So hopefully you’ve read my other post here talking about why and the general how we got out of debt. Let me be clear that when I say out of debt, I am referring to all debt other than our house. Our house is a little further down the list but we wanted to take a moment and give reverance to this moment. To paying off $48k in credit cards, principal on the house, school fees, cars and more.
Let me be really clear up front. We busted our asses, worked a ton, sacrificed in every area we could. But let me also say, we’ve never been happier, we’ve never felt more proud and we feel aligned with what is important in life.. not stuff but eachother.
For me saving was easiest if I could figure out ways to save behind the scenes or ways that other than a one time activity I wouldn’t have to change my daily behavior too much. Progress came from places we could save money or places we could make money. Here are a few of those:
- We cut the cable. Over the last 4 years this has saved us over $4,000.
- We found the lowest, most reliable internet provider we could. We signed up for a year to get a promotional rate. Then I’d call back after our bill went up and ask nicely if they could still honor their promotional rate. They did.
- We went cheap on cell phones. We switched to Virgin Mobile and bought middle of the road phones. No iphones for us, no phones with payment plans. Our phones could do the basics but nothing fancy, not too many apps. It was hard on me for my business and may have not been the best business move but I had to make a sacrifice here so I just went for it. Now upgrading to a little nicer phone is on my list.
- Cloth diapers. When our youngest wes little we bought a large batch of cloth diapers. They saved us hundreds of dollars a year. I loved them. I got into a routine with them and since I worked from home while being there it was pretty easy to stay on top of them and have them not be too big of a deal.
- We cut back on eating out. We cut down to $30 a month total for 4 people. This is what worked best for our family. Since I am home both with the kids and working I am able to make dinner each night. This left eating out for only when we really were strapped for time or energy. We said no a lot to eating out. We had to be okay with being left out for a couple years, and after awhile to not be invited much to dinners.
- I made homemade toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, cleaners and more. I found a diy version for everything I could. I loved also that I knew exactly what was going into each product so I trusted their safety more and it saved us money. Once I spent the time making these projects the time actually spent using them was identical to anyone else. So it was a one time investment of my time and researching and many share the same few products so buying them was justified even more.
- I sewed reusable cloths for our household. We have these everywhere. It’s helped us to go down to only 1-2 rolls of paper towels a year and we never buy tissues. I would buy flannel baby blankets and wash them, then cut them apart and sew into rectangles.
- We bought a hair cutting clipper set. I watched some youtube videos and learned how to cut my hubby and son’s hair. This has saved us about $20/month and the time and energy of going to a salon. I’ve cut my own hair too for the last 2 years and mostly done Sky’s. Being a teenager she’s a bit more picky so she used some of her work money to got get some highlights and a cut a couple times a year.
- We bought most clothes from consignment stores or garage sales. With the exception of a couple things for me and a few things the kids and hubby got for gifts, I became a garage sale queen. This works especially great with a young boy. I’ve also gotten myself barely worn champion and nike tennis shoes for a couple bucks each. Once I even found really nice Merrill dress shoes for a dollar. Amazing!
- Patience – there have been many times we’ve wanted something right away, especially after moving into a difference house. The best and hardest thing was to be patient where we could. There are so many times that we can’t control what things are needed so anytime non vital things were added to our list we tried to keep our eye out for sales or checked online sites like the FB groups or craigslist. A perfect example was this summer. The weather was getting hotter and my art studio would have the sun beating in it all morning and almost be unbearable. This would then cause the rest of the house to be hot. So we knew it was time to get some blinds for that wall of windows and take down the super chic zebra fabric I had nailed over them. We were actually on our way to the store to buy the blinds when there was a garage sale near our house. We got out and found a ton of really great stuff I could re-paint and sell and then right there was a buck full of mini blinds still in their boxes. There were 3 the exact size I needed for my studio and Bruce found 3 that fit his garage workshop windows perfectly too plus they were only 50 cents each!!! AMAZING. Thank you universe.
- We lowered our insurance costs. For years I had been with one company, I finally agreed to have a friend who offers insurance give me a quote. While our auto insurance went up by a couple bucks a month through her, she saved us almost $400/year on our homeowners and offered better coverage. We were stunned!
