Getting out of debt completely changed how I think about money.
I know, that seems like such an obvious statement, but it’s kind of crazy how true it is. I’ve toyed with budgeting on and off for a few years now. Everything from buying YNAB (You Need A Budget) back when it was just a lump sum for the whole program, to using google sheets, to just simply outlining my monetary goals on a sheet of paper. In the end though, I’ve come back to YNAB, which is a subscription service now. That’s a bit annoying, but honestly it’s only $105 a year and I would be willing to bet I easily saved that much because of the program in the first month. Plus considering not even 2 months ago I was ponying up $2000/year for subscriptions (I’m way under that now) it wasn’t a huge dent. But YNAB, or budgeting in general, has completely changed the way I view money.
I started thinking about cutting back my spending in early mid November. Mostly it was out of necessity since I knew I wouldn’t be returning to truck driving (a story for another time) and therefore would lose my inflow of easy money. So by the time January rolled around and I decided to buy YNAB, I was already nearly debt free. But to tell this story right I need to start back at the beginning. Many, many eons ago, in the far flung past of the summer of 2014! insert screen wobble and ascending piano keys here.
I had just finished up at my first real job, working as a Customer Service Rep for an environmental sampling company, which is to date the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life. My mother had expressed her interest in sending me to a “leadership workshop” (read: cult) that took place in Nevada, just a couple hours outside Vegas. I won’t name the company, but it starts with an “R” and ends in “apport”. Ok, the word “cult” is a bit strong. It was a really weird experience, and completely not for me, but I saw some people get benefit out of it so they are clearly doing some good. It was mainly focused around strong public speaking, leadership, confidence in your opinion, etc, all of which I have falling out of my ass so I didn’t get very much out of it except for a kind of fun weekend in the desert and one long and interesting night in Vegas.
On the bus ride back from the, I don’t know what to call it, campus? Lodge? Anyway on the way back from the leadership place I called my mom and asked if she would look into changing my flight to the next morning instead of that evening. Some of the people I’d met on the trip weren’t flying out until the next morning and were making plans for some fun in Vegas. I had never been before and had just turned 21 a few months earlier. The perfect storm. I distinctly remember moving to the back of the bus to talk to my mom about switching my flight, and arguing with her when she said I should just come home that night. Lesson 1: listen to your mother. I mean, her reasoning was that I should come home and process what I’d learned in the course, which I had already done because the processor of a 1977 Apple II could have handled that load in about 2.8 seconds. But the fact is I should have listened to her and gone home that night. I often wonder what my life would be like today if I had taken that step. I try not to ruminate on things like that too much but hey, when you drive 12 hours a day your mind tends to wander.
Instead I convinced her to change my flight and I hastily booked a hotel online. It was in the Venetian, and it was a $100 room, so I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. Imagine my surprise when I saunter through the door and into literally the nicest hotel room I have ever stayed in, ever. It was huge, gorgeous, and fucking huge! I wish I could find a picture that I took, but I don’t have any of my photos from back then.
I quickly dropped my stuff off and went to hang out with some of the other people who were staying in the same hotel. I’ll be honest here, part of why I wanted to stay is because I had spent some time talking to a girl who was in the program who happened to be staying until the morning as well. And, since I was 21, I shouldn’t exactly be blaming it on stupid teenage hormones, but god damn it I’m going to anyway. There were a few of us in her room hanging out, then we all decided to hit the town. If I remember correctly I was the only one of age by Nevadan standards so I went to the liquor store to pick up some supplies. I will not confirm nor deny the accusation that I purchased alcohol for “minors” by Nevada state law, so stop asking.
We wandered around a bit, looked at some of the street performers and artists, went to Fremont Street to see the cool overhead lights, etc. A few of the group members split off and went back to the hotel. I was invited to go along. Lesson 2: always go with your gut. I wanted to head back to the hotel with the group, which had the aforementioned girl I had been talking to. However, for some reason that escapes me to this day, I didn’t go back. I continued on with the other group and this is where things started to head south.
Everyone decided they wanted to go to the strip club. Since I had never been to one before and since I was in Vegas I thought to myself “Hey, when in Rome” and tagged along even though I wasn’t feeling it. We got to the strip club and everyone ordered some Red Bull’s, because it was 2am and everyone except me was under 21 so they couldn’t drink. And I’d like to just take a second here and point out the hilarity of the United States of America, that we could be in a room filled with objectified naked women, but most of my party was unable to drink alcohol because... reasons?
