Today’s guest post comes from Amanda Lee. She is a writer, editor, and designer. She blogs daily at www.amandalee.org. She loves art, dogs, knitting, and good coffee.
I’m Amanda Lee, and I’m in debt. Yeah, it’s not that bad, and I’ve reduced it by almost forty percent since the beginning of 2010, but it’s still a sizeable enough chunk of change to make me feel crunched. I’m working hard and making a decent amount of money, but I still have to prioritize my expenses, which means I don’t splurge on anything until I’ve paid way more than my monthly allotment for getting rid of debt.
For awhile, my lack of disposable income loomed huge in my mind. It was all I could think about. I made lists and spreadsheets. I wrote in a diary daily about how stressed I was about not having much money, about how I failed as a grown-up. [Clearly I have a flair for melodrama.] And then . . . I decided that debt was a part of my life, but it wasn’t going to define me. So I got really productive. And I still am. And surely enough, I’m kicking it squarely in the bum.
It can be all-consuming to deal with debt. That’s why I came up with this list: things you can do with your life while you’re getting out of debt. Read on!
- Get a second job. It’s not an option for everyone, particularly if your first job is uber-stressful or you have a lot of family commitments. But think about this: if you work ten hours a week at a second job that pays $10 an hour, that’s at least another $80 a week [after taxes] that you can put toward your debt. Bonus points if it’s a job where you can pick up some extra skills related to your field. And speaking of extra skills…
- Learn a skill for cheap or for free. Take some books out of the library on database administration or crochet. Watch some tutorials on new ways to use your graphic design software. Buy a secondhand guitar and a chord book, and get to work. I’ve been studying some web development – relevant to my job and useful in a potential freelance career – and poring over sewing tutorials online.
- Volunteer. Obviously, you won’t get paid. But you’ll feel great for helping something you care about. Go walk dogs at a no-kill shelter, or build them a quick WordPress web site to advertise adoptions. Write copy for the Red Cross’s online emergency preparedness resources. Serve soup at a shelter. You know you want to.
- Be strategic about your entertainment budget. Decide what type of entertainment is most important to you – is it books? Magazines? Films? Theatre? Pick one that you spend money on, and drop the rest, or figure out a way to get them for free. For my boyfriend and I, our splurge is Netflix – we pay $9.50 a month between both of us and probably watch ten documentary and foreign films each month [to say nothing of the Law and Order we keep on in the background almost all the time]. Our newspaper and magazine content comes from online; each of us subscribes to a few free podcasts; we watch shows for free on Hulu; we read books on Google Books or get them from the library.
- Declutter your stuff. Pare down what you have, because often there’s a gold mine in what you’re not using. Sell off your old stereo equipment, your first-generation iPod, or your old dishes and flatware via Craigslist or eBay – trust me, as long as it’s not broken or gross, there is someone somewhere that will want your old stuff.
- Build your savings a little each week. This is another place the second job comes in handy. Obviously getting rid of debt should be your first priority, but if you can contribute an extra fifty dollars to your savings each week, that’s over $2000 in a year.
- Work out. Negotiate with a gym for discounted membership or family rates, or see if you can wipe down the equipment for an hour a week in exchange for free fitness classes. Or take up a home-based calorie-burning habit: hooping, yoga, running, Pilates, Wii Dance on Broadway [my best friend does this for forty-five minutes a day and she looks fabulous, no joke].
- Blog. Um, duh. Run a web site on something you like or know a lot about. [Hey, you could even blog about getting out of debt!] Learn all about building traffic, making a style sheet, writing great articles. Aside from the fact that a blog can be a legitimate form of income, even if you don’t monetize it, it’s still a great skill to develop, and you’ll meet some awesome people. Since starting my blog, I’ve gotten about six freelance clients who ask me to write about everything from architecture to nonprofit work to music, and even helped a writer who needed someone to copy edit his novel; in addition, I’ve sent postcards to my readers all over the world, and it feels cool to be able to do that.
What kinds of self-work or self-improvement have you all done since you’ve decided to shake off the debt monster? Share your stories in the comments!