One of the most rewarding aspects of writing Get Rich Slowly is sharing success stories and strategies with the readers. In the forums, there’s an entire section devoted to financial success stories. Mostly, though, people share these via e-mail. Travis wrote today to tell me about his transition from debt to savings. Like me, he found it a bit of a challenge. Here’s our e-mail exchange:

Travis
I was reading about your progress on your goals, and thought that you would be interested in my own personal experience with tipping the debt scale.

After following your site for a long time now I am debt-free, but I found that one of the hardest parts was going from debt to having savings. It seemed that right when I became debt free I went back into debt by a couple of hundred and then would pay that off.

I wasn’t able to escape debt until I had a few months where I didn’t have any surprises come up. This allowed my the ability to build enough in my emergency fund so that even when something came up I was able to pay for it and still have funds left over. Your car problems just reminded me of how it became very difficult when I was right on the line of having debt versus having savings.

J.D.
Aside from my doggone car, I’ve actually found the transition fairly smooth. Many readers warned me about the danger of reverting to old spending patterns once I’d paid off my debt. I’m glad they did. It would have been easy for me to tell myself, “Aha! My debt is gone. Now I can take all this money I was throwing at debt every month and use it instead to buy comic books and a Mini Cooper.” The urge to reward myself was very, very strong. And while I did give myself one reward — XM satellite radio — it was relatively small. I didn’t buy a new car. I didn’t take a trip to Hawaii.

Instead, I’ve maintained the frugal mindset. I’m continuing to save. If anything, I’ve become more focused. Now that my debt is gone, I’m less inclined to spend money on myself than before. When I was paying off debt, buying a new game for the Wii felt like I was depriving my creditors of money. But now buying a new game for the Wii feels like I’m depriving me of money.

Travis
I think now is the most difficult time mentally because you are so close, but one little thing can put you back into debt. You might not be $30,000 in debt, but my experience was that it was more mentally draining than being $30,000 in debt.

When I was in debt and paying it off, setbacks didn’t frustrate me as much because I was already in debt. But when I was put back into debt even for as little as $100, it would really take it out of my because I felt like I had failed. Now I realize that wasn’t the case, but at the time I was working so hard that it made me frustrated. As you said, you just work through it and maintain the frugal mindset.

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