nothing attitude. But one of the things I haven’t really talked about is the shift from paying what I could “afford”, or basically, as little as I could to just get by, to paying as much as I possibly can. It really was an important transition in mindset when dealing with my debt that happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize it.
When I first started paying off my debt and stopped using credit card convenience checks to bail me out of jams, I started paying slightly more than my minimum payment. And I mean slightly. My minimum payment was $199 and I paid $200. This did actually work, every month my minimum went down a tiny bit, and I kept paying $200 every month.
This was a good thing. But it wasn’t quite good enough. I was paying more than the minimum, but I wasn’t paying as much as I possibly could. I basically treated the credit card debt like a monthly bill and adjusted for $200 in my monthly spending. It became predictable and stable and yes, it was better than paying just the minimum, but I never changed it. Not for more than two years. Our financial situation slowly changed for the better as my spouse moved up and got raises and I *talked* about how we should pay more to the credit card and get it gone, and once in a while I would pay a little bit more, but I really didn’t do it with any consistency or commitment. The credit card was just a $200 bill I paid every month.
So, last January or so I finally started making a more thoughtful and concerted commitment to getting out of debt once and for all. And one of the things that changed was that I started the process of snowflaking. At first, every time I saved money on something or spent less than I expected on something,I made an extra little payment to the credit card equal to those savings. When my son didn’t outgrow his shoes as fast as I expected, I snowflaked the cost of new shoes to my credit card. When I got a little money from taking surveys, I snowflaked money to the credit card.
And then I expanded this. I started paying extra to the credit card every time I bought something impulsive. If I bought something impulsively (with cash) for $10, I snowflaked $10 to debt as well. For if I could afford to waste my money frittering it away on a bunch of random stuff, surely I could afford to pay down my debt equally. And the credit card kept shrinking. Little by little, it built up momentum.
Enter the budget. Budgeting made it clear that not only could I “afford” to pay more to debt each month, but that I needed to if I ever wanted to get out of the living paycheck to paycheck cycle we are in. And that is where the true financial revolution picked up steam. Not only was I making small extra payments to debt when I earned extra income, I was also taking my “surplus” money at the end of each month and applying that directly to debt. And the snowflakes have become a snowball. It was a gradual process but truly, over the course of steadily paying down my credit card and other debts, my mindset went from “This is what I can afford to pay every month” to “Where can I find more to pay every month”.
And that change in and of itself has made everything else fall into place. And I didn’t even notice it happening.
What change in your financial behavior happened so gradually you didn’t realize it was happening, but you wouldn’t do without now?