- We lowered our interest rate on our house. For years we were upside down on our mortgage in our old house and couldn’t refinance. We had a 6.95% rate and it was killing our budget. When we moved were were able to drop that to a 3.125% and get a 15 year. This saved us instantly over $100/week in interest that instead is going to principal plus knocked over a decade off our mortgage.
- I had to limit my art supplies. It’s easy to let a hobby or a business get out of control and justify every want. I would justify endless classes, books, supplies to try new techniques and all sorts of other marketing goodies. I loved it all. I had to be very diligent about keep my inventory at a low yet good amount and taking home as much profit as possible these past few years.
- Sales – we had garage sales. We sold clothes to consignment stores. I sold lots over FB groups and craigslist. I also donated lots. It was both about getting more money into our funnel but it also was about mentally and physically clearing clutter from our lives. I keep a lean household, if we don’t use something it’s gone. I’ve watched too many people around me be buried by clutter and eventually not have the energy to deal with it. I prefer thinking of things that we no longer use that our time with them is done and it’s time for someone else to get to enjoy them.
- We made simple things fun. We camped, we rented most of our movies from the library for free. We had picnics and bike rides, we hung out with friends and family doing simple things. I turned down shopping invites and instead met to just hang out or go on a walk together. I turned dinner invites into coffee dates. We played games, had bonfires, made forts and had dance parties. We only went out to 1 movie as a family in the last 22 months. We went to 1 county fair. We bought a family science museum pass and also visited our local zoo. We spent less than $240/year on entertainment. (this is separate from sports fees, school activities or vacations)
- We had a written budget. We wrote down all our income. We wrote down our monthly expenses that we knew we had, we created envelopes for once in a while expenses like toiletries, pets, gifts and we averaged what those took a month and we’d add that amount to those envelopes. This helped keep our month to month expenses pretty even. It also took away many surprise expenses.
- Our envelopes- grocery, restaurant, misc, entertainment, clothing, gifts, g. sale, toiletries, chore $ for kids, each kid had an envelope for what we estimate their expenses to be each month (mostly school activities, friends events, etc), lunch $, pets, household projects, beer. My husband agreed to only spend $20 a month on beer. He’d then treat himself to a fun 6 pack a couple times a month of some new local brew or another favorite.
- We made furniture and sold it. We bought used furniture and other items and fixed them, painted them or repurposed them and sold them in our booth at a local store in town. It created some extra income and was a fun bonding experience for us.
- We had to abandon our bi-annual 2 week road trip this past year and instead chose to be a bit more budget conscious and flew to where my in laws where staying for the winter. We crashed with them for 4 days and got enjoy them and the warm weather during this past February. This cost us only 25% of what our normal 2 week road trip budget is, yet we still got to get away and have some great family time.
- We had to set some boundaries and say no… A LOT. We said no a lot to the kids, we also had to say it to ourselves and those around us who would ask us to go out and do things we knew weren’t in our budget. Sometimes this was even saying no to things that were “free” because we knew that the gas would be an expense over our budgeted amount.
- We had to change our thinking and instead of thinking of our available money being everything that was coming in. Our available money was only that which we had budgeted for the month. ALL the rest went towards debt. We followed Dave Ramsey’s philosophy on the order we paid things down. We started with the smallest debt and paid it off as quickly as possible. Then we put that amount towards the next largest until that was paid off. It helped us to see progress and also gain some momentum.
- We put $1000 in our savings before we did anything else. What this savings did was help us sleep better at night, it helped in case something unexpected came up so we weren’t completely in desperation at all times. We tried not to touch this money. The only time we did use some is when we had to buy a car this past summer. Then we spend the following weeks building it back up instead of putting that money towards paying debt.
- We had to give up a lot of short term fun for the sake of long term security and genuine well being. This meant camps for the kids were out, we cut back on hotels and some of the traveling sports. We tried to just buy less in general. As I mentioned in my other blog post; we sold our atv, land up north, camper, extra trucks and more. All with the vision of getting out of debt and preserving our energy so we could put more of both towards our bigger goals.
