Stop living paycheck to paycheck {SimpleMom.net}

How we stopped living (less than) paycheck to paycheck

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About Kara

Kara lives in a small town in Indiana. She is the editor of Simple Kids. You can also find her writing about creative living at K.Elizabeth Fleck.

In my last post, I introduced myself as a person in debt. I hoped to be a source of encouragement for anyone who might be struggling with money.  I was touched by the comments that followed. Thank you.

One question seemed to come up:  how did we get back on our feet when living less than paycheck to paycheck?

Some of you are in a tough spot through circumstance;  maybe you’ve lost a job, you’ve faced illness, or worse.

Our money problem wasn’t an income problem, it was a spending problem. We made enough money, but we were far from careful with it.

Every situation is different, but here is what helped us get back on track:

Thishouse
Photo by Kara Fleck

Work together, stop blaming.

Living less than paycheck to paycheck is terrifying.  Stress makes an already bad situation worse.

Once my husband and I had a heated, ugly argument over coupons.  Yes, coupons. He went to the store but forgot the coupons.  I was furious because I was scared and the difference in our bill seemed like the end of the world.  But, no amount of savings was worth the hurtful things I said.

Give each other some grace and realize that you are both on the same side.

Face the facts.

We wrote down every penny we spent.  We couldn’t figure out which holes to plug until we knew which were leaking the most water.

People are emotional, but money is unemotional.   If your mini van payment is more than you can afford or your grocery budget is unrealistic, numbers won’t lie.  There’s no need to point fingers; the facts speak for themselves.

We were making mistakes like budgeting backwards, deciding what we wanted to spend money on and then plugging in the numbers, which, of course didn’t add up.

Look for things you’re doing well.  We saw that we earned enough and we could live on what we made if we lived frugally (though we wanted to earn more to help pay down our debt).

We re-set our priorities:

  • starting with paying our bills (mortgage, utilities), making our first goal catching up on anything we were behind on
  • then paying our debts (minimum payments at that point)
  • and then figuring out how to live on what was left (essentials only)

simplesoup
Photo by Kara Fleck

Make radical changes.

I’m not just talking about getting rid of cable or cutting our take-out pizza habit.  I’m talking about the things most people don’t pay attention to.

We were vigilant about the electricity and water usage, washing only the truly dirty clothes (instead of wearing once and then washing). All summer, our family slept in the same room so we only had to cool one part of the house.  We turned our thermostat down when cold weather came.

knitsocksPhoto by Kara Fleck

We ate meatless meals. If the kids didn’t finish a piece of fruit, we cut off the teeth marks and put it in a baggie in the freezer for smoothies.  The dog didn’t get treats – he got cuddles instead. We cancelled our newspaper when my mom said she’d save her coupons for us.

I stopped giving the kids a bath every day; they didn’t need one daily, anyway.  We ate smaller portions so that the kids could have seconds. We combined errands and stayed home to save gas money.

I became the woman picking up the penny on the ground or going to customer service when the advertised price that didn’t ring up at the register (something I would have been too embarrassed to do before).

We became vigilant about things like the amount of laundry soap used and how long showers were.  “Turn off the light” or “shut the fridge, you’re letting the cold air out” became our mantras.

We joked that we were turning into “those people” but clearly “those people” knew something we didn’t.

SKstartsmall

Photo by Kara Fleck

Do without.

For us, doing without looked like this:

  • Buying nothing new OR used.  Non-essentials couldn’t be justified, even second-hand.
  • We ate simple food.  We ate what we could afford, not necessarily local or organic.
  • We said no to social events that required a gift and/or the expense of travel.  A note expressing our best wishes was sent instead.
  • We became a one vehicle family.

Our kids wore clothing that didn’t fit exactly right and in colors they didn’t like, and my husband’s work clothes got a little threadbare before we could afford to replace them.

If we ran out of milk and there wasn’t anything left in the grocery budget, we didn’t buy more milk. We made do.

Slowly, we gained financial ground.  And always, always we were conscious of the fact that others had it harder than we did.

SKveggiesFarmerMike
Photo by Kara Fleck

Ask for help.

I am not talking about a loan, because we were in enough debt.  But, we did ask for help.

When Grandma called asking what a child would like for their birthday, we would say, “well, she wants ___ but she needs ____.”

My Dad brought us fruit and veggies from his garden every week.  We were grateful for it and my dad was glad to give it.

We signed up for a discount food program where we could purchase a week’s worth of food for a low price.  We didn’t need to do this for very long, but this was a blessing until we got back on our feet.

We called our creditors.  It wasn’t easy, and it was not fun, but it was necessary.  Most were willing to work with us.

There’s no such thing as “small change.”

Once we got caught up on all of the bills, we started an emergency fund.  We took a jar and emptied our change into it.  Every week our goal was to increase the amount by at least a dollar.

After a few months, we started a bank account to earn interest.  We sold things to add more money and kept upping that weekly amount.  Any extra money went into the emergency fund.

How we stopped living paycheck-to-paycheck  {SimpleMom.net}
Photo by Kara Fleck

The sound of that first handful of change hitting the glass bottom of the jar seemed futile, but it was a new beginning for us.

If things are looking futile for you I hope you get that new beginning, even if you have to make it happen for yourself one jar full of change at a time.

Have you ever found yourself living paycheck to paycheck, or worse?  What advice would you give to someone struggling?

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Comments

  1. avatar
    Jennifer R says:

    This is exactly the “nitty-gritty” that I need to hear right now. Our debt load is more than I am comfortable with (but still smaller than some of our friends). We are overspending each month by $500 before the credit cards/loans are even paid, and I feel like the little things are what really knocks us down….running to the store for supper groceries because I just don’t feel like soup…$16/lb coffee that ends up sitting in the coffee maker cold all day because we only had 2 cups our of it…leaving on lights…having the furnace set nice and toasty all winter…the list is endless. THANK YOUR FOR THE IDEAS – and PERMISSIONS to really make-do.

  2. Thanks for this post. My husband and I sat down last month to budget and while we didn’t have a huge amount of debt we are just not saving at all. These are great pointers to help us be in control of our money instead of it controlling us.

  3. We have a near-same story and we *still* do (years later) almost all the things you mentioned in this article, and we have come to realize the difference between wants & needs, and how to be content with simple & free things. The biggest help to us, also, was state-funded care, which was SUCH a huge blessing to our family when our second child was born. I practically wept at the letter that said they accepted it for her birth. I didn’t know what we were going to do. Now that feels like a life-time ago, but I still remember all those little things that added up to our very poor (but rich) life!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M´s latest post: why I think “Call the Midwife” is the best show on tv

  4. Yes, we’ve been there and we’ve climbed out, too. For us it meant finally giving up on my husband’s chiro clinic that wasn’t supporting us and him going to work for someone else almost three years ago. We lived on a budget ala Dave Ramsey and filed bankruptcy – we had nearly half a million in debt between student loans, business debt (HUGE), medical bills (uninsured appendectomy, anyone?), and personal debt. We got by and that’s about it for a long time, but recently an opportunity has come our way to increase our income and we are pulling out of the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality. But we’re making sure not to increase our spending but using the extra money to continue paying down student loans and saving for the future so my husband doesn’t have to always work for someone else. We’ve also always been grateful to have been able to pay our bills and take care of our children and let me stay home with them, which has been a priority for us. We are even more grateful to be moving forward than I think we could have been had we not gone through these struggles.

  5. This is great! We are on our way to being debt-free and applying a lot of the same simple things you and your family did. Always inspires me to keep going and asking myself if we really need certain things.
    Katie´s latest post: Spring Days

  6. avatar
    Rebecca says:

    This post is wonderful.
    I too have been on a financial journey recently and would HIGHLY RECOMMEND looking into Dave Ramsey and his financial advice and suggestions.
    It more people lived by his methods we’d all be much better off.
    All the best for your future : )

  7. avatar
    Nicole O. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. We’ve had a rough few years. My husband and I both living and working in NYC earned comfortably over six figures and then the economy hit. Here’s a look at our timeline:

    -Purchased our first home.
    -I got laid off 4 months later
    -found out I was pregnant 2 weeks later
    -husband got laid off 2 months after this

    When we first married we paid off all of our college and “young silly” spending debt and in three short years saved enough for a 30% deposit on our home (no small feat back then at the top of the market in NYC). We were SO proud of ourselves. Neither of us had come from money. This was HUGE for us.

