If you’re like me, you can’t resist clicking on those stories entitled, “How This Couple Eliminated $100,000 in Debt in Just Four Years,” or, “How One Young Man Paid Off $50,000 in Student Loans in Two Years.” Even if you’re not haunted by substantial debt yourself, there seems to be something magical implied in such headlines, and so we all want to take a peek behind the curtain to see just how the trick is performed.
The thing is, when we do take a look, we are invariably disappointed, in one sense…because we find that there is nothing magical at all taking place; the seemingly-miraculous achievements are realized solely by adhering to the combined Herculean effort of working as much as possible, and cutting expenses every way imaginable. As it turns out, there’s really nothing all that interesting behind the curtain.
But is that really true? Speaking for myself, while I enjoy reading those stories to see if someone HAS uncovered some new, unusual way of paying off these sums, I also read them because I never cease to be inspired by people who do the kind of heavy lifting necessary to reach their debt-reduction objectives. Interestingly, the real challenge for people here is not the part about working more, but the part about the willingness to change one’s lifestyle enough to cut regular monthly expenses. It takes a tremendous amount of will power to leave behind a life of relative convenience and comfort…to then go without a car, take on three roommates, move into someone’s attic, or make any of a variety of other rather draconian cuts (by modern standards, anyway) to one’s monthly outflow in order to have the money at the end of each month to make a real impact in reducing a burdensome debt load.
As someone who has been professionally associated with various aspects of personal finance for the last 25 years, I know, full-well, that as I click on these headlines, I’m not going to discover something heretofore unknown in that realm about paying down debt. That’s not really why I’m looking. I’m looking because I will always like to see one more piece of evidence that working one’s tail off and making enormous lifestyle changes…as “boring” as that might be…actually can produce “magical results.” What these accomplishments really say to the rest of us is that however much we might be doing to improve our situations, we likely have the capacity to do more, and if we have the capacity to do more, then personal financial soundness IS in our control. Who needs magic?
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