8 Traits of People Who Live Debt-Free

Why are some families debt-free and others chronically debt-ridden, even when they have nearly the same amount of income and expenses? Are there universal qualities that keep some of us on the financial straight and narrow, while others crash and burn?

After years of introspection and observation, I think there are certain traits all debt-free folks have in common. Here are the key characteristics of a successful debt-free lifestyle.

1. Goal-driven

Living debt-free doesn't happen by accident; it takes a combination of crystal-clear goals and sheer force of will. And once one goal is reached, it's time to tackle the next. You'd be surprised by what you can accomplish personally, professionally, and financially when you're free of crippling consumer debt. (See also: 5-Day Debt Reduction Plan: Pay It Off)

2. Nonmaterialistic

It's nearly impossible to be debt-free if accumulating more stuff is your measure of success. There will always be something newer, faster, flatter, or bigger to buy. And worse, you'll happily pay for it with plastic. Those who live without debt steer clear of the more stuff/more money/more debt trap and keep their consumerism in check. (See also: Why We're So Materialistic)

3. Controlled

Americans live in a consumer wonderland that's designed to test our willpower at every turn. But in order to embrace debt-free living, control has to override impulse a majority of the time. Those of us who live debt-free understand how marketing manipulates human behavior, and we're able to acknowledge — but not act on — wealth-draining whims. (See also: 10 Classic Impulse Buys We Need to Stop Falling For)

4. Self-aware

Sophisticated advertising, easy credit, and countless consumer baubles — it's a dangerous mix. Those who've conquered debt have developed a strong filter and a clear understanding that buying isn't the same as being.

Before any purchase, we're able to ask ourselves (and truthfully answer) three crucial questions: "Do I really want it or need it?" "Will this simplify my life or make it more complicated?" and, "Am I buying this from a position of strength or weakness?"

5. Self-assured

There are numerous ways to broadcast affluence in our society, but very few ways to communicate the sort of freedom that comes from living debt-free. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we have to be comfortable in our skin. The race (if you want to call it that) is only with ourselves and only we know when we've won. (See also: 6 Ways Envy Is Keeping You Poor)

6. Strategically sacrificial

Not all sacrifices have to hurt. For those who live debt-free, strategic sacrifices feed a greater good. We gladly skip a few meals out, buy used cars instead of new, and try to make our old brick cellphones last as long as possible. Why? So we can enjoy the luxury of living debt-free.

7. Patient

Buying something is immediately gratifying. You get to open it, play with it, buy accessories for it, and show it off. By comparison, the real rewards of budgeting, saving, and paying off debt come much later. The debt-free take a long view of success and have achieved a nearly Zen-like level of patience. (See also: 8 Ways Being Patient Saves You Money)

8. Consistent

Becoming — and staying — debt-free is a slow march that's marked by unwavering dedication and consistency. Success is all about finding a formula that works and executing it month after month and year after year. The journey may not always be glamorous, but the destination is wonderful. (See also: 11 Good Money Habits That Will Keep You Out of Debt)

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8 Traits of People Who Live Debt-Free

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