Updated on 07.28.14

What Aspects Of Personal Finance Bring You Happiness?

Trent Hamm

Over the weekend, I had a chance to read a truly excellent article entitled Finding the Joy in Frugality at David on Finance. David’s story is rather similar to mine – he went through a financial low point and is now digging his way out. What he found that surprised him, though, is how enjoyable the process is:

When I can cook a $6 meal that will last me five nights, that is just awesome. That amounts to about $6-7 per night I am saving by not ordering take-out, and the food tastes good! When it is only halfway through my pay period, my bills are paid, and I still have money in my account, it makes me feel good! Knowing that by doing this, I will pay off my credit in a little over a year, saving me thousands of dollars in interest, I am happy. When I know that by the end of next year, creditors will no longer own me, I am happy. When I find a way to cut my cell phone bill in half, saving me an extra $20 or so per month, that makes me happy. When I turn $300 in overdraft fees into $300 towards credit card balances, that makes me very happy. After being enslaved by my own wallet for so long, every small success makes me feel like I am finally beating my creditors in the game of personal finance.

I know that feeling very, very well. Personal finance management can have some incredibly exhilarating moments, ones that make you feel so strong and self-empowered that it’s almost dizzying. I thought I would share a few of those moments in my own life – please, feel free to share some of your own moments in the comments.

The day I wiped out my large credit card debt. I had been carrying a balance of over $5,000 on one credit card since 2003. In August 2006, I paid the entire thing off. When I sent in that payment, the feeling that overtook me was incredible – I felt so excited that I actually went on a really long bicycle ride, far longer than my normal ones, and wound up with leg cramps. Arguably the best leg cramps of my life.

The day I paid off my truck loan. I started paying for a very expensive truck about a year and a half before my financial armageddon, and I realized when I started looking at things with clear eyes that those truck payments were overly expensive and an albatross around my neck. Last December, I paid off that truck almost a year early and when I received the title, I just sat there looking at it, realizing that it was mine and not the bank’s.

The moment we realized we really could afford the house we wanted. We spent months crunching numbers and looking at houses and crunching numbers again, and then we saw it: the house we both really, really wanted. The best part? We were quite confident we could afford it as we were looking at it, and a quick number crunch confirmed it. Our financial efforts of the previous year had really paid off.

The day I was able to just pay for brake repairs with cash and with no panic at all. The brakes failed on the truck and the bill was about $600. In the past, that bill would have had to go on credit and it would have also caused a panic because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Because of my smart planning, I just paid for it in cash, walked out of the building, got in the truck, and realized that for the first time I was completely in control of my money instead of it controlling me.

What major positive financial milestones brought you joy? Share some in the comments.

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  1. Basil says:

    Excellent post. It’s a good thing to give us warriors some inspiration – oftentimes we get too focused on the battle and sometimes forget what we can win for all the effort.


  2. Elden says:

    You just gave the very best reason for getting a 15 year loan instead of a 30 year loan on your house!

  3. Great post. Despite my whining as we tighten our belts and buckle down for the big debt battle I’ve found that my husband and I have bonded and laughed over our ability to create and stick to a budget. We’re just getting started and we’ve found blogs like yours to keep us going.

    We had a financial date night the other night. What delight we had realized put on our financial sleuthing noses on and realized that our bank was charging us for online bankling. What glee we had when I was able to get the bank to reverse the $6.95 charges they had given us. Other highlights were realizing that after I get my bonus we’ll be able to pay off one credit card and move on to card #2. Can’t wait.

  4. Amber Yount says:

    This article was very inspiring, especially for people like me who feel like they are just inching along in their money battles.

  5. kim says:

    The moment that i knew we had finally made it was last month. My husband got a 10% raise and for the first time the money wasn’t already spent. We took the kids to Applebee’s to celebrate and then propmtly upped my husbands 401K from 6% to 14%!

  6. Brian says:

    The best part is realizing that having a spending and savings plan provides freedom rather than restriction (counter-intuitive until you live it). When you go to the gas pump, you know that you’re spending money already set aside for gas and you’re not dipping into anything else. When you do go out to eat, you’ve planned for that expense and you can just enjoy the meal and not worry about if you have enough to pay for it. I didn’t realize that budgeting and being frugal provides freedom rather than restriction until I tried it for a few months.

