When I reached my financial bottom, one of my first responses was to look for fat to cut out of my life. I eliminated Netflix. I eliminated magazine and newspaper subscriptions. I whacked away at some of the pricier options on several other bills.
I needed to do this because, quite simply, the monthly bills had grown so large that they had overwhelmed my income. It was becoming difficult just to pay the bills, let alone do anything else or spend anything extra.
I expected that eliminating these services would really hurt. My wife and I used to watch movies by the dozen – how could we possibly live without Netflix? What would I do without Harpers in the mail and the New York Times on my doorstep? What would I do without unlimited text messages?
What I found was that life went on without these services – and it went on quite easily. My wife and I filled our evenings with other things – reading, going outside more, and so on. I found new things to read to replace the cancelled subscriptions. I also found I wasn’t sending nearly as many text messages as I thought – and I didn’t really need them that much, anyway.
To put it frankly, I was much happier seeing my debt go down by $20 a month than to see Netflix discs in the mail. I didn’t expect that at all, to tell the truth – I figured I would loathe leaving Netflix. I couldn’t possibly believe that a monthly $20 reduction in debt was really worth losing something I enjoyed so much.
Without that steady influx of movies, though, I quickly moved onto other things. I began to read more. I went outside more. And before long, I didn’t really miss the discs in the mail at all.
At the same time, I was able to put $20 more per month towards my debt. That’s $20 off the principal, which meant that I was paying progressively less interest, too. It became part of my debt snowball, helping me to wipe out my credit card debt and my remaining auto loans quicker than before.
And that felt good.
It’s easy to trick ourselves. There are so many things in our lives that we gently delude ourselves into thinking of as a requirement. In truth, though, many of those things are far from requirements – they’re just expensive pleasures that leave us writing a check each month. In the end, is it really bringing a net benefit of pleasure, particularly when there are other worthwhile ways to spend our time?
I’m not encouraging anyone to give up things that would actually hurt. If giving up something would actually negatively impact your life, be very careful about actually eliminating it.
Instead, I propose giving it a thirty day trial. See if you can spend thirty days completely without a particular service. If you can, then you don’t need that service – it’s an unnecessary leak on your finances. If you find you cannot, then that service is still there waiting for you, after all.
You might just find – as I did – that you don’t really need all of those services and things that your monthly bills pay for. Then, when you trim those services, you can apply that money to paying off your debt or investing in a Roth IRA – yes, $20 a month can be the beginning of a healthy Roth IRA if you start young.