33 Proven Ways to Reduce Personal Debt

Editor’s Note: When I heard that my friends Gina and Josh Masters had recently paid off $66,000 in debt and had made a list of the 33 lifestyle changes they had incorporated to accomplish it, I asked if I could use it as a guest post. They humbly agreed. And this is the result:

“Live like no one else now… so that you can live like no one else later!” – Dave Ramsey

Three years ago, my husband and I found ourselves drowning in debt – $80,000.00 to be exact (and that’s not even counting the mortgage). Around that time, coincidentally, our church began offering a financial program called Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We spent the last $100 from that pay period to sign up. And the rest, they say, is history (or at least, most of our debt is now history).

As I write this, over the past three years, we have paid off $66,000.00 in personal debt. No magic, no quick fixes, no debt consolidation, or bankruptcy filing. Just persistent sacrifice. We have saved ourselves from financial destitution by making a number of simple, small changes in our lives.

Recently, my husband and I sat down to make a list of every change we had made hoping that it would encourage others. When we finished, we reviewed the list and were surprised at how simple it looked. Yet, all of these ideas—put into practice over a period of time—have almost completely wiped out our personal debt. They are tried. They are true. And best of all, simple enough for anyone.

Making Cents of the Dollars 

33 Proven ideas to make your budget work and get your Debt under control:

  1. Re-shop auto, home and life insurance to see if you can bring down your payments.
  2. Downgrade your cable package, or get rid of it entirely.
  3. Disconnect your home phone if you have adequate cell service at your home. Or downgrade to a cheaper package.
  4. Buy and sell clothes at your local consignment or shop at Goodwill.
  5. Have a massive garage sale. (If you’d rather be out of debt than have an item, choose to sell it to help you get you there.)
  6. Advertise higher quality items on Craigslist, Facebook, or your local newspaper to get better prices.
  7. Focus on buying mostly sale items at grocery store or generic brands to reduce your cost.
  8. Use a grocery store awards program to earn money off gas.
  9. Cancel unnecessary expenses like magazine subscriptions, newspapers, manicures, pedicures etc. Anything that could be considered a “want” instead of a “need” should go until you are out of debt or greatly decrease your debt.
  10. Go to the matinee movies instead of paying full price (and skip the concessions).
  11. Or better yet, use the Red Box for at-home movie entertainment.
  12. Get temporary work or seasonal part time work to boost your income.
  13. Read books from the library or take a few trips to Barnes & Noble to complete a book.
  14. Buy your most expensive groceries in bulk at Coscto: meats, breads, cheese, produce, paper products. Establish a monthly grocery budget for the additional needs at regular grocery stores.
  15. When eating out, skip the soft drinks and stick with water. Skip the extras too (dessert, etc.).
  16. When eating out, share a large entrée or have small appetizers instead of the costly meal.
  17. Plan your errands more efficiently to conserve gas.
  18. Find friends that you can trade services with…haircutting, handyman, photography, babysitting, pet-sitting.
  19. Give home-made gifts, baked goods, or service IOU’s rather than expensive presents.
  20. Boxed cereals are expensive; switch to oatmeal, eggs or fruit for more nutritional and financial bang.
  21. Call the utility companies and get on a budget plan to give you more consistency with expenses each month.
  22. Set a spending limit with family at Christmas and/or draw names.
  23. Use exercise videos, walking or hiking instead of paying for the gym.
  24. If your haircut is too expensive, find a less expensive stylist or see if your hairdresser will cut you a break on price temporarily—ours did.
  25. Say “no” to hosting and/or attending in-home parties where you feel pressure to purchase.
  26. Does your family live nearby? Once a week dinners with mom or dad saved us a meal out of our shopping budget. Additionally, it usually led to leftovers and our parents looked forward to our visit each week.
  27. Make your coffee at home instead of buying it each day.
  28. Pack your lunch—not once a week, but regularly.
  29. Make extra dinner servings on purpose to have leftovers for lunch.
  30. Our dentist advised us we could skip the fluoride treatments if we were using a daily dental rinse—which we did… and bought on sale.
  31. Program your thermostat for savings on heating/cooling when you’re not at home.
  32. Tempted by certain retail stores? While digging out of debt, avoid window shopping these places where you’ve failed to control your impulses before.
  33. Give**.