  7. kilsik says:

    I paid of both our cars and a credit card in 2005. I worked 70+ hrs for a years trait to do it. I love NOT having a car payment. I also started a car fund so we can buy our cars with cash when it’s their time to go. My goal is to never use credit to buy a vehicle for the rest of my life.

  8. Sean says:

    It is posts like this that really keep me going, battling the credit beast. I hope to have us out of revolving debt within a year, based on both my wife and I getting new jobs with 30% increases, each. After that, the car loan gets demolished. After that, I want to put together an 18-month emergency stash.

  9. Peter R says:

    Best feeling in the world was using a windfall plus some careful planning to pay off all my debts in one swoop. Nine Months later I had saved enough money to cover all my bills until the end of 2008! With that security I was able to quit a job I hated and start to pursue a career in the field I went to school for (and was in debt for!) Walking out of that place (after giving 2 weeks of course) was the best feeling I’ve had in a while.

  10. Richard Lee says:

    The last time I financed a vehicle was in 1994. After that I followed the habit of saving up for them. I put aside a fixed amount every month and have enough to pay cash for me next vehicle when my current one wears out. I also buy vehicles that are 2-3 years old and typically pay 50% of what they sold for new. The first time I paid cash for a vehicle and didn’t have to finance it will always be a fond memory. I’ll never finance another vehicle again!

  11. Kevin says:

    Great post! I am new to all this stuff but I am digging right in. For once I feel like I can turn it all around. Hereis a quote I found in the book ‘Titan’ by Ron Chernow(Rockefeller’s biography). The quote is from Henry Flagler…who was Rockefeller’s busines partner…and became a very wealthy man in his own right. I have this on my refridgerator, as should all of you. This quote should be our maxim!!!…

    “Like Rockefeller, Flagler advocated self-discipline and deferred gratification. As he said in in his first threadbare days in Cleveland: …..”I wore a thin overcoat and thought how comfortable I should be when I could afford a long, thick Ulster. I carried a lunch in my pocket until I was a rich man. I trained myself in the school of self-control and self-denial. It was hard on me, but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me””

  12. Kevin says:

    At this very moment the HVAC technician is in my laundry room repairing my A/C due to the previous owners not changing filters (or using them). Cost? $460 three months ago I would be panicking, going over all my credit cards and bills to see where I could possibly move money or what bill I could push back or pay next month. Today I won’t even have to go into my emergency fund, I happen to have about $600 sitting in my account that was going to be used to pay off a chunk of debt instead I can just pay to have the air fixed and the money won’t be missed or cause any stress. Plus thanks to the $500 in overtime I’m working this week I’ll just make that payment next week instead of blowing OT money like I used to.

  13. Kevin says:

    ^also, I’m not saying wasting $460 to fix the A/C is no big deal….Just being able to do it without the normal stress and weeks of worry it used to cause is a wonderful feeling.

    One last thing, HUGE stress reduction I’ve had in the last few months as our finances have been getting in order has really been a giant help for my marriage. We are both definitely a lot happier lately.

  14. The day my prudent reserve reached $5000.00 dollars. I know that my not seem like a lot to some but I just kept taking action. Kept on paying myself first because I am worth it.

    Now my plan is to take that 10-15% and put it to pay off my 13,564 in debt. Then, God willing, I will be debt FREE…

    Helping others free themselves from debtor’s prison one day at a time


  15. kazari says:

    There are so many ways that frugality feels better:

    simplicity – I have 3 fabulous pairs of work slacks, instead of 12 cheaper, not-quite-right ones. getting dressed for work is easier, and makes me happy (cos I look good!).

    creativity – “i made that!” feels so much better than “i bought that”.

    generousity- when a friend asked for a loan so he could move – i was able to happily give him twice what he asked for (and close to what he needed). he paid it back, but knowing it didn’t matter if he didn’t made me feel good too.

    stability – when buying brakes doesn’t break the bank. when you know you have enough cash for the bills.

    daydreaming – so much sweeter when you know you can plan to afford anything (just maybe not everything).

  16. I’m not as far along as you Trent, but my best days were… when I finally decided to figure out all that I owed and all that I owned. It was the first day of taking control my my financial life. The second was when I bought my first investments.

