If there is one thing I’d like anyone who reads this blog to walk away with, it is that small changes matter. Every small thing that we consciously change for the better does indeed make an overall difference. Things don’t have to turn 180 degrees overnight, a 1 degree turn every day will have the same impact (and be easier to adjust to) given enough time.
When I finally realized that continuing to add to our credit card debt was a problem, the first thing I did was simply a small change. I stopped using credit card convenience checks. That might seem like a big thing, but since I was only writing one a month (to pay one credit card with the other, not so smart I was) it was a simple change and I only had to focus on one thing – being able to come up with the minimum payment on one card without relying on the other one. Once I got used to doing that, I focused on one thing – paying $200 per month, every month, to my credit card debt. At the time, my debt hovered between $10K and $11K, and the minimum payment was $199. All I paid was $1 over minimum. I continued to pay $200 per month, even as the minimum shrank, little by little. By a year later, the minimum had gone down $10 or $15, but I continued to pay $200 a month, and the minimum shrank ever so slowly, but picked up speed as time went on and I held steady with my self-imposed minimum.
Fully three years after I made the decision to never use another credit card convenience check again, things were progressing. The minimum payment on my credit card was about $140, and I continued to pay $200 a month. I then made another small change. If I bought an impulse item, I paid for it twice – once in cash at the time, and once in the form of an extra payment to my credit card. And in that, my snowflaking mentality was born. Within the next year, things, for lack of a better word, snowballed. I began to make more small changes, and they began to add up. I started earmarking “extra” money for debt reduction. I started paying attention to and tracking my spending. Lest you think a budget is a big change – it took me 5 months of tweaking to get to a budget we could all live with and I wasn’t breaking every month (and we’re still tweaking) so for us, budgeting was a long series of very small steps. All these small changes added up to a large change in attitude, mindset, and outlook – as well as a much rosier financial picture.
Now, more than 4 years after we made that one small change to let go of the credit card convenience check security blanket, we’re out of credit card debt, making significant progress on our student loans (something I never thought would be paid off before the end dates sometime in 2013 and 2017) and looking towards having our mortgage be our only debt. All because of an avalanche of small changes.
Small steps matter. Don’t be dissuaded from your dreams because they seem so far away. Take the first small step towards achieving them today.