Many may say, “What? I need my manicure!” or “My kids will only eat box cereals!” But trust me. If you are serious about climbing out of debt and changing your life, the only thing you need is a roof over your head, clothes on your back and gas to get to work to bust your way out of this.

Plus, take comfort in knowing that you don’t need to eliminate these things forever. Personally, I look forward to hiring back our housekeeper and treating myself to a few pedicures next summer. But until we are debt free and have a fully funded emergency fund, we’ll be focusing on using the dollars we bring into our home to set us up for a lifetime of success.

**Many wonder about Number 33 (Give) because it seem counter intuitive to most of us. One thing we never stopped doing – even in the worst of times—was giving. We always gave money to our church, our favorite charities, and foundations that we believe in. It’s easy to say “I can’t give. It’s not in my budget.”

But if we’re looking for a lifetime of success and influence—not just the latest gadget or status symbol—how can we afford not to give? Giving reminds us that we can live for a purpose greater than this world and all the temporary treasures it offers. It helps keep everything else in perspective. So pick and choose from our list above – do one or two or everything on the list – but don’t leave out number 33. We can attest from firsthand experience, it will radically transform your life!

Image: The Cleveland Kid

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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    • Debbie says

      My husband and I LIVE by this list and we still can not seem to climb out of the hole! We don’t eat out, we don’t go to the movies, once a month hair cuts, (cheep) No mani or pedi for me (ever) No coffee out…always make it at home…Etc…etc…Not sure where to go next.

      • Debbie says

        ..to go a step further, keep every receipt in a box, and get a bank statement every month sent to you. Then sit down and identify every item on the statement against the receipts. Analyze the statement together. Did you really need to buy an extra towel? ….or did you really need 4 items, why not just purchase one…was that really necessary…and so on. It helps give a greater consciousness to your spending…and from that month create mini achievable goals for saving in the next month. Using this method we have eliminated all of our debt in a very short period of time.

      • Louise says

        This is my position too. We moved to a cheaper home and I cut out all extra expenditure. The only one I still pay out for is cable, as the kids can record shows from there, so I don’t need to buy or store DVDs. I did recently speak to the cable provider to reduce the cost of the package though. my debt comes from when I had a husband, a good job and no kids, now I’m a single parent and, although I do work, we are also relying on in work welfare. We shop in discount supermarkets. We eat out or have takeaway food maybe once in every three months and most of our clothes and the kids toys are second hand. I don’t ever go window shopping any more, any new clothes are bought in the supermarket. I give away 1% of our income. It’s really not a lot, but it makes me feel good and it’s helped me make the shift from being someone who doesn’t feel that I can afford to support others financially, to feeling like of course I can spare just 1% of what we have. My goal is to increase the percentage as time goes on.
        The positive is that we do now live a comfortable and happy life within our means, so my debt is not increasing. I’m new to minimalism, but am already feeling much more content with what we have and the pressure to keep up with others is reducing. I am getting rid of clutter, seeing more purchases as totally unnecessary and am finding space to breathe. I’m even finding small ways to save for an emergency fund for car costs etc, but significantly reducing debt is not something that I can see happening quickly for me.

      • Diane says

        Debbie– We were in the same situation, but then we learned about http://www.josephsangl.com Once we started to use his monthly budgeting tool, which is available for free from his website, we were able to finally save up an emergency fund while still paying off the debt. We realized that it was necessary to have some savings first because we were still relying on the credit cards for emergency expenses. Therefore, we had to cut up our credit cards, which was a VITAL step for my husband and I. (I thought that step would have made this list)!

      • Sadie says

        Saving money only works when you’re making enough. Sometimes, you have to take steps to increase income. Sometimes the sacrifices involved are great– we have moved cities chasing a living wage, which has been hard personally. I’m not suggesting you move– I don’t know your situation– just speaking from my experience. Money has to go out one way or another; sometimes not enough is coming in.