    We’re now living paycheck to paycheck. Just his paycheck. I STILL can’t find anything that will pay enough to make childcare for our 3 year old worthwhile. We’re now back in debt. Not huge but like Jennifer R. we spend slightly more than we bring in each month. I to have turned down wedding, birthday and baby shower invites but even though I thought I’d made cuts everywhere you’ve given me the courage to look for more.

    I really hope that one day we can live comfortably again. I’m tired of having to worry over every penny. I’m just plain tired. I don’t want to live extravagantly, I just don’t want to go into panic mode when my cat gets sick and needs a vet visit. Heck, I want to buy new underwear!

    Best of luck on your journey and thank you so much for sharing.

    All the best- Nic

    • Thanks for sharing this, Nicole. I get it, I truly do.

      I think people who have never debt with this kind of a situation just don’t understand how it affects your life on SO many levels. “It’s just money” is an easy phrase to toss out, but having to watch every penny, never being able to just let things slide (at least not without consequences) …. it is mentally exhausting.

      Someday we’re both going to get there, and all this struggle? All this daily financial battle? It will have made us tougher and better, I’m sure of it. We CAN do this!

      Good luck to you and thanks for taking the time to open up. It helps to know we aren’t the only ones out there.
      Kara @SimpleKids.net´s latest post: How We Stopped Living (less than) Paycheck to Paycheck ::: Guest Post on SimpleMom.net

    • I so agree! It is horrible when your car feels weird or makes a noise or hecks smokes and your adrenaline shoots up worrying – what now and how much. When your child coughs or is nauseated and all I can think is I can’t afford to ask/take off or pay someone to care for you. Sounds like you achieved great things – paying off debt, saving so much for a house I’m sure you will be there again. Peace and joy wished for you on the journey there.

  8. Thank you so much for your honesty and transparency, Kara. We are right there, too, and have been for years. We suffer from “all or nothing” -itis and so we find ourselves never making any headway at all. The coins in the jar defeat us instead of inspire us.
    Thank you for a change in perspective.
    Keely´s latest post: Maple-Oatmeal Scones

    • It is so hard sometimes, isn’t it, Keely? We have had our share of one step forward, forty steps back, too.

      And, yes, tossing that first handful of change in the jar? It seemed really pointless at the time. It took us a while to get to where we saw any progress, but we kept going anyway. I think part of it for us was getting over the mental hurdle, doing something *anything* even when it seemed like it wasn’t getting us anywhere … just to keep taking those steps.

      Thanks for your kind words. I hope you find something today that helps you feel inspired, not defeated. Good luck! You CAN do this!
      Kara @SimpleKids.net´s latest post: How We Stopped Living (less than) Paycheck to Paycheck ::: Guest Post on SimpleMom.net

  9. Great Post! We’re the only couple that we know that budget every single penny. It seems crazy to all our friends, but it works for us. Every extra dollar goes to savings and when we need something, the money is there.

  10. Thank you so much for speaking the truth that so many of us struggle with. I would love to hear your thought on travel/visiting relatives and close friends. We have been struggling to live in our budget and then pay off our debt for a few years (there was joblessness, school, kids) Because of this we haven’t been able to visit relatives who live far away. For example we have not been down to Florida to visit my husband’s father in 3 years (he’s come up a couple times but not a lot) And we have very very best friends in Chicago who are getting married. We are going to be in debt for at least a few more years, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the traveling (we can afford it, but it would mean spending less on paying down debt) I really struggle because visiting friends and family is so important to me, but with 3 kids and family and friends in far away places it costs a lot. Thanks!

  11. Thank you for this… and for the comments, you guys. We are right there too. 2 kids 1 and 3. 2 cats and 1 dog. I’m at home and we’re living off of Hubby’s income. We have a car loan, school loans, credit card, and a mortgage to pay down. Hubby’s commuter vehicle, while paid off, is 11 years old and he commutes about an hour every day… so we’re just waiting on that one. LOL. We love traveling, being foodies, and other various random expensive hobbies (art, brewing, taking classes here and there). And, up until a couple months ago, we were in the red EVERY SINGLE MONTH. I was freaking out. So now we’ve cut down, but it’s a battle at every paycheck. We really, really feel deprived… But i know it’s doable. The random costs (animals to the vet, dr. bills, needing new glasses and work clothes, car troubles, etc) are what’s killing us. Also, owning a farmhouse with aged everything (appliances, no insulation etc) doesn’t help. Despite how much charm it may have ;-) Honestly, at this point, I know we can do it but it’s 1) hard feeling deprived and 2) frustrating as heck when you look at the end of a not-so-great-saving month and realize it was because you were spending on stuff you shouldn’t be despite your efforts.

    • It IS hard and yes, so frustrating when you mess up and purchase something or make a mistake that sets you back.

      I remember someone once gave us the (slightly patronizing) advice to make saving money “a game.” Least. Fun. Game. EVER.

      When you’re in dire straights and the situation is going to take time, it isn’t a game, it is a way of life.

      Here’s to doing hard things and fighting the everyday battles!
      Kara @SimpleKids.net´s latest post: How We Stopped Living (less than) Paycheck to Paycheck ::: Guest Post on SimpleMom.net

    • Robyn- I’ve been where you are with having too many expensive hobbies. What I’ve done is start keeping a list of the things I’d like to do. For instance, specific places I want to visit, classes I want to take, etc. Seeing the list and understanding that picking one thing from the list means a trade-off (not doing the others right now) keeps me from getting involved in too many things at one time and overspending. I also love to travel, but when I need to save up more money, I look for things on my list that can be weekend trips from my house and then try to find low cost accommodations (camping is a good choice if your family likes to camp). I’ve made planning for trips part of my hobby, so I enjoy the anticipation of the trip for many months before I take it. Just a few ideas.

  12. Kara,

    I haven’t been in this situation but without my husband’s strong budgeting compliance, I’d have us there in a heartbeat :/. Because of how well he has handled our money, when we were without a job for FIVE MONTHS (which seemed forever but I know is NOTHING compared to the years some friends have endured… :( ), we were able to live off the small severance he received. During that time, HE learned how much less expensive you could get some staples at Big Box stores (which he previously detested).

    Anyway, I’m mainly writing to applaud you–your transparency and how you spell out exactly what you did/are doing to get out of debt. You’re giving people hope by showing that it’s not a quick fix but it IS fixable. What an inspiring message.

  13. I can so relate to your situation! I had a job that paid well (very well in fact) for over 10 years. Instead of saving as much as I could, I spent irresponsibly thinking that I’d have the job forever. When the economy cranked and 5 of us lost our jobs, it didn’t take long for me to panic as I struggled to find another comparable job. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before we were limiting everything that we did. It really is amazing how much you can save by being aware and conscious. Congrats to you and we’re seeing the light of day in our home too!
    Tina´s latest post: Boys Dinosaur Bedding – Bring Dinosaurs To The Bedroom

  14. avatar
    Valerie says:

    Oh Kara, this post could not have come at a better time. I was just having a conversation with my dad yesterday about how difficult it is to find a decent, afforadable single family home in our area. We happen to live in one of the richest counties in our state, so the cost of housing is ridiculous. We bought a condo years ago and have really felt that we made the right decision as the market turned, my husband lost his job for 6 months, etc. Our mortgage is actually cheaper than what you can rent an apartment for here. Our debt is student loans and our mortgage. I felt like chimming in on this conversation because during the convo with my dad, I told him that we had looked at some single family homes this past weekend but that they were just too expensive for us. He said, “Everybody knows you need a single family house”. I explained to him that our priorities are different, so although we would really like to have our own yard and maybe one more bedroom we could not afford that AND save for retirement, etc. Our condo is a 2 bedroom and we have one child. So, why do we need bigger? To be financially stressed? To not save for retirement? Trust me, I know we are in a good position. I just struggle with the want vs need. So, back onto trying to save money to buy a single family home. I will be putting into place some of the examples on how you are saving. Focus, focus, focus. Thanks for being an inspiration to all (those struggling to get out of debt and those trying to make changes to reach their goals no matter how big or small).

