My family has a big, hairy, audacious goal (aka a BHAG): to pay off $10,150 of credit card debt.
We’ve decided 2016 is our year to take control of our finances.
At the beginning of the year, we sat down together to determine our yearly goals, like we always do. This one’s been on our minds for a few years, but this is the first year we felt ready to attack it.
How We Got Into Debt
I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom when our third baby was born. We went on to have two more children. And then we moved to a new home in southern Ohio that ended up costing more than we anticipated.
We had developed a bad habit of stopping for fast food on crazy days — and when you have five kids, most days are crazy.
I’d also begun saying yes to most of the extras the kids asked for. I didn’t consider, for example, whether there was a real benefit to buying them yet another book at the school book fair when they already had shelves full of them at home.
The bills began to pile up. But life was busy, and finding a way to pay them off seemed complicated.
So even though I knew better, I was content to make minimum payments on our credit cards, with occasional bigger payments. It was good enough, at least for a while.
Then We Accidentally Came Up With Our Secret Weapon
We decided it was time to make a big change.
To make our goal as specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) as possible, we decided to focus on the card with the most debt: $10,150. This was definitely a BHAG for us, but we were ready to make it happen.
We put our goals on paper, because (as you probably know) this makes us more likely to achieve them. And while my husband, Dan, was taking notes, he jokingly titled it #yearofno.
Later, while discussing our family plan for the year, we informed the kids that 2016 is the #yearofno.
We explained we wouldn’t be stopping for fast food treats or random purchases. During the year, we’d carefully consider any purchase, and we’d only make it if we deemed the item necessary.
What happened next was very interesting.
Bringing the Kids on Board
Our five kids range in age from 2 to 12 years old. We regularly talk about concepts like wants versus needs and making choices, so this information wasn’t brand new to them.
We discussed the fact we’re choosing fun things like vacations and expanding our one-bathroom home in the future over junk food that’s gone instantly.
They were somewhat reluctant at first. For a while, we had to remind the kids of our new policy. They’d ask to stop for a kids’ meal, and we’d shout from the front seat, “Sorry! It’s #yearofno!” (Yes, we say “hashtag year of no.”)
But since they don’t pay the bills, they embraced the idea pretty quickly. After a few reminders from us, they began to tell each other, “#yearofno!”
It’s become a running family joke.
The older kids have made the adjustment more quickly, and they ask for extras less often. Our 6-year-old girl is less likely to understand, and she gets frustrated when we can’t go to lunch with her friends.
It’s a tough lesson, but one we hope will last a lifetime if we’re careful to teach it now.
The 2-year-old continues to yell, “I see Dr. Pepper!” whenever the golden arches are in view. But that’s more of a reminder of my own bad habits than his desire for McDonald’s.
How Our Motto Has Helped Our Family
This is my favorite benefit to having a motto: There’s no explanation required.
I love the fact I don’t have to launch into a long diatribe about why we can’t do a particular thing.
There’s no, “Honey, you know we’re trying to pay off debt. That’s why we can’t go to the movies this weekend.” No back-and-forth commentary arguing small points.
It’s all there in one simple phrase. #Yearofno is a complete sentence.
It’s been a giant relief to not have to decide which things we can splurge on and which things we shouldn’t buy.
In most instances, the answer is just “No.” Unless it’s a true need or a time-limited opportunity (like an educational program only available to 10-year-olds), we won’t buy it.
I’m all for making important decisions on a careful basis. That said, our daily life includes too many decisions that just don’t matter. It’s a relief knowing the answer to most nagging questions is just a simple “No.”
And it’s not just for kids! When I’m at the grocery store, I keep our motto in mind as I fill my cart. If I find myself standing in an aisle, mulling over which items to purchase, it’s usually a relief to realize I don’t have to choose.
Deciding between flavored bags of chips is wasted effort when we really don’t need any bags of chips.
Speaking of benefits, I’ve lost 8 pounds since I started my #yearofno diet. It’s eye-opening.
I didn’t realize how many bad habits I’d fallen into until we implemented #yearofno. Maybe it’s tired financial advice, but I think we have far more “latte habits” in our daily lives than most of us realize.
You can budget for the latte every day if it means that much to you. But you’d better make sure you aren’t also spending another $3 on snacks, plus constantly shopping the dollar aisles at Target, and also grabbing another $2 Kindle ebook every day.
And it works for big purchases, too.
We recently decided we don’t need to repair our barn this year; it’s only a nagging issue, not a problem-causing one. We put that money toward our debt, too.
Our motto helps us be more effective. In the past, our halfhearted attempts at debt payment resulted in a lot of backsliding and bouncing debt from one card to another.
This time, we’re seeing major improvements. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve paid down $2,650 of our debt.
How to Create Your Own Motto
To create a motto to help you pay off your own debt, try this:
What’s your point? Determine your main goal, the honest reason you’re trying to get out of debt.
- You want to be out from under the weight of credit card debt.
- You want to tell Sallie Mae to pound salt (or something less appropriate).
- You want the freedom being debt-free provides.
- You want to retire early.
How will you get there? What sacrifices will you make to meet your goal? Remember to consider ones you’ve already made — they count, too!
Here are some to think about:
- Avoid fast food.
- Eat beans and rice (or other cheap staples).
- Scale back to the bare essentials, and cut unnecessary spending.
- Consider downsizing your home.
- Sell items you don’t use.
Take your main purpose or reason and your method of getting there, and drill it down to just one sentence. If you can get it down to three or four words, that’s even better.
Trying to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed (SMART) in three or four words is tough, but hit as many of those points as possible.
Own it. What will make this motto fit your life? Some options to try:
- Turn it into a rhyme: Rolling in green by ’17.
- Make it fun: We used a hashtag. You might try a meme or song line parody, like “Don’t believe me, just watch!”
- Make it fit: If rhyming and hashtags make you roll your eyes, choose words that fit you best.
- Keep it simple! For example, “Freedom this year.”
Creating a simple motto is an easy way to help you reach your goals.
While our children are looking forward to next year becoming the #yearofyes, it’s unlikely. We’re already floating around the idea for our next motto: #newnormal.
Your Turn: Will your family create a money-saving motto?
Jamie Jeffers blogs at Medium Sized Family about the creative ways her family is saving money and reaching their BHAG of paying off debt in the #yearofno.