      • says

        Me too. This is just daily life for us so I don’t find these kind of things useful. I am constantly searching for more out of the box ideas that I might not have thought of myself.

  1. says

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  2. Stacey says

    I really don’t like the suggestion in #13 that you should take multiple trips to Barnes and Noble to read a book – isn’t that like stealing? They’re not a library, they’re a bookstore. If you want to read a book for free, go to the library. If you want to read a book at Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore, you really should pay for it.

    • Missy says

      Love this list, doesn’t seem extreme and gets the job done. Doing something similar in my home.

    • Theresa says

      Stacey is correct. If you read an entire book in a bookstore without buying, the book becomes shopworn/damaged and other people will be less likely to buy that particular copy. That is vandalism at best, but pretty much stealing.

    • lucylula says

      I disagree that going to Barnes and Nobles to read is like stealing. They expect it. I know a manager of a large chain bookstore, and he say’s this is definitely ok. The longer you stay, the better the chance you’ll end up buying something. Especially why they put cafe’s in the book stores because chances are you will buy something to drink or eat or both. I do and have gone into book stores and sit and read, I would say 95 percent of the time end up purchasing a book or two for me and my kids. Because unless your a speed reader you are not going to read the whole book in one night, although it can be done. I have done this before at home. The thing is if the book is that interesting you can’t get your nose out of it. Chances are you will buy the book and bring it home. Anyway I always read a book that looks like it has been read before and then if I decide to purchase I look for a virgin copy. It’s just life people get over it. The book store writes these kinds of things off. If this were such a big issue and so call stealing then Barnes and Nobles would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.

      • eaufraiche says

        uhhhh. borders is histoire, and barnes and noble is closing stores. go to the library if you don’t want to buy the book!

    • Quita says

      If you connect to Barnes & Noble’s WiFi with your Nook, it’s actually free to read the book/s. It promotes reading and literature and I think that’s kind of the point.

      • jeannie says

        Don’t go to mom and dad’s house expecting a meal once a week That’s called freeloading and it’s rude and childish. Why don’t you invite your parents over for a meal that YOU cooked.

    • Dustin says

      Barnes and Noble generally encourages people to read books in their stores. Overall, over the course of a book. They profit more from the coffee people buy when reading then they would have if the person had bought the book and left.

    • Joie says

      That one bothered me too – thanks for your thoughts. Stores don’t operate for free……and so many have gone out of business accordingly.

    • Melissa says

      When i bought my nook they let you come in store and get one free ebook to read in store. Its a hope you will find other stuff while shopping around. You know because most people buy more then they need. Im not sure on calling it stealing but any time i go into a store every chair is taken wi

  3. says

    Here is one more. When you have extra money get rid of it right away. I have been sending several electronic payments a month to my credit card company rather then waiting for the bill.

  4. Lisa says

    I think #33 should really be #1 – GIVE. Remember too, it doesn’t have to be money…it could be time in the form of volunteer work, it could be donating something you have (an extra bed perhaps) to someone who really needs it (a family just starting out). Always give something of value to you. Great job!

  5. Justin says

    Great information. I recently payed off my car and then got motivated afterwards to begin making real payments on my student loans. It feels good to not spend money on meaningless crap and put it towards something productive. Also with the Barnes and Nobles thing, if you have a Nook I believe you can read books for free while in store ;). “Visit any Barnes & Noble store with your NOOK in hand, and read entire NOOK Books FREE for up to one hour per day with FREE Wi-FI.”

    • ec says

      Regarding #13: By all means, use the public library, but I disagree with the suggestion of using a bookstore as a free reading library. Bookstores are businesses, and struggling businesses, at that. Books that are read in the store not only deprive the booksellers of that particular sale, but also add wear and tear to a book and make it less likely to be purchased at all. Also, please consider that authors earn a living from the sale of their books. Reading a book at the library is NOT the same thing as reading it in a bookstore or downloading a pirated copy from a torrent site. Every book you check out of a library has been purchased, so you are not depriving the author and the bookseller of their livelihoods.

