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.

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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.

    • 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.

  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.

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