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I’ve learned some unexpected and surprising debt-free lessons during my first year of living completely debt-free. July 25, 2020 marked the one-year anniversary when I paid off $72,000 of consumer debt (student loans, a car loan, credit card debt, and even a cemetery plot)! My family started our debt-free journey at the end of 2016 and we’ve never looked back. It took us over 2 1/2 years to become debt-free and we did it all on one income! It was the best financial decision we’ve ever made. This past year has been eye-opening, fulfilling, and also surprising. I’ve learned some great lessons along the way. Join me as I share 5 unexpected and surprising debt-free lessons that I’ve learned during my 1st year of living debt-free.

5 Unexpected & Surprising Debt-Free Lessons

#1 Unexpected Debt-Free Lesson:

A debt-free lifestyle has decreased my financial stress during COVID-19.

Who would have ever predicted that a worldwide pandemic would strike in 2020? I never imagined living through the COVID-19 health crisis. I still pinch myself sometimes hoping to wake up from the crazy COVID-19 reality that should only exist in the pages of an action-packed, compelling science fiction book.

So, my #1 unexpected debt-free lesson deals with COVID-19. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said out loud how grateful I am to be debt-free. Dealing with finances is not one of the stressors I have to deal with. Focusing on what really matters like staying healthy and spending time with family is my main priority.

I focused on the basic necessities instead. I had been faithfully budgeting and meal planning for over three years when COVID-19 hit, so I didn’t freak out. Although I will admit, I waited too long to buy toilet paper and frantically went on a two-hour hunt on my day off. That was not fun!

I was able to deal with the crisis as calmly and rationally as I was able. And you know why? You guessed it – debt-free living!

Sure, I was scared about the health and safety of my family, friends, and coworkers, but being debt-free allowed me to have one less stress in my life. Losing my job and not being able to pay my bills didn’t even cross my mind. I had money saved, didn’t have any debt payments, and knew my budget inside and out.

My family could instantly switch to a bare-bones budget if needed. After all, we were able to live on a bare-bones budget for nearly two and a half years when we were paying off $72,000 of debt without a worldwide crisis looming in the background.

#2 Unexpected Debt-Free Lesson:

Saving for a 6-month emergency fund is not as easy as I thought it would be.

I am currently working on Baby Step 3, Saving for a 6 Month Emergency Fund. The most surprising lesson that I’ve learned is that saving is harder than I thought it would be.

When I was paying down debt, I listened to countless people complain that saving was not as rewarding and fun as paying off debt. I thought they were crazy! After all, I was stuck in the grind, struggling, and saving every last cent to pay towards debt.

Saving for myself rather than paying off debt and wasting money on interest payments sounded like heaven!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love saving for my emergency fund and seeing my savings increase, but I completely understand the struggle. Honestly, saving isn’t as motivating as paying down debt.

When you’re paying down debt, there’s instant gratification. You’re erasing all of the past stupid spending decisions from the past. Your debt balance decreases each month. Emotionally, I could feel the financial stress lifting the closer I got to paying off my entire debt.

When you’re saving, you may not use the money right away. You might be saving for a big-ticket item that is years out into the future. You have to constantly remind yourself of what you are saving for and the reasons why. Personally, it was easier to stay motivated when I was paying off debt.

I have to constantly remind myself that I’m saving for my 6-month emergency fund so I will never have to rely on debt again, but my mind plays tricks on me. It’s so easy to kick the can down the road and put off saving for the next month. The benefits seem so far out there that it makes it harder to stay on track.

#3 Unexpected Debt-Free Lesson:

I didn’t think I would be as easily tempted to get back into debt.

When I was paying off debt, the mere thought of taking out another car loan or maxing out my credit card seemed ludicrous. I promised myself that I would never get myself back into debt.

But the truth of the matter is that debt-free living is a conscious decision. I can quickly and easily rationalize that getting into debt is not all that bad. After all, I know how to pay down debt and I’ve done it before.

Out of all of the unexpected debt-free lessons, this has to be the one that really caught me off guard. Becoming debt-free didn’t automatically make me less vulnerable to the allure of getting what I want now by signing up for debt.

