Debt, Diet, Drink: The “Why?” of Change

In last week’s post, I featured Kayt. Two years ago, Kayt:

  1. started her journey to debt-freedom
  2. switched to a plant-based diet (and started to take up running)
  3. adopted a lifestyle of sobriety

So many of us struggle to make changes in our lives. I wanted to know Kayt’s secret.

Many people say they want to change, but they have a hard time making change happen – even for one area of life. What do you think it was that enabled you and your husband to make changes in 3 areas of life at the same time?

What was the catalyst to these changes?

I can only speak for myself in this. I had been half-way on the plant-based train for a while. I had been struggling with money my entire life, with one foot on the no-debt path for years. I wanted to be a ‘runner’, but struggled so much for the first year to create a habit around that desire.

And, as far as going sober, I realized that I was allowing intoxication to validate letting my emotions dictate how I communicated, and with quite a bit of depression and bitterness that had set in after I moved from Texas, that wasn’t exactly a charming attitude. Drinking didn’t make me the person I wanted to be, it detracted from it. Drinking too much the night before meant I definitely wasn’t up for running. I would say things that I regretted – and it just wasn’t worth it while trying to build a relationship, preparing for this brand new marriage, to have such a shaky foundation.

I read a quote recently that I think is so profound, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters” by Nathaniel Emmons. I think primarily the catalyst for us to make these huge changes was that we finally stepped up, and said, “We aren’t going to make excuses anymore. We know the problem-points in our relationship, our health, our diets. We need to change.”  And then we did. And we did it by making new habits, by supporting each other, and by finding ways to make these new lifestyles really fun.

You said, “sometimes my husband and I feel so alone because we are social outliers, avoiding meat, dairy, and debt” and drink. How do you deal with this social alienation?

Have you thought of or tried different ways to connect?

I think professionally my choices not to eat meat, not to drink and not to go out to lunch/spend money frivolously have made me feel particularly outcast. I work in a boys’ club of sorts, in the architecture community. They like to ‘tease’ but it’s difficult to be mocked for things you take pretty seriously.

The first year in Atlanta was hard, but as we’ve met more people here it’s gotten better. We each connect in different ways, but we have found support in the various communities of each passion. The AA community was really supportive when we were each sorting out why alcohol had such a hold on us, and how to start rebuilding ourselves as well as our relationship.

We plugged into different vegan communities on social media, like one page called “Vegan Atlanta”, which has been really helpful in meal ideas and finding good deals, and bonding with other people over the reasons we’ve gone vegan.

And, as far as debt, we took FPU (Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University) and got a ton of support there, so much so that we have started coordinating and finished our first class as coordinators in March. We also still listen regularly to Dave Ramey’s podcast, and that helps keep us on the debt-freedom track too. We’ve also plugged into a small church community, and have actually really bonded with a few other young married couples that also are working on their debt, or who are also plant-based.

Everybody still thinks we are a little crazy from one angle or another, but we know that the decisions we make every day continue to help us become the people we want to be. The challenge now is in surrounding ourselves with people who are also trying to be their best selves.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your new lifestyle?

I think the most rewarding aspects are the progress we’ve seen, and the goals we’ve achieved. And also that we’ve gotten so much closer because we have tackled these changes together.

What goals do you and your husband have for the years ahead? 

Bryan really wants to run an ultra-marathon, and I’d really like to keep getting personal records in my half marathon times. He now has four full marathons under his belt, and I’ve got one, as well as three half marathons.

Of course, finishing our debt snowball at the end of this year is a huge goal, and after that we will build our fully-funded emergency fund and hopefully be onto Baby Steps 4, (5?) and 6 by the time he takes the Bar exam in July 2019.

I’m planning to also go back to school to get my Master’s after he finishes, and cash-flow it! We plan to continue with living plant-based and sober, although those aren’t as much goals as just lifestyle choices. I’m looking forward to a plant-based pregnancy hopefully in the next three years too!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

First, surround yourself with positive thinkers and people you admire. Rich Roll has one of our favorite podcasts, along with Dave Ramsey. Continuing to consume positive content is necessary for health and finance. And stop making excuses! I’ve worked 50+hrs/wk for the past eighteen months, spending 2-3hrs on the road in my daily commute. I spend more time in nutrition planning, finance management and fitness than most of the people I know.

I think, if there’s anything I can say that could encourage people to make a change, it’s to have a real ‘why?’ To have more than ‘I want to be skinnier’, ‘I want to be wealthy’, etc. You are making decisions to live a healthier life (physically or financially) so that you can do things you never thought you could before like running a marathon or having a college fund for your kids or paying off your house… I mean these are amazing feats!

Even the littlest goal feels amazing after you do it. I felt like I was dying during my first 10K (that’s just over 6 miles), wheezing from asthma, walking up the hills and hating myself, and my legs were sore for days. But I crossed the finish line, for the first time in my entire life, and it didn’t matter that I walked or that I was slower than everyone I knew – all that mattered at that moment was that I had done something I’d never done before.

I got the same feeling when we paid off each debt in our snowball, especially the first of two consolidated student loans, $35,000 (of my $72,000) that I’ve been carrying for almost 10 years. That victory is completely indescribable. Every weekend spent poring over the budget and every sacrifice to scrape every extra penny feels an awful lot like waking up at 4:45 to get a morning run in or passing on the free cupcakes at work. Sure, it sucks for few minutes, but the long-term benefit is completely invaluable. And those natural endorphins far outshine the satisfaction of eating junk food, sleeping in, or taking shots. Because I’m becoming the person I want to be, and my husband is too.  We are figuring out how to be good to each other, good to the planet, good to our future selves’ financial health, and good to our bodies.


