After 4.5 years of paying off my student loans, I made a call to my student loan lender and finally made my final student loan payment in May of 2020. It’s now been two years since that final day, and I often think about all the ways in which my life has changed, or the ways it really hasn’t, since becoming debt free.
If you are trying to pay off your debt, or you already have, I’m sure you can (or soon will) relate to some or all of the things that have changed in my life since I paid off my debt.
This post is all about the 9 Ways My Life Has Changed (Or Hasn’t) Since Becoming Debt Free.
1. I prioritize investing
Now that I’m debt free, I no longer have to put hundreds (or thousands) of dollars each month toward my debt. Instead, I put this money toward my investments.
We are currently in a bear market which is when a market experiences ongoing price declines, so I often see my investments staying stagnant or even going down. This can be a little alarming, but I do my best to stick with my investing strategy regardless.
My current investing strategy is to simply “buy and hold”. This means that despite what goes on in the stock market, I will not sell any of my investments. In fact, I’ll actually keep investing in the stock market and purchasing new stock in hopes that the market will eventually go back up : )
I know that if I want to reap the benefits of the stock market that a bear market is something investors have to endure from time to time.
Current Investing Goals
- 401(k): I’m currently trying to max out my 401(k). A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan. In other words, the ability to invest in a 401(k) is a benefit that comes with working for my employer. If I am able to max out my 401(k), that would mean I was able to put $20,500 into it for the 2022 tax year. My contributions to my 401(k) come directly from my paycheck every two weeks. I am on track to max out this account by the end of the year.
- Health Savings Account (HSA): I am also trying to max out my HSA this year. That means putting the maximum amount of $3,650 into that account for the 2022 tax year. My contributions to my HSA also come directly from my paycheck every two weeks. I am on track to max out this account by the end of the year.
- Roth IRA: I would love to max out my Roth IRA this year as well ($6,000). These contributions don’t come out of my paycheck but rather, I throw extra money in my Roth IRA whenever I can. And oddly, I absolutely love doing this! Basically, if I side hustle and make a little extra cash, I’ll put a percentage of that cash toward my Roth IRA.
2. Worrying about money is rare
I know this is a huge blessing, but I rarely worry about my finances anymore.
The only time I’ve really “worried” about money in the last two years is actually more recently. I put the word “worried” in quotes because I don’t think I’m actually worried — I think I’m just a little nervous and uncomfortable to be spending as much money as I have lately.
We aren’t totally out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic, but it does seem that people are starting to get out more and make plans. While so much fun, these plans can cost a good bit of money. For example, I have a pretty big family trip coming up, as well as many weddings, birthdays, and bachelorette parties this year.
These days, I’m trying to be conscious of my emergency fund. I have 3 months worth of expenses saved in my emergency fund, and I really don’t want to have to dip into it for the big purchases I’ve had to make as of late.
Other than the uptick in spending lately, being debt free has really decreased my financial stress. I don’t owe anybody anything which is freeing in and of itself.
3. I still don’t buy myself much (outside of food)
Part of me thought that I would start spending more money on ~things~ when I became debt free. This might sound strange so let me explain.
At the end of my debt free journey, I went over a year without buying myself any clothing, shoes or accessories unless I absolutely needed it. For example, I didn’t get new flats for work until I had holes in them!
This version of me was very different than past me. Growing up, I cared a lot about outfits and the way I dressed, but something changed when I started my debt free journey.
All of a sudden, I valued less and less how I showed up in the world and I became far more concerned with getting my finances in order and becoming debt free.
I figured once my debt free journey was over, I would revert back to the way I used to be. Since I had more money to spend on whatever I wanted, I figured I’d begin buying myself clothing and shoes on a more consistent basis.
Well, that really hasn’t been the case. And maybe that’s a good thing! But it seems my debt free journey has changed me permanently lol. I just don’t value new clothes/shoes/accessories as much as I used to.
And sometimes this is really inconvenient because I often don’t buy myself the things I need until it’s far too late (like, when my shoes have holes in them haha). This is something I’m working on being more on top of.
Nowadays, I spend my money on going out to eat, at breweries, and on food that I’ll order in at home. I guess food makes me happier than new clothes do 😛
4. I’m still side hustling
Side hustling was something I did non-stop during my debt free journey. Whether I was babysitting, using one of my favorite cash-back apps, writing blog posts for small companies, or selling my clothes on Poshmark, I was always trying to make extra cash to put toward my student loan debt.
With Imperfect Taylor (and this blog!) I make money through affiliate income (which is where I recommend a product and if someone uses that product I get commission), and paid partnerships where I work with brands.
I really love this side hustle of mine. I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now and each year I’ve been able to grow my revenue just a little bit more. I’ve learned so much about building a business and helping others, and I hope Imperfect Taylor is something that I will continue to do for many years to come!
5. I’m not as minimalist – but I want to get back to that
Over the course of my debt free journey, I became a minimalist. I didn’t want a lot of things in my house because it felt cluttered and overwhelming, and I really didn’t want my family buying me random tchotchkes (sorry, Mom :D). The thought of having items like that around the house just stressed me out.
So instead of having a lot of things I no longer used, I sold whatever I could to make money to put toward my debt. This was a great way to make some extra money and declutter.
Flash forward two years since becoming debt free, and I’m realizing that I’ve begun to care less and less about having a minimal environment. But the thing is, I do care! So now I’m in an apartment where there are many decluttering projects in my near future.
I simply prefer to have less stuff.
6. I can save money for a big, international trip
I alluded to this earlier, but I’m going on a pretty big trip with my family in June. I am BEYOND excited, and this is absolutely something I could not do if I were paying off my debt.
I did travel internationally to England, Greece and Colombia when I had student loan debt, however, those trips were just me and one other person (my partner, David) and we absolutely budget-traveled and tried to save as much money as possible.
While budget-traveling can be so fun (and it was!) I’m really excited to finally be able to splurge and book nicer hotels and make fancier reservations and take more tours — things like that. Because I’m debt free, I’m not penny-pinching as much as I would if I were still in debt planning this trip.
7. I have remained debt free
I have remained debt free for the last 2 years. The only debt I could potentially accrue at this point in my life is credit card debt because I use credit cards, but I pay my cards off almost immediately after using them. I never come close to actually carrying a balance on my credit cards.
I still drive my paid-off, 2006 Toyota Camry. I really hope it can last me a few more years so that I don’t have to take on any car debt.
I imagine that one day in the next few years I’ll buy a home, but for now I continue to live life debt free.
8. I’m not telling myself “I’ll be happy when…”
On my debt free journey, I was the type of person who told myself that “I’d be happy once my debt was paid off” over and over again. Because of this, I denied myself a lot of happiness while on my debt free journey itself.
I don’t recommend this mindset if you can avoid it. There is so much to be learned and so much to be grateful for on a debt free journey, that I encourage anyone paying off debt to find the small pleasures throughout life as they go.
A debt free journey is hard and can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean that once you pay off your debt that a switch is flipped and you are automatically “happy”.
It’s a little funny we’d assume we’d be happy after training ourselves to be discontent for years on our debt free journeys, right?
Nowadays, I still set big money goals but I live for today because it’s all I have. No more “I’ll be happy when…” energy.
9. I spend more money on the people I love
Perhaps my favorite part of being debt free is that I can spend more money on the people I love. I might try to save a few dollars by reusing a gift bag now and then (lol), but when it comes to the actual gift itself, I am not opposed to splurging if I know it’ll make someone I love really happy.
This post is all about the 9 Ways My Life Has Changed (and Hasn’t) Since Becoming Debt Free.