“Because you are in control of your life. Don’t ever forget that. You are what you are because of the conscious and subconscious choices you have made.” – Barbara Hall

“How did I end up here?” I thought as I looked out the window of my run-down apartment to see a victim of a drive-by-shooting lying on the sidewalk, bleeding. My life couldn’t get much worse than this.

I was twenty-five years old, divorced and could barely afford to live in a not-so-decent neighborhood. I was broke, alone and unhappy with my life. I knew I needed to change, and I was the only one who could make it happen.

Fast forward 4 years later and I’m completely out of debt, running my own business and found someone who makes me happier than I’ve ever been! Here’s how I used a simple thing like money to regain control of my life.

Define What Freedom Means to You

What does freedom mean to you? This is something each of us have to figure out for ourselves, but for the most part it includes a sense of liberty and having control over our own lives — our destiny. Whatever it is that you’re “sick and tired” of, is likely what’s holding you back from reaching the freedom you seek.

For me that “thing” was debt. No matter what I did in my career or within my relationships, my problems always boiled down to money. Not having enough of it to pay my bills, and the constant nagging of owing creditors payment.

Once I realized that sending money to the credit card companies and banks was hindering me from reaching my full potential, I was hell-bent on changing it. I no longer wanted a financial institution to dictate the type of job I had to have (one that paid well!) or how I spent my money.

Reaching freedom meant I needed to be free from debt!

Create a Plan to do Whatever it Takes

Like any other addiction or life-altering change, getting out of debt is tough. It takes discipline, hard work and absolute dedication, but if you really want to change your life, you’ll do whatever it takes.

I created a goal to pay off my car loan and credit cards (totaling over $14,000) within the next 18 months. This would mean I’d have to pay make payments at the rate of $800 per month. So I renewed my mindset about money, and whatever expenses weren’t needed to survive, were cut.

My previous life choices put me in this state, so I had to take responsibility for that and do everything I could to get out of it. After I cut back on all non-essential spending, I got a second job at night and on weekends to increase my income. I worked seven days a week, from 8am to 10pm for months on end, and thankfully, started seeing my debt decrease pretty quickly.

With each extra payment I made, the motivation to work harder and pay down debt faster was renewed. As was my confidence and the belief within myself that I could set any goal and obtain it.

Surround Yourself With Successful People

During the year I was paying off debt, I interacted with tons of other people who were working towards the same goal. And seeing the success stories of other people going through the same situation was the kind of motivation I needed to keep going.

I didn’t have that sense of support at home (since my family thought I was a complete screw-up after my divorce), but this group of supporters understood what I was going through. Having that sense of community helped me realize there were people who were genuinely interested in my success.

My feelings of being alone disappeared and the encouraging support I felt from my community was the extra boost I needed to pay off my debt within 14 months versus the original goal of 18 months.

Before planning a goal to change your life or create new habits, you must find a supportive group of people to help you along the way. I know for a fact that I would have quit pursuing my debt-free goal if the successful people around me didn’t send encouraging messages and thoughtful emails.

Regain Control of Your Life Through Finances

When you set out to change your life, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s the daily steps and changes you make that have the biggest impact. And when you start changing one part of your life (in this case it was my habits with money) it spills over into other areas.

Once I paid off all my debt, I was able to start saving and spending money how I desired. This allowed me to hire a business coach who enabled me to quit my life-sucking job and start my own business. Each good habit created a snowball effect, and through it all I learned how to live and love again.

What’s your money story? How can you use it to change your life for the better?

Photo by Andreas Øverland

Carrie Smith

Carrie Smith is a solopreneur and freelance blogger who writes about personal finance for ReadyForZero, a free online tool that helps people pay off debt. You can read more of her writing on Careful Cents, where she helps small businesses and freelancers write their own freedom story. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, Yahoo! Finance and several other business websites. Find her on Twitter @carefulcents.

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