This post is Part 3, the final part of a 3-part series on finances, excerpted from the upcoming book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Full-Time Life to Make Room For Your Craft.
To read part 1, click here.
To read part 2, click here.
Why am I talking about finances in a book about making room for your craft? Because finances are one of the major areas that can hinder your creative process. I want to relieve you of your stress about finances so that you can better manage your money and can focus better on your art, whatever your art might be.
I have 4 steps to set you on the path toward financial freedom. Today I will share the final 2 of these steps. (again, see the first two steps in Part 2 here)
3. Dancing the debt snowball.
Have you ever been to a snowball dance? This is when one couple starts out on the dance floor. As soon as the music stops, they separate and find new partners to dance with, thus inviting two more people on the floor. The music stops again, and then those four people will find four new people to dance with.
In a way, this is the dance we are going to do with your debt.
Glance over the debt you have listed on your budget, and order these items by the amount you owe. The first item will be your largest, which will probably be your mortgage if you own your house. Next is probably your student loan or your car payment. Next are your larger credit cards, followed by your store credit cards. And so on. Now I’m going to give you some advice that might seem controversial: pay only the minimum payments on every single bit of your debt, except for the smallest debt you owe. I know this seems totally backwards, but trust me on this.
Note: If you are already paying only the minimum payment on every single bit of debt you owe, you are going to have to adjust your budget one more time so that you can pay more on that smallest bit of debt.
The idea behind this method is to get that smallest debt completely paid off as quick as possible. This means you need to throw as much money as it as you can until it no longer exists. Once you’ve done that, pat yourself on the back! You officially have less debt!
But don’t stop there.
Take that amount you were spending to that first bit of debt, and apply it to the next smallest debt. Pay that amount until you have erased that debt. Then repeat. As you continue to pay off debt, the amount you can pay on that lowest bit of debt will get larger and larger. However, you won’t be spending more of your income to do so. As each debt is paid off, the process of eliminating debt gets faster and more satisfying.
For example, let’s say you have three credit cards. The first has a balance of $8,000. The second has a balance of $5,000. And the third has a balance of $2,000. You have been paying $200 to each of them a month to try and pay them off, which is more than the minimum payment. For this example’s sake, we’ll just say the minimum payment on each is $150. To follow this step, start making $150 payments to the credit cards with the largest amount of debt, and then take that extra money and apply it to the smaller debt. With $50 extra from the first two cards, you can now make $300 payments to the smallest debt. In less than seven months, that smallest debt will be completely paid off. Once that happens, apply that $300 payment to the next credit card. So instead of paying $150 to take care of that $5,000 debt, you will now be making $450 payments, and will pay it off in a little over eleven months. Finally, apply that $450 to the $150 you are paying on the $8,000 debt, making it a $600 payment. In just over thirteen months, that debt will be wiped out.
In our example scenario, we took $15,000 of debt and paid it off in two and a half years. Do you see how easy that was? And do you see how much money you will be able to put to better use once your credit card debt is wiped out?
Finally, make a vow to never take on debt again, especially through credit cards! If you don’t have the money saved for it, you can’t have it. End of story. To ensure you never use a credit card again, I encourage you to cut up each card, and then cancel the card as soon as it’s paid off.
4. Save $ for the big things
Earlier in this chapter (or in part 1), I mentioned our family trip to Hawaii. Years ago, a trip like this would never have happened unless we financed the whole thing using credit cards. A week in the tropics would end up being years of debt while we tried to pay it off.
I’ll have you know that this past summer, we flew our family of five to Hawaii, stayed in a penthouse suite, ate out for many meals, enjoyed a few excursions, and came home without adding any amount of debt to our expenses, even though the vacation cost around $6,000. We paid cash for the whole vacation, and even came home with a few extra dollars.
