“I Just Want to Have Fun, Live My Life, and Worry About All That Stupid Personal Finance Stuff When I’m Older”

It’s the refrain of countless Americans of all ages – and it was my refrain, too.

It’s easy to see why, too. At first glance, personal finance looks like a bunch of boring and un-fun stuff. Paperwork. Sacrifice. Living in an un-fun way.

On the other hand, living a big spending lifestyle seems quite fun, as you don’t have to think about the stuff that you want. You just go and get it until the money (or, quite often, the credit) runs out.

I’ve been there. I spent myself into five figures of credit card debt.

What I found when I got there is that I didn’t really have the stuff I wanted most in life. Yes, I had an iPod and a huge DVD collection and a nice vehicle in the driveway. What I wanted, though, was a writing career and the flexibility to do what I wanted during the day and a lack of fear of checking the mail.

At the same time, though, I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle. I pretty much thought that buckling down and living frugally would mean that my life would begin to be incredibly boring. I’d have to give up all of the stuff I loved, right?

Here’s the truth: I didn’t give up a single thing that I loved. Yet I managed to get out of debt in just a few years and find the career of my dreams.

What’s the catch?

There is none.

All you have to do is one simple thing. Step back for a moment, look at your life, and ask yourself what elements of it actually matter to you. What brings you genuine, lasting happiness in your life? What do you do that you’ll remember in five years?

Figure that out. Make a list, if you want.

If you simply look at your life through that filter, it’s easy to see that a lot of the day to day stuff really isn’t all that important. Sure, there are a few key things that are, but those key important things vary for all of us. For me, it happens to be the time I spend with my family and the time I get to spend reading and writing. Those things bring me genuine, lasting joy.

Everything else? It doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

All of those things that don’t matter are the things that I cut my spending on to the absolute minimum. I don’t get a life-affirming rise out of eating at Applebees, so I’ll save $20 and eat at home. I don’t really need the ultra-premium toilet paper since the quality of my life isn’t judged by my bathroom experiences, so I’ll buy low-end toilet paper and I’ll buy it in bulk.

If you value going out with your friends, it becomes a lot easier to do that when you’re not dumping money into your household budget on unnecessary premium products. If your art is the center of your life, it becomes a lot easier to make the leap into an art career if you aren’t tossing cash towards an oversized apartment and the finest decorations from Pier One. If you love to travel, it’s a lot easier to take amazing trips (and actually afford them) if you aren’t pouring money down the rathole of your energy bill because you’re using energy inefficient lighting and don’t have a programmable thermostat.

Once I figured that out, the rest was easy. I took all of that money I shaved from the stuff that doesn’t matter to me and I threw it directly into my debts. Once they were under control, I put it towards doing the things that I loved – reading, writing, and spending time with my family. Eventually, those three things became my lifestyle without any real financial worries to boot.

So much of our day to day lives really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. So why spend money on it? Put that money towards things that do matter – peace of mind, your passions – and you’ll find a much better life without giving up even the littlest bit of what you really care about.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.