Debt was a dark, depressing cloud over my head for a long time. Just when I thought I was nearly in the clear, something would happen to put me further into debt again. I’ve paid more interest than I care to think about. But it’s all gone now (I’m debt-free baby!) and working remotely helped me get there.
Working from home helped me pay down debt in obvious ways, like reducing the amount of gas needed to commute to work and back and giving me extra time in the day to work on freelance projects, but mostly it helped in less obvious ways. Learning how to be more intentional about how I work and live has had a surprisingly positive financial impact as well.
Let’s start at the beginning. About 10 years ago, I started to amass consumer debt. I moved to a ski town, worked part-time for low wages and rented a basement suite by myself for a few months before roommates moved in. In that short amount of time, I started racking up credit card debt because I was using the card to pay my rent and bills when my paycheque couldn’t cover those expenses. This was before I knew freelancing was a thing and truthfully, I enjoyed where I worked. Life felt good. Until the interest started piling up and I struggled to pay off the credit card.
Things snowballed from there. I got hit with a bill I couldn’t afford. Collections called me at one point and I remember the shame I felt telling them I couldn’t afford to pay off the bill. Of course, they didn’t care. So I chucked what money I could at it to get them off my back.
The thing is that once you get into a certain amount of debt it’s hard to get out. I moved from low-wage job to low-wage job, most of which I enjoyed, and I was living a great lifestyle otherwise—snowboarding every weekend, going to concerts, having wild nights with my friends. But every time I looked at my bank account, my stomach would sink. I knew I’d have to tackle this soon.
Then I went back to university. Need I say more? Thankfully, some of my schooling was paid for but I was still responsible for a chunk of it. I took out a student line of credit, consolidated all my debt and started making bigger minimum payments. By this time, I was finally making a living wage.
University was expensive but fabulous. This time around I knew what I was good at and I sought to soak up as much as I could to help me get better. As soon as I completed university, I landed a job that increased my income again. Within four years I doubled my annual income.
But I still wasn’t paying off that debt very fast. And I worried about that all the time.
And then I quit my job and started a business (a whole other story). With that came a few expenses I didn’t expect like insurance, taxes, software and a new laptop. As a completely inexperienced business owner, I struggled to maintain a work-life balance and obsessed about sales and income. I loved the actual work I was doing but hated running the business.
I took a step back again to think about what I really wanted and embarked on a personal development journey. I started to peel back the layers of my life to figure out what I really wanted to do with it. I learned about lifestyle design and fitting work into life instead of the other way around. I read books like Tim Ferriss’s “The Four Hour Work Week” and Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity”. That led to me want to understand my financials better and I read books like Tony Robbins’s “MONEY Master the Game”. I read blogs, watched Youtube videos, and talked to people about money management.
All of this personal work brought me to a conclusion. In order to reach my goals, I would need a certain foundation and structure to how I managed my life, work, and finances. As a writer, I’m used to working under pressure with strict deadlines so I saw this as an extension of what I was already doing.
One of my first goals was to find a remote job which would allow me to do the work I loved but still get a regular paycheque and shed the administrative work I hated doing myself. I did freelance work on the side and increased my income substantially. At the same time, I started using tools like Mint.com, switched to a no-fee bank and switched my credit card over to a low-interest, cash-back card. I automated debt payments and savings. I started budgeting (you should see how annoying I am at the grocery store!).
In tandem, I was also applying this structure to my work. I started using project management software, quarterly planners, going to masterminds and workshops, taking affordable online courses to help me up my game. I became more confident in my work and without the distractions and annoyances of working in a busy office, I became ruthless about time management.
Within two years I paid off about $13,000 in debt without sacrificing the joys and pleasures in life, including the odd Amazon impulse buy and a trip to Spain. I thought it would take me much longer than it did.
Being in debt sucks. It’s an emotional and financial drain. It can put strain on relationships, add pressure to work harder. It can make you fearful—afraid to lose your job or change jobs, afraid to invest in your education, afraid you’ll never get out of the rat race.
Obviously, I’m not a financial advisor so what I’m about to share with you may not apply perfectly to your situation but I hope it can help you get started. Here’s exactly what I did to get out of debt:
Do an audit of your spending. Use Mint.com. Figure out where you can cut costs. For me, it was groceries, going out, buying clothing, my phone bill, and software subscriptions. Give yourself a monthly budget and remind yourself every time you’re tempted to overspend that this will mean you’ll be in debt for X more months.
Consolidate your debt. Talk to a representative from your bank to figure out the best option. I chose a line of credit with a very low interest rate.
Find things to do that are fun but that don’t cost a lot of money. Running, cycling, camping, hiking, 2-for-1 movie nights, hanging out at the beach or in the park, house parties instead of bars, potlucks, volunteering to get into events—there is a lot you can do that doesn’t involve shopping or spending tons of cash.
Switch to a no-fee bank and a cash-back credit card. I chose Tangerine, which is very convenient to use (Open a Tangerine account with my Orange Key 41540779S1 and get a $50 bonus!).
Use the credit card to earn cash back on purchases and then pay it off every week. This earns me about $30 a month—I MAKE money from my credit card.
Figure out what you can realistically afford to put towards your debt every month and automate that. Where can you find extra money to put towards debt? I started putting a third of my income from all freelance work and any tax return money towards debt.
Need to buy something? Look at the second-hand market first. Avoid malls and fast fashion. Invest in quality when you need to buy something new and save up for it first instead of putting it on credit. Use your local library!
At the same time, automate savings. It can be as little as $25 a week but do as much as you can. Having a visible cushion in your bank account will make you feel less fearful about being in debt. I had saved up enough money after a year that I was able to put an extra $1,500 towards paying off my debt AND still go on vacation.
Cushion your checking account. I built up an extra $2,000 that just sits there in case I need it. NSF fees, late bill payments—all that stuff costs you extra money. And don’t fall into the trap of using overdraft, because you WILL use it!
Pay everything on time even if that means you can’t go out this Friday night. This is also good for your credit rating.
Find ways to make extra money. I freelanced and housesat on the side. I found a remote job that paid more. Sell the kombucha you brew at home to your neighbours. There are ways to earn more that don’t require you to sell your soul.
Read everything you can about personal finance and personal development. Some of it will be crap, but lots of it will be good.
Paying off that final debt payment is an incredibly freeing feeling. The black cloud lifts. It’s one less thing to worry about. And it will free you up financially to go after that life you dream about.
Working remotely has been a life-changing experience. It helped me find more time, earn more money, and focus on getting better at what I do while also giving me the flexibility to supplement my income with freelance work. Finding something I love to do made me want to do other things better in my life. While you don’t need to work remotely to pay off debt, it can certainly help.