I have what could be characterized as a dark financial past. I didn't set out to ruin my marriage, my family — my life. In fact, it was just the opposite. I truly believed I was improving things for myself and my family. I used all the credit I could get my hands on to create a lifestyle that I believed we so richly deserved.
I tried to stop using credit cards to spend money we didn't have. I tried to fit into a budget. But all of that spelled just one thing for me: deprivation.
I felt like I was being punished the same way that a prisoner is deprived of freedom and personal choice. I tried to reform, but my feelings were much stronger than my desire to change. A battle raged inside me, and my overwhelming feelings won all too often.
The irony was that in making sure I never felt deprived, I paved the way for the ultimate deprivation — the loss of everything in my life that truly mattered. I get chills recalling just how close we came to complete financial ruin.
I made a startling personal discovery that would come to change my life and make it possible for me to break out of the debt trap: I figured out that deprivation never works.
You know that if you've ever been on a diet. You can stick with a rigid program for a while, but eventually, you give in. Saying you will never eat chocolate again is a lofty goal, but come on ... that is not going to happen.
Deprivation does not work with food or with money. But sacrifice does.
Sacrifice means to give up something of value right now to achieve something far more worthy in the future. Deprivation means to have a possession or enjoyment taken away.
Once I learned the subtle yet startling difference, I understood immediately why meaningful change kept eluding me.
Sacrifice — it's a beautiful concept. Sacrifice focuses on a goal. Deprivation focuses on "poor me." Sacrifice lifts my head and lets me see the big picture. Deprivation turns my eyes inward so I see nothing but myself.
There is joy in sacrifice. That's because I am aware that what I am giving up right now is a temporary thing that will allow me to reach my goal. But that assumes I have a goal — and a plan to reach it.
That's what this column and "debt-proof living" are all about. Every day, I try to encourage you through myriad ways to do whatever it takes to get out of debt and go on to live below your means. In that way, debt ceases to be an issue now and into the future.
Sacrifice. It's a beautiful thing.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.