“Death by a thousand cuts” – have you ever heard that phrase? It’s along the same lines as how you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. Meaning, to accomplish big things, takes small actions. And paying off debt and becoming debt-free is no different. It takes a bunch of small sacrifices and small actions in order to become debt-free.
And our story is no different. Trust me, we didn’t become 100% debt-free through winning the lottery or some other “big money windfall” type event. It took years and many small actions and sacrifices to achieve our goal. But since I know that many folks want to know all of our “secrets” to becoming debt-free I’m going to share with you the various small things we did.
1. Meal Plan
Meal planning was the biggest struggle for me when we first started our debt-free journey! It was made harder by the fact that we started eating clean and becoming very aware of the processed chemical junk in our food. I honestly didn’t know how to cook completely from scratch and was struggling to find meal ideas my family would actually eat. So, one of the very rare things we did pay for while on the debt-free journey was eMeals.
The reason we paid for it for a year was that I was desperate for help with meal planning and in the end, it saved us money! Since with eMeals, they give you the meal plan and the grocery list I was able to actually stick to our meal plan instead of buying random stuff at the store and hoping I could create a meal out of it. At this time in our lives, we had a 1-year-old and newborn. We were very much so in the trenches.
So if you’re struggling to figure out how to meal plan, I highly recommend checking out eMeals to save your sanity (they even have a 14 Day Free Trial). We used them for just over a year and still keep in our rotation many of the meals that eMeals sent us. If you want to make saving money at the grocery store a reality, the key is meal planning and working that meal plan!
2. Change Service Providers
If its been a while since you have reviewed your service contracts and price shopped around, I’d love to encourage you to take some time this week to do it! While we were on the debt-free journey, my husband’s cell phone was being paid for by the company he worked for, but my cell phone was costing us $80 a MONTH! Oh and this was back before the whole “finance” your phone thing so my phone was paid for! That $80 was just for the service!
We ended up switching me to Republic Wireless and I’ve now had them for 5 years and still love them! We went from an $80 a month bill to a $20 a month bill! That extra $60 a month helped us get so much closer to achieving our goal of paying off debt and killing off our mortgage once and for all!
So, review your service providers – cell phone, insurances, etc. and see where you can possibly save money! Remember, don’t discredit those small savings – some folks see that we only saved $60 and think it’s not worth it. But I promise you, we wouldn’t have a paid-for house if it wasn’t for small savings like that phone bill.
3. Use Your Time Wisely
I’m sure by now you’ve heard of side hustles and maybe you’ve even done a few of them. But back when we were first on the debt-free journey, the idea of a “side hustle” was weird and strange to most people. What most people couldn’t understand was that those little hustles on the side added up to big debt-paying power!
I walked dogs for 2 years while we were paying off our consumer debt. I did it while hugely pregnant with two of my three children and chased toddlers (and sometimes dogs). Pushing heavy strollers and I had to pick up dog poop. It wasn’t glamorous. I hated it some days (especially when the weather was horrible). But that extra money every week meant one more extra payment to my student loans.
Also during this time, I realized that if I could spend half an hour scrolling social media, I could be spending that time taking surveys on Swagbucks to earn points towards gift cards. Sure those gift cards may not have gone towards paying off debt, but it did allow us to have extra money to buy things we needed and wanted. We purchased a new dishwasher from the Home Depot gift cards I earned during this time. Again, small things build to great change.
4. Got a “Beater”
This was the HARDEST thing (for me – not my husband) that we did on the debt-free journey. We got rid of my fully-loaded, awesome sauce 2008 Tahoe. We got rid of it for a very well-loved 2001 Sequoia that we paid cash for…that I’m still driving 6 years later. When we got rid of the Tahoe, we also got rid of the accompanying $18,000 loan attached to it.
I know that some folks get freaked out about the idea of driving an older car. I’m one of them – you’re my people. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from driving an older car it’s that if you take care of it it will take care of you. Seriously. It will. The only major repairs we’ve had to do to my Sequoia are:
- Replaced the battery.
- Installed a new radiator.
- Replaced the thermostat.
That’s it. In 6 years that’s all the major repairs we’ve had. Of course, we’ve had the usual oil changes and brakes and that all jazz. But in the end, it hasn’t cost us any more than a newer car would. In fact, many years ago when we were first married, my brand new car that I had (big mistake, I know) costs us way more than my 20-year-old car has in repairs.
5. We got real with our budget.
Why is this not number one on the list? Because well, most people don’t want to hear the “b” word so I put it happily in the middle to creep up on you. 🙂 Budgeting can be hard. I feel you. It can feel like our money is “out there” floating around us and we’re not really sure what we’re supposed to be doing with it. But that’s not really a reason to avoid budgeting our money.
A budget is just giving your money a purpose. That’s it – that’s the point of budgeting. You want your money to have a purpose in your life and it needs to fit your real life. Meaning, what are your big goals and desires in life? Having a budget in place makes achieving those goals possible and it was no different for us. Originally when we were on the debt-free journey, our budget served the purpose of helping us pay off all our consumer debt. Then after that, its purpose was to help us beef up and build up our emergency fund so my husband could quit the soul-sucking corporate job he worked.
After that, the purpose was to pay off the house and now its purpose is to help us max out our retirement contributions. The point is that your budget is going to always be changing depending on the season of life you’re in and your current goals. So if you haven’t created your budget yet, let’s make that a reality!
6. No Spend Months
During our debt-free journey, we went on several No Spend Months in order to have extra money to throw at debt. No Spend Months were harder for my husband than for me (I’m a Saver by nature). But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Some went better than others. But in the end, the changes we made to our spending habits during those months of not spending are what helped us stay the course.
So, I would highly recommend if you’re struggling to get your spending in order to try out a No Spend Month. Sure, it may be challenging but it’s so very worth it! I’ve even got a free email series (with a TON of free printables) that you can sign up here for. The series will help you stay the course and be successful in completing a No Spend Month.
7. Shop with Cash
This one goes along with correcting spending habits just like No Spend Months will. When you shop with cash for things like your groceries or miscellaneous spending it challenges you to stick to your budget. Here’s what I mean. When you go to the store and your budget is say, $150. If you’re using your debit or credit card to make the purchase and at the checkout counter the total comes for $153.54, what are you going to do? Well, if you’re like most folks you’ll just swipe that card and move on.
But therein lies the problem. You just went over budget. Granted it may have only been $3.54 over budget, but you’re still over budget. And if you go over budget and don’t then go and readjust your budget, you’re going to find yourself struggling before the end of the month. All of those small “over budget” moments add up in the end.
That’s what is so great about shopping with nothing but cash. If you only brought a $150 to the store with you and left your cards at home, then guess what? You have no other choice but to put back those items that pushed you over budget. Shopping with cash is such a beautiful thing! And it’s one of the main reasons we were able to become debt-free.
8. Sell, sell, sell some more
Along with side hustling one of the other many things we did to become debt-free was to sell off things. In fact, when you start selling off stuff that once took up space in your home, you start realizing how much money you’ve wasted. It’s a sobering thing when you realize that all that stuff used to be money in the bank. But it’s even better when you can sell off that stuff and pay off debt (or save) with it!
So, if you haven’t done a deep purge in while, I encourage you to go through your home and purge out the junk. Then sell it off on Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, or Craigslist. Take the cash that you earn and throw it at your debt!
As you can see, there’s no “one way” that we became debt-free. It took a lot of little things in order to make this feat happen. If you want to become debt-free, I highly encourage you to make your plan, create your budget, and start getting serious about killing off your debt! You won’t regret it!
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