What Are You Willing To Do?
When you’re stuck in a hole, will you grab a shovel and dig yourself in deeper or find a way to get out?
I distinctly remember when I decided to turn my life around. It was January 2016, and I was sitting on the couch beside a girl that I had been seeing for just three months. I watched, with bated breath, as she opened up her online banking account and made her final payment of student loans. I took a photo of her, now stupidly deleted, as she grinned and updated her Facebook status with the good news.
At that moment, with $50,000 of debt weighing on me, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to accomplish what she had just done in a mere year and a half.
All it took was one inconspicuous evening for my life to completely change. Fast forward two and a half years later, I can confidently say that who I am now is much healthier and happier than that person sitting on that couch. For me, it really came down to one question: What are you willing to do?
The first thing I did was take a long, hard look at my spending. It was a bandaid I had to write-off — A problem I didn’t want to admit I had. I was spending money left, right, and center, on things that I barely used. Six dollar coffees, fifteen dollar lunches, tech accessories I just had to have, items of clothing I’ve only worn a handful of times. I thought being a lawyer meant spending like one, irregardless of the financial hole that I was digging for myself.
I devised a budget. I started to make coffee and lunches at home and bring them to work. I began to drive less and take public transit more. It was hard, of course, but it felt motivating seeing money remain in my chequing account at the end of the month.
After the budget, came the vacations. In 2016, I went to Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago, and Ottawa alone. No more. Aside from a weekend in Montreal for my birthday in June 2017, I haven’t gone anywhere, opting to explore my own city instead. Just yesterday, I went to a beach in my city that I had never been to before. It’s incredible how often we fail to discover what’s just beyond our doorstep.
Next, unwilling to accept the speed of my repayment plan, I sold my car for a few hundred dollars. It hurt but I couldn’t afford dipping into my emergency savings every few months to repair something minor in my 2006 hatchback.
As I emptied my car of old, burned CDs, food receipts, and whatever items that fell into the abyss under the seats, I was flooded with memories of an earlier time: a road trip across northern Michigan, shooting the shit with a friend for hours in a Tim Hortons parking lot because we couldn’t decide where to go, another road trip to Chicago with three of my closest friends and getting lost through Jackson, Indiana on the way home, my current girlfriend and I sharing our first kiss as I drove her home (in an apartment that I subsequently moved into later), and all the solo drives I took to clear my head.
Saying goodbye to the ol’ hunk of metal was tough, but it was time for a better future, one full of new experiences where I was in the black. Unmade memories paid in cash, not credit.
Now, two and a half years from that night on the couch, I have $5,000 of student loans on a line of credit that I’m still kicking around. I expect to be in the black, for the first time since 23 years old, in four months. I’m not out of the woods yet, but the worst is ever.
Aristotle once said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” I’d like to think that I can now appreciate what that means.
I used to get down on myself — how stupid was I to spend frivolously as if money grows on trees. But I’ve learned that we all make mistakes. No one intentionally self-sabotages their future. Sometimes when we’re young, we just don’t know any better. And of course, there are situations where our financial hardship stems from a situation outside of our control.
Life is full of obstacles, and the ones that require an extraordinary amount of grit are those that end up teaching us the most.
Looking back, I’m grateful for my financial missteps. Without the debt, I wouldn’t have learned what I’m truly capable of, and the things that I’ve been willing to sacrifice for a better life.