How to go from survival mode to debt free

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The overwhelming stress had become normal. Paydays came and went but there was never anything to show for it. When we looked back on the past 7 years of our adult lives and how we had spent all of our money, all we had to show for all of that hard work was basically just debt. We had nothing productive to show for all of those years of hard work. We realized one day that this wasn't abundant life...this was never-ending survival mode. People would talk to us about retirement and our future and we would just kind of laugh and roll our eyes because we couldn't even think that far into the future. All we were worried about was keeping the electricity on and keeping food on the table. That's definitely no way to live!

One day we had finally had enough of survival mode...and the steps that we took next to get from survival mode to debt-free changed our family forever ...and that's what I want to share with you here today.

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When you're in the middle of survival mode, struggling just to keep the electricity on and to keep groceries on the table, it's hard to even think about being debt free.

How can you even worry about that many years in the future?
The answer is you can't!

You have to start that journey out of survival mode before you can even think about being debt free or retirement ...and there are several steps in the middle.

I'm always honest and I never say that this is a super simple journey. It's not like once you make up your mind that's all you've got to do. No, I always say that it's a lot of work and sometimes you have to get your hands dirty, sometimes you're going to break a sweat, and not the entire journey is a pretty thing. So I'm going to share a little bit of tough love with you here today and hopefully get you motivated!

These 6 steps are what we did, and in the order that we did it in, to get to where we are today... 

1. Get fed up

This one is so important!

Get sick and tired of being sick and tired, but this time instead of just complaining about it, you have to actually do something about it! We were the same way, we spent years and years and years saying, "This is ridiculous, we shouldn't be living like this!" ...but then we would never do anything about it! When we finally hit rock bottom what changed was that we let that anger and frustration build up, and we let it push us into something better! We got so mad at our situation, and we got so mad at our old selves that we couldn't even stand it anymore! We had to do something different!

You have to get to that point where you're so sick and tired of being sick and tired that it pushes you into that anger.  That's something that you can't really give to's something that happens naturally. 

People ask me all of the time, "How do you get started with budgeting?" ...but you can tell they're not to that point yet. They don't have that fire to push them yet.

When you do get to that point...usually because you hit your own "rock bottom"'ll be ready to get started. When you finally get to the point that you are just so sick of hearing yourself complain, and you're just so tired of living in survival mode...that's when you take all of that frustration and anger, bottle it, and let it be your fuel to push you into something better!

2. Change your mindset

I'm huge on mindset + positive thinking because you can't do anything with your mind in the wrong place. It's just like the first step, get fed up, you have to get to that mental place before you can take all of the physical steps.  

Stop looking at work like a punishment. It's not a punishment, it's a blessing! You have a job that's providing you income, even if you don't love it, it's still not a punishment, it's a huge blessing! You start looking at every paycheck as your ticket out of survival mode.

Every dollar counts at this point! When you change your mindset into thinking that every dollar is one dollar closer to becoming debt-free, work starts to actually feel like a blessing. You start to not dread it as much because you start to think, "one day closer to day closer to being debt free... one day closer to whatever your goal is." 

It's not a punishment anymore! It actually feels great to go to work because you're actually accomplishing something and you're moving forward with your goals. You realize that every single paycheck, and every single dollar gets you one step closer, and you start to look at the bigger picture. You don't wake up on Monday anymore and say, "Ugh! It's Monday! I don't want to go to work!" You look at the bigger picture now, and you think, "This is a great life and I'm moving forward with my goals!"

Once you flip that mindset everything is going to change for you!

3. Create a written budget

Your mindset is in the right place now, but now you've got to get your hands dirty and actually create that budget!

Tell every single dollar where to go or you're going to wonder where it went.

This is something that actually happened to us... we had a truck payment for about six years and those whole six years we kept saying, "When the truck is paid off we're going to do...". Well, it finally came to the time where the truck was paid off and we didn't do any of those things because we didn't tell that extra money where to go! That extra money disappeared! It disappeared because we weren't watching it! We wasted thousands of dollars! We had a solid six months in there, between the time our truck was paid off and the time we started budgeting, that we wasted thousands and thousands of dollars. We have no idea where it went because we weren't watching it. That seems really crazy to me now, but you have to tell every single dollar where to go.

No more guessing!
No more just hoping one day you'll wake up and be debt free!

If you see that you're coming up short in your budget and your budget is negative, you have to fix it!

You have to get intentional with your money!
It is so important!

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need some budgeting worksheets?

Check out the actual worksheets that my family used to get organized, pay off our debt, track our spending, pay our bills on time, grow our savings, set awesome goals, + more! 

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4. Reduce your expenses + increase your income

This is how you become intentional with your budget...reduce your expenses and increase your income. If you don't like how your budget looks then you have to do one or both of these. Most people do both...we did both. If you don't like how your budget something about it!

I have a great blog about cutting back your expenses where I share 33 tips, and I actually turned it into a two-part video series because it was so many tips... and there's even more ideas than what I shared in that one blog. There are so many ways to cut back your expenses, and you have to challenge yourself if you ever want your life to look any different!

Also don't be afraid to increase your income. Remember that you have a goal to accomplish! You might be tired, we're all tired, but it's for such a short period of time...just a couple of years, in most people's get from survival mode to debt free or at least almost debt free where you're not struggling to keep your head above water anymore. So challenge yourself to take steps to increase your income as well because it's so important in this step! 

5. Apply every extra dollar to your debt

Of course you do you want to have a small starter emergency fund (about $500-$1,000), this works as your buffer so you're not relying on credit cards anymore when unexpected things happen.

