priority

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Since I shared my report from the three-year mark of my battle against debt, I’ve been amazed at the kind words from so many members of the Man Vs. Debt community. From comments to Twitter messages to emails, it’s really reaffirmed my commitment to pushing forward and – even if it’s more eventually than I’d like – ending up debt-free and staying that way for life.

That said, opening up about my slower-than-expected progress has also forced me to re-evaluate where I am, and whether what I’m doing is really in keeping with my truest desires financially and personally.

As I was preparing to write today’s Man Vs. Debt post, I kept finding myself drawn to a post of Baker’s from several years ago, Discovering Your Financial Priorities. I hope you’ll make time to read that, because it’s really the basis for what I’d like to do – and challenge you to do – today.

I need to refocus on what matters most to me. I’m making progress, but sometimes it’s not in the areas that really hit home with me. I’m hustling for extra money, but that cash is just going toward the bills and odds and ends of needs here and there, not really packing the punch I’d like.

I’m doing the right things, but not quite with the right mindset. And from the comments I’ve received since admitting how much I’m struggling, I know that I’m not alone in feeling a little adrift.

So let’s take the first step toward changing that. Let’s set some financial priorities, Man Vs. Debt-style. I’ll list mine, and I hope you’ll be thinking about your own so you can jump in and share in the comments!

1. Keep the bills caught up.

This has not been a problem in years for me, and I’m more happy about that than I can say. HOWEVER. I’ve been there, the juggling-late-bills dance, and I need to be sure not to forget how awful that felt. I need to make sure that this stays an articulated priority, so that I don’t get back to the really behind point. For us, this means not only having enough money to cover our regular expenses, but also having a decent buffer in the checking account for when “paydays” – sometimes irregular in freelancing – don’t line up with due dates.

2. Provide for needs and moderate wants for my family.

For us, most of this comes by way of food. I will tell you flat-out that we spend more on groceries than we “need” to. My husband, Chris, is a vegetarian; I have several food allergies; and we have other dietary considerations for other family members. Some of these are needs, while others are just preferences, but they’re preferences that are my personal priority to meet. This also stretches to include things like our Netflix subscription, occasional restaurant meals and movies, trips to the arcade, and so on. They’re wants – not large-scale ones like a 90-inch TV, but moderate ones that we value enough to include in our budget. Our house is another related area. It’s not the tiniest, but it works for our not-the-tiniest collection of humans and pets, and it’s a priority in our budget to keep it.

3. Have all the healthcare.

I don’t have much to say about this, except that I took a full-time job that pays LESS than I was making freelancing full-time so that I could have health insurance. It’s a priority for me. This also extends out from the needs/moderate wants category; for instance, I choose to spend a relatively small but not insignificant amount of money on fitness, because it’s important to my overall health and well-being.

4. Maintain an emergency fund.

In the past six months, this fund has meant the difference between “yes, we can afford to live in our house” and “no, we really can’t.” It’s vital. And we’ve managed to replenish it every time we’ve knocked it down in the past few years, which is amazing. But it needs to remain a priority that I remind myself of, because it sometimes feels like it’d be so easy to use that cash for something else.

5. Pay down debt and avoid new debt.

Interestingly, when I think about my real feelings about debt, I realize that fifth place is just the right spot on my priority list. It is a priority – but it isn’t THE TOP priority. I sincerely want to become debt-free, and I intend to stay that way for life. At the same time, there are tradeoffs I know I would make. I would go into debt to get medical care for myself or my family (and, actually, that’s the cause of about 90% of the debt I brought into our marriage anyway!) I  would just pay the minimums on my credit cards for a while to keep the bills current. I would take on a car payment temporarily to ensure that I have a working vehicle. At the same time, any money I have once the goals above are met WILL go toward debt repayment, and the end result, no matter how long it takes, is going to be the flexibility that comes from being truly debt-free.

What these priorities have made me realize

Here’s the thing. When I stopped and wrote down what REALLY matters most to me, I’m actually making more progress than I realized!

