Finding the path to debt freedom is a known passion of mine. I’ve shared our journey and what works for us here. Today I am honored to feature a guest post from Michele over at Frugal Granola (you’ve really got to read her blog if you don’t already!), she is truly an inspiration to me.
During the early years of our marriage, we had our share of debt. It started with school loans, then the addition of medical bills, followed by the expense of a car, a mortgage, and the cost of having a baby.
Through those years, feeling the burden of debt, I would often hear financial suggestions, such as “Skip the cup of coffee,” or “Entertain at home instead of going out.” These are certainly wise suggestions, but I would shake my head in dismay; we were already doing these things!
We were meeting our daily expenses and bill payments, but were exhausted by the amount of time working and our lack of family time. It certainly didn’t feel like we had the freedom to live out our values. We were “living to work” instead of “working to live.”
We finally realized the steps to our financial freedom needed to be more extreme.
Here are some things we discovered along the way to being debt-free. Many of these concepts seemed counter-intuitive- even turning our lives “upside down”- but they worked for us.
• Mama quit her job. I know, it seems ridiculous; we’re in a season where we need more money, and we’re eliminating a source of income? But stick with me. This will have an affect on other things further down the list. When you tally up the cost of working, there are quite a few costs to consider, such as transportation, clothing/cosmetics, childcare, taxes, and meals.
• Relocate Creatively. At one point, we ended up moving from a three-bedroom home in a small town into a one-bedroom apartment in the city. We kept a futon in the living room, so it was like having “two bedrooms.” There was also a season when we rented a basement “apartment” in someone’s home. I know of others who have shared large homes, or lived in similar “creative” arrangements with their families during financially-challenging seasons.
• Make it yourself. Take a quick look around your kitchen cupboards. Are they full of bulk ingredients or grocery items in small packages? If it is in a “package,” eliminate it from your grocery list (such as snacks, pasta, cereal, and canned beans or soups). (No, you won’t starve!)
Once Mama comes home, she can have more time to prepare things from scratch (such as snacks, meals, cleaning supplies, and even cosmetics). There are plenty of simple and fabulous recipes out there to learn from and adjust to your family’s tastes. Search out whole grains, dry beans, bulk flours, nuts, etc. These staple items are not only inexpensive (more food for your money), they are more nutritionally-dense than their packaged, processed counterparts. (This has the budget-friendly effect that you need less food to feel full, plus it is healthier!)
• Take care of your health. If you’re not overworking yourself, and stressed over your workload, you will have taken a big step in this already. Eat healthy foods (see the previous point) and take time to rest well. If you are currently one of those snazzy coupon-clippers and getting those great grocery deals, check the ingredients first. I’ve learned that in the long run, it can be worth it to forego the deal and pay for quality, nourishing food, than to pay the cost of high medical bills later.
• Stay out of the store. I order most of my groceries through a natural foods co-op that delivers once a month. It provides me with “wholesale” prices, without the expense of membership and travel to a wholesale store. If that is not an option for you, consider once-a-month shopping at an affordable local grocery store, so that you’re not tempted to pick up extras each time you stop by the store.
Figure out a grocery list of the basic staples, and stick to it. Make sure to look at the unit price (such as per ounce), not just the cost of the item; the higher cost item may actually be larger, thus giving you a better deal. Overall, when shopping isn’t an option, and you are “shopping” from your own pantry, you’ll get creative!
• Eliminate a car. Now that Mama isn’t commuting to work and running to the store and daycare all the time, you can cut the costs of transportation! Become a one-car (or no-car!) family. Car insurance, fuel, vehicle maintenance, and car payments can be eliminated. Plus, without a second car, you will have to plan ahead for your outings. You’ll have to think twice about whether it’s worth it (or if you’ll be going somewhere that will cause you to spend even more money).
• Toss the disposables. Cross the paper towels, napkins, and diapers off of your grocery list. Purchase or make affordable reusable alternatives; old rags are usually free! (It has now been over three years since I bought my last roll of paper towels, and my cloth cleaning rags are still working great!) Nurtured Family offers an affordable, basic kit of “one size” cloth diapers from Econobum that can fill the need (and they don’t even need pins!). Or, contact The Cloth Diaper Foundation (formerly Miracle Diapers) for assistance. (You can always decide to “upgrade” your cloth diapers later, when your budget allows, if you want to.)
Now that Mama is home, it will be easier to allow time for washing diapers and other reusable items, and you won’t have to worry about daycares that require disposables. (Even if Mama is still working, you can take some small steps in this area.) This step will benefit your budget in the years to come, as items can be perpetually reused; increasing your savings over time.
• Cut the media. Evaluate the media that is coming into your home, and how much you’re paying for it. Our society tends to assume media is an “essential.” But it is possible to go without. At various times in our life, we have discontinued internet service at our home, and just used the internet and other materials at libraries and free wi-fi spots. I also chose not to renew magazine subscriptions I had been purchasing.
We chose not to have cable television, and eventually sold our TV (which bought a week’s worth of groceries!). In addition to these costs, media is full of commercials; continually perpetuating a desire for more. (When we’re cutting costs, shopping ideas aren’t very fun to have around!) Remove your name from catalog mailing lists, so you’re not tempted to browse and shop. It is so easy to convince yourself something is necessary, when it is sitting there in front of you.
• Celebrate Simply. You don’t have to approach holidays like Scrooge, just because you’re on a penny-pinching budget. Find joy in the simple, authentic things of life (which really aren’t things!). Quality time in a favorite place, such as a picnic lunch at the park or the beach, a hike in the woods, a candlelit dinner on the patio, or other free/low-cost activities are great ways to celebrate. Strive for handmade gifts (get the kids involved!), instead of running to the store for a gift; they will be cherished.
These are some of the main avenues we pursued. There are many other small ways to tackle your budget’s bottom line. But most of all, be creative, and know that our Lord is our Jehovah Jireh (our provider) who loves to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:7-11) Prayerfully place your budget and desires in His hands, contentedly knowing that His provision in His timing is always the best. Blessings to you, as you pursue financial freedom!
A creative, frugal mom of two, Michele lives a simple and sustainable life with a passion for God, family, organic food, and bargain shopping. Residing in rural Washington state, Michele can often be found ministering to women over a cup of tea at her kitchen table, picking up vintage finds at the thrift store, sewing for her Etsy shop, and harvesting produce from her garden for supper, while wearing her baby, homeschooling her preschooler, and smooching her hard-working, beloved husband. Michele loves encouraging women through her blog, Frugal Granola.