It all happened so fast.
I was once young with money to burn. Young and foolish that I ended up burning more than what I have in my pocket.
I started working when I was eighteen years old because my parents could not afford to send me to college anymore because of piling debts. Being the eldest, it was I who salvaged the family until everything became stable again.
At first, it was just a harmless loan for a trip to Cambodia.
Then every time my salary is deposited into my account, the first thing that comes to mind is to go shopping.
Then I applied for a credit card, which I treated like free cash.
These appeared to be harmless actions, but the next steps that follow brought my financial stability to demise. At the end of every month, I would only pay the minimum amount due. It was okay since the interest was not that much until the bills piled up and the interest kept on appreciating.
At that time, a quarter of our salary goes to the expensive Hong Kong rent. We felt a lot of pressure from our job that whenever we felt so exhausted, overeating was the solution — going out to McDonald’s at midnight for a burger and chocolate sundae while sipping coke.
And when I don’t feel like I am living my life enough, I would loan money from the bank and book a trip out of the country where I would shop like no tomorrow. I enjoyed buying snacks and souvenirs for my friends and family.
My debt went up to HK$100,000 or almost US$13,000. I was drowning. I don’t have any savings – I even needed to sell my pieces of jewelry and borrow from my mom.
I knew that things were getting worse when I dreaded to sleep at night because a million thoughts would come rummaging my head. What if we won’t have enough money to cover all the expenses? What if I end up being a failure?
The friends I asked for help have turned me down. Same goes with my family. Only I could help myself. I love reading financial books, and I remembered what Robert Kiyosaki said in his book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, there are two types of debt. Good debt and bad debt. Good debt would bring you profit, while the latter is just pure debt.
At that time in my life, however, I surrendered. I don’t want any debt at all. I got to clean up this mess.
It was going to be a long process, one that includes a lot of discipline and surrendering my pride. I had to give up a lifestyle I couldn’t sustain. The first thing I did is cut out my credit card.
The entire process lasted for two years. I had to say no in every spending opportunities that come my way – that means no to travel unless it will be from someone’s pocket. Also saying no to expensive fast food and I tried as much to cook at home. In every paycheck, my bills came first. The focus was my battle cry.
In school, we were not taught about financial literacy, an essential part of growing up. With my experience, I learned that the only way out is the way through, and taking shortcuts will only make it worse. How did I get rid of my US$13,000 debt and turned it into having enough savings that can feed me even if I resign my job right now?
Let me count the ways:
- H – Develop side Hustles
- E – Eliminate what I don’t need
- A – Monetising my assets
- D – Building the discipline in spending money
- S – Surround myself
That is easy to remember but let us go in-depth one by one.
Get a side hustle to earn extra income. It can be from a skill you are really good at. In the age of the internet and social media, creating a portfolio and offering your skills as services has never been easy. Buying and selling is also another option but tries not going for one that includes capital you can’t afford, significant risk and networking just yet. At this stage, you don’t want to complicate your process of earning an extra income. Work out a schedule to focus on it.
Eliminating things you don’t need will not only help you in getting extra cash, but it can also remove the emotional burden. Surely, you don’t need and use everything in your closet. The books you have read and would never read that are just gathering dust in your shelves can be someone else’s treasure. This goes with toxic people too, and although you can’t sell them, you can eliminate them from your life. Eliminate unhealthy habits such as going for fast food or the cinema every weekend. Ask yourself if you really need it, and if the answer is no, toss it away. This way, you are making space for important and happy things that deserve a space in your life.
An asset is something you own that is valuable and produces positive economic value. It can be your cash sitting in your savings account earning interest, jewelry, car, or a property that you own. Take note that although a house and lot is an asset, a mortgage isn’t. So unless you are earning from an apartment that you have already fully paid for, it will never be called an asset. Learn how to maximize and monetize your asset. For example, you can lend quick cash and earn interest from your money. Or if you have a spare room in your house, you can rent it out through Airbnb. If you got a car, you probably want to use some hours driving for Uber.
Design and Discipline
Think of your ideal life – one that you would be proud of and one that when you look at it when you are sixty, you won’t have any regrets. How do you see yourself in five years? Of course, it is possible, but how will you be able to attain it? You can design a life. However, you want to live it, but it takes discipline to reach the goal. Years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about being debt-free, but I knew that it needed to happen for my freedom. I built the discipline and kept on until I paid every single money I owe. There were so many times when I got tempted, but I only had to ask myself if not getting enough sleep at night is worth it.
Surround yourself with people who can inspire you with handling your money. I had to admit that my parents were not good examples when it comes to managing money. As I was growing up, I witnessed how they borrowed money to get by. They get better in handling it when my mom started her own business but imagine if we are all still stuck in that mentality, we probably won’t be able to move forward despite having good-paying jobs. I spent my time in attending free financial literacy courses and got educated on starting a business. I surrounded myself with people who aim to have a better financial standing, those who are ambitious and got more positive thinking and outlook in life. Do you know what they say? You are the five people you spend most of your time with.
I have designed a worksheet that will let you measure your financial standing. This is for you if you have a financial goal you like to achieve, whether it is for short or long term. Download it for free here.