Ben’s Challenge, Week 9: What I’ve Learned So Far

Conquering the mountain

Way back in January, I committed to doing the ReadyForZero New Years Challenge and writing about my experience. As I mentioned at the time, it can be pretty scary to share any personal information in public – let alone talking about your debt and personal financial details. So before I made the decision to do this, I had to think about it carefully: Was I ready for any reaction that might come my way?

What if people criticized me? Or worse, ridiculed me?

I had to acknowledge that was a possibility. But on the other hand, I knew how awesome it would be to share tips and advice with the amazing people who read the ReadyForZero blog and to prove that those of us who work at ReadyForZero practice what we preach. We believe that your support network can help you get out of debt. And we also believe that debt is not something anyone has to feel embarrassed about. The idea of engaging in a conversation about debt – from a very personal perspective – seemed like a powerful way to strengthen our connection to all the people who are themselves using ReadyForZero to get out of debt.

So I decided to take the plunge!

And now that I’ve reached the final week of the Zero Debt Action Plan, I’m extremely glad I did it. The comments that I’ve received each week have been amazing and inspiring – from offering tidbits of wisdom to simply voicing support for the cause, your feedback has made this experience quite enjoyable. People like Zack Jones and Robin Singhvi gave me really thoughtful insights and that made it fun to write these updates each week. A special thanks goes out to all the personal finance bloggers who gave me encouragement and advice:

(Let me know if I forgot anyone!)

I’m now going to wrap up this series and share my final thoughts on the experience of doing the challenge, as well as talk about how I plan to use what I’ve learned to reach my financial goals in 2012 (hint… I may keep posting updates throughout the year). But first, I wanted to provide links back to all eight of my previous challenge updates. If you missed any along the way, here’s your chance to go back and read them!

Introduction: My New Year’s Resolution: Help Me Stay Motivated
In my introduction to this challenge, I explained the reasoning behind the New Year’s Challenge and described my own rationale for taking on the challenge. I talked about how my credit card debt was sitting at $3,199 after making a momentous career change, and how my goal for 2012 was to get that paid off entirely. I also talked about dog food because… well, just go read the post!

Week 1: Dealing With Unexpected Expenses
In my first weekly update, I decided to aim for paying $480 per month toward my credit card balance, and I mentioned the difficulties involved in cutting off all credit card spending. In addition, I talked about some unexpected expenses that came up for me (a doctors visit and a car repair) – and how important it is to move past things like that which can discourage you and get you off track if you’re not careful.

Week 2: Spending Less
In my second update, I delved deep into my own personal spending data to determine where my money was going. What I found surprised me! The one place in my budget that seemed to be gobbling up money was my food expenses. So I vowed to bring lunch from home more often (rather than eat out) in an attempt to bring those spending numbers down. If successful, I would be able to pay more toward my credit card balance. But I knew it would not be easy…

Week 3: My Credit Score
The third update centered on my task of finding out what my credit score was. It was pretty fun to log-in to CreditKarma and find out my score, and then to compare my score to the nationwide average and do some research to figure out how I might be able to improve my score. (I later checked back on this in Week 7) I also showed my progress in paying down my balance, as I had just made my first payment of $480. With that payment I had dropped my balance all the way down to $2,716 – a big improvement!

Week 4: Can I Make Money On eBay?
Following along with the Zero Debt Action Guide, I wanted to use the tips in it to sell an item on eBay (for some additional income to help me pay off my debt). Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, but I was able to use it as a learning experience in preparation for my second attempt at eBay selling in Week 8. Among the lessons I learned: you can list an item very easily, within 10 minutes, and if the item doesn’t sell there’s no cost to you!

Week 5: Help for Getting Out of Debt
In my fifth update I outlined three obstacles that make it harder to get out of debt: (1) We have a hard time prioritizing our long-term financial – or physical – health over our short-term desires, which is why it’s so easy to spend but so hard to save; (2) We’re often afraid of talking about our debt and getting encouragement from other people; (3) We allow complicated mathematical calculations to confuse and demoralize us. To see my advice on overcoming these three obstacles, read the post!

Week 6: My Budget Exposed
I did one of the hardest things of all: I unveiled my whole entire budget for the month of February and I evaluated how well I had done in cutting back on expenses – especially for food! Did I hit my goal? You’ll have to read it to find out. It was fun to see everything laid out in a very concise way, and I think the experience of budgeting very carefully is going to help me tremendously as I go forward. Check out the post to see if the tricks I used can help you with your own budget!