But, once you have that starter emergency fund then you want to get super serious about knocking out your debt. Every single extra dollar is going to go towards your smallest debt at this point until it's paid off, then you go to the second smallest...and so on and so on.

I tell people all the time, if you get to the end of the pay period and you have $5 left, there's no shame in sending a $5 payment to a credit card. If you don't, what will happen to that $5?'ll disappear! You'll stop at a gas station, you'll drive through for fast food, or whatever it is, and that $5 will be gone! So you have to apply every single extra dollar to your debt and get super serious!

Then you have to keep hustling to reach your goals. Every single dollar counts at this point!

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I help overwhelmed families with my simple approach to budgeting through my full budgeting course, Your Sunny Money Method.

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6. Stay motivated

Related Article: How to Stay Motivated while Paying off Debt

I think we get so worked up, we get our budget started, we do all of these things, and then a few months in or maybe a year....we just kind of let the motivation just drift off and then we're right back to where we started.

You have to take steps to stay motivated! Of course that's sometimes easier said than done, but it can be done! 

Throughout the years of our journey we've had periods of time where our motivation has slacked off and we've had to re-motivate each other or just sit down and say, "Okay,
we're getting off track again. What are we going to do to keep ourselves motivated?".

You have to constantly remind yourself why you're doing this! I always ask in lesson one of my free course to hit reply and tell me your why. I get so many great responses, and it just makes me so happy because everyone is doing this for a greater purpose. If they're a mom they'll almost always say that they're doing it for their kids. They'll say that they want to send their kids to college. They'll say they want to travel as a family. They'll say they're doing it so their husband doesn't have to work at a job he hates forever...or so they don't have to. Sometimes they're a single mom, and they'll say that they just want to set a good example for their kids or they want to own their own home. All of these are awesome reasons why!

Whatever your reason is for doing this and for wanting financial freedom...remind yourself of that! Maybe you need to write it down and hang it up somewhere, or keep it in your daily planner. Put it somewhere that you'll see it constantly and remind yourself why you're doing this! You have a greater purpose! On the weeks that it gets hard, remember that you're doing this for a reason. Keep that in the front of your mind at all times!

Keep reviewing your budget. This isn't something that you can just check up on once a year. This is something that you're going to have to do every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. In the beginning of our budgeting journey I would sit down pretty much every day and just check through our budget because I was so new
at it and I was so worried that I was going to miss something or slip up. It was so important to me that I kept reviewing it, and once I got a little better I could start only checking on it once a week. Now I'm to the point where I sit down on payday and I make a really detailed budget, and then just every-once-in-a-while, throughout the pay period, I'll go and check back in to make sure I didn't forget anything. You'll get better at it as you go, but don't think that it's going to be just a one-and-done kind of thing. You have to keep reviewing it as you go.

Make small goals + celebrate them along the way. Say you have a debt that's $10,00...and it's going to take you a really long time to pay it off...don't wait until that $10,000 is completely paid off to celebrate. Celebrate every $100, every $500, or every $1,000...whatever makes sense to you. Really be proud of yourself for every little progress step that you're making throughout this whole process, it really breaks those goals down and makes them not feel so overwhelming.

Surround yourself with motivation. I found that this journey can be very lonely, especially if you don't have a great support system around you. If your family and friends aren't on the same journey they don't really understand all the struggles. It's so important to surround yourself with motivation...this is one of the reasons why I actually started my website, my Facebook group, and everything that I do. I really wanted to encourage other people that are also on this journey. So find Facebook groups! I have a great Facebook group and there are so many more! There are Dave Ramsey groups, there are mom budgeting groups, there are all of these great places that you can find support and find people that will help keep you motivated. That's so important throughout this whole journey! 

Realize that the debt won't magically disappear. It's really hard work! 

A lot of people weren't paying attention throughout all of these years of our journey, and now they see where we are, they hear that we bought our boat in cash and they'll act like we must have had some kind of luck or that we must have magically stumbled across the money. The truth is that they weren't paying attention all of those years that we were working really hard! We weren't going out to eat, we weren't going on trips, we gave up all of these things to get to where we are now. It's not magic, it's really hard work, but it's so rewarding and so so worth it!

You can't just pick and choose one or two of these things and say, "Oh well that one doesn't apply to me!" ...all 6 of these steps apply to every single journey + you have to do all of them!

Imagine if you did all of this mindset stuff, but you never created a written budget. Or imagine if you actually created a budget, but you realized that it was negative and you never took steps to reduce your expenses.'s not going to work if you don't do it all!

You have to do all 6 steps to be able to get from survival mode to becoming debt free!

As always...I'm obsessed with your success + I hope that these 6 steps help you!

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I'm the wife to my high school sweetheart, Daniel, + homeschooling momma to our 3 girls. I'm the Budgeting Coach + Motivational Speaker behind
 A Sunny Side Up Life.

My family used to be in $490k of debt + living paycheck-to-paycheck, but after we hit rock bottom everything changed for us!

Now that my family has become debt free + gained financial freedom, I want to help your family do the same! My passion is inspiring women to live abundant lives through budgeting, intentional living, and positive thinking.

I offer a jump start into budgeting with my free 5-day email course + full budgeting experience with my course, Your Sunny Money Method.

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How to go from survival mode to debt free | Sami Womack | budget tips | budgeting for beginners | debt free tips | how to budget | become debt free | where to start with budgeting | debt | budget | budgeting | free | free course | personal finance | household budget | personal budget | dave ramsey | how to | where to start with | How to pay off debt | How to become debt free | Dave Ramsey Baby Steps | How to create a budget | Debt free for beginner |Motivation | Debt free| blog | video | ynab