  15. avatar
    Heather D says:

    Wow, thank you for this post! My husband and I just had “the talk” last night about how we must make some drastic changes. I’m in the same boat with you. We make enough, but don’t track our spending. Too much $$ is being spent on lunch out, a magazine here or there, a soda at the gas station — frivolous things. One of my student loans recently came out of deferment, so we had to add about $150 to our monthly bills – yikes.

    It inspires me so much to read about the successful changes you have made in your family. I pray you continue to succeed. I’m excited to make some changes in my own house!

  16. Thanks for sharing this!! It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who had to go through this. Right now we’re in A tight spot since my husband went on disability but if we hadn’t gotten rid of our debt we’d be even worse. Thanks for the great post!

  17. avatar
    Kirsten says:

    This was a beautiful and encouraging post! I’m so happy you were able to get your head above water :) My husband and I were blessed by his parents while we were still dating, they paid for us to attend a Dave Ramsey Financial Freedom course. It jives well with the things we mentioned in this posting. We are also in a lot of debt; college loans–which I must say that NO loans should be considered “good” loans. All debt is bondage :( We have been blessed from the beginning to stop bad money habits from forming, but I’m always on the lookout for more ideas on how to be frugal. The best of luck to you and yours in paying off your debt, you can do it!!!

  18. avatar
    Kirsten says:

    Opps. *you mentioned in this posting.

  19. I so appreciate the honesty of this post. And all of your great ideas. This year has definately been one of scaling back, taking stock and I thank this blog as well as your sister blogs for helping to make this happen. It all feels part of the same: mindfulness and simplifying. I am finding joy in cultivating these qualities of industriousness and thrift. Your ideas are spot on and I will be looking over our spending habits to see where we can scale back. You are not alone. Thanks for your wonderful writings. Finally printed out your book – 52 bites and look forward to checking things off my list. take care and thanks again!

  20. Kara, as I read your blog, so many of the things you mentioned were straight from my childhood, my 3 siblings and I being raised by a single mother. Why we, after bcoming adults, ever started our extavagant habits is beyond me. We all make small adjustments, but you have taken the Debt Beast by the horns, as did my mother, and are on your way to more than just overcoming… Thanks for the detailed suggestions for the little “holes” that so much leaks out of. I look forward to spending less, having more, and giving generously because of it! My question now must be: Is this a need, or a want? Thanks!

  21. Thank you for sharing Kara. Tsh ~ I love when you guys share stories like this. While my own might not be exactly the same, it allows me to refocus on making sure my priorities are in order. Thank you.
    Hillary´s latest post: Kids Do Well If They Can

    • Kara’s posts are a good reminder for me today, too, even if I’m not in the exact situation! Frugal living FTW, no matter where we are financially, in my opinion… ;)

  22. Love this! Thank you so much for sharing! You are absolutely right and I love hearing about your journey. We recently took a plunge to plant a church, and our income reduced by 66%! :) But frugal living (and faith!) made it work and we find we have MORE margin now than before. How does that happen? :) Thanks so much for sharing. BTW, speaking of frugal, I have FREE books on my site today. :) Blessings!
    Kari Patterson´s latest post: It’s a birthday party! {FREE books galore!}

  23. I love all these ideas and truly I could handle them pretty easily. I have no problem with losing the tv and eating rice and beans every day, etc, but what happens when the other half of the partnership doesn’t feel the same way? I handle all the finances as one of my jobs and my husband is now the breadwinner. I do part time work that only makes a small contribution so I feel like I don’t have the right to keep telling him how hard things are and how much we should cut back. He gets frustrated and feels deprived and I get more and more stressed over our lack of money and the bills piling up. Anytime we get extra money, I use it to pay bills and he uses it to buy more things. How on earth can we ever work this out?!

    • avatar
      Rebekah says:

      Shauna I am in the same boat as you on this! I would love to hear a suggestion on how to deal with such a situation. Any time I try, it always ends up in a huge fight and we get nowhere. Same old habit of him overspending and me worrying about every dime and how to get on track :(

    • Oh, Shauna, that is so, so hard. :-(

      I know for my relationship, it helped to write things down because then he could see that we had X amount of $ each month and what categories we were overspending on (or shouldn’t be spending on at all). This way it wasn’t me saying, “hey, my opinion is that you spend too much on ___” but it was “Look, here’s the numbers and you can see they aren’t adding up. If we want to keep up with the mortgage, we have to cut out ___.” The facts vs. my opinion.

      We now have a cash budget now that includes a bit of “fun” money for each of us every month. It can be spent however we want, NO judgement from the other, no matter how silly the other thinks it might be, ha ha! :-) The amount is something we can afford that doesn’t stress our budget.

      It isn’t fair for one person to be the spender and the other to lose sleep at night worrying over money. It isn’t a fun conversation to have, but you have to clear the air and get on the same page. I know the time that we were working against each other (for similar reasons as you describe) were some of the hardest for our marriage and also a time we each now wish we could get back. It is hard, I know.

      I’m sure others will have some good advice, too. I hope things get better and you can get on the same page. Good luck!
      Kara @SimpleKids.net´s latest post: How We Stopped Living (less than) Paycheck to Paycheck ::: Guest Post on SimpleMom.net

      • I agree–having it on paper helps alot. you can’t argue with the numbers—it was a wake up to both of us to see what we spent on groceries, gas and other extras. We do an allowance as well–that has made a world of difference. We both have money that its ok to blow on whatever you want. So when I go to the gas station, I pay at the pump with my debit and then go use my allowance to buy a pop. Or at the store, I put everything on the counter, but pay in separate transactions. When the cash is gone its gone. It also allows me to save up for items–my hubby is really good at this He will take and put away a part of the allowance at the first of the month towards a purchase that he wants to make.

        It is a hard conversation–but focus on facts, not emotion. Share your vision–whether that is a trip debt free to a beach or whatever. I really recommend Dave Ramsey as well–try library for the book.

        Good Luck!

    • avatar
      A. Owens says:

      Shauna- I had the exact same situation and problem with my husband. I tried for years to get him on the same page and it never worked. I became a constant nag and he didn’t like it and I didn’t like who I was becoming…I didn’t want to let go of the financial “power”. Finally, one night I told him that he was in control of all the bills and money and I didn’t care if he paid them or had the money or not. I had enough. He knew I was serious. I didn’t spend any money but what was absolutely necessary those first few months and never mentioned anything about the finances. All I would say is that I needed money for food or whatever it was. He took the reins. He didn’t do it exactly how I did it and messed up the bills a few times but he learned and now HE is in control and we have been able to make HUGE decisions because he was forced to see where his money was going!!! Some people don’t want to know what is going on so they don’t have to deal with it…

  24. Congratulations on making progress! These measures are only temporary. Hang in there!

    It’s amazing how we realize that we can live on what we make if we simply need less stuff.

    We are working on paying off our $67K debt this year. My husband is working all the time. The hard part is now we are making more money to pay off debt it’s tempting to fall back into old habits and spend more just because we make more money. But we are being disciplined and debt is going away!!

    We have been a one car family for over a year now and it totally works for us. :)
    Amanda Espinoza´s latest post: No More Whining

  25. I love your post because it is so empathetic. Right now we are doing without air conditioning in our cars(expensive repair) during our long commute and at home to save money we don’t have :-). How do you deal with the comments of friends about your frugality? I feel like I am always apologizing.

    • I find that when people comment on our frugality, it might be because deep-down, it might ignite a small feeling of guilt within them. And so they deal with it by “making fun” of us, even if it’s all in good fun.

      I’ve learned to shrug it off and let it go. (I’ve learned that about a lot of things, actually—I think you develop thick skin as a blogger…) I can only control MY reactions; I can’t control others. So I can choose to live my life in grace, humility, and with a good attitude. Beyond that is out of my control.