Are you able to identify the “Why?” of the lifestyle changes you make? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It’s interesting that Kayt pinpointed the why as being so important, which I’ve always known when it came to financial goals, but had more trouble when it came to health goals. My why’s for health were always negative ones, based on fear, rather than positive things I would gain. So as soon as I made some progress and lost the fear, I’d slip back again. I’m going to try to find some positive why’s to focus on for the future.

    • Gary! Yes! The “why” is so important, and it’s really easy to see it in the financial realm, especially with magical phenomena like compound interest…but harder to see with health sometimes. I always try to encourage people to find a small goal, that they can build a little fitness plan around…maybe a 5k walk for a charity, or a 5k run? Hal Higdon has some great (free) training plans on his website for all levels of running goal-setting.

      Fitness goals help immensely in putting a plan of action around your “why” for health!

  • Love the message here. The short-term sacrifice for the good of the long-term goal. Having a clear “why” for any goal you are trying to achieve. I can see what Kayt and Bryan have had such success! Continued success. Looking forward to a debt-free scream with Dave?

    • Thanks for your support Brian! We definitely plan to go to Nashville to do our debt free scream, but Bryan has insisted we have to wait until the mortgage is paid off…I’m still trying to change his mind 🙂

      • I say Bryan is right. Sorry Kayt! We will be making our last mortgage payment in September, and we’re trying to book our debt-free scream in Nashville:) When it’s the whole debt, I can’t help but think it’s just that much more satisfying a scream:)

        • Haha I know, you’re right! But $128,000 in 30 months and then $200,000 over 5 years….it breaks my heart to think it’ll be so much longer before we are completely debt free…but i am hoping the next five years go by faster than the last two and a half!

          • The thing is, you really never know how long it will take. Maybe longer, maybe not! For me, I’ve found that a part of our journey out of debt has been to find peace in the uncertainty – just in doing our best month by month without knowing the long-term answers. My impatience helped get us into debt, and as it makes way for a patient discipline, we’re reaping more than debt repayment. Anyway, it’s your choice when you do that scream : ) And who says you can’t do two of them?

  • This past weekend I went out to celebrate my friend’s 40th birthday, but most of my friends like to really do-it-up, and I don’t want to spend the money or spend the time drinking and feeling like total crap the next day (note: even with a two drink max and being home by 11, I STILL felt depleted the next day), so I ended up leaving downtown LA early. I feel like this makes me a little odd to my friends, but I know myself and what I can handle. I just have to get over any impressions they may have about that.

    • Tonya, the social aspect can be super challenging! Although we’ve come up with fun alternatives for our own celebrations (like Bryan had a surprise birthday party for me, potluck style, so everyone brought a vegan dish instead of a gift), it can be difficult to balance the social norms like happy hours or birthday nights out. Sometimes when I’m in an environment where people are all drinking, I’ll order a virgin mojito, which is basically mint soda water, which is healthy and still looks ‘normal’. Leaving early is always hard, but it helps to have a reason, like an early work-out! When people see you prioritize health, I think it can help lessen the potential criticism. But of course, everyone’s friend group is different! I encourage you to also try to surround yourself with people that have similar priorities, like financial and physical health! It’s so helpful to have a positive-minded tribe!

  • Kayt, I love your story. None of this came easily to you, and you make that clear. I believe that your hope for your marriage was what inspired you to make all of these life changes. It was a new beginning, and you invested your whole self into it – as did your husband. I wish you all the best. I look forward to hearing about that vegan pregnancy in a few years:) Thanks again for sharing your experience here.

    • Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to share. You are 100% right that none of this has been easy, but the life we led before wasn’t easy either! It’s not easy to feel tired all the time, to have frequent fall-outs and to keep outgrowing your clothes. You’re also right that it was hope for my relationship that completely lit the fire under me to be the best version of myself- marriage can create such an interesting opportunity for self-awareness. I can’t thank you enough for sharing my story and I hope it helps inspire people and to shed some light that if it were easy everyone would do it, but it’s worth the effort, and everyone deserves to prioritize their health and to live a full life!

  • I am so excited for you Kayt. Thank you for sharing your story. Let me first say I love the wisdom you point out of having the “why” for these important changes one makes in life.This makes all the difference between experimenting with something and impacting your life for real. We are months away from debt freedom and a few months into a vegan based diet. The why’s for these changes are strong. I know they are strong because I don’t feel there is any looking back for either (I acknowledge some of the social challenges with being vegan). Both feed into a very active fitness lifestyle that feeds me psychologically and physically. Both have energized our marriage, opening up new communications and giving us common ground to pursue. So back to being excited for you. You and your husband have started earlier in life than we did with these wonderful secrets, a couple of beautiful recipes to contribute to a rich life. I can only wonder how it would have been had we known these “why’s” way back on the doorstep of our getting married. I wish you the best in your pursuits. Stay strong and be persistent.

    • I can’t thank you enough for your encouragement David! The ‘why’ really is the biggest piece and helps so much to build momentum behind good habits. And having common ground, mutual hobbies, it has been such a phenomenal building block for us! Cooking really has become our favorite past-time and has become such a fun way to spend time that is productive and creative and fun. So so proud for you all to be so close to debt-freedom! Thank you for your words of wisdom!!!

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