    • ec says

      Taking your Nook to browse ebooks at Barnes & Noble makes sense, particularly if you don’t have a home connection. Making several trips to B&N so that you can read an entire ebook without paying for it is a little sketchy.

      If you can’t afford to pay for an ebook, check out your local library. Many have a good selection of ebooks that you can check out for your reading device. Libraries pay a fee for ebooks and can loan them a certain number of times, which is fair to both authors/publishers and libraries, in that it’s comparable to the wear-and-tear life of a Dead Tree book (which have an approximate shelf live of 50 readings).

      Remember the the cost of the item TO YOU does not represent the entire picture. Please don’t forget that the people who create, produce, and distribute books are also people who have bills–and often debts–to pay.

  6. says

    Quite handy tips. Having a huge amount of debt is a major problem that a large number of people all over the world facing today. Luckily, there are so many effective ways to get rid of or reduce personal debt. One of the best ways is to take the help of debt management and solution company.

  7. says

    Paying off $66,000 in personal debt in 3 years is fantastic. The 33 tips that you have given are a good assortment of things you can do to reduce your debt. Of course these tips require persistent sacrifice, but most require only a small change in how you do things, such as “going to a matinee instead of a full price movie” or “making coffee at home instead of buying it”. I agree with the number 33, while you must sacrifice things to get out of debt, you must also keep to your values and beliefs. One of the reasons many people have for getting out of debt is so that you can give more to family and community.

  8. says

    Nice list of the best ways to reduce personal debt. These all ways can be worth to consider for getting out from personal debts. Consider for debt settlement company that can be also a good idea to find out the right and effective solution for your debt problems.

  9. Cammie says

    This is great for people who are spending tons of money on frivolous things. However, some of us already do every single thing on this list just to survive. It’s our way of life because we are the working poor.

    • Becki Britt says

      Exactly. I as read the list, I’m saying to myself, “I already do that and that and that.” There were only maybe 3-4 I’m not doing. Then what? And I don’t mean to be the naysayer, but unless you were really overspending on these things, most changes would not afford you to pay off that amount of debt, in and of itself. I guess being a family of three, changes in spending like groceries, etc. just wouldn’t make a huge difference, a difference yes, but pay off my student loans, no.

      • Wawan says

        Hahaha.. This is a guide for the shopaholic or those hipsters who are earning too little for their lifestyle..
        #30? seriously??? It’s a joke, right?

      • Jessica says

        I’m a single parent by choice (adoption) and we are living on the bare minimum, doing all of these things and barely making ends meet when emergencies come up. I wish I could get a haircut or get a manicure. It’s been YEARS! My child also knows unless it’s on sale or used we will probably not buy it. We have a higher grocery bill than I would like but we eat 90% organic for dietary/health reasons. I can’t buy the generic brands or off brands with that.

        • eaufraiche says

          if this list doesn’t resonate, the only recourse is to increase income. look for “side hustles” or rent out that spare bedroom (right!?!) or babysit or cut grass in your spare time.
          you could actually probably babysit or cut grass in your spare time, couldn’t you! (forget about delivering pizza – which they always recommend)

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  11. Sherri says

    I am just beginning to implement many of these things to get myself back on financial track. I have to disagree with #33–Giving. I’ve always been a very generous person with my service and money. This is actually one of the reasons that I’m in debt. I actually need to learn to say no more, or at least to modify plans to better suit my own financial needs, and not feel badly about it.

    Also, some of this advice isn’t practical for the working poor. How do you cut back on things that you never had in the first place?

    • Laurie says

      The money in your budget wont necessarily come from cutting back, (sometimes there just isn’t any room! ), but from clearing up debt. But take a moment and think what kind of life you can lead if you didn’t have ANY debts but standard monthly expenses. I would seriously suggest you to read The Total Money Makeover. It will teach you how to clear up the debt. I think it could help you to see a light at the end of the tunnel and a way to prosper. Giving is explained in the book. It doesn’t make any sense to someone before reading that book. I know. We were exactly the same at one time. Good luck! I wish you the best!