      And yes, isn’t Kara wonderful? She’s one of the most empathetic, encouraging people I know. :)

  26. Thank you. I’m really honored that you share things so clearly and with such grace, especially when a spell of reading blogs usually leaves me itching to SPEND instead of facing my spending problems. Our family has grown by two in two years, and we need to get our financial house in order, but the idea has been too overwhelming for me. This helped enormously. Thank you, again, for reaching out and encouraging other young families!
    Ashlie´s latest post: last week // this week no. 3

  27. avatar
    Marissa says:

    My husband and I have been so blessed by the You Need A Budget software and online support. It has only been several months, but it has been such a useful tool to see exactly where we are spending, to make concrete goals, and to have something visually in front of us to communicate about instead of simply the same old “we need to figure out how to cut back” – now we can see our options and discuss how. I was skeptical to try it, but I hope it could help someone else, too!

  28. Thank you for such a great post! So many money saving articles focus on the small, frivolous things but this really was full of truth and hit close to home. Most people of our grandparents generation lived like this as a way of life. :-) After having kid and cutting back to one income it felt like we were depriving ourselves for awhile. Now these little changes that used to seem so drastic are just habit. Not a bad example for the next generation to see, in my opinion.
    Katie´s latest post: Grown-Up Time? Oh Yeah, I Remember That

  29. Great, great post! The little things matter! Cannot wait to share this.

  30. This is so encouraging! Our family has done so many wild things to get debt-free and get our little homestead in the country, but it has been so worth it!
    All the hard work and saving in little ways has really paid off and of course I realize it’s all by the grace of God, who has allowed us good health all around so we could work and expend energy to do everything we’ve done.
    So keep on keepin’ on !
    It’s a good feeling to see your hard work and self-discipline pay off!

  31. What a wonderful story – so encouraging and honest. We have been there; I remember when finding an extra $5 was such a huge deal. We currently have a little more flexibility but I’ve become a little too loose with my spending and it makes me a little heartsick. We don’t have debt but raising teens is expensive and we want so much to say YES to fun experiences, or books, or classes for the kids and yet sometimes when I’m alone I pour over my budget and just don’t know how we’ll manage at this rate. My husband works hard to provide and is very frugal but comes from poverty and doesn’t want our children to feel deprived and yet I’m the one who does the real money management (but I’m also the one who is willing to fork out $ for books or a nice coffee… these little indulgences that can add up quickly). Part of me is so resistant to really reigning in my spending b/c I feel like “I’ve been there and done the work, now I shouldn’t have to” (what a crazy attitude). We don’t carry any consumer debt and are putting extra $ on our mortgage each month so while we are being smart in many ways I still needed your encouragement today to be honest and far more disciplined with my spending habits. Thank you:)

  32. Such an inspiring post! Great tips too! I especially love the goal of increasing your savings by just$1 a week. Its so little but means so much!

  33. During the two years after we moved and we went from two incomes to one, I learned how to be extra frugal. It was hard, counting every penny! There were some weeks that were so tight that I could only pray we made it to the next pay day. I can’t say we really managed to save much, but we always made it through.

  34. We are spending more than we’re making, but how do we make changes (only paying for necessities instead of perceived necessities like “if I don’t have this hobby I’ll go crazy”) when my in-laws are continually supplementing our income and bailing us out? We are in debt with both sets of parents. Hubby’s parents can handle the load, but mine are doing without for our sakes, so hurt feelings are in the mix. I don’t know how to reconcile hubby’s and my different priorities. Any advice?

  35. Posted before, but I don’t see it up so I’m trying again! Thanks for the wonderful post! I’m wondering what you do about traveling to see family/close friends? I’ve been struggling with this as we work our way out of school loan debt (LOTS of it- my husband went to law school while I was pregnant with our 2nd and 3rd kids) We’re doing well, but we haven’t been to visit his father in Florida in 3 years, and our best friends who live in Chicago; and all the cousins in California and Texas and all the other not Northeast places they live. I want my kids to know these people and spend time with them; but plane tickets for 5? Can I do that while we work our way out of this debt? And that’s not even counting the relatives who live in Africa and Europe (I’ve realized we aren’t going to see them till we are out of this mess- maybe 5 years or so) I would just love your thoughts on it. I know there are lots of electronic ways to keep in touch, but in the end it’s the face to face that matters. So the family value of having my kids know their extended family butts up with our family value of being frugal. It is so hard to figure out!

    • Leigh,

      I struggle with this every year. I have family that lives in Fl, and more that live in PA. My dad lives 20 miles away, but wants me to visit him weekly.

      I found it easier to plan midway points for friends and family trips. We will meet at a campground about halfway. A lot of campgrounds offer discounts for large groups, so we plan all of us at one time. Instead of going to the movies, etc, we put that money into a jar. That’s our vacation money. While camping, we plan the menu well in advance. Remember when those turkeys go on sale at Thanksgiving? We buy 2 extra ones for the summer, and it defrosts on the road trip in the cooler. Each group takes a turn at dinner this way we only have to plan for the one night. It’s a lot cheaper to make 1 large meal for 5+ families for 1 night, then 5-7 different small meals every night.

      For Christmas, we ask for gas cards. We save them (no matter how tempting during the yr to use them and have extra cash) and use them on the trips. My family has learned to look for national truck stops for the cards. This way, we know we will be able to us them while traveling.

      Hope this helps you Leigh.

  36. Like so many others, we have “been there” in recent years. My advice?

    First, don’t assume it is short-term/temporary. If your finances take a hit, DON’T WAIT, make significant cuts/changes right away (wish we’d done that).

    Second, no matter how bad it is, don’t allow yourself to stew on it all day long. Engage/distract your mind with positive things as much as possible. I’m not saying to ignore your problems, but you’re not solving them by dwelling on them 24/7. All you’ll do is wear yourself out and ruin your health with stress (tough lesson to learn).

    Third, don’t use a meager grocery budget (or food stamps) for foods that appear cheap but have low nutritional value (IE cheap processed “food”). Go for real food that has high nutritional value, even if it costs more, you’ll get more out of it. I agree with this post about eating simple food. Cooking real food from scratch, using simple recipes, is a great way to make the most of your food budget.
    Jennifer K´s latest post: adventures on pinterest

  37. As a single mom this is the story of my life! I definitely think your comment about priorities makes all the difference when you are trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. When you have your priorities in place, you become creative with ways to stretch a dollar AND live a full life. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to live a meaningful life.

    The library has become my best friend. Sometimes I think we try to make life more complicated by acquiring more things that require money. great post!
    Laila @OnlyLaila´s latest post: Not Another Blogging Conference

  38. thanks for sharing ~ it is SO WORTH the ride on this!

  39. avatar
    Elizabeth says:

    People look at me like I’m nuts when I say I don’t have home Internet, cable TV, that I have only three pair of work shoes (that’s nuts for a woman, right?!), and that I eat out only about twice a month, if that. I brown-bag it to work every day and I make nearly all my meals from scratch–not prepackaged stuff that costs more and is less healthy.

    All this stuff adds up though. It makes a difference!

  40. Hi there great article. One thing I found helpful to us, is that we started dealing in cash only, paid the monthly bills that needed to get paid, and the rest, was cash, we divided it all up for the weeks and when the cash was gone, so was our spending. This has been very freeing!

  41. Thank you for this post. It is hard to be so open about this kind of thing, but it helps so many others. I have felt SO stressed about our income and debt, and sometimes feel like banging my head against the wall for lack of a better idea of how to deal with it all. It is helpful to know that others are doing it, even one little step at a time. One thing we are doing is growing a large vegetable garden in a city community garden. That way we can have fresh veggies for a few months without having to budget for them. I am also trying desperately to find ways of bringing in even a little extra money every month. Once again, thanks for this, so much. : )
    Steph@livingbrilliant´s latest post: Finding community and digging it

  42. We had $70,000 in student loans when we married in 2005, and then bought a house and a car. Before you knew it we owed $238,000 and we hadn’t even been married a year. When my husband (who does Youth Ministry) went on 50% salary for 6 months in 2010 (and was eventually laid off), it was a financial wake-up call for us. We’d been getting by for the first 5 years of our marriage, never missing a bill payment, but we were pretty naive about our debts.

