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 to teach others how to get out of debt. 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 that led to us getting out of debt.
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 nearly completely got us out of debt.
They are tried and true. And best of all, simple enough for anyone.
33 Proven Ideas to Getting Out of Debt:
- Re-shop auto, home, and life insurance to see if you can bring down your payments.
- Downgrade your home television package/services, or get rid of it entirely.
- Disconnect your home phone (for sure). And double-check the rate on your cell plan for a better deal if it’s been awhile since you checked.
- Buy and sell clothes at your local consignment or shop at Goodwill.
- 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.)
- Advertise higher quality items on Craigslist, Facebook, or your local newspaper to get better prices.
- Focus on buying mostly sale items at grocery store or generic brands to reduce your cost.
- Use a grocery store awards program to earn money off gas.
- 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.
- Go to the matinee movies instead of paying full price (and skip the concessions).
- Or better yet, use at-home movie entertainment.
- Get temporary work or seasonal part time work to boost your income.
- Read books from the library.
- Buy your most expensive groceries in bulk at Costco: meats, breads, cheese, produce, paper products. Establish a monthly grocery budget for the additional needs at regular grocery stores.
- When eating out, skip the soft drinks and stick with water. Skip the extras too (dessert, etc.).
- When eating out, share a large entrée or have small appetizers instead of the costly meal.
- Plan your errands more efficiently to conserve gas.
- Find friends that you can trade services with…hair-cutting, handyman, photography, babysitting, pet-sitting.
- Give home-made gifts, baked goods, or service IOU’s rather than expensive presents.
- Boxed cereals are expensive; switch to oatmeal, eggs or fruit for more nutritional and financial bang.
- Call the utility companies and get on a budget plan to give you more consistency with expenses each month.
- Set a spending limit with family at Christmas and/or draw names.
- Use exercise videos, walking or hiking instead of paying for the gym.
- 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.
- Say “no” to hosting and/or attending in-home parties where you feel pressure to purchase.
- 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.
- Make your coffee at home instead of buying it each day.
- Pack your lunch—not once a week, but regularly.
- Make extra dinner servings on purpose to have leftovers for lunch.
- 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.
- Program your thermostat for savings on heating/cooling when you’re not at home.
- Tempted by certain retail stores? While digging out of debt, avoid window shopping these places where you’ve failed to control your impulses before.
Many may say, “What? I need my manicure!” or “My kids will only eat box cereals!” But trust me. If you are serious about getting 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 seems 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 to get yourself out of debt – but don’t leave out number 33. We can attest from firsthand experience, it will radically transform your life!
Image: The Cleveland Kid
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We use all of the above except we don’t have a car, we commute by bicycle & we use Netflix streaming for entertainment. If you have a Roku streaming device there are literally hundreds of free & very low cost “channels” available. I’m a single mom & even though we technically live well below the poverty line we never feel like we have to suffer. On the contrary we live a happier life than those who are slaves to debt because of trying to “keep up with the Joneses”!! That’s why I’ll be building a tiny house over the next 3 years… When my youngest turns 18 I’ll be 50 & able to semi-retire & live the last 30 or so years of my life on my own terms!
Great tips. Thanks. I also started with an inexpensive house, selected a town with low property taxes, a car with a good consumer reports maintenance record and good gas mileage and always bought quality clothes on sale. I brought a healthy lunch to work and exercised on my lunch break. I took low cost vacations at beautiful places, camping or staying in hostels and met interesting people from diverse cultures. I didn’t have a TV for years, reading and engaging in art and music instead. I lived well yet below my means and now live mortgage free. I also live car free, using my bike and public transit. Through these means, I was free at the age of 42 to work part time, taking on work I enjoyed. I have given myself the gift of time, time to live consciously and creatively, to travel, to read, to engage in activities that are meaningful to me and that open me to a greater expression of my inner calling. As a result, I have found health, happiness and purpose. And yes, giving has been an important part of the opening process by teaching me, through experience, about the law of circulation. I don’t suggest that everyone do what I did, but I do encourage people to live more from the wisdom within. It can be trusted to lead us in the direction which is right for us.
Joey @ the green gazelle says
Inspiring story, Cheryl! That is exactly where I hope to get.
Regarding #26, it sounds like uncertainty among us as readers, which I imagine reflects (at least in part) our varied families. If we lived close, my folks would LOVE to have dinner together with us regularly, and would likely be even happier if doing so would help us in reducing debt. It’s just that kind of relationship and that kind of family culture, and would be mutually received as a gesture of love and respect. In relationships where it would not be mutually experienced in such a way, well… there are still 32 good suggestions left on the list :)
“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.”
Don’t forget to check out your local beauty school/academy. I get my hair cut 3 times a year for $6 a pop. The students are always well-trained and an instructor checks my hair before I leave the chair. Plus, a $6 haircut allows me to give a generous tip, but the whole service is still much less than a salon cut.
I love that you tip generously based on quality of service rather than obligation or a minimum percentage. Tips can make a world of difference for a service provider. I imagine generous tips for dedicated students doing quality work are also a source of encouragement.
What a great list of money saving tips, :)
We do much of what is on this list as well – and I’d like to add that if you have small children learning to make clothing (and toys, and bedding) for them is a huge money saver. Children’s clothing is used hard and quickly outgrown, costing nearly as much as or more than adult clothing. I found a cheap sewing machine and watching for 1.00/yd fabrics saved me even more than the thrift stores did – with a more certain fit as well, and reusing/recycling older clothes, zippers etc. along the way.
I have to say that I already do many of the things on this list, but it has also opened my eyes to ways that I can reduce my spending. Thank you for sharing!
Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey says
Thanks for sharing your story, that’s a high amount of consumer debt you two have managed to overcome!
Another idea is using natural household cleaning products like Dr. Bronner’s Soap, Vinegar/Water , Lavender/Water instead of air fresher, baking soda, etc.
Megan Folkins says
Fantastic– what an encouraging list to cross check! Save for a few examples (Equalised payment plans for hydro; having a garage sale), my fiancé and I practise what you preach. The oatmeal suggestion is especially meaningful. Living frugally has strengthened our relationship and nourished our spirituality. We just bought our first home, and for all of the ‘sacrifices’ we make, we lead an incredibly blessed life– and are not left wanting.
Among my siblings (I am the youngest of 5), we have been drawing names at Christmas for nearly a decade! We have decided that for my father, who grew up on a farm (and lives in another province), we will donate livestock (via Oxfam ‘unwrapped’) in his name.
#33 is important— we can’t afford not to give!