  12. ralf says

    There are many people dying. Therefore many books on sale. In the last three years only paid a £ for a book at the charity shop.

  13. Heidi says

    Great list & blog ! However, I must disagree with #13. If you love Barnes & Noble , and bookstores in general, you should pay for their products and services. These book stores we love to go to are going to disappear if we abuse them. – sincerely , a (minimum wage) bookseller’s wife.

  14. Emily says

    This list is mostly wonderful however, I don’t think it’s right to ask people who provide a service for a discount. They have a right to earn a living just like everyone else.

    Yes, I’m a service provider. :)

  15. Laurie says

    These tips are awesome to follow. The program they are referring to is Financial Peace University. It can be summed up by reading
    THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER by Dave Ramsey. It tells you step by step how to walk away from debt forever and de-clutter your finances. Right now that book is selling at a Christmas sale price of $10 at his site. daveramsey.com Normally its $25 so its a great deal. We personally completed that book in 08, then went on to take the course Financial Peace. The book tells you the “how” A-Z. The course basically addresses the emotional and psychological attachment to spending and how to get the whole family or couple on the same track with money. Both are well worth every penny. We’ve paid off over $60k in student loan & consumer debt and then went on to demolish our home mtg. For the persons who previously commented that they are doing a lot of these things, yet still no traction, I would definitely recommend the book because it teaches you how to do a zero based budget and that is the KEY to finding way more money in your budget. It makes you start to re-analyze every single dollar and have it allocated out on paper before you get it. Along the way of following the course, we naturally became minimalists, so these two lifestyles really do walk hand in hand. De-cluttering can mean physically, mentally, financially, etc. Good luck in your journey!

    • Laurie says

      I love Total Money Makeover! Has been such a huge help!
      There are still times that I falter, haha, and I hear Dave Ramsey in my head saying, “I guess you aren’t ready for your Total Money Makeover!” LOL Great book and I love his principles.

  16. brian says

    so far read just the first paragraph and am wondering why you would have to pay $100 to attend a financial program offered by a church. yup suck them in to make money. now i will finish reading to see if it helps me any.

    • May says

      #1 the books you get in class you get to keep and refer to in years to come.
      #2 you are more likely to follow through on something you have invested in.

  17. wesley says

    I also have some great tips:
    – only use public toilets will save you water
    – do not use a dryer but hang your clothes to dry
    – water cooker is more efficient than cooking water on a stove or in a microwave.
    – try to travel as much as possible by foot or by bike will save you gas. When you are used to it you can even do longer distances and don’t need a car at all which saves you even more
    – where i live, McDonalds has free wifi so you don’t need a data plan. Just walk to the nearest McDonalds to check your mail. And when you’re there, you can charge your device for free too.

  18. says

    If you are about to get divorced or already are you are feeling the financial punch like most men today. It seems like all your bills are increasing at every angle. This is not the time to start dating again nor taking anyone out to lunch nor dinner. Even eating out at McDonalds has gotten expensive. I try to avoid dating because I really cannot afford to take anyone out to a restaurant anymore. Rather than suffer the embarrassment, I just stay at home and cook my meals. If anyone really likes me she would have to eat at home with me at least until I finish paying my high debts I got stuck with after my wife left.

    • Sarah says

      Why don’t you try a picnic in the park with food that you have prepared? Better than a restaurant date because it’s thoughtful, shows you are willing to put effort into a relationship, and is a better environment for deep conversation.

    • juan jones says

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  19. Leigh H. says

    I think there’s a bit of a difference between being thrifty and saving money, and “mooching or sponging” off of other people or businesses to meet your own financial goals. Reducing debt is great, but NOT at the expense of other people or businesses. That’s just pathetic! Think about it. . . do you go visit Mom and Dad because you love them, or to get a free meal from them? If you’re an adult, pay your own way, provide for your family, don’t be a free-loader. Have a bit more self-respect. There’s nothing admirable about being a cheapskate at the expense of others. Pay your own way or stay at home. Do the right thing for the right reasons.