    I learned about Dave Ramsey and started following Money Saving Mom in 2010, and our lives have never been the same. We’ve paid off $115,000 in our 7 1/2 years of marriage. (Whoop, whoop!) We’ve paid off everything but our last student loan ($15,500) and our house ($107,500)! I stay at home with our 3 kids, doing everything I can to save or make money from home.

    Thank you for all the great tips! I love hearing from others who are trying to do the same things we are. It is so encouraging to know that we’re not alone! :)
    Jessica @ The Abundant Wife´s latest post: Freebie Friday!

  43. Thank you so much for sharing. This is so encouraging! We first started this journey about 4 years ago. Within 18 months we became debt free and I am able to stay home with our children because of these same steps. One of my do-withouts was a cell phone for almost 2 years. Friends and family could not understand this but for $3.50 a month I could have a house phone and I was there most of the time anyways. Plus, we live in a big city so if there was truly some sort of emergency when I was away from home the chances were there were dozens of phones within 10 yards of me. Last fall we purchased our first home (something we thought would never happen) and we let things slip just a bit out of our excitement. This month we have re-evaluated and set new budgets and goals and I’m excited to see what the next step on this financial journey is. Another HUGE note, we always wanted a big family but were not sure it would ever be financially possible. Through learning how to better manage our money we were able to see that a big family was possible and we are currently expecting our fourth child. We are truly blessed! It is all about saying no to things that may seem good now for things that are better later.
    Andrea´s latest post: Eating and Preserving Summer Squash

  44. avatar
    chrystal says:

    We are working hard on getting out of debt, one thing that has helped us tremendously, is breaking down each expense, and paying into it each week, (or bi-weekly, whatever your pay is).
    We are paid weekly, so all our expenses are divided by 4, and get paid into each week, even the dog food bill! The house payment, cell phone, electricity, internet bill, EVERYTHING!

    I am amazed at how much is left over and goes to debt right away each week and we are not now ‘blowing’. My grocery is 160/wk, gas is 60/wk, etc, anything that is not used, is carried over as a ‘bonus’!

    It does take a few weeks to get on track, because you need to adjust to due dates for bills, but it works wonders!
    Good luck everybody!

  45. my husband and i paid off $39,000 in debt a few years ago. it took us 23 months and was hard work. we made some drastic measures (got second jobs) and some less-drastic (canceled cable, although it felt drastic at the time). just wanted to say this is a great article!
    kelsey´s latest post: How I Knew I Was Ready to Be a Dad

  46. avatar
    Lorraine says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! We do not have personal debt. But are on our 3rd year with our own business and have debt from that. Its also been an adjustment since we can’t just know we will have a paycheck of a certain amount. If there is unexpected business expense, the employees don’t wait for their wages it’s us! We are also living on a smaller wage than previously. It has been harder to cut back for my husband than me. Growing up my family was on a tight budget. His had a better income, but careless with it. His parents now are in a very poor financial situation and that has helped him see the importance of being very careful business wise and personally. Sometimes he will still spend on something I wouldn’t but we are a lot more on the same page than we were.
    I liked the idea of sending a card and not attending parties if you will need a gift. We also are spending more time with friends also on tight budgets, starting there own businesses,etc. than some others who seem to be able to spend ‘blow’ money freely. Its easier to keep us on track with spending time with those in similar situations rather than with those who don’t. Then it is easy to come home dissatisfied with what we are able to do.
    We do a lot of what you mentioned. But believe I can do more! Was nice to know we aren’t ‘weird’ We have a literal savings jar also. We are able to go to FL for a relatives wedding here in June because of the money saved in the past year! So nice to know we won’t be paying for the trip in credit card bills for the next several months.

  47. Our church offered Dave Ramsey’s seminar and it changed how my husband and I communicated about money. We are still working our way out of a little CC debt but we have changed our spending habits and it is getting better. Thanks for a post that shows that others are out there making the tough choices too. My struggle now is the family that is close to us makes so much more then we do and seems to think our lifestyles should be similar. Since they can’t be it occasionally makes things awkward. Here’s to a retirement we can be proud of!

  48. We’re right with you! We’ve been debt free for several years, and it is amazingly liberating. Worth working for.

    One of the most beneficial things we discovered was the importance of making our home our favorite place. By clearing out things we didn’t need, use, or love (which Tsh’s Organized Simplicity book takes by the horns!), and loving where we live, we automatically saved money!

    The fun thing is that we didn’t spend money to make our home more reviving. We didn’t remodel or buy new furniture and gadgets. We de-cluttered. We organized. We cleaned and repaired. We rearranged. We found tools and supplies for being creative. Now we’d rather be home than anywhere else!
    Lauri Newell´s latest post: Beginning Piano Lessons from a Professional Piano Player

  49. It was hard for me after getting divorced. I got stuck with most of the debt when we divorced. Compounded by the problem of my car breaking down every month for 6 months in a row to the tune of over $300 including towing. I was working part time so I got a full time job and got most of the debt paid off with the exception of my credit card it was horrible because the place I took my car in for repairs only accepted cash or credit it was very frustrating. I sold my house and got rid of a lot of stuff and by selling my house I was able to pay off my credit card it was not an easy decision. My house was too big for just one person.

  50. Thank you!!!!!! This was SO ENCOURAGING!!!

  51. avatar
    Kristen says:

    Thank you for being really honest about what it takes to reign in a household budget (if I read one more “stop buying your daily latte” article, I’ll put my head through a wall)!
    How do you deal with feeling overly deprived? Especially when you are saying no to social engagements? I feel like we can be so good, then we burnout and just blow a bunch of cash. Or one of us will splurge on something, then the other will justify another spurge and so on….

  52. I’ve started doing little things to stretch my dollar, and they save a ton of money!

    I buy sponges in bulk at Costco and then cut them in half, getting double the life out of them. I also water down the juices I drink. Orange juice has such an intense flavor, it’s amazing how much water you can add to it and it will still taste like orange juice! With liquid laundry detergent, I rarely fill up the cap past “1,” and then I line dry my clothes. In the summer I keep windows open and fans on all day, only using the AC at night. In the winter I put the heat as low as I can stand it and bundle up. I buy hand soap refill in bulk, fill up only half the dispenser with it, the rest with water, then shake!

    The little things really add up!

    • Ally, you are on the right track but did you know that you can take this even further if you need to and are willing. Fans can take the same amount of energy as AC. If no one is home during the day try keeping the house closed, dark and the AC|Fans off. House open at night with fans on just until it gets comfortable and then turn them off!
      Instead of sponges try worn out towels, tshirts ect cut or torn in to cleaning rags.
      For laundering, the home made soap recipes allover blog land and pinterest that use borax, fels naptha and baking soda really do work wonderfully and cost pennies a load. They smell wonderful too.
      For the hand soap, invest one time in one of those “Foaming” soap bottles. From then on you can refill it with about an inch of liquid soap and fill the rest of the way with water. A large refill of hand soap will last my entire family of 5 for about a year, and we have three bathrooms and one kitchen so 4 bottles that get refilled throughout the year on just one big refill bottle. That’s 99 cents for hand soap for the year. I am trying this with dish liquid too.

  53. Kara,

    I loved this post. Thanks so much for being vulnerable and sharing all of this! It’s so interesting to me and I want more. I’m curious what you consider to be essential and non-essential as that boundary varies from person to person. I also thought it was interesting that you even passed on buying used things if it wasn’t essential. It’s easy for me to spend money on used things because they are way cheaper, but sometimes I don’t always need it, even if it’s used.

    Blessings on your journey! Can’t wait to hear more!
    Archer´s latest post: Almost There

  54. Thanks for your transparency in sharing your story. I also appreciate all the thougtful comments and encouragement from others on this journey. We are just getting started in digging out from our debt, and are considering debt consolidation. It seems like it might be the only solution for us so I was wondering if anyone else had experience with a reputable program – I know some are scams. It feels terrifying to get started, yet I know it is the only way to have freedom from the bondage that debt creates.

