A few years ago, I was staring down an enormous amount of debt. I had no idea how to tackle it.
I had recently graduated college, and while I didn’t have any student loans, I did have some credit card debt. I also had racked up some hefty medical bills after my new baby spent his first week of life in the hospital. To top it off, my husband and I had bought our first house. All told, we had zero savings left and were in debt to the tune of $140,000, including our mortgage.
Things continued to worsen and by the time our son was six months old, we were getting collection calls and I was seriously worried about our financial future. This wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. It was time to make some big changes.
I dusted off a copy of The Total Money Makeover and read the whole thing in one sitting. Then, I read it a couple more times to make sure I had absorbed every last bit of information on how to get out of debt. Over the next five years, my mission was to become completely debt-free.
We paid off our credit cards and medical debt, saved up three months worth of living expenses, and then started attacking our home mortgage. During this time, we managed to pay off $35,000 in debt. We then bought a new home to accommodate our growing family. Although we do have a larger mortgage now, that is currently the only debt we have. If you had told me that I’d be in such a secure position back in my days of ignoring collection calls, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So, how did I go from financial floozy to money maven? To be honest, I gave up nearly all my spending. Take a look at what I had to sacrifice to get myself out of debt.
My husband and I took only one vacation during these five years. We spent two days in Vegas and spent less than $1,000, including airfare. While we still made the occasional trip to visit my family in California (a four hour drive away), other vacations were off the table while we focused on debt-free living.
2. Eating out
Aside from birthdays and anniversaries, there were precious few times we would splurge on a date night dinner. We only rarely went through a drive-through for food and never had take-out dinners unless we had a gift card. This frugal food budget wasn’t all deprivation though. We both learned to cook and spent many evenings trying new dishes. It became our own cheap form of entertainment. In fact, I would often invite my friends over for drinks and dinner and this turned into a fun monthly tradition.
3. Pre-packaged food
During our debt destroying days, our grocery budget was the first thing to get slashed. I would often spend less than food stamp allowances on our weekly grocery budget. That meant making refried beans and bread from scratch because the pre-packaged counterparts weren’t worth the extra pennies to me. It was a lot of effort, but hey, at least it got us eating more whole foods, right?
4. Gifts and cards
While I would try to save up money for birthday and Christmas gifts, it usually wasn’t enough. So instead of buying gifts, I often made them myself. To be honest, I probably didn’t save much as I still had to buy supplies. But, I enjoyed making my own cards and wrapping gifts in simple craft paper – something I still do today.
5. Gym classes and membership
While I do love a good yoga experience, the truth was, I couldn’t afford the pricey classes while getting out of debt. I gave up gym memberships and fitness classes, opting instead for the free alternative of Youtube workouts and running. Even now that I can afford to pay for this luxury, I like the flexibility of working out at home so much that I still opt not to go to the gym.
6. Haircuts and other beauty fixes
For five years I didn’t get my nails done, my brows waxed, or buy my favorite beauty brands. I only got my hair cut once or twice a year. And, there was a two-year period when I decided to forgo professional haircuts completely (until a very unfortunate “I’m going to cut my own bangs” night). My minimalist beauty routine saved me thousands over those five years. This all went straight towards paying off our debt.
7. Cleaning products
Don’t worry, I didn’t let my house become a total pigsty, but I did stop buying cleaning products for a while during our debt paydown. On my quest for the ultimate frugal lifestyle, I experimented with lots of DIY cleaning products that cost a fraction of the big name brands. Lesson learned? Vinegar cleans just about everything and it’s dirt cheap.
What was worth giving up?
Honestly, making my own cleaning products and gifts was probably going a bit overboard, but in the end, kicking my debt to the curb was worth every penny-pinching endeavor. If you want to pay down debt, don’t be afraid to get creative when cutting costs. You might be surprised by how many things you can live without when you have a clear financial goal in mind.