My New Year’s Resolution – A Financial Success Story
by Kristy Ed.S., NCSP | 28 December 2020
Updated 12/5/2023 by Kenneth Medford III
I set my New Year’s resolution. “This year, I am going to be better with money.”
David, not one for New Year’s resolutions, scoffed at the idea. A flip of the calendar carries no significance in my husband’s book. Neither of us could have anticipated how successful my New Year’s resolution would become.
Truth is, studies show that only 8% of Americans who make a New Year’s resolution actually keep them all year. In fact, a whopping 80% of resolvers have failed by the start of February. What made me different? I started with the details, not the outcome.
You will often hear people say the reason why New Year’s resolutions fail is because their goals were not specific enough. More often than not they are right. Oftentimes we get so caught up in the end result, that we forget we have to devise a plan to get there.
My plan was simple and adaptable.
For the first time, we started budgeting. I accounted for necessities, some fun, and any extra money went to debt. We seemed to be making progress. Then in March, the COVID-19 pandemic came in full force. Our small city ground to a halt. David’s once-lucrative and busy flight schedule seemingly disappeared overnight. No one was flying anywhere.
Take control of what you can and find joy
We both knew we had no control over David’s job stability. What we did have control over, however, was my spending. I kept reminding him to “control the controllable,” trying to ease his worried mind. Couldn’t really blame him for doubting me, given his decade of experience watching me spend and spend and spend. I wouldn’t have trusted my words either. This was not the first time I had sworn to get my financial act together.
Finding Motivation to Make a Behavioral and Mindset Change
When I started on this journey in January 2020, my why was very surface. At that time, my motivation for getting out of debt was simple – a new house. In March, something happened to me, something David could not see. Watching the potential job loss anxiety eat him up was so eerily reminiscent of 2009. We both had rather gnarly flashbacks to when just a couple of weeks from our wedding, David was furloughed from his airline job.
The only difference was, this time, a job loss was not to blame. I was. It was at that moment that all of my shoddy financial decisions came over me like a wave. I suddenly realized the real ramifications of my spending, and they were not merely financial. My why suddenly became a lot less surface.
It is worth mentioning that David was never a problem. In fact, being the saver he is, it’s a miracle he tolerated my spending for as long as he did. As a fail-safe, over the course of two years, David managed to stash away roughly $22,000. In March, we contemplated using that money to pay off almost all of our credit card debt. David was unsure and honestly, so was I. Could he trust me? Could I trust me? We rolled the dice. We used every bit of that $22,000 to pay off 12 of our 14 credit cards.
Big move pays off in paying off debt.
Things instantaneously became more manageable without all the extra bills. We felt some relief, and that relief gave us momentum. In April, we cut everything that was not a necessity. We dialed in our budget even further. In May, we officially paid off our last credit card and it felt great, but I knew the true test wouldn’t come until June.
A Community of Support
If I was going to keep this momentum going, I was going to need some support and some substantive change.
In May, I started an Instagram page to document our debt-free journey. That is when I stumbled upon an entire community of debt slayers such as myself. They called themselves the Debt Free Community or DFC. This community is the internet and social media at its best. This group is inspiring, celebratory, and encouraging. It doesn’t matter if I’m winning or losing with money or life, they are there to lend that much-needed support.
This was exciting for me. As a trained school psychologist, I understood the importance of accountability. You increase the odds of achieving your goals by 95% when you have an accountability partner. I didn’t have just one, I had thousands!
Being Self-Aware to Accomplish a Financial New Year’s Resolultion
As I talked with people in the DFC about our accomplishments, I noted a consistent theme. It was this concept of self-awareness. After a particularly tough year professionally in 2019, I had started practicing mindfulness. This is a key component in increasing one’s own self-awareness, and it helps us develop a healthy curiosity about why we do what we do. I had been anything but consistent with my practice of mindfulness, and I had begun to feel like an imposter.
Controlling Impulse to Control Spending.