- We stopped trying to keep up with the Jones’. Sometimes the Jones’ are relatives, best friends or even our kid’s friends. We had to get real about all the activities we were involved in, we had to stop caring about what anyone thought about the car we drove. We got okay with being considered weird. We had to constantly balance between being frugal and wise with money while NEVER taking on a poverty or lack mindset. Being tight with money while also believing in abundance was a balancing act; one that I’m not sure I was able to perfectly reconcile. Especially being an entrepreneur; there is an underbelly of that world where you dress to impress, you pay others to do things for you so you can focus on your craft and work in your genius. It would be highly frowned upon to become complete DIY’ers. It’s true sometimes when doing that we were probably spending hours to save a few bucks. But accumulatively it added up. It was a lifestyle shift. It also felt good to use our hands to create, our minds to problem solve and spend more time than ever doing simple family activities. Some of my favorite times were having all of us outside last winter chopping and gathering wood. I loved it.
- I wore the same black dress to many events. I wore it with different necklaces or different jackets to change it up but I wore the same dress to my sister’s wedding, 2 funerals, many fun summer picnics, grad parties, my art studio open houses and more. I just made do and wore it while I could. It’s finally worn out now so I probably wouldn’t wear it out again but it sure did serve me well. Between us, I also wore the same black dress shirt to my 20 year class reunion that I wore to the 15 year reunion… and I’m still alive nor did anyone care or notice…. What was important is I felt great wearing it. I wouldn’t have worn it if it made me feel bad, I instead chose to wear it with pride. It fit me and it carries lots of great memories with it.
- Gift giving – we had some big family discussions about gifts. One thing I do differently now than I did in my 20’s… during my first marriage if money was tight we would not buy each other anything. After that marriage fell apart, I knew there were several things I wanted to do different during my 2nd marriage. One of those things is honoring my spouse and not being a martyr or so self sacrificing that we don’t get each other gifts. They don’t even have to cost much but it’s the energy behind someone being able to put thought into someone and show they care. I value that so much now. Even if it’s flowers cut from the yard there is a different energy to that than saying lets not get anything. There are times we would also go out to an event for our gift instead of a thing too. For others I created gifts where I could, got creative with some so we could do them on a budget. I still love to give so we just had to do it carefully. We started to draw names for our relatives instead of buying for everyone. Here are a few of the fun things we’ve made over the past few years to give hand made wreaths and coat/jewelry racks:
- We quit the gym. We moved to 6 acres now so we try to get outside each day. We were also gifted a treadmill, this has been a life saver especially during the winter months.
- We kept each other motivated. There were many times we were exhausted over the last few years. Especially when you factor in the couple years of half assing trying to pay things off before that. We had to keep our eye on the prize. We talked a lot about dreams we have. What we will do someday when we don’t have a house payment. We made sure to build each other up and be a great team instead of turning on each other or blaming. There were times I felt isolated, especially after moving out here further and working from home. I now homeschool our youngest also. While 95% of the time I absolutely love it all there are moments where I crave being around the hustle and bustle a bit. So now I try to plan ahead so I don’t get depleted and instead every few weeks plan to run errands in the cities or be out and about and see family or friends.
- We’re teaching our kids that things will not buy you long term happiness. Even the house we bought now is not large. We chose a house that was just big enough for us but also small enough that we can keep up with it and possibly grow old here. I am always making sure the kids don’t have too much clutter, they re-sell toys or movies and put it towards new things. They are learning about budgeting and have both also done chores to earn money. We try to create experiences with them and focus on those more than things. They are well loved and live amazing lives, my hubby and I took on most of the sacrifice but I do think it was important to let them feel just enough of the weight of this experience to help them stay out of debt in their adult lives.
- We take good care of the things we have. My computer is 5+ years old. Our cars, our lawnmower, our clothes. We try to treat our things well. We wash them, we mend them, we be careful with them in the first place. This has helped us in many ways being able to extend the lives of some of our biggest expenses.
- I hang our laundry. Outside in the summer, inside in the winter. Thankfully now we have a laundry room but for years I’d stretch out pieces across our living room to dry. Now it doesn’t take up the whole house but it’s a win-win. It saves energy and it adds moisture back into the air of our home in the winter when it tends to get very dry.