    • We did use a credit consolidation service. It was called consumer credit counseling services (CCCS) at the time. Make sure you use a non-profit credit counseling service, rather than a for-profit business. You can expect to pay a monthly fee (around $20 when we did it years ago), and you make one payment to the credit service and they dole the money out for you. Sometimes, if you’re over your head, it’s the way to go. You could also try negotiating with creditors yourself. I would try that first and see if you can get a lower interest rate and minimum payment (if necessary). Sometimes, when you can’t make your payments, you need help.
      Good luck!

  55. Thank you so much for this! My boyfriend and I just moved into our own place(Yay!! First Steps!!) and we were getting into the nitty gritty there for a while, but we’re back on our feet!! I’ll have to show him this, so we can pick up some more habits, (we both have our own change jar!) but we definitely need to prioritize. Again, thank you so much!!!

  56. This is such an encouraging and practical post! My husband and I are thankfully not in debt but are currently living off our (dwindling) savings following a self funded year at college. We’ve recently set up home again and had a baby girl and my husband is yet to find a job! So although we don’t have loans or cards to pay off, I can definitely relate to some of the pressures. At the moment we don’t have a paycheck-to-paycheck to live off but we definitely need to get better at budgeting, being more frugal and setting up sinking funds. Thanks for the helpful tips, going to share this post with my husband and start making some changes!
    Jessica´s latest post: The Next Level

  57. Thank you! I am a single mom who, for custodial reasons, is sending 3 kids to private school and trying to pay down $44k in student loans. I have a great job and my company supplies a vehicle but I hate that cloud of debt hanging over my head. Your post is real and raw. Not easy, not pretty, but ultimately less stressful.

  58. As I was reading this post, I was thinking how thankful I am that I have never really had to go through this. I made all of the silly spending mistakes in my youth with credit cards, but was always able to make the decisions to cut back in other places to balance it out. And I stopped before it got too bad. I got to thinking about why I could make those decisions when others have a hard time with it.
    It goes back to my childhood. My father passed away suddenly when Mom was pregnant with me. With five other kids to raise, things were tough. We were poor; desperately poor. I am sure that my Mom experienced all of the feelings that you all are expressing, but she was very careful to not pass on the emotional aspect of it to us kids. Instead, she talked with us about the facts. She taught us how to look at how much money we had and what we had to pay. When we wanted something that we couldn’t afford, instead of just saying no, she would reason it out with us. If we buy that, then we won’t be able to buy this. At 10 years old, she taught me how to balance a checkbook. (I happened to be good at math, so that age might not work for everyone.)
    As an adult, I don’t have the emotional attachment to money and things that I see a lot of my friends have. When I don’t have the money for something, I say it. It isn’t a judgment, it’s a fact. I know so many people that would do anything rather than admit that they can’t afford something.
    So I wanted to just say to all of you to teach your kids about money. Start young. Don’t make it a big deal. Just teach the facts. It has made such a difference to me in my adult like to have the skills that my Mom taught me as a child.

  59. avatar
    Patty Pivirotto says:

    I am almost never comment, but wanted and needed to. I LOVED this post. I shared it with my husband. We have four small children. We were careless with money early in our marriage. We are working round the clock now to get ourselves out of debt and need to read posts like this about other families in similar situations! Thank you thank you Kara for being so transparent about your situation and your drive to make things better – both now and in the long run. We have done many many of these things. We use cash now, in jars too, and it really does make you spend only what you have. A huge game changer for us was taking the Financial Peace class by Dave Ramsey. Take this class if you are struggling! The course will change your direction in your finances and set you on path to peace and freedom!!

    A few things (in addition to what Kara posted) that have helped us:

    Make or grow as much food as you can. We now make our own yogurt, bread, tortillas, cheese, and cooked beans (from dry beans). We live on these staples and it saves us a ton of money compared to what we were buying before. We also have a huge garden that feeds us vegges throughout the summer and fall. seeds are cheap, even good heirloom ones compared to buying fresh organic produce.

    We don’t buy meat anymore, at all! We buy fresh local free range eggs, 2 dozen a week, and that is our protein. (we get these for $2 a dozen) this was hard for us, but until we can buy sustainable local meat, we are done buying cheap meat at the store.

    we don’t buy clothes or shoes for our children. we get lots of hand me downs from friends with older children. we are honest about our needs and even ask when seasons change if these friends are done with certain sizes. most families are more than willing to unload large bags of hand me downs to us. to fill in the gaps, we ask for gifts at bdays and xmas from grandparents. it has worked well for us so far.

    we make many of our own personal products – handwash, bodywash, laundry soap, toothpaste, etc. this is huge money saver too, esp in a family of six with one still in diapers. we also do mostly cloth diapers, which is also a saver in the long run.

    my last comment – this lifestyle is HARD! while we are throwing lots of money at debt with this lifestyle, we sacrifice TIME, time together as a couple to relax or pursue other interests or hobbies. our “free time” now is making our own products and food and working on our budget and shopping list to make sure it is all going to work out for the month and stay within / under our income. so while others are reading or writing or watching a show, we are working, while the kids are in bed to make this lifestyle happen . . . but our motto is this from Dave Ramsey, “Life like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later!” this keeps us going. we also involve the kids a lot in the work of all this . . . but we do feel it is hard for them to understand “debt” as a concept and sometimes we feel bad of all this working (we both also picked up extra jobs) and how hard it is on them and it was US making the bad decisions that got us here, but oh well, life goes on and we are moving forward, not back!

  60. avatar
    Patty Pivirotto says:

    another quick comment – please keep posts like this coming – so encouraging for all of us in the trenches trying to make it all work while maintaining a healthy marriage and family life!

  61. Been there and still there. My advice? Know that God cares. He truly does. (I have to remind myself of that from time to time.) Matthew 6.
    -Trish
    Trish @TheOldPostRoad´s latest post: It’s a Home Tour

  62. You make a GOOD point about the not going anywhere social that requires a gift. :( We are in that situation this weekend – before I thought about it, I said yes to our family going to a 40th bday party for an acquaintance. Then later I wondered whether a gift was required. We really can’t / shouldn’t spend the money… so I am going with a funny card I found at the store and well-wishes. I also read somewhere on etiquette sites that truthfully, the adult birthday party is a bit absurd and that gifts should not be expected :) (well that was the gist and my takeaway LOL)
    JulieK´s latest post: Planning a Father’s Day Menu + Recipe

  63. This is a wonderful post! I definitely know what it feels like to live from paycheck to paycheck (and even less). We still are not in the clear, but we feel so blessed to have help from others, especially our parents. I also cannot give enough praise to the organization Giving Diapers, Giving Hope. We knew that one huge expense for us was our daughter’s diapers, but cloth diapering is expensive to start out with–and our budget definitely did not allow us to buy a ton of cloth diapers. We also use cloth wipes, which are homemade. It saves us a lot of money each month. I also found that freecycle.org is a very useful website. I posted that I was looking for fabric (to make more inserts for my daughter’s diapers), and I ended up getting quite a few boxes from people–for free! There are truly many kind people out there. :)

  64. One small expense that I think is well worth it is a programmable thermostat. Before I installed one, I would be in a hurry to get out the door in the mornings and forget to adjust the A/C, and it would run all day long (I like it COLD to sleep).