For the past 5 years, I have worked as a school psychologist with kids battling major impulse control issues. These kids simply could not keep their behavior in check. What I quickly noticed is that emotions such as anger, sadness, and anxiety were things “they weren’t supposed to feel.” It never ceased to amaze me the look they would give when I told them that it was okay to be angry, sad, or anxious. What they learned after working with me long enough, was that the emotion wasn’t their problem. The challenge was in their inability to recognize the emotion early on and deal with it productively.
Gratitude and Mindfulness
I’d experienced such a high degree of success helping my students cultivate their own self-awareness through gratitude practice and mindfulness. I taught them how to recognize their emotions early on, so as to deal with them constructively. Yet here I was, unwilling to learn to do the same with my emotional spending. I’d been going from one purchase to the next trying desperately to fill a void, in the same way, my students went from one outburst to the next just trying to fill a need. My spending behavior was only separating me further from my long term goals.
Hard work pays off when paying down debt.
I won’t sugarcoat it. My early years, much like those of many of my students, were far from idyllic. They were riddled with adverse childhood experiences, or as we refer to them in my profession, “ACES.” The more ACES a child experiences, the more likely they are to struggle in adult life and I had many. They all came to a head in 2007 when my mother lost her battle with mental illness.
We have all been guilty of “checking out” from our emotions far too often. This is especially true for the strong and uncomfortable kind, like anger and sadness. Much like my students, somewhere along the way, we have been taught to bottle them up and push them aside. I had become very good at doing just that. The problem is, those emotions are still there, and by not dealing with them early on, we run the risk of coping with them in not-so-productive ways. Case in point, my emotional spending. My refusal to constructively deal with the emotions surrounding my mom’s death helped to dig us into one deep financial sinkhole.
Processing and tackling the mindset takes work too.
Losing a parent is tough, no matter the age or cause. The shame and guilt I carried at 19 years old surrounding my mom’s death was intense. At the time, it was impossible to process. Thirteen years later it is still a hard pill to swallow. Hard as it was, I knew I had to work through that grief. Without doing so, I’d unknowingly stunted my growth, and by extension my success.
I knew if I was going to practice financial wellness long-term, I was going to have to learn to temper my emotions. This meant actually practicing what I had been teaching my students for the past five years. The result, not surprisingly, was nothing short of amazing. Through mindfulness and gratitude, I learned the importance of curbing emotional spending and setting goals to achieve the life I want. The deeper I dug, the more motivated I became.
We kept tackling smaller financial hurdles in order to achieve our ultimate financial goal and new year’s resolution.
The car loan balance in January 2019 stood at a dizzying $49,030. That first year of payments, we got nowhere fast. At the start of 2020, when I made the resolution, we still owed $42,084. In June, after paying off roughly 60K in credit card debt and working through the root cause of my emotional spending, we set out to tackle this car loan. In six months, we made $38,570 in extra payments. Was it easy, no. Was it worth it? 100% yes! We paid off my car 4 ½ years early.
As luck would have it, on December 31st, we’ll pay off the last of our remaining consumer debt. One year after I said “I would get better with money,” we’re six-figure debt-free.
As I’ve hinted, my mindset has changed a lot throughout this process. To me, money is no longer about the things I can buy, but instead the time I can have. Now David is able to drop down to a less lucrative schedule. The timing could not be more perfect because in early November we found out we are expecting our first child. Whose due date is coincidentally on the same day my mom passed away. Talk about coming full circle with healing.
Altering our behavior, especially as it relates to spending and saving, takes time.
On the surface, my formula for success was fairly simple. We spent less and made more. Deep down though, it was so much more. I developed short and long-term goals, prioritized my wants, focused on others instead of myself, and identified my emotional triggers.
This past March, coming so close to losing everything I changed. I no longer viewed the tangibles in my life as a measure of worth or success. Instead, I vowed to be much more focused on the time that money can bring. Time to focus on what you want and who you want. In doing so, I’ve opened up numerous doors in my life and relationships.
When I made that new year’s resolution back in January I had no idea what to expect. I floundered my way through the early months. Then as luck would have it, COVID-19 happened. It made me realize that no one really cares about the surface stuff. I think we have all learned that, especially this year.
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