- While we were completely frugal in some ways we also believe in luxuries where we can. For us that mean buying organic food whenever possible, having life insurance and hiring an amazing photographer for family photos every few years. There were a few times we were able to donate to fundraisers for causes close to our heart. I read blogs about how people can only spend $100 per person on groceries per month but for us that never seemed doable. Our monthly grocery budget was $800/month. But as mentioned earlier we only spend $30/month on restaurants so that is the majority of our eating. I also don’t drink except a couple times a year so there isn’t much spent on drinks and we very rarely have soda in our house. It’s mostly water, milk or homemade almond milk. We also made sure we all have life insurance. We had 2 parents pass away in the last decade. My mom had life insurance and it gave my dad breathing room to take care of things. My hubby’s dad did not and I watched the complete stress his wife felt as she tried to pay for expenses and their day to day life. It left an imprint on me
- We bought organic, non gmo seeds and started them inside this spring. We then grew lots of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers (many are now pickles), and other foods and herbs in our garden ourselves for a fraction of what they cost in the store. We are hoping to expand this each year as our knowledge base grows and our time is no longer spent on so many house projects we’ll have more to invest in growing our own food. We saved many food containers to start the seeds in and now this summer I got 2 large stacks of starter pots for free that I’ll use to transplant the sprouts into once they get too big for the small starter containers. (we use applesauce cups).
- We heat our house using a wood boiler. This was a large cost up front to get a wood burner that then heats the water that runs through our garage floor and our house but we now are able to use our downed trees in this burner to heat our house all winter. This is more of my hubby’s department since my knowledge on it is limited but that is what I do know. For us, living on 6 wooded acres it’s been a perfect fit.
- We transitioned to LED bulbs. The cost of LED had come down greatly the last few years but for us even back a couple years ago we transitioned each bulb as it burned out. Some we used CFL then transitioned those to LED as we could.
- We stayed out of malls and stores as much as possible. I stopped using store credit cards and praising myself on how much I saved. Instead we just stopped shopping and found other hobbies. We literally only shopped to buy what we needed.
- We sat and talked a couple times a month about our budget. We compared notes, we’d do our best to predict any possible expenses for each new month. We’d go back over past months and see where we over spent or where we did good. I LOVED these meetings. I could talk about our budget and lay out spreadsheets and goals and dreams for days. But I learned that my hubby didn’t share my enthusiasm. For him he liked a bullet points meeting and also needed to hear about what was being paid. In the years prior to these past 2 hard core ones, I learned he was going to work every day for years but would only ever see that our bank account was just enough to cover bills. So now communicating better he could see how much debt was being paid off and how great his and our hard work was indeed paying off.
- We try to never do anything with payment plans, even zero interest. We don’t charge things and we aim to pay cash for everything possible. It helps us to shift our thinking into the big picture cost of something instead of monthly cost. We also only pay cash for cars now. Our goal is to get our house paid off early and then only pay cash if we ever buy another.
Mostly, it’s important to know that we had to find what worked for us. I know that some of our situation is unique, but I encourage you to find what can work for you. You may be lucky to have much more income to work with than we were, awesome. Think of it as a bigger shovel to dig yourself out. I do know this; people are in debt at all income levels. There are a few that aren’t bothered by it (maybe like us years ago, thinking we had it all handled) other people are going to be with knots in their stomachs trying to figure out what to do. I’ve spent way too many nights of my life with that feeling and I hope to NEVER have it again. I can’t control all of life’s circumstances but we have decided to control what we can and get ourselves in a better situation. Let me tell you… eating peanut butter sandwiches feels better than eating out when you know you’ve got your bills paid. There is such a peace of mind that happens as things are paid off. Plus, it’s an amazing journey to go on as a family. It’s hard and you have to get really real and vulnerable but the reward is looking the real you in the mirror and feeling incredibly proud.
I know there are many people who have their house paid for, tons in the bank for retirement and are just fine. I celebrate you. But I know for every one of you, there are tons of us here in the trenches where every dollar and five dollar decision can make a big difference in our days and years.
I offer you all the cheerleading and support I can if you see yourself in any of our story. If you are buried so deep you don’t know how you can dig yourself out. I offer you hope. I offer you hope if you are someone who hopes to be home with your babies, or someone who hopes to be able to live in a different area or just feel internal peace.
We’re all on our own journeys and ours is full of hiccups and ways we coulda/shoulda did things different. Let’s all give each other some grace and love and cheer each other on. I don’t know anyone out there who needs people to judge them or shame them. I just offer support and encouragement for you and for myself to keep on keeping on and doing the best with what we can control.
Wishing you a life where you can have authentic joy, creative dreams and peaceful sleeps.