    Another gadget I bought was a meter you can plug electronics and appliances in to monitor how much electricity you’re wasting by leaving the computer turned on all the time or not unplugging seldom-used appliances. For me, keeping track of the data in Excel was an excellent motivator. What can I say, I’m a nerd. If you know of several families making an effort to reduce spending, yall could purchase it together and pass it around.
    Sarah´s latest post: Paper Piecing Practice

  65. So glad to have finally met someone who has also shoved everyone into one room to sleep in the cool of the homes only air conditioner! I thought we were the only ones that had ever done that. Thankfully now that debts are gone we now have full house air conditioning but I got to tell ya, the family camp-outs were kind of fun some nights. Which just goes to show you it is all about having a good attitude.
    Victoria´s latest post: Daily Life Captured: May 2013

  66. I love reading blog posts like this where people share their struggles and it is not just a Pinterest worthy picture of perfection. I need to get more real on my own blog. My husband and I have struggled financially for years. We both worked hard all our lives, but spent more than we earned. We were never big spenders. We didn’t travel, eat out, buy jewelry or expensive gifts. We don’t smoke, drink, or even buy lottery tickets. I always shopped frugally at yardsales and Goodwill. So why were we always in a financial bind? It was mostly due to car payments and refinancing our home for a lower interest rate. We were always in debt. We also nickel and dimed ourselves silly. It all finally got to us, and we separated for 1 1/2 years. The Lord restored our marriage and in our 50′s, we are starting over again. We had sold our house in a short sale and ruined our credit. It has taken 4 years to (partially) recover our credit scores and buy a home again. Hopefully we have learned from our financial mistakes this time. My advice to younger women, get on top of your financial situation now. The years pass quickly.

  67. Thank you for this excellent post. One thing we have learned to do is to rid ourselves of something we call “menu mentality”. We had to stop approaching mealtime with the attitude “…now what would I like to eat?” This mentality caused unnecessary grocery trips and it caused leftovers to be wasted. There is no more “ordering off the mental menu” in our home. We plan our meals and we eat the leftovers first. If someone really has a craving for some favorite item, we fit it into next week’s menu plan. The interesting thing is that the more we exercised our self-discipline muscle, the stronger it became. It seemed to bleed over into other aspects of our lives. The housework, the homework, the yardwork; it all got done on time. We realized that what it really comes down to is putting need ahead of want. We would rather give this lesson to our children than any other gift.

  68. While my situation isn’t quite as dire as what it sounds like yours was, I am struggling financially – not enough money to save for anything, although my bills, at least the minimum, are getting paid on time. I will try a few of your ideas to stretch a little more out of our monthly income – thanks!
    Leah´s latest post: Round-up #18

  69. Thank you for letting us see how you are tackling debt. It is really eye opening to see that debt really should not be “a way of life” but rather to be avoided at all costs.

    We were super fortunate to receive an inheritance that we used to pay off our mortgage. My other family members thought we were nuts because conventional wisdom is that a house loan is “good” and the “cheapest interest out there”. True, but no debt is the best because even at 5.5% interest on our house loan would have costed about double what we originally took the loan out for after a 30 year mortgage. The other insidious part is how the mortgage payments are calculated by paying most of the interest charged up front rather than paying the the principle down at the rate you logically expect.

    I am not a banker so I am probably off on my calculations, but the idea is pretty much the same. Even low interest over decades add up to a lot more than you realize. The banks are more interested in you paying the interest before the principle because that is how they make the most off of loaning out money.

    The last part is how we are brainwashed to keep upgrading to more and more expensive houses, basically moving every five or seven years meaning that by getting new mortgages, people stay enslaved by their mortgage debt.

    True wealth and financial freedom is not making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but being debt free and only buying within your means. It is a hard lesson and one I did not learn until my 30s and being incredibly fortunate having an inheritance that I never expected.

    My family thought we should invest all the inheritance into the stock market. Urgh. I feel that is just gambling because you have no control. Yes, in general the market goes up with a lot of fluctuation in between. What if you need to rely on it when it is in a deep depression? Like all those retirees in 2008?

  70. You are doing great! I think the service you are giving by sharing with others is awesome! Speaking as someone with grown children I just want you to know that it does get better. There will be hard times, some struggles, but you learn from those and you grow. The sacrifices that you are making today will make you a better person, and your children will be better for it as well. Our daughters thank me frequently for not purchasing designer clothing for them, but for teaching them to shop sales, to get the most for their money. They have incorporated that into their lives, and I am grateful for that. At this point in time the only debt three of our children have are student loans, and they are all paying them off as quickly as possible.

    Again, you are doing great! Thank you for sharing. :)

  71. Such an awesome post. For those who desire to start a savings account, just start, no matter how small! $5 a week is better than zero dollars a week. The best way to do it is have it deducted straight from your pay check (if that’s available) and may I suggest have it go to a different bank or credit union than where your checking is to eliminate the ease and temptation of transferring money to your checking. I even went so far as to have my savings at a VERY inconvenient location so I’m not tempted to stop by and pull out $20 here and there.

    I live as debt free as possible. I have a modest house payment, car payment (I buy used) which will be paid off in 4 months. I plan to drive the wheels off of that sucker!!! I don’t use credit cards AT ALL! Too many times I will be out with my friends and they will justify putting something on a credit card because they don’t have the cash. Their justification is “I work hard” or “I’ve had a bad week” “I deserve this!” But what we all “deserve” the most is a good night sleep not worrying about paying off that stupid $80 purse you thought you HAD to have. Chances are, by the time you get home you would be so glad you didn’t buy the purse.

    I don’t have cable, I budget the amount I spend on gas each week, when it’s gone, it’s gone, I stay home. I paint my own toes, I am wearing the same clothes I have been for a couple of years. I do occasionally buy new things here and there but I don’t even look if I don’t have the money, that way I’m not tempted.

    Keeping up with the Jones’ is so not worth the misery that comes along with it. It also sends a poor message to your children if you have them and sets them up to more than likely repeat your patterns. Good luck to everyone making these changes. You can do it!

  72. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – not having nearly enough, and having too much. As a child of divorce, my mom had little while my dad had so much that he wasted it. I have an immense amount of respect for my mom, who worked hard to make sure that life wasn’t too hard on us.

    As an adult, I’ve also had times of plenty and times of less. Although we went without lots of true needs for a long time, we are blessed to be comfortable now. Not comfortable by society standards, but our own. We live a simple life, but are happy to spend time together and not out shopping just for a hobby.

    Even with all that said, there are still ways we could cut back. We are so close to being debt free (by the end of the year) but we could be there even faster if we buckled down a little more. Thanks for the great post full of inspiration!
    Gina @ The Shabby Creek Cottage´s latest post: I Spy Saturday

  73. avatar
    Kristina says:

    This post has given me hope! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!

  74. I appreciate this post not just because it’s helpful, but because your journey isn’t over. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to read these when the ending is “and we just paid cash for 2 cars and a trip to Europe.” I’m not there at all and that goal seems way too far away.

  75. This post came through just as I was online signing up for a budgeting course because I am officially SICK of stressing so much about money. And I’m SICK of going to work because I have to (not choose to) and leaving my 1 year old son with strangers. It’s breaking my heart and I keep thinking about the cost of working – less time to cook from scratch, more illnesses from childcare, childcare costs, stress for our family, petrol, the need for two cars… it does my head in. We are both educated teachers who live in a comfortable house and aren’t at risk of staring (although I have $170 for groceries and that needs to last until next paycheck so we cut it fine sometimes).. so I often think “don’t be ridiculous, you don’t need to go extreme” – but your article gave me permission to go extreme if that’s what it takes to have the freedom to CHOOSE what we value for our family. If you’re a pray-er I’d appreciate prayer as we start being gutsy and intentional about fighting for what is right for our little family. Thanks.. J

  76. I have the exact same situation at home and it is so frustrating. I handle the bills and the finances, because nothing would get paid if my husband had to. So I know the lack of money we have, and he doesn\’t. I mean, I tell him, but it\’s not the same as him physically sitting down to pay the bills and feeling the stress of more going out than coming in. We are prone to the same spending problems, choosing wants even though we can\’t afford them. We have never held a credit card balance since I dug out of a deep hole of credit card and student loan debt after college (nearly 15 years since we carried a balance). BUT, my husband was injured at work last year and spent 8 months on worker\’s compensation income (only 2/3 of his regular income) – and we were already living paycheck to paycheck, so we had to start living partly on credit cards. He\’s back at work a couple weeks now but it will take us a long time to dig back out. It\’s depressing. {sigh} We totally need to get serious, but it\’s painful. Despite still having satellite TV, we have cut out all other \”extravagances\” a long time ago! But, we spend on little things — my husband drinks tons of soda, I am guilty of buying pretty little things for the house, and there are all the things the kids need, of course. Feels insurmountable sometimes, but this is great inspiration.
    Penny´s latest post: Are you defining yourself by your children?

