I’ve been trying to get out of debt for a long time. It’s embarrassing, really. I work in accounting. I should know better.
To be fair, I started working in accounting long after I had already buried myself under a pile of debt. When I studied accounting and finance in college, it was like a light bulb turned on. I excelled in those classes and now I’m a Controller for a small business.
I’m good at my job, too, so why are my personal finances still such a disaster? It’s not like I haven’t tried to tackle it. I’ve been trying for years… Too many video games, perhaps? Too much eating out? My Tuxedo Sam shopping habit? Certainly these things could be attributed to it, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. I figure it boils down to this:
I’ve been going into a raid by myself with crappy equipment and, even worse, with NO REAL PLAN.
End game raids are fucking hard. In Final Fantasy XIV Online, it takes some of the most skilled raiders days of constant work to conquer the game’s toughest foes. For the rest of the player base, tackling a raid often takes much longer: weeks, months… Some players don’t tackle these raids at all. Raids require coordination, planning, equipment, patience, and an acceptance of the fact that you are going to fail. Over and over and over again. And even with all of these factors, progress is often slow. You look at the boss’s HP bar slowly going down and you wonder if it’s ever going to die.
I’ve read countless blogs about tackling debt and working toward true financial independence. Often times, people will personify their debt. They give it a name like Debt-Monster or Debt-Dragon or even an actual name like Bob. This way of thinking hadn’t really worked for me until I realized that tackling debt is just like tackling a raid. So instead of equating my debt with some sort of creature or person, I’m choosing to equate it with an experience. I suppose I should still give it a name…
The Thousands of Dollars of Toto-Rak
This is a riff on The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak and from here on out, I’ll be referring to it as simply Toto-Rak. Technically, The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak isn’t a raid. It’s a dungeon and an easy, low level one, at that! But damn, I HATE THAT PLACE. Its layout isn’t as straightforward as other dungeons and raids in the game, it’s long, and the last 1/3 of it forces you to walk through sticky sludge that slows your movement while walking by pods that spew poison on you when they explode. I generally have laser-focus when I’m in there so that I can get out as soon as humanly possible. Yet I still get turned around or find myself at a dead end because I wasn’t paying attention due to external distractions or whatever. Another reason I chose a low level dungeon is because debt can happen to anyone at any age or life situation. In fact, when you’re lower level (younger) and less experienced, it’s easier to fall into its jaws of hell.
Toto-Rak is a perfect metaphor for tackling debt. First of all, as much as we would like it to be, tackling debt isn’t a straight-line process. Oh sure, it SHOULD be, but let’s be real. Life doesn’t work that way. There are always twists and turns, unexpected events that may interfere with forward progress. Second, paying off debt takes TIME. It’s not something you can just fix or change overnight. So just like the dungeon, this process is LONG. Third, all that sludge and poison? That’s all the stuff around you that can slow down your progress toward reaching your debt-free goal. Sometimes you might spend when you shouldn’t. No one’s self control is completely beyond reproach. Or sometimes shit happens (like an unexpected home repair) and it can impede your progress. Once you finally defeat that last boss by making your final payment, though, I’m betting that it will feel amazing. I’ll be 100% honest and say that I have a feeling that making that last payment is going to feel better than any game victory I’ve ever experienced and I get pretty excited about beating video game baddies!
I don’t want this post to get too long. (Believe me, I know I’m already too long-winded.) But I wanted to go back to my earlier statement about going into a raid alone, with crappy equipment, and no strategy. In order to defeat a raid (or even just a dungeon), you need a few things. This is NOT a ranking. They’re all equally important in my opinion.
A strong team. And I don’t mean everyone has to already be really good at raiding. I mean a group of people you can trust that are capable of working together, communicating, and won’t just bail at the first sign of trouble. The same goes for attacking your debt. You need people who will support you, hold you accountable, encourage you, and be willing to work with you within whatever confines you set up with regard to spending (ie. friends who understand that you don’t want to go out to the bar, but you’re totally happy hosting a board game night potluck at your house). If you veer off course, these people won’t judge you and they’ll help steer you back in the right direction. When the going gets tough, they’ll stick around and support you.
Good gear. It doesn’t have to be BiS (Best-in-Slot), but you can’t go into a level 70 raid wearing level 50 gear. If the boss hits you, you’ll fall to the floor like a house of cards and if you’re dead on the ground, you’re no good to anyone. I’m oversimplifying here, but armor will protect you and other gear will give you better strength or magical powers that you can use to defeat that boss. In the realm of debt-destroying, I would say that your gear should be whatever software or system you use to keep track of your budget. Yes, you need a budget. You can’t do this without one. Your budget is your sword for attacking the boss as well as defense against its attacks. I use YNAB (You Need a Budget), but you can use envelopes, a spreadsheet, Mint, Quicken… There are options all over the internet. Aside from that, the more information you can gather about how to make more money or spend less money the better. This is your gear. And remember, if you find that a tool doesn’t work for you, try switching it out for another one. We’re all unique and you need to find the gear that fits you and your play-style.
A good strategy. If you do an internet search for the various dungeons and raids in Final Fantasy XIV Online, you’ll quickly find guides for them. These guides explain boss mechanics and effective ways to defeat them. When I’m playing with my core group of friends, we typically don’t look up guides on the internet because we like to figure stuff out ourselves. It’s more fun that way! But that doesn’t mean we go into dungeons completely clueless. There are certain basics that are the same throughout dungeon and raid experiences. (For example, no matter what you’re fighting, the tank should make sure the enemies aren’t facing the rest of the party.) As you repeatedly try and fail to defeat a raid, you learn and can develop a good strategy to defeat your nemesis. The same goes for tackling debt. Books, videos, blogs… There’s a LOT of information out there. Just like I mentioned earlier with the gear, there are a lot of different ways to go about killing your debt, but there are certain concepts that are the same, no matter who you ask. “Spend less than you earn” is a perfect example of that. You can try a bunch of different strategies for saving money. Some will work for you and some won’t. It’s up to you to formulate the best strategy to defeat your debt.
So now I’m starting off on my quest to defeat Toto-Rak. I will periodically check in here with updates and info on my team, my gear, and my strategy. The next post in this category will probably be a breakdown of my debt situation and the steps I’ve already taken to tackle it. Please look forward to it!