To top it off, there are so many temptations like zero-percent financing and no payments for a year. I’ve caught myself daydreaming of cruising in a beautiful, brand-new car or vacationing at an ultra-sleek luxurious hotel. When this happens, I remind myself of these three things:

1. Businesses exist to make a profit. Stop fooling yourself into thinking they’re doing you any favors with interest-free financing or no payments for a year. Most likely, the item is sold at full price, and I’m the schmuck paying full price for the sheer convenience of having it now, interest-free.  

2. Be patient and save up the money for it. I’ll score a better deal in the long run and I’ll avoid getting into debt.  

3. Don’t sell your future for instant gratification now. I don’t know what the future holds. What if my main source of income disappears, or I’m hit with a huge financial emergency? Don’t leverage your future for something that you can buy outright later.

#4 Unexpected Debt-Free Lesson:

I actually don’t want to live the “debt-free” dream life I envisioned when I was paying down debt.

When I was paying down debt, I didn’t automatically morph into the frugal, cost-saving, practical diva that I am today. It took months to change my spending habits and what I valued in my life. Also, a strange thing happens when you restrict something out of your life. You actually want it more!

When I was paying down debt, $50 a month was all I had to spend on fun, personal items. Let me tell you that $50 doesn’t go very far especially when you want everything in sight! I’m not exaggerating. It was tough in the beginning.

I wanted everything and anything that I saw. Seeing someone wearing a cute brand-new outfit would set me off. Why couldn’t I buy something cute to wear too?

I would see makeup ads and instantly want to run to the mall to buy the entire makeup line, and in every color too.

Vacations were the worse. If someone I knew went on vacation, I pouted and stressed out that I couldn’t go on vacation too. It didn’t matter even matter where. I just felt like I was missing out.

In the beginning, I dreamed of epic shopping sprees and buying whatever my pretty little heart desired. This was my “dream” life when I became debt-free, but a funny thing happened.

Now that I’m debt-free, I still want to go on vacation, buy new clothes and makeup, but it’s not a crazy obsession like it was before. In the 2 1/2 years that it took me to pay off all of my debt, my priorities shifted.

Now, my spending habits and what I value have changed permanently. I weigh out large purchases and see if I can make do with what I have. Things I absolutely thought I couldn’t live without like lash extensions, expensive makeup, or fancy vacations just aren’t as important to me anymore.

#5 Unexpected Debt-Free Lesson:

Becoming debt-free has had some great side effects.

Debt-free living has had some great side effects. I’ve achieved some life-long goals that had alluded me for decades. This final unexpected debt-free lesson is probably the most rewarding of them all.

#1 Life Goal: Stop eating out and relying on fast food and highly processed meals.

I hate to admit it, but my family spent a ton of money on eating out before we started our debt-free journey. Cooking at home and meal planning was the first successful cost-saving measure that actually worked.

We instantly saved $400 a month by cutting out restaurants, fast food, and convenience meals. Read this article on what type of kitchen gadgets helped us save money.

#2 Life Goal: Clean up and get rid of the clutter.

I am constantly cleaning and getting rid of clutter, but this debt-free lesson has shifted my perspective. I can easily donate and throw things out now.

This unexpected debt-free lesson kind of snuck on me. I didn’t even realize that I was able to clean out and declutter without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed like I did in the past.

Before, it was so hard for me to get rid of anything. I talked myself into holding onto items since I focused on how much I spent on it. Instead, I should have asked myself if it served a purpose in my life. Now, I’m able to let go of things more easily, asking myself if it will find a home where someone will actually use it.

Debt-free living has also helped me minimize what I bring into the house. Purchasing only what I need is a new game I’ve learned. I stopped buying in bulk just to save a few dollars in the process. I only stock up on items if it’s really cost-effective and I have the space to store it.

#3 Life Goal: Spend more quality time with family.

We cut our entertainment budget to the bare minimum for most of our debt-free journey. It forced us to spend more time at home and get creative on the weekends. To read how to survive a no-spend weekend, click here.

Spending quality time with family doesn’t necessarily mean spending money on vacations or visiting a theme park. You can spend quality time without spending a ton of cash.

Final Thoughts

I love being debt-free! Waking up and knowing that I don’t owe a single cent to anyone is mind-blowing. I have been debt-free for over a year now. I’ve learned some great unexpected debt-free lessons that have only made me appreciate the debt-free lifestyle even more. It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice. The benefits have all been worth it, and these unexpected debt-free lessons have just been the added bonus!

If you want to learn more about the debt-free lifestyle, click here.

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