When I moved back to St. Johnâ€™s after living in Berlin, I had racked up an enormous amount of debt. Paired with lingering credit card debt and student loans, I was more than $17,000 in the hole. Iâ€™d throw money at my credit cards and itâ€™d hardly make a dent. Then I borrowed from my parents so I could continue travelling.
Let me preface this entire blog post by acknowledging the fact that everything I did was stupid as hell. There is no excuse for my fuck ups. When I moved to Europe, the Canadian dollar was tanking and all of my freelance gigs had dried up. But I should have come home.
I made really terrible decisions, and I paid dearly for them. In fact, I had done this all before. (Slow learner much?)
I donâ€™t regret it; my time living in Germany was life-changing. But there will be no self-pity coming from me. Even my father — who would literally give me every last penny he had if I needed it — told me to suck it up and get back to work. So I did.
(Hilariously, Iâ€™m writing this blog post on a long bus ride, and the movie playing is Confessions of a Shopaholic. It makes me feel better about my life.)
When I started working at the film festival, I knew major changes had to be taken. None of this is revolutionary, but hereâ€™s where the journey took me.
I started house-sitting so I could live for free
The first step was a small one: I took on some house-sitting gigs from July to October, and managed to live rent-free up until then. In doing so, I saved at least $500 a month.
(This only worked for some time, though. Having my own space was pretty necessary by the time I signed a year contract with the festival! But it did help me get on my feet.)
I started working non-stop
Although I had been working entirely freelance for about six years, I needed some regular cash flow. I applied for a communications position at the womenâ€™s film festival on a total whim, and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.
I was still working on other projects, though. My workload wasnâ€™t ideal. Iâ€™d work from 9-5 every day at the festival, and then Iâ€™d carry on with freelance work until late in the evening. I worked most weekends, too.
By the time I started doing regular freelance work for Nomadic Matt, I was working 60-70 hours a week. Free Candie went neglected, and I was uber stressed about everything…except my finances.
The hustle was so hard, you guys. But I did manage it. Having a regular income flow was a big deal for me. I had health insurance, I had living money, and I was (sloooowly) paying down my debt…while still having a bit of fun in the process.
Me + summer deck beers = life.
I set up an emergency fund and a biz account
At the end of every month, I took a fair chunk of my freelance income and set it aside in an emergency fund. I was also using this account to save up money to buy some property in rural Newfoundland (I was hoping to open a business…thatâ€™s a story for another time).
While it doesnâ€™t seem to make sense to set aside a lot of cash while youâ€™re paying down a ton of debt, one of my biggest problems as a freelancer was that Iâ€™d often be short on cash by the end of the month, and then something major might come along (emergency alterations to a bridesmaid dress, for example) and Iâ€™d have to charge it all to my credit card. Iâ€™d continue the vicious cycle. But with that little bit of savings, I didnâ€™t have to fall back on credit.
And believe me, it feels way worse to dip into your hard-earned money than it does to swipe your credit card. I was way less likely to tap that savings if it wasnâ€™t completely necessary!
I hired a really awesome financial advisor
I know/knew very little about how to manage my finances. Taxes, RSPs, TFSAs…itâ€™s always been over my head. I needed some tough love to get myself straightened out so Iâ€™d never find myself in a bad situation again, and so my roommate referred me to her advisor.
Krista didnâ€™t gloss over the facts: my spending habits were insanity, and I had to either earn more or cut myself off. If my goals were to pay down debt while saving for the future, I had to make some HUGE changes.
It also helped that she was an Excel spreadsheet wizard, and budgeting was her thing. She created the sexiest budget spreadsheet I have ever seen, and Iâ€™ve been (mostly) following it religiously. In it, she breaks down everything I need to set aside for my RSPs, TFSAs, taxes, entertainment, rent, groceries, etc. About half of each pay check would go into my special savings account for emergencies/business, and before I knew it, I had a handsome amount saved for that potential property in rural Newfoundland.
I set up spreadsheets and meticulously tracked every last dollar
My spreadsheet is incredibly simple, and I log everything in Google docs. Each month, I set up a new page and I tracked every single item I spend money on — whether itâ€™s the $3 charge I get for using an ATM, or the $2 I spent on coffee at Timâ€™s. After a few months of assessment, it was painfully obvious that I was blowing tons of money on eating out, and entertainment. So I started scaling back my social life.
I also had pages set up for debt repayment (where I logged everything I paid off, so I could see those numbers gradually decreasing), and my freelance income (as well as money owed to me). The spreadsheet was plain as hell, but it didnâ€™t have to be fancy. It just needed to be clear.
I have to admit, I was a bit fanatical about this. I checked my account at least twice a day to make sure things were as they should be.
I rewarded myself by paying things off one-by-one
By July, I had whittled my student loans down to under $1000. I had a really excellent freelancing month, so as an early birthday present to myself, I paid off my student loans. It only took TEN YEARS!
I canâ€™t explain how incredible that felt. Comparatively, student loans werenâ€™t as big a deal as my credit card debt, but the end goal was in sight and so I wanted to relieve myself of that burden. It worked wonderfully, because then I was more determined than ever to tackle the rest. And I felt like I had accomplished something.
Finally, in October, I sat down with my advisor again and we discussed my plans to purchase property and becoming a business owner. Although I had been working on a plan for some time, I knew I had to slow down and perhaps think of this plan as a longer term thing.
I had grown a beautiful savings account, and it was time to pay off all my credit debt.
So I did.
I paid off nearly $8,000 in one go, and still had some cash left over for emergencies. It was madness.
(And yes, I weep thinking about what I could have done with that money…but just three months later, and my savings is on the mend.)
I stayed determined and learned self-control
Itâ€™s been several months now since Iâ€™ve been credit card debt free, and although I have a small amount still owing to my parents, Iâ€™m proud to say that Iâ€™ve stayed wonderfully on track. I only swipe my card when Iâ€™m collecting points, and Iâ€™m still meticulously tracking every last cent and expenditure. Iâ€™ve cancelled most of my credit cards.
Not spending money I donâ€™t have is the biggest obstacle for me. My advisor understands that travel is a vital part of my life, and that if I want to be happy, I have to set aside a large amount of money each month just for travel.
In the past, if a good flight deal came along, Iâ€™d take it because theyâ€™re rare finds in Newfoundland. As luck would have it, in January some insane seat sales came along: Bejing round-trip for $800, Dublin round-trip for $375…but I didnâ€™t have the money saved up after having recently booked a Cuba vacation, and so I didnâ€™t do it. I did not react to that impulse. For the first time ever.
Travel makes me happy, but so does financial peace of mind. I didnâ€™t do anything exceptional or breakthrough or new or exciting — It was a hard, balls-to-the-wall kind of year, but it was all worth it. Now: to keep from repeating these past mistakes.