    • Meredith says

      Agreed. I think the whole “free meal with Mom and Dad” thing is slimy. If you’re eating with them every week, it’s awfully selfish to never contribute towards the cost of a meal or invite them to your house in return. They look forward to your visit? That sounds like your company is payment enough for their continued generosity. Perhaps if you’re just upfront and honest with them about your problems and goals, they’d be willing to help you out in some way that is less manipulative.

  20. Tom Robertson says

    The Red Box for entertainment? My wife and I paid $2 per movie with that until we discovered that we could keep 50 movies from the library usually indefinitely for free.

  21. says

    I do every single one of these suggestions on the list.


    I grow some of our family’s food. We all participate in the growing and harvest. Fun!

    I have found alternative ways to color my hair. YouTube is a great resource for such tips. Now it costs me maybe a dollar a month to color my hair. And it looks as good or better than ever.

    My grocery store has a discount section where I get meat and bread and cheeses at 50-70 % off. Delicious!

    Happily debt free!!!

    :) Rose Lee Mitchell

  22. Angel says

    I already live in all these ways, and its much more stress-free. I absolutely owe nothing and as much as I don’t like credit cards, I recently got one through my bank just to use every once in a blue moon so it ups my credit score, which is did – and its excellent now. I don’t even have a car payment – paid off.

    Now… I just have to wonder how to get my two degrees (have a masters from a for-profit university) paid off. That is all that is on my credit report now, and literally the only thing I owe. I got 4 scholarships between my BA and my MS, but the interest adds to principle every year, hence causing this ballooning effect. In 5 years since my MS graduation its jumped almost $40,000 in interest. Rather overwhelming feeling to say the least. Being that I thought I would get the “right” employment after graduation I thought it would be no problem to pay it off right away, or be able to pay period – as they want $1,700 a month payments in total. Again, makes one feel like they can’t breath. Long story short, I still haven’t been able to push the salary threshold I need to be able to get that debt down. And trust me, I’m a tough negotiator for a woman. At present I’m unemployed and looking to get the right position with right pay. It’s a truly competitive market right now… and I worry about that debt. I don’t want it to fall into default. I’ve heard some horror stories.

    I do think the student loan situation is in crisis in our country in USA right now. I have heard the arguments from people who say “don’t get yourself into it then,” “Stop whining and just pay it,” or “see how to get it forgiven.” 1st, I really wish people wouldn’t be so quick to pass judgement. Once people hear the details to my scenario they quickly realize I have done all I could to better myself and avoid this – and that I am very responsible and strong, especially for a single widowed mother. So, instead of a brush-off I really wish our country would take this more serious as this bubble is about to burst on our economy, and in some cases, already is. :-/

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  24. Me says

    Did this article seriously suggest you have your parents or other family members buy/make a meal for your entire family once a week?

    I find it especially ironic that suggestion was immediately following one that said basically the opposite… avoid throwing dinners/parties where you’d need to spend more.

    How rude to presume that others are willing to increase their grocery budget so you can decrease yours.

  25. juan jones says

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    Available now


    Apply for a loan today with your loan amount and duration, Its Easy and fast to get. 4% interest rates and monthly installment payments.


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  26. says

    Wonderful website you have here but I was curious about if
    you knew of any user discussion forums that cover
    the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really
    like to be a part of community where I can get opinions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the
    same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

    Appreciate it!

  27. kris says

    We’ve followed Dave Ramsey for 15 years, his plan is common sense simply given. The only time I’ve bought a Dave Ramsey book is to give as a gift. We’ve read him from library books and listen to his radio show, free. Our income is not large which makes it even more important to live debt free and under our means. The best post is the man who doesn’t heat his bedroom, love it!

  28. Just Trying to Help says

    First, excellent article! Very helpful. Second, I think the most important thing to learn from this article is that when it comes to your personal finances, specifically reducing debt and cutting expenses, is that it boils down to your behavior rather than your knowledge.

    Furthermore, once you know what is causing you to incur so much debt and expenses, you will finally realize it can all be controlled and reduced down to zero.

    This list is a great start, but if any of you are genuinely interested in learning more ways to reduce debt and expenses, shoot me an email at mglansing@gmail.com.

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