It turns out that while debt repayment is still a priority for me, it’s not my top priority – and so, while I’ll continue to push at it, I’m going to take a step back and celebrate the fact that, despite a drop in income in our family of more than 50% for the past five months or so, I AM meeting my financial goals!

Because I was hung up on just one goal – the debt-payoff progress, and my frustration that it hasn’t been going faster – I had been feeling defeated. Because I was only “holding steady,” I wasn’t finding anything to celebrate.

Now, I realize how thrilled I am to look back at the past few months and realize, “HEY. I kept food on the table! I kept a roof over our heads. And I did it without increasing my consumer debt!”

I AM making progress.

I AM meeting my financial goals.

I AM living in keeping with what my true priorities are (once I bothered to make them clear to myself!)

What about you? What are your priorities – and once you’ve listed them, are you actually using them as the scale you measure yourself against, or are you trying to compete in a different race?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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number-3

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

It’s official: I’ve been tracking my debt for exactly three years.

While I didn’t post my first financial update on Man Vs. Debt until a year later, I first sat down and wrote my detailed list of debts – the one you see listed on my Joan’s Finances page – on April 14, 2011.

Taking inventory and facing what I owed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the effect it’s had since then has been nothing short of amazing.

[So what's our total paid off, three years in?]

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wrestlemania-29

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

You guys are going to think I spend my Sunday afternoons watching America’s best not-exactly-a-sport sports, between today’s post and the one from last month about 4 Personal-Finance Lessons from NASCAR!

I spent THIS Sunday watching… you guessed it… WrestleMania 30, thanks to my roommate’s subscription to the WWE Network, which I admit I watch with rather startling frequency.

The funny part is, while I’ve enjoyed professional wrestling since I was in high school, I’d never spent any time – or money – on it since. Until WWE Network came out in late February.

And now, even more than the wrestling itself, I’m fascinated with the business decisions behind the plan. The WWE Network business model is forward-thinking, audience-focused and designed for growth - key lessons that entrepreneurs and side hustlers can really learn from!

[Is your business doing what makes WWE so awesome?]

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you-buy-it

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Two summers ago, while visiting an art museum in Washington, D.C., we came upon an exhibit in the process of being installed. Huge letters and swaths of red, black and white covered every square inch of wall and floor.

When I saw it, I took the photo above, hoping it would serve as a reminder to go back and see the finished exhibit and revisit the phrases plastered throughout.

WHOSE VALUES?

FORGET EVERYTHING.

YOU WANT IT. YOU BUY IT. YOU FORGET IT.

And while I haven’t gotten back to see the final installation of Belief+Doubt (I hope to – it’s on display through the end of this year!) … the phrases have stuck with me, and I’m reminded of them at the weirdest times.

[Like when I look in my closet and wonder...]

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42-graffiti

julian-100Julian Hayes II is a fitness and lifestyle coach and writer based out of Nashville, Tennessee. He is the creator of 206 Fitness. Why 206? Not only is 206 one of his nicknames, but there are also 206 bones in the body. He believes anyone can achieve the body they’ve always wanted while still living a fun and adventurous life. Read more about him and download his free ebook on how to achieve the body you’ve always wanted while owning life at 206fitness.com and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter.

I am $42,000 in debt and I’m absolutely loving life right now.

Yes, you read that correctly.

$42k in debt.

To the majority of people, this sounds like an insanely large amount of money.

Except me.

Seriously, this is nothing to me.

[Allow me to explain...]

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books-to-read

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

I love to read.

It doesn’t really matter what it is – barring anything else handy, I’d happily read the back of a cereal box at breakfast – but since I was about 3 years old, I’ve rarely been without a pile of books in progress.

In January, I set a goal on Goodreads to finish 75 books this year. I started out great – averaging almost a book a day.

But life happens, and the books piled up into the stack you see above, unfinished and, in most cases, not even started!

[The mental drain of being "behind" is just too much...]

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