What Does Financial Success Mean to You?

A Straight Talk on Debt

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What Does Financial Success Mean to You?

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On paydays I used to sit at my desk with the stack of due bills on my left, and the checkbook and a pile of credit cards in front of me.  I would write checks for some bills, and pay others with credit cards online when I could. 

As credit card accounts approached their limits I would check their balances online to ensure they had enough credit left on them to pay the bill I was working with.  

I would move the bill to a new stack on my right as I completed  making that month's payment.

Sometimes I would do a balance transfer from one credit card to another in order to save having to make a monthly payment to that account.

The goals were:

1.) Pay all the bills by any means necessary

2.) Leave a substantial amount of cash in our account to pay for whatever we wanted to do over the next few weeks

3.) Know what credit card had the most room left on it in case the cash ran out.

When I was all done I sat back in my chair breathing a heavy sigh.  I thought I was being successful at handling the family finances by getting all the bills paid and still being able to provide funds for entertainment for the family.

That wasn't success at all. It was the definition of living paycheck to paycheck.

After four years of being enrolled in a debt consolidation program, evaluating our expenses constantly, countless attempts at different budgeting methods, and sometimes seemingly endless arguments over money, my wife and I have a very different measure of success. 

I've created a financial success checklist that ensures that we will be on track if we can put a check mark next to each item weekly:

1.) Did we have our Thursday night financial discussion to create our weekend spending plan?

2.) Did we have our Sunday night financial discussion to review weekend spending and create our spending plan for the week?

3.) Did we pay all bills that were due with funds in our checking account?

4.) Did we stick to our spending plan?

5.) Did we save anything this budget cycle?

6.) Do we have any upcoming events that we need to account for?

If we are successfully executing everything on our checklist, then we are not only taking care of our short term needs within the budget cycle, but we're also planning ahead for unplanned expenses.

Even more long term, in 6 months when we have completed our debt consolidation plan we are looking forward to again contributing to our 401K plan to prepare for our retirement.

Now that we're starting to get a taste of what financial success is really like, I look back and realize what I had been feeling years ago was actually just relief. 

Relief to get through another two weeks. 

Relief to have juggled things just enough to make it to the next paycheck.

Success feels better.

Related Links:

The Budget; Let's Keep it Real

Organizing Your Finances Doesn't Have to be Complicated

How I Began My Journey Out of Debt


Travis Pizel, debt management plan customer with leading provider of debt relief, CareOne Services, Inc.Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the A Straight Talk on Debt blog. He is also a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family in Minnesota. You can also read more from Travis on the Enemy of Debt blog, where he is a featured blogger. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

To connect with Travis on Google+ click the

You can follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles


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  • Kudos to you Travis! It's been a long road but seeing the end in sight must be very rewarding. Moving into the next phase of your financial life will likely be far more enjoyable as you look to the future rather than paying for the past.

    In the "old days" before we got our act together we too thought we were financially successful. Just a mortgage, enough to cover daily living expenses, a bit of fun and occasionally some very tiny contributions to retirement savings. We knew we ought to be contributing much more and far more regularly to our retirement savings, but otherwise we figured we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. It wasn't awful, but I kick myself now for the wasted opportunities of those years. A layoff forced us to really itemize where the money was going and acknowledge that we were wasting a ton on things that in reality weren't all that important to us if we were completely honest.

    Now that we recognize how much was being wasted, a little here and a little there, we have chosen to cut all the nonessential stuff out so that we can contribute weekly to our retirement savings or make extra mortgage payments. We'll now be retiring at 57/60 based on our accelerated savings, but it's maddening to think how early we could have retired if we hadn't been so complacent in our 20s and 30s.  In hindsight, now we have a clear vision of what we want and how we will get there. We also now know where every dollar is going and how it's contributing to the grand plan.

    Feeling like you are choosing the detination and steering the ship is much better than just going along for the ride and waiting to see where you end up. For now that's my new version of financial success.  Perhaps when we do retire and I can look back and realize the plan worked and got us to our goal, I'll change my mind again and decide that's what financial success looks like. Maybe in the end financial success means that you are successfully implementing YOUR plan and that will look different depending where you are in the plan. Unfortunately most people don't develop a plan until they are up to there neck in debt and realize they need one. Blogs like this are a great souce of information, inspiration and hopefully a warning to those starting out to avoid debt in the first place and skip the pain and stress.

  • Great comment, JMK - as my wife and I get better and better at handling our finances, we find we have more money available.  Like you said, being IN control is so much better.  Not having a goal or a plan to get there leaves you drifting rudderless.  Unless you see where your money is going NOW, you can't hope to change or accomplish anything.

    Great to hear from you again, JMK - I always enjoy your thoughtful and insightful comments.  It's fun to see you pop up all over the internet in the comment section of my posts.  :)

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