  17. Diomede says:

    I am young, 23 years old, now I am in Shanghai studying and I feel amazed about the low price level compared to Italy.

    But here there are many place designed for “Laowai”, the rich “foreigners”. I don’t want to waste my money only because I am italian:

    1) When buying some stuff on the market I make always tought bargaining, it is a real joy to take a 50 to 80% of discount.

    2) When we go out for eating we like to go to The Cheap Italian Restaurant, as we call it. Sezeriya is its name, it’s a chain and offer pretty good disches (but pizza not too good) at low price. Like: Spaghetti for 15kuai = 1,5Euros..

    3) When we go clubbing prices are very high, so we drink before and when at the place we buy beer at the market outside! 1 liter inside = 4€, 1 liter 10mt outside = 4cents…

    When things are cheap it’s more important to pay attention because the risk is to spend all the money without realizing it!

  18. KMull says:

    For me it is just an understanding of what is going on. The knowledge that we have X dollars saved for Project A and X dollars saved for Expense B helps me sleep at night.

  19. We’ve had quite a few of those “happy” pay off debt days. One of them was when we paid off our $45k student loan, and the other was when we paid off the $20k car loan. Never again will we go into debt for a depreciating asset.


  20. Jen says:

    Payoff on the credit cards/stupid debts. Paying off my Van after owning it just a year. Later this month, we will be paying off my husbands vehicle (a true albatross, if ever there was one)…all of those are high points.

    But I think it was being able to say to my 16 yo daughter–yes you can take that dream trip to mexico with your class! Sure we slowed down our repayment plan, but she’s going on cash only! 2 years ago, that would not have been possible.

    I look forward to so many more times of being able to give the kids something without being enslaved because of it. That, to me, is priceless and makes it all worth the effort.

  21. Jill says:

    I’ve been a lurker here for awhile, but wanted to share our “happy” moment. We had been working hard and living frugally for the last 2 1/2 years to pay off our debt by the end of 2006. Thanks to a generous Christmas gift from our parents, we paid off the last of our debt on December 31, 2006. It was surreal.

    We are now in the process of selling our house to move on to a better (i.e., higher paying) job in a new community and have peace that we don’t have to make “x” amount to cover the costs of selling our current house – we just want to get a fair deal on it. We also know we can wait until the right deal comes along in our new location for a new house. I think being frugal teaches you patience and makes you wiser, in some odd way. Brian said it best in that, “having a spending and savings plan provides freedom rather than restriction (counter-intuitive until you live it).” I’ll second that!!

  22. Kathryn says:

    We don’t use an escrow account on the house mortgage, so we have to come up with the semi-annual property tax payments. The great feeling came when I had the entire year’s tax money saved into an ING 4.5% savings account by April. No more scrambling for money at tax time…and making a little interest in the meanwhile.

  23. Steven says:

    “There is no dignity quite so impressive,
    and no independence quite so important, as
    living within your means.”

    – Herbert Hoover

  24. David says:

    Thanks for all the traffic! :) And great follow-up to my original post. I would have to say that in the past two weeks of doing this (and two years of trying to), my greatest feeling of success was when I broke down some amortization tables to see that I could, in fact, eliminate my credit card (and revolving credit) debt by the end of 2008, on a modest income. As a math-oriented person, just seeing the numbers work out was a joyous experience all its own!

  25. Posts like these are why I read your blog everyday.

    I,too, was once trapped in the debt game, and since then have struggled to dig myself out. Once you’re in control, it’s not only an amazing feeling, but a unique one. You begin to think about the interests of yourself and your family more so than Visa or Mastercard.

    I hope you tell more stories because I consider these types of posts to be your “evergeen” entries.

  26. Mike says:

    When I was about 32 I became 100% debt free: student loans, car note, credit cards, etc. and threw myself a party. A year or so later I bought my first (and current) house. Since then I have boosted my retirement contributions to around 25%, not counting my employer contributions. Now I’m seeing my retirement accounts reaching “critical mass” and I’m really starting to believe that I might be able to retire before 60!

  27. FS says:

    I was up to my eyeballs in debt about a year and a half ago. I lost my job and used up all my UI but I knew I was doing good when I was able to stay afloat and on top of my bills even when I was job searching. Today, I have long paid off the first credit card and is close to paying off the second one. I can almost smell the sweet success of victory when I finally pay off that 3rd (and final) credit card. Thanks to this site, I am continuously motivated and know that I’m not alone in this vicious battle with debt.

