digital zero

Zero Day – $16,000 in debt paid off in 14 months

Friday April 27, 2018 was Zero Day. The day I finished paying off $16,000 in consumer and student debt I had been carrying for 21 years.

I signed my first student loan in December, 1996. I was 23 and had lived thousands of miles away from my parents for four years so there was no expectation of their involvement in this next step of education. With no savings, I got the loans going and started buying books (then photocopying and returning those books, to be perfectly honest).

By the time I graduated with my Masters degree six years later, I had over $40,000 in student loan debt and an 18.9% interest credit card.

Minimalism entered my life just as I hit the wall on my debt. It was hanging over me. It kept me in situations I didn’t like, like a job I was past time to be moving on from, and to be frank, it gave me fear.

By 2016 I still had nearly $20,000 in debt left. Then came the epiphany day. I was sitting in my home office, the Booster Cave, looking around at packed shelves full of comics, books, statues, toys, and so on. And I thought “there is almost nothing here I wouldn’t trade to be a bit more out of debt today.”

And so it began. Here’s what I did

1 – Cancelled pre-orders and autopayments. I had about $300 in hardcopy comics and movies pre-ordered so cancelling those was a no-brainer. I also had digital comics on subscription (which automatically charged me the day the comics were released) so I shut that off too. In time I found that I could wait for a sale on most of them anyway.

2 – A buying freeze. Much like Cait Flanders, I took a sabbatical from buying physical items. I did buy a few (which I showed in my audit) but it was far less than previously.

3 – Digital first.¬†Over the years I hit ‘place order’ on dozens of books and movies that would then sit on my shelf for months waiting for the moment I felt like watching. Digital has no incentive to buy and wait. If it’s full price, it will be full price two months from now when I have time to start that book or watch that movie. Digital doesn’t have a shipping delay, is never out of stock, and it instantly ready to go when the mood takes me.

4 – Digital forever. I’ll accept that many people prefer print to digital for comics and books. But I challenge “how much more?” In general, I pay half or less for digital than I would print. Sometimes the difference can be staggering, 99 cents on a digital sale versus $40 in print. Even if I thought print was better, there is no way it’s 40x better.

5 – Libraries are wonderful. I became good friends with my local library, which I am doubly grateful is only 15 minutes walk from home. Having a metropolitan library with a huge collection means that books, comics, and movies I am likely to read only once can be borrowed rather than bought. My library also offers digital loans of all of those things plus audiobooks.

6. Sell sell sell! I sold everything that wasn’t nailed down. And a few times I pulled up the nails. All told, I raised about $4,000 of the total through selling on eBay, Kijiji, to friends, and at comic shows.

7. Up the payments. I had been paying $400 a month on my debt. When I got serious about eliminating it, I jumped that to $550 the first month, later $600, and was up to $650 in the last days. Plus any extra money that came my way. By buying less, I was able to greatly increase what I could put toward this goal.

8. See the finish line and bring it closer. When I last checked in on my countdown I thought the finish line was about five months away. It turned out to be nine weeks. I rolled coins, I put some surprise cash toward it, I increased my payments. I saw the finish line and just moved it closer to me.

Each of these could be unpacked, of course. I’ve covered how I sold off items in my videos, for example. But in general it comes down to a focus on spending less and destroying that debt that hung over my head all these years.

Thanks for reading.