Four and a half years ago, I was $28,000 in debt. I was earning just a few thousand more than that per year. The road ahead looked uphill, unpaved and foggy. Young adulthood and the real world weren’t seeming so fun. What was I to do? I had two options:

  1. Live it up
  2. Stop this madness

I had made it to age 23. I was out of college and glad to be finished but also bummed out because those years were behind me. I now had major responsibilities. I had to make it in the real world. You know how it feels. It’s scary when you first enter this stage of your life. No more relying on your parents to pay for your doctor’s, dentist or eye doctor’s visit. No more free riding on insurance. No more free grocery money each month.path

Living it up was an attractive option. Living it up meant taking vacations, like my road trip to California in the summer of 2008. Living it up was what I did when I bought my $20,000 car on a whim during that trip. I wanted to do much more living it up, like moving up in apartment into a nicer place and buying some really nice furniture. I wanted a nice place to live in addition to my nice car and nice toys. I was in the real world now, working full time. I wanted to reward myself for this hard work.

All along, I had a voice in the back of my head that cried out over and over again, saying “Stop this madness”. It was up to me to figure out what that meant. As I dealt with the stress of owing $20,000 on my car, paying back $5,000 in student loans and paying off a few more thousand on my credit cards, I took some time to think about it all.

Upgrade my Lifestyle or Invest in My Future?

Both of the two paths ahead of me were inviting:

  1. Upgrade my lifestyle
  2. Invest in my future

I figured I had a few hundred extra dollars each month. With the next raise at work, I could move into a nicer place, buy some new furniture and still be able to take a vacation or two each year. That would be a pretty great lifestyle. One that I would really enjoy.

I could also take another path that would require sacrifice. It wouldn’t be glamorous at first, or for many years actually. This path would be to use all of my earning power to get out of the financial mess I’m in and never go back. If I got out from underneath my debt, I could save up and actually be able to buy a home someday. I could also rid myself of the financial stress and anxiety that I had come to know very well. I decided that I’d take the second path, that of stopping my lifestyle inflation madness and investing in my future.

Why Investing in My Future Was the Right Decision

Becoming a person who lives below my means was hard to do. I don’t talk a lot about the difficulty of this lifestyle for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s more rewarding than it is painful
  2. The positives exponentially outweigh the negatives

I just don’t feel that complaining about not being able to buy a new car, house, TV, stereo system, set of snow skis, set of golf clubs or bike or take extravagant vacations is productive. They are material things and they don’t bring us happiness. They are just “stuff”. I know it’s not ideal to have to have to live with what you got and be careful about what you buy, but it’s life. So, I don’t complain about it. After all, I have a comfortable place to live (my apartment), a reliable car to drive, food in my fridge and a few dollars of spending money in my wallet. I don’t have room to complain.

I will, however, brag about what it means for my life that I don’t blow through all the money I earn. It means I have a cash emergency fund, should anything happen to any of the things I own, or to my income. I won’t have to panic if I get slapped in the face by life. It means that I get to log into Mint.com every day and see zero debt. It means I get to learn about investing because I actually have money to invest. It means earning over $2,000 in the stock market in less than 3 months of investing. It is fun, empowering and exciting. I feel like I’m on a positive path in life, one that will lead me to experience my hopes and dreams. How great is that? I think it trumps the inconveniences of having to miss out on my lifestyle upgrades and nice things that I could have had.

Where to Go with Living Below Your Means

This is always a good question. Where should you go with this lifestyle? What is the point of it? Why do it?

One reason I do it is for myself. I’m doing it to feel better and to reach my potential. Yes, it is pretty selfish. I don’t want to feel like crap. Living with debt personally makes me feel like crap. I worry about the future. I stress over how my situation is going to improve and how long it will take. I lose hope. I get negative, complain and feel angry. That’s not how I want to feel anymore.

And I also do it for you and everyone else in this world. With my uniqueness, originality and talents, I have gifts to contribute to this world, many of which I haven’t yet been able to offer. I really want to contribute to this world as much as I can. I expect you feel this same way. I’m sure that deep down you believe you have many things to offer this world too. I feel it’s important that you and I use our gifts to make this world a better place. Do you agree?

Don’t take my word for the “why” of living this lifestyle. Think about how the opposite makes YOU feel. Does it feel less than ideal? What could it mean for you to be out of debt, winning financially and free to use your best talents, skills and passions to add value to the rest of us? We all have the dream and the “why” that can motivate us to forget about the pain and sacrifice of living below our means. The question is, are we paying attention to it or ignoring it.

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