Celebrating Financial Independence

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Here’s How You Can Celebrate Financial Independence

This week, America celebrates its 233rd birthday as a nation. Independence Day on July 4th marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. At least, that is what we have been told. The reality was a bit more complicated. The Continental Congress actually declared independence from Great Britain on Monday, July 2, 1776, not on Wednesday the 4th. On July 4, congress adopted the written declaration and had it printed. Copies of the Declaration of Independence were not even sent to state legislatures until the next day, and it was not printed publicly until that Friday.

Regardless, celebrating independence is appropriately a time to appreciate our freedoms and our traditions. Fireworks hearken back to the canons of the Revolutionary War.  Parades originated, as most parades have, in the marching of soldiers on their way to or back from war. BBQs and picnics go back as far as most American families can recall.

Blessings of Freedom from Debt

As you celebrate Independence Day with your own traditions, and if you are dealing with any sort of consumer debt, consider what it will mean to you when you become financially independent of debt. What freedoms will this afford you?

  • Less money paying interest means more money to save for your future security.

  • No more monthly debt payments means you can redirect your money to your top financial priorities.

  • Without creditors, you will have no fear of missing payments or receiving collection calls.

  • Not owing anybody any money will provide you powerful peace of mind.

If you are already living a debt free life, you already know all this. If, on the other hand, you have credit card debts, medical debts, collection accounts, student loans, car loans, personal loans, old utility or cell phone bills or any combination of them all, such freedoms seem alluring and inspiring indeed.

Rather than simply aspire to be debt free, take steps to join the march to freedom. Here are a few maneuvers to help you begin or continue your fight against the tyranny of debt:

  • Know your enemy

  • Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

  • Negotiate the terms of surrender

  • Prioritize your payment resources

  • Work with allies

  • Plan for peace time

  • Get the celebrations ready

Know your enemy

During wars of independence, it is usually though not always clear who your adversary is. Typically, it is the oppressor, the foreign occupier, or the corrupt government.

When it comes to your finances, your debt is the enemy. Make a list of all your creditors, along with how much money you owe each, what interest rates they charge you, and what your monthly payment due is. If you do not know who your creditors are, pull your free credit reports at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Using this service does no harm to your credit rating.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

Historically, far more soldiers died in war due to illness and accidents than they did of battle wounds. Similarly, far more consumers fail to get out of debt because of their own lack of budgeting and spending controls than anything their creditors might do to them. Put together a monthly spending plan (aka budget) and set spending limits for yourself and any other spender in the household. If you must, cut up your credit and possibly even your debt cards in order to overcome the temptation to spend impulsively.

Negotiate the terms of surrender

Once your battle plan is in place, your victory is all but assured. As you approach the final battle and your enemy’s inevitable surrender, it is time to negotiate the terms.

When it comes to debt, you should be negotiating with your creditors. As soon as you have committed to battle your debt, contact your creditors to ask for lower interest rates, for an end to late or over-limit fees, and possibly for a payment due date later in the month that better fits your paycheck schedule.

Prioritize your payment resources

Remember that you might win a battle but lose the war. Sometimes it might make sense to quickly negotiate the repayment of a collection account or to use a credit card balance transfer offer to pay off old credit card debt. However, keep your focus on debt elimination, not on debt transfer. Align your debts in order of highest interest rate first, and focus your energies on paying it off fastest. In the long run, you will save more money and bring a quicker end to the battle. Still, understand your own fighting style, and choose the one that works best for you. Here is a link to pages that describe four do-it-yourself debt relief options.

Work with allies

The Continental Army was poorly equipped, few in numbers, and lacking a navy. Without the help of French allies, the war would likely be known as the Rebellion and not the Revolution.

Allies are crucial in any war. It is no different in your fight against debt. When you feel overwhelmed by the battles, turn to a trusted nonprofit credit counseling agency such as Money Fit by DRS for help with putting together a household budget, working out a debt repayment plan, getting better educated about money management, or even for help with actual fighting (a debt management program).

Other allies might include your bank or credit union branch staff, local county extension offices, and various nonprofits engaged in consumer education and support.

Plan for peace time

History, ancient and modern, has taught us the unfortunate lesson that war without plans for peace will lead to chaos. The victor must decide what to do with the adversary’s soldiers as well as determine the form of transitional government. Without a well-regulated government free of corruption, the population will devolve into local conflict and possibly even civil war.

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If you wait until your debt is paid off to prepare for living debt free, you will likely encounter many difficulties. What are you going to do with the money you currently send to your creditors? Without a plan, you are likely to begin spending it on the very types of consumer goods that got you into debt to begin with. Write out your plan to redirect your debt payments to short-term savings goals (car, appliance, major electronics and furniture repair or replacement) and long-term investment plans (retirement, home ownership, property investment, etc.). Keep your plan visible, and implement it as soon as debt freedom is achieved.

Get the celebrations ready

While compassion and grace in victory tend to lead to long-term peace with the adversary, it is completely fine to celebrate your debt freedom. You are not offending anyone by enjoying your new-found freedom. The creditors have been repaid and are happy. Your family is happy because you have achieved greater stability and security for your household. You are happy because you are free from debt.

Some ideas for celebrating debt freedom include:

  • Throw a party: Take one-half of your previous monthly debt payments and go out for a nice meal, movie, or other form of entertainment. The rest can go, of course, to financial priorities. Depending upon your resources, you might invite close family members or friends to join you, but only if you can afford it without going back into debt.

  • Take a small trip: Is there a trip you might afford with the amount of money you were sending monthly to your former creditors? It may only be a weekend and will not likely involve island beaches or cross-Atlantic flights, but a nice hotel or mountain retreat could be a great way to welcome the peace of mind debt freedom brings.

  • Donate: If you have felt a prisoner to your debts whenever you considered donating to an important cause, this first month of financial freedom might be a perfect time to donate a portion of your former monthly debt payment to a nonprofit close to your heart.

There are many reasons and many ways to celebrate your freedoms. The same can be said for celebrating your financial freedom. There will be casualties along the way (e.g. sacrifices of wants and working overtime to earn more debt repayment money). There will be discouragement. There will be moments of doubt and even second-guessing. Soldier through, though, and you will be rewarded with a freedom reserved for the minority of Americans living without debt.

Happy Independence Day!