Life after Debt


Girl on a SwingSince I embraced simple living and minimalism and started this blog two years ago,  a post on  ‘I am debt-free’  has been at the top of my list.  I still can’t believe that I am finally in a position to write such a post: I am debt-free and I have money in the bank. It feels rather surreal and after two months, it has  yet to fully sink in.

For the first time since I left university, I am totally free of debt. Debt-free: two words that seem so innocuous yet whose attainment can bestow so much freedom, lightness. and control.  The freedom to explore options, make choices and pursue dreams. The lightness that comes with not owing a single penny and of owning every single pound, beholden to no one but myself.  The control that I have regained over finances and my time and how I want to spend it. The realisation that I fully own every one of my possessions and assets. That feeling is rather indescribable.

Many of us have debts in one form or another and in varying amounts once we reached adulthood. University debts, credit card debts, car loans and  mortgages are all part of being grown up and getting ahead. We are mortgaging our future for a better present which we can’t presently afford; in the hope that our future would be able to cough up the payments.  Then that opportunity arises for that nicer suit, that newer car model and that bigger house-  and we fall deeper into the debt hole. One would hope that job promotions and pay rises would make our lives a little easier, our debt pile a little smaller. Easier said than done. With more money, we yearn for that even nicer car and bigger house to keep up with our newly elevated status. Oh dear, we just have to stay in that crappy job for a little while longer to keep up with the payments. Having money can make us poorer and more indebted – sad but true. It is like buying bigger size pants  to accommodate our bigger waistline but ending up eating more because we now have more room to fill!

We all consume in one way or another and I am not saying consumption is bad. We all need shelter, food, clothing and a few other things to make our lives civilised, comfortable, enjoyable and efficient. But mindless consumerism where we consume impulsively and with the vain hope that in some way or other it will give us the happiness and purpose that we crave for is self-defeating. It is  likely to make us more reliant on the jobs we loathe and leave us further from our true happiness and purpose.

I followed a similar trajectory after university. I had good jobs earning good pay with good companies in exchange for long hours, stress and diminishing personal time and self-fulfilment. Weekends were sacred as I sought to spend those precious hours in doing things I like and spending money on things I wanted in order to assuage the misery that piled up during the work week and dull the dread of heading back into the grind on Monday. Sunday night blues is not just a myth; it was very real and tangible in my case. Each new job and promotion delivered more money into my bank account but there never seemed to be enough for me to feel ‘rich’. I was buying stuff; of not only things I needed but also of things I thought I needed and that I wanted. I used to think that if I were to leave the house, I needed to bring something back, anything, even a copy of the day’s papers to make it worthwhile, even though I know I didn’t have the desire nor time to read it. I was buying stuff on my holidays, on my work trips, and each overseas posting added more to my possessions. Anyone walking into my flat would find it nice and tidy and nowhere near cluttered. But clutter can be a rather subjective term. I had a lot more stuff than I actually needed or wanted and they were draining my finances and robbing me of my time and clogging up my living space. I was buying stuff with my hard-earned money and credit cards, hoping to numb the misery of my cubicle existence and make myself happier, staying in the job so that I can fund my purchases and pay off my bills, getting the next  bigger job with a bigger pay cheque, consuming more to numb the bigger dose of misery and dullness that came with it. The cycle repeats. But the happiness remained ephemeral and I spent more money and  had less time and control over my life.

I was staying in jobs that paid me good money, paid my bills and indulged me with the little luxuries in life but left me empty. With time, the misery grew deeper and the emptiness reverberated stronger. I finally took the plunge and left the corporate world to spend my time working on projects that I am passionate about and that give me happiness, purpose and delivers value. I felt a lot happier, freer and more fulfilled. But I still carried the burden of having to pay the bills and think about ‘making a living’. Then I chanced upon this article and I was blown away. It was as if the scales dropped from my eyes and a stone was lifted off my back. I was filled with hope, excitement  and lightness- clichéd but true.  This is the carefree state I want to be in: debt free.  Saying is much easier than doing and it has been quite a long-drawn out process with tough decisions and uncertainty aplenty. But I finally made it and I am truly embracing the freedom and lightness that came with the disentanglement.

I am writing this post in one of my favourite local cafes. A light-filled space staffed by friendly baristas and serves great coffee and  Eccles cakes by St. John (the best ever!). I paid for my coffee and cake with cash as I do with the bulk of my purchases- I seldom use my debit card nowadays; my two credit cards have not left my wallet in the past two months and have become seemingly redundant. Cold hard cash gives me better control over my spending and prompts me to buy and consume more mindfully. I also tend to ask myself if a purchase is going to add value to my life and worth that amount of money to my freedom and time. I glance through the list of properties that are up for sale. The London property boom has thrown up a a slew of properties that are way over overpriced; waiting for desperate buyers rushed by the limited supply to take the bait. I believe that I will find my dream home; one that is right for me, when the time is right. I guess one can’t rush such things; magic happens when you are least expecting it.When that dream abode turns up, I will be paying for it in cash- no more mortgages, no more debt.

I turn my attention to Helen, the barista. Watching her make coffee is quite addictive: grind the beans, fill the porter holder and slot it into the machine, press the button and watch as the coffee gets extracted into the cups, sending wafts of coffee aroma my way.  I have always had a keen interest in coffee and have recently taken it a level up by attending coffee courses. The thought of  opening my own bookshop and cafe has always been lurking at the back of my mind; waiting for the right moment to manifest itself into reality. I can afford to buy my own shop now- that is if I wanted to. I can also work as a barista and make beautiful coffee all day long if I wanted to. Being a barista has never been a option for me in the past because I needed to ‘make a good living’ in order to pay my bills and maintain my standard of living. But now being debt free has opened me up to choices and options and I am free to choose and pick the road I want to travel on. There is nothing to hold me back except myself.


It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything – Chuck Palahniuk


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  1. Congratulations!! I cut up my credit cards nearly a decade ago and only this month allowed myself to go into debt with a home purchase, which in the long run will give me more freedom than paying rent. The upgrades and repairs I am doing on this fixer-upper I am doing with cash and not touching my savings. The one difference between us is that I prefer to stay at home than visit cafes where I can sit with my morning tea at the window with the sun shining on me in the morning 😉

  2. Wow, I am still a long way off with my student debt. I also have a mortgage, but they are the only 2 things I will ever go into debt for. I grew up in a family where both parents didn’t finish high school, and growing up we could never afford to own our own home. So now I have them, I value these debts dearly. They have bought me significant things that I am truely grateful for. Otherwise I live simply and sustainably, just as I was raised by my parents who were poor in financial terms, but were rich in time and skills. I am lucky to have the best of both worlds now.