  77. Can I just THANK YOU for being open enough to share the actual things you did so save the money? So many times I will read a similar post, but there’s nothing actually helpful in it…. lots of references to Dave Ramsey, but no actual information. I get that Dave Ramsey wants to be paid for his advice, but it is rather pointless to post ten paragraphs of “We saved money! We were frugal! And now we’re debt free!” It just leaves me asking “But HOW?” Thank you for this post!

  78. I think I am enjoying and appreciating all the comments as much as your original posts, Kara! Great dialogue, and helps those of us in the same situation to realize we are not alone.
    Steph@livingbrilliant´s latest post: My sizzling summer reading list…

  79. Kara – this was great. I was once in this situation and through a LOT of hard work and a lot of support from my then-fiance, I was able to get out of my credit card debt. Fast forward three years and I just paid off a college loan and paid cash for a new(er) vehicle. I still have one more college loan to tackle and then we’re turning towards the mortgage. But we have not incurred any new debt since I paid off my $10,000+ of credit card debt and that’s with the inclusion of two children (one here and one on the way), an emergency fund and our retirement funds. It takes a lot of work but it is so worth it!

    Thank you for the nitty gritty!

  80. avatar
    Stephanie says:

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  81. Thank you for this post, Kara. We are in this process, too, and it has been hard. In our circle of friends we are the only ones who are even remotely in this situation, and it can feel rather lonely, so it’s encouraging to hear from others who are or have been doing the same. Press on!
    When my husband and I got married we each had a small amount of college left. Our plan was that he would take a year off while I finished my student teaching and then got a job. Instead, I got pregnant right after we married, so I finished my student teaching and had our first baby a week after graduating. We then had 3 more sons within the next 4 and a half years! I did some part-time tutoring, but otherwise we have always been a one-income family, and a very modest income at that (my husband is in youth ministry). We tried to live within our means – for 5 years we drove one car, lived in little house in the cheapest area of our county, we didn’t have cable or even television, we almost never buy new clothes… but expenses came up or we would just spend too much on food or other things, and we found our credit debt climbing… not to mention the fact that we were still paying off student loans. Then, last summer our car died suddenly while we were in a different state, and we had to buy a new one on the spot. We found ourselves being denied by creditors because of our unhealthy debt-to-income ratio, which was a huge wake-up call for us. The next couple of months were horrible, financially speaking. We’d get a paycheck only to see it disappear within a day or two. Our bank account was almost constantly in the red. We ended up selling our house, thankfully, but were then hit with thousands of dollars of unexpected fees when we closed. I found myself sobbing in the title company’s office, thinking how ridiculous it was that we couldn’t even afford to sell our home. Thankfully my parents were able to loan us some money to pay those fees, and we moved in with my in-laws. It’s been super humbling, sometimes difficult, and yet also an incredible gift. We’ve been living here for 7 months, putting any extra money towards our debt, and have paid off a good chunk of it. It’s a slow climb, though, and it can be frustrating, as we are still basically living paycheck to paycheck. Yet God has been, and is, always faithful to provide, and is teaching us to be more faithful with what He gives. I’m glad to read everyone’s ideas of how to use what we have even more, and live with less. Thank you!

  82. Thanks for sharing this. Often when reading blogs about becoming debt free or aware it is the same old suggestions. But, I appreciate your in depth approach to it. We have had to live frugally due to job changes/circumstances/foreclosure the last few years and I thought I had cut all I could. But, I love the not buying more milk if you are out until the next budget week starts so simple, but I guess now I feel like I have permission to do that next time it happens. I also like the freedom you suggest in not attending an event when a gift is required & sending a note in our place. I think a lot of our family & friends don’t realize how a simple thing to them could be seen as an over the top luxury to us. Thanks for the encouragement!

  83. This is something I definitely needed to read. Money issues can be so overwhelming that it’s so hard to figure out where to start. We’ve been living on one income since our daughter was born, but my husband was injured a few months ago and we’ve been (barely) surviving on what he gets for workers comp. I know some serious changes need to be made or we will be deeper and deeper in the hole. Thank you for sharing your story…you’ve given me some ideas (and hope). ;-)
    Anna-Leigh´s latest post: Epic Water Gun Fight Challenge #happyfamilysummer

  84. This is truly an excellent post. It is really, really hard to live frugally, but so necessary. Thank you.
    Lisa´s latest post: A Month of Books: Hannah Coulter

  85. I’m just getting past this as well, and I can say the biggest help has been actually having a buffer of ‘savings’ in my checking account at all times. When it gets below a certain amount, I cut spending altogether or significantly. It’s hard not to spend the $1000 buffer in my checking account, but it has helped me save on countless overdraft fees / maintenance fees, as well as help me get a healthier view on finances. It has helped me stop seeing the last $40 in my checking as ‘It’s all good, I have $40 left’, and more as building wealth; it’s a daily reminder that living frugally is worth the financial peace of mind, no matter how small that peace of mind is! It really makes me feel in control by being frugal, having a buffer in my account, and saving more money for the truly more important things now in life, and the in future.
    Sophia´s latest post: Are you wasting money on trying to make more money?

    • That is a REALLY good idea!! i recently had to take out a small payday loan and currently have just $33 (and $33 in savings) for five days until my next check. the buffer would really help for the future. i can’t wait to get paid and start with a clean slate and after five years of good “intentions” start taking ACTIONS. i can’t believe how many years I’ve been stuck in the stressful cycle of paycheck to paycheck living… at 33 and about to marry and start a family, i am finally fed UP with my spending habits and ready to change for good. i’m so glad the Internet can be such a wonderful resource. all of your bravery makes me brave, too. it’s hard feeling “bored” at home but it’s what I’m going to spend the next five days doing. I’ve actually done a bunch of great things …. cooking with simple ingredients from the kitchen, watching sunset on the beach we live near, four mile walks, knitting, reading. i am looking forward to frugal living despite it being hard, hard, hard, before it becomes a habit!

  86. Hello from New Zealand!

    Who needs Dave Ramsey when you have all of these truly inspirational REAL stories to keep you motivated!

    My family and I (hubby and three kiddies) are on our own debt free journey and I just wanted to add (as this is my very first post ever)
    that I have loved reading all of your stories and I think this is the best website I have come across since my obsession of been debt free began.

    Isn’t life so much easier when you make everything simple again? The best feeling since our journey begun is been free of having to have and keep up. We now only spend our hard earned money on the needs, and
    eventually – one day soon, what we save will be ours – not the banks!

  87. Great post. We live paycheck to paycheck and it is not where I want to be after 26 years of marriage. We dont owe all that much it is just little things that come up that wipe us out. Thanks for this post it inspires me to get the ball rolling and wipe out our debt. I would love to talk more with you about ideas on what I could do to get out of debt. thanks again

  88. Kara,

    Thank you for this post! We did all of these things we were raising our family of 7. Now I am middle aged and just when I thought life would be slowing down and we could start relaxing, I find myself starting over as a single mom of our youngest child at home – a teenager. Its so scary, but I know its doable. I love your attitude that as hard as it is, you still recognize that others have it worse.

  89. I am crying while I find great advice on budgeting. My husband and I are sitting down tonight to go over this topic. It’s not going to be easy but it needs to be done. We are both to blame! We were doing great the last 2 years until he got laid off in April. He was unemployed for 3 months and during that time we went thru are savings. And when he found a job it’s was about $9,000 less than he had been making :( And to top it off during this time our 2nd car broke down and is still sitting in the drive way useless! I got really sick during this time (MRI, spinal tap, neurologist….) uninsured. We want a 2nd child but no way can we do it with our income. I don’t know how families living on minimum wage do it. But I am so glad I found this blog post, I needed to know we are not alone.

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  94. I definitely loved this blog post. I learned alot of things I can implement into my personal life and share with my significant other. Thank you for such a great body of work.
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