  28. Rachel May says:

    What a great site! Thanks for such an encouraging post.

    We went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (I see some of the course advice echoed in the comments here) for the first time three years ago. Then, two years ago, we led another group through it.

    For us, the BEST moment was looking across the table at each other and realizing that for the first time in 4 years of marriage (8 years of relationship), we were actually IN AGREEMENT about what to do with our money. We knew where we where headed, financially speaking, and we were doing it TOGETHER.

    I truly believe that it saved our marriage.

    Three years later, we’ve paid off all credit cards ($8500), paid cash for a car ($5000), purchased our first home with a good down payment, and paid off several other, smaller bills, and are headed in the right direction in several other areas!

  29. handworn says:

    “Do you know the only thing that gives me pleasure? It’s to see my dividends coming in.”

    — John D. Rockefeller

    I get them, too. It’s far from the only thing that gives me pleasure, but it’s one of them.

  30. Nick says:

    I had so much debt in my name, that I actually considered declaring bankruptcy. Instead, I volunteered to go to Iraq for a year, and it is becoming the best *financial* decision I have made in a long time. I can’t spend any money here. I have literally no bills other than the 100/month I pay for storing my things while I’m away. The pay is tax-free, along with the extra bonuses for being here. I just paid off one credit card, and will be completely bad debt free by August.

    The best part is that my house is rented out for enough to pay for the mortgage and cashflow about $90 per month. I hope to come home with over $50k in the bank. Once I realized how much my debt was destroying my life, I took it very seriously. Thinking about a new financial start when I get back brings me great happiness. Almost enough to make me forget I’m in Iraq! :)

  31. Cheryl says:

    My best financial move was actually going into debt and doing that has brought a lot of peace into my life. We took out a mortgage on our house to pay for an extension on our house and I love it because I have my own space now! Before that we were living on top of one another and fighting all the time. We literally haven’t fought since the extension was built. And now I have woked out we will have the mortgage paid off by 2012! I love your site Trent! Thanks for all the work you put into it! Cheers Cheryl from lowincomelady.com

  32. WH says:

    What an insightful question! =)

    Aside from finding personal finance pretty fun & loving how innovative it makes me at saving & earning $, I most enjoy the effects of practicing personal finance. Namely, I love the financial security that has come with having: started my 401(k), Roth, and investment portfolios; saving an emergency fund to live on during my career-hunt; and finally(!) being able to quit my job by July 4th to start my career-hunt!

  33. Noelle says:

    Hi, Trent. I am reading through these old posts in chronological order, so this comment is *far* past the posting of this article, but I wanted to comment.

    I am very happy for your financial success, but I laughed out loud when I read about your “large” credit card bill. I am currently looking at 60K in cc bills (divorce, bad investments, impulse buys). And this is the 3rd time I’ve been in bad debt (never this tight, though). So, it was a bittersweet laugh, but still, I’m encouraged for and by you. Keep up the good work!


  34. Cindy says:

    My husband & I had been in debt & were finally climbing out of that. I remember fondly writing the last checks for my car and my husband’s car – they were finally ours! However, the most memorable day was the day our refrigerator went out – it was 17 years old and we had already repaired two things in order to keep it a little longer, but it could go no longer. We went to the store and looked for an hour at the different refrigerators/freezers. I knew what I wanted, but we both agreed to be responsible with our money. Instead of the $2700.00 one, we bought the $800.00 one – with cash! We could have bought the other one, but it would have wiped out our emergency fund. In the two years since that day, we have been blessed with a fully funded emergency fund and no other debt. I truly believe that that one act of purchasing in a responsible manner made a huge difference. We bought what we needed and could afford. We have not looked at purchases the same since that day!!

  35. Fawn says:

    The one milestone (so far) that brought me joy, was paying off all my credit cards. I was offered a loan from a family friend who noticed I was struggling with the large interest rates (30%). I hadn’t used my cards in years, and they were still almost maxed out. I am paying my debts regularly and watching my spending, and I am going to be debt free in less than two years. And that is very exciting!! :D Thanks for your encouragment!

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