Week 7: Credit Score Update
I showed my continuing progress in paying of my credit card, taking it all the way down to $2,361! And I went back to CreditKarma to see if my credit score had changed after paying off some of my debt. I found out it hadn’t, but I used their credit simulator tool to find  out how certain financial decisions might affect my credit score. I looked at three hypothetical actions: (1) paying off my entire credit card balance, (2) increasing my credit limit, and (3) getting another credit card.

Week 8: Trying to Make Extra Money
In my update last week I described my research into making more money. First I identified opportunities for freelancing (and found some interesting ones!) and then I made a second attempt at selling an item on eBay… and this time was successful! I went to a yard sale, bought a couple items, took them home and listed them on eBay (using the tricks I learned in Week 4), then waited for them to sell. You’ll have to read the post to find out how much they sold for.


Anyway, after all this I feel like I’ve gained a lifetime of valuable personal finance lessons. I hope to continue sharing those (and learning more) as time goes on. And more importantly, I hope my experience will prompt others to undertake their own journeys to becoming debt free.

As for my own journey, I’m gearing up to put another $480 toward my credit card balance this month – which would bring my total balance below $2,000 – probably to about $1,880. For next six months, my two personal financial goals are:

  • To continue paying $480 per month toward my credit card balance
  • To keep tracking my spending and stick with my budget

I am confident that I can do these two and achieve my “Big Picture” goal of paying off my credit card entirely in 2012! I’ve been using ReadyForZero since August of last year, and in that time I’ve seen my blue progress bar getting closer and closer to being filled up. (There’s a screenshot of it in my Week 5 update) That progress bar has given me a lot of motivation to keep going because it’s always so satisfying to log into ReadyForZero and see that the bar is a little more full than last time.

If I continue reducing my credit card balance by $480 per month, then I should be able to fill up the progress bar completely by the beginning of August! That would mean I’d be completely debt free within one year of starting to use ReadyForZero! That would be pretty awesome. And who knows, maybe I’ll do it even faster…

Regardless of what happens, I am planning to post an update on my progress at the beginning of each month starting in April, so keep checking back here (or subscribe to the ReadyForZero blog) so you can find out what happens next! Thanks again for your support.

And remember, if you are on your own quest to pay off debt, try our free online tool that helps you get out of debt faster:

» Try ReadyForZero

Top image by George M. Groutas; Intro image by danorth1; Week 1 images by Walt Stoneburner and justtohottotouch; Week 2 image by Like_the_Grand_Canyon; Week 5 image by Mykl Roventine; Week 6 image by 401K; Week 8 image by 401K

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  • Jenna from Adaptu

    CONGRATS!!  It’s always so easy to cheer on someone who is kicking butt!

  • Hooray! You set a goal, worked hard at it, and completed it for 9 weeks! How awesome does that feel? You should be super proud of yourself and the progress you’ve made. Thanks for being open and sharing your personal finance journey. It always helps to read someone else’s experiences. It’s very encouraging!

    • Thanks so much, Carrie! I’ve appreciated your thoughtful comments throughout the last 9 weeks. And I’ve been inspired reading your own updates on your financial goals! Social sharing FTW, eh?

  • Frugal_Confessions

    It can be very difficult to expose certain parts of our lives on our blog; I have found that articles that make me a little nervous to hit the publish button are usually the ones people enjoy the most.  

    • That is so true! I think people really enjoy a glimpse into someone’s personal financial decisions and the lessons that can come from that. Now I want to go check out your blog posts!

  • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my weekly posts! I’ll definitely keep you updated. I just checked out your blog – it looks great. You’re plan to pay off your mortgage is really interesting, and I read the Money Q&A response to your question as well, about the benefit of investing vs. paying off the mortgage faster. Good stuff! I’ll keep checking your updates too!

  • Great job making it through the challenge, Ben! It was great to follow your real-life journey, and I wish you the best on your continuing efforts. Catch you around the blogosphere!

    • Thanks, Bethy! It was fun to learn more about my credit score with CreditKarma. See you around!

  • GG Ben! And thanks for mentioning me. I’ve hardly been as helpful as you make it out to be 🙂 But there is no denying that RFZ helped me pull my socks up and dig myself out of the hole I was in! I’ll be looking forward to your follow up posts!

    • You’d be surprised how much a simple encouraging comment can help! And that’s why I appreciate your thoughtful responses (and everyone else’s) so much. I’m also really glad that ReadyForZero has helped you climb out of debt – that is excellent!

  • I will definitely check out that book – thanks, Zack! And I’m so glad ReadyForZero is working for you. Please keep us updated on your progress toward becoming debt free.