Anyway, I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say we spent some time in the strip club, where there was an ATM, and my credit card started to feel a little objectified itself by the end of the night. This is where this long, rambling mess has been leading to. It’s actually kind of hard to imagine I started this story off talking about money and debt, then here I am 1000 words later circling back to the point. We spent some time in the strip club, then we went to the casino for a few hours, and then the next thing I knew it was 5am and I was a grand in the hole.
I’m going to err on the side of truth here again. It would be easy to say this was the biggest mistake of a night of my life, and that I blame it for all my problems, but I’m not going to do that. I had a lot of fun that night, hanging out with a bunch of people I’d spent the weekend with and doing things I never thought I would do. I just wish I had done it with a bit more responsibility and when I had the financial stability to have a night like that. I’ll tell you what, I’ll never take money out of an ATM on my credit card again after that night.
So I got back to Canada with more debt that I’d ever had before in my life. To be clear, I’d been going to school and then working minimum wage jobs up until that point and living with my parents so I never had to worry about rent or bills really. Full disclosure, I still live with my dad at this point, so I still don’t have to worry about rent or bills. For the last 3 years. And yet I still just barely climbed my way out of the hole after making nearly $60,000-$80,000 a year for the last 3 years. To this day I still don’t know where all that money went. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know where a lot of it went, but I could never account for it all. I’ve collected stupid things and jumped from hobby to hobby. I spent thousands on Nerf guns, keyboards, collectible figurines, replica weapons, entertainment and media, etc. I’ve eaten out countless times instead of cooking at home, never paying attention to how much I spend. I’ve gone on vacations and just always bought whatever I wanted without a second thought, because I knew I was making lots of money at my job and I would be able to pay it back. And a lot of the reason I was spending that money so flippantly is because I was already in the hole, so what was a little more piled on.
This kind of thinking may seem insane to you, and trust me it does to me as well, but it’s how I justified everything to myself. I came back from Las Vegas with debt on my credit card and for three and a half years been constantly paying it off. I honestly think that a lot of why I was never able to climb out was because I just never got my head in the right place. And budgeting really helped me orient myself and realize what I was buying. Now, when I’m on the way home from unloading the truck at the end of the day, instead of stopping off at Wendy’s and grabbing a chicken burger I opt to head home and make a sandwich instead, and while a small part of that is health related, a huge factor in that decision is I didn’t want to carve $15 out of my budget just then. And when I make that decision, it’s a lot easier to see all the other reasons I shouldn’t stop for food. It’s not as healthy, it would take extra time, I have food in the fridge at home, etc. Maybe I could afford it just then monetarily, but when I frame it in that light of “is this really worth the money” I start to see all the reasons it might not be.
So I’m finally out of debt. As of January 2nd I have a balance of zero on both my credit cards. I know I got a bit off track there in the middle of the story, but I hope you enjoyed reading regardless. And if you don’t have a budget, maybe try it out and see if you like doing it. You can try YNAB free for like 34 days or something, or just use Google Sheets or Apple Numbers and make a simple spreadsheet budget. Once you allocate all your money for the month and give every dollar a job, you’ll be amazed at how your thought processes change every time you think about spending money. I used to just buy stuff because I liked it and I wanted it, and I was lucky enough to have a good enough job that I could pay for it. But that leads to a pretty stagnant and depressing lifestyle with pretty much nothing to show for my time on this earth, and no safety net in case something goes wrong. A year ago if I’d hurt myself or if the work had dried up, I’d have been pretty screwed.
I’m honestly really happy every time I open the app and look at my budget. I have over $2000 saved towards my Appalachian Trail hike, with an end goal of $5000 by the end of this month, which I should be able to just hit as long as I work as much as I did January. All my gear is bought and paid for, and because my parents are amazing and give me a roof over my head rent free I have very few expenses between now and my fly out date of March 5th. Then when I get back, I won’t be driving truck anymore, and to be completely honest I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do. That used to make me nervous, but now it’s just exciting, and I know I can handle things, whatever comes at me.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments if you have a budget. When did you start? How has it helped your life? And if you don’t have one, are you going to start?
Have a great day!