How Personal Finance Changes as You Begin to See Success

Five years ago, when I was working at a very stressful job and buried under piles of debt, I felt as though this is what life was going to be for me as an adult – an endless path of making payments to others, keeping my head just above water, and buying stuff I couldn’t afford because it took the sting of it away for a while.

Today, I feel completely different about my relationship with money. I no longer feel like it’s something I’m constantly battling – instead, it’s something that just works for me. Here are five examples that explain this sea change.

Five Ways that Success Changes Your Personal Finance Outlook

1. You move from paying interest to earning interest.

At the peak of my debt, I was paying over $2,000 a month in interest payments on my various debts and rent. My money was disappearing down a seemingly endless rathole. Today, my only monthly debt payment is my mortgage – we own all of our vehicles and have no other consumer debt.

What changes is that instead of having to shell out mountains of money to cover debt interest, I’m socking that money away instead and I’m seeing the interest and investment income come to me. Interest is no longer my opponent – it’s my friend. (As I was about to post this, I noticed that Frugal Dad had recently posted an article on this very idea.)

2. You stop worrying about money and start using it as a tool.

I spent a lot of nights worrying about money and coming up with clever schemes to keep the bills paid. Today, I just write a check and the bill is paid – no stress or worries about it at all.

What changes is that you no longer worry about overdrafting when a bill comes in. You don’t have to get cash advances or move things around just to cover your electric bill. You don’t have to be late on your debts just because you couldn’t pay the piper.

3. You move from being afraid of the future (or not thinking about it at all) to being hopeful about the future.

I used to not think too much about the future. I had this vague idea that my “future self” would take care of all of these financial problems because he’d be earning more or something like that. Today, I love thinking about the future.

What changes is that you recognize that “future self” isn’t going to be the one solving problems. You can solve them, and your future self can have pretty much anything.

4. You stop putting out fires and start building for your dreams.

Rather than saving for the big things I wanted from life, most of my money went to put out financial fires – overdraft fees, interest payments, and so on. After I excised those from my life, it became easier to start saving for the real dreams I had in life, things that I couldn’t save for before.

What changes is that your money isn’t just going to cover up the tracks of your reckless choices. It’s going towards a future that you’ve always dreamed of. You’re not spending all of your time trying to cover up the mistakes of the past; instead, you’re spending your time building the things you’ve always wanted.

5. You stop endlessly chasing the things you cannot reach and deeply enjoying the things that you can.

When you’re caught in a cycle of spending recklessly, it’s hard to find the time to stop and smell the roses. You buy things, then you buy more things before you have the time to thoroughly enjoy the first one. You spend more and more time dealing with maintenance and cleaning of your piles of stuff. All the while, you’re stressed out by the financial pressure on you. Today, I spend most of my time enjoying the things I already have and make serious attempts to get maximum enjoyment out of each one.

What changes is that you’re no longer spending your time buying things and spending more and more of your hard-earned money. Instead, you’re spending your time enjoying the multitude of things already available to you. Why buy more DVDs when you have piles of them around you unwatched or only watched once? Why buy more video games when you’ve barely played the ones you have? If you don’t like the ones you have, then trade them to get the new ones. Better yet, focus on the experience of enjoying the things around you, because the DVD itself isn’t fun, it’s the movie on it. The sports equipment itself isn’t fun, but the exercise and the game is.

In the end, all of this comes down to a simple choice, one you can make almost every day. Do I want to spend my money chasing something new or do I want to enjoy all of the opportunities and things I already have available to me? The more often you choose the latter decision, the easier it becomes to reach financial stability and then start reaching for your dreams. It’s such a simple choice, but it changes your life.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.