What would become debt-free mean to you? Would it give you a sense of relief and freedom that you weren’t living with a figurative gun to your head? Would it mean that you could easily spend your available money on the things you wanted without guilt? Think about what becoming debt-free would mean to you.

Keep that image in your head of what becoming debt-free would mean because you are about to make some hard choices. If you don’t keep the freedom image, you may want to give up when it seems that you are the only person you know who is not going on a cruise this year or who doesn’t upgrade to a 60-inch LED television.

We live in a society where we buy now and pay later. Unfortunately, that has lead to a situation where everyone is in debt. The recent constriction in the credit markets has meant that people who used to be able to get easy credit are having to tighten their budgets.

Becoming debt-free starts with taking stock of what you have and what you owe. Your first order of business is to start living within your means.

You must make the minimum payments on your debts as well as provide food, shelter, and clothing for your family. There are other essentials such as transportation and utilities.

But within each of these categories, there are ways to cut the fat out of your budget. For instance, most families could halve their food budget just by cutting out the restaurant meals and pre-packaged foods at the grocery store. Sure, this means actually cooking homemade meals. But I’ll bet you find that the meals you make at home are far more nutritious than the ones you’ve been eating. And, they’ll keep you within your budget too.

While cell phones are certainly a necessity today, having the package with unlimited calling and texts is not. Having cell phones for emergencies and quick calls is one thing, having cell phones as an appendage to the ear is another.

Even utility bills can be slashed if you are willing to open the windows, use fans, and cut the air conditioning in the summer and use space heaters and wear sweaters instead of central heat in the winter. These choices are smarter for the environment as well.

Will you feel some measure of deprivation while becoming debt free? That is inevitable. Your kids may not quickly adjust to their new, more Spartan lifestyle. They may not understand why you’re no longer handing them $20 when they want it.

But, over time, you can teach them good habits with money. You can show them with your own actions that being financially responsible is emotionally a healthier choice. By compensating for “things” with quality time, you will win them over.

So, keep in mind what becoming debt-free really means to you. It will make the hard choices you are about to make seem worth it all.