So how did we do this? The obvious answer is that we saved up for it. But it only took six month for us to do so. We budgeted an amount that was easy for us to put aside each month, and then worked backwards from there to decide how long it would take to save the full amount. We budgeted out vacation much like we budget our monthly expenses: we figured out where we wanted to go, the cost of airline tickets, where we wanted to stay, the activities we wanted to enjoy, and the cost of food, including groceries and eating out. We even budgeted an amount for souvenirs. Once that figure was established, we could pick a date for the vacation, factoring in how much we could save each month and how long it would take us to save.
It feels wonderful to enjoy a vacation when you don’t have to worry about the bill afterwards. We were able to completely detach from our lives at home and enjoy a week of relaxation. We could spend money freely (the first time in a long time!) because we had planned it that way.
What made this experience even sweeter was the contrast our vacation spending held to our spending habits at home. For one week, we were able to live without strict money rules (at least inside of what we had planned).
Think about it this way. If you have dessert every single night after dinner, it becomes less special. Sure, it still tastes good. But it becomes an expected part of the meal. However, if you save dessert for special occasions, it suddenly tastes so much more delicious. The same goes for money. If you spend frivolously all the time, it just doesn’t hold that same feeling of pleasure. You have to spend more and more to be able to gain that high you get from gaining something new. But if you stick to a budget and refrain from treating yourself, it feels that much more special when you are able to indulge (and especially because you have planned for it!).
If there’s something you want and you don’t have the money for it, you need to really search your soul about whether you need it, or if you just want it on impulse. If you really want it, you can have it. But you need to plan for it.
Let’s say you want a new computer. Check the price for the model you want, and then coordinate the money you can put toward it with when you want it purchased. If you want it sooner than your income will allow, you may need to adjust your budget a little more to make that happen. If that’s not possible, you’re just going to have to accept that your computer ownership days will be later than you want.
To wrap things up, I want to make a couple of points very clear. Living by a strict budget is going to take time. Don’t beat yourself up if for the first few months you go over your budget or end up using your credit card. It may be because your budget needs to be worked at a little more until it’s manageable. Or it could be because old habits are hard to break. Be gentle with yourself. And be patient with the results.
Next, recognize where your satisfaction is coming from now. Before, you may have experienced feelings of happiness from gaining new things. While living on a budget isn’t nearly as shiny and exciting, doesn’t it feel good to be the boss of where your money is going? Don’t discount that satisfaction of being in control of your cash flow.
Third, and the reason we are even talking about money in a book on creativity: how is that mental block going? The desperation that comes with money issues can affect your art in a real way. Your creations could take on the odor of that desperation. You might be prone to sell out, being untrue to your creative desires just to make a buck. Or worse, you may decide to give up your art altogether because it isn’t making you the money you need.
If you can manage your income and limit your expenses, you will experience freedom with your art, and will find it easier to create for the sake of creating, instead of as a means to an end.
And isn’t that why we became artists in the first place?
Baby Step: I want you to create your own budget. As I referenced before, I have created a spreadsheet to get you started, which you can access at bit.ly/CreativeSoulsExtras. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s what I refer to with every single paycheck to ensure I’m living within my means.
*Note: This link will add you to my mailing list, and will offer you a preview of all of the resources I offer in Reclaiming Your Creative Soul. Please enjoy this gift from me to you, but don’t share it with anyone else! Once I email you the link to my resource page, click on “Financial Budget” to learn more about handling your finances, and to download your free expense sheet.
Level Up: Reduce your debt by creating a debt snowball. Outside of your mortgage, set a date for when you can be completely debt free!
Be Hardcore: Take a Financial Peace University course. I receive no financial gain whatsoever by referring you to this course. However, I believe in it so much, I think everyone should take it. To find a course near you, visit www.daveramsey.com/fpu and search for a nearby location. These courses are Christian-based and are generally held in churches. Nonetheless, the course tries to keep religious talk to a minimum. People of many faiths, and a few of no faith at all, attended the course my husband and I took. Financial Peace University helped all of us to gain a much better handle on our money and live without financial stress.