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Let’s talk money

Almost two years ago, I first shared some newly-found emotional benefits to being debt-free. We just sent in our last payment to finish off my school loans from college, and were emotionally high from the eurphoria of not owing a thing to anyone.

Two years later, and we’re still shaking in our boots in gratitude for being debt-free.

See, 2010 couldn’t have turned out how it did without our being debt-free and having a fully-funded emergency fund. In early February 2010, we landed in the U.S., thinking we would be here for five weeks. The plan was to attend a few conferences, meet up with friends and family, and get some medical check-ups.

375 days, and we’re still here. Through a series of unexpected twists and turns, it became clear that we needed to be here in the States for awhile. And while there were many positives to this change of plans, it wasn’t cheap.

In fact, were it not for our emergency fund, we wouldn’t have been able to relocate here, get our son started on speech therapy, and work 6,000 miles away from our home office in order to discover Our Next Steps.

In Organized Simplicity, I devote an entire chapter to money management—and not because I’m a financial guru. Far from it, in fact. I’m simply passionate about how far such a little bit of money management will take a family, if they want to go somewhere.

For most of my life, money scared me. I didn’t really know how to wield its power, and I subconsciously thought that if I plunked down cash while looking the other way, it would just do what it needed to do without me in the equation. Ignorance is bliss, in other words.

How wrong I was.

In 2008 and ’09, Kyle and I wiped out the remainder of our debt. We then made a plan to stock up a fully-funded emergency fund within a year. We harnessed our intensity from paying off debt, and managed to stockpile six months of expenses in only four months.

After that, we saved up a few thousand more and celebrated with a trip to Paris (it was the cheapest flight from our city in Turkey).

This all happened because we told our money where to go a la budget. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated—just a simple allocation of funds to different categories, and then sticking with it, even when temptation loomed.

And while it wasn’t easy, it was so worth it, because we never could have predicted our 2010. We never thought we’d be back living in the U.S., and yet here we are. Our emergency fund dwindled to almost nothing, but it didn’t devastate us, because we’re still debt-free. We had to hunker down and stick to the basics when the tidal wave hit, but it wasn’t the end of the world financially.

We dusted ourselves off and got back up. And now, we’re building that emergency fund back up, hopefully to have it fully-funded again in a few months.

Another emotional benefit to being debt-free?

Being able to withstand a financial tidal wave.

If you’re on track to fully funding your emergency fund, and it feels kinda pointless or extreme, rest assuredly— it’s not pointless.

If you’re in the thick of watching your hard-earned emergency fund dwindle, remember that emergencies are what it’s there for. It’s painful to watch, but rejoice that it’s there for you in times like these.

If you’re in the middle of paying off debt and are desperately ready for it to just be over already—be encouraged that it will happen. I never thought it would, and it did. And it’s so unbelievably worth it.

And if you feel shackled by debt and aren’t sure where to start, please know that debt doesn’t have to live with you forever. It’s keeping you from freedom and pursuing dreams, but you can be debt-free. Really. You can. Make a plan, find encouragement, and roll up your sleeves.

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  1. Kimberly

    Thank you for this post, and the encouragement. My husband and I have the “typical” credit card, school and home loans (we are just a couple months from paying off the car). It all just seems frustrating. We do really well, and then something happens (the dog requires an emergency vet visit, the washing machine breaks, one car needs an “x” replaced…) and we fall into the hole again, just as we were surfacing. I would love to hear how you balance all of this.

  2. Caroline

    My biggest struggle with our family budget is finding enough part-time work that I can accomplish either from home or with my son in tow. My husband and I strongly desire for me to stay at home (plus daycare in our area would have cost over half of the salary I had before kids). I’d love suggestions on finding part-time work that fit those needs, but I completely understand if you can’t address that in this series since it’s not exactly about managing the resources you already have.

    Thank you for this practical, useful blog! I regularly look forward to reading your posts.

  3. jess

    my biggest challenge is that my partner and I do not have joint accounts. we live together, we share the bills and food and other living expenses but we still keep separate accounts.

    it’s hard to keep up some gazelle intensity when a) you’re doing it on your own and b) we could be making so much more impact if we pooled our resources.

    My partner went through a really difficult break up previously where money was a central issue so I understand his reluctance (to an extent)

    My question is: how can I maximise my paying off debt/saving intentions while I’m doing it by myself in a shared household?

    p.s. thanks for the blog – i really love it!

    • Jen


      My husband and I have two accounts, for the same reason your partner does. This is how we handle the situation.

      1.) I know exactly how much he brings home each check (we’re both salaried), and he knows what I bring home.

      2.) I sat down and created a budget. The budget included rent, groceries, credit cards and other debt payments, and a little bit extra to build an emergency fund.

      3.) I then sat down with my then boyfriend and went over everything, we were in agreement on what needed to happen to get ourselves out of debt and build for our future.

      He ended up cutting me a check every two weeks for what I needed. He kept $150 cash for his spending and that was it. It keeps our accounts separate, but I feel better having gotten us out of debt (except for mortgage now and the two cars).

      Maybe this will work for you……

      • jess

        Thanks for your reply Jen.

        It sounds like a great system. I think realistically I have to get my partner on the same page as me from the outset (so really addressing your point 3 above first) so I’ve bought a (second hand!) copy of Dave’s book for a late Valentine’s present and I’m hoping it will be equally inspiring for my boy as it was for me.

        We’re both salaried as well (with small variations for over time) and I work part time in a restaurant as well for some extra cash. I’ve just been stashing this away on an ad hoc basis but it really needs to go int the budget!

        Thanks again,


  4. Stef

    Woohoo! Dave ramsey! We are almost there too. Two more student loans and 70+ k paid off. Thank you for sharing and giving me some extra motivation!

    • Jennifer

      Ditto on the Ramsey (so glad Tsh is linked to it). We were able to pay off student loan debt and car debt before we had kids (with two incomes) and then right before the second one was born in July 2009, my husband had this crazy idea that we should pay off the house too. But now with only ONE income. If there are no emergencies (that is funded too) our house will be paid off by this Christmas! The sacrifice is totally worth it. Who has time to eat out anyway? And two toddlers on vacation? I’d rather wait anyway. The best way to stick it to the man: hunker down so you don’t have to pay him anymore. You can do it! (Ra ra)

  5. Eric D

    Student loans are the next “subprime” issue that US is going to face. Starting one’s life with such a big debt is such a bad thing. I hope Europe is not going to follow…

  6. Maggie

    Great post and great topic! I am going into my 18th month without credit cards, and I am so grateful for getting on the cash bandwagon. Living within my means continues to be a struggle at times, but one that is so worth it. I haven’t paid off my student loans yet, and I have a car loan too, but the interest rates are so low that I’m not sure I’ll pay them off. (I go more the DA route than the Dave Ramsey route.)

    It would be great to talk about the simple first step of cutting up your cards and deciding to live with what you have, when you have it. It’s one of those things that seems so impossible…until you do it!

  7. Catherine

    We just started our babysteps. We are working on getting 1000 in the bank now. I have found I worry over money more than anything else. I then start taking this worry out on my family. I have also discovered the blessings that tithing can bring. It is all His & He will get it one way or the other!

  8. Kristen

    Your 2010 was our 2008. A terrible illness a few months after having our second child landed me in the hospital for weeks and unable to take care of our two small children independently for months. My husband had to take time off to care for us and between his loss of income and my copays and deductables, we had a serious hit financially. We squeaked by, but barely. Never again. We now have no debt beside our mortgage and we have six months living expenses in the bank. We continue to add to our emergency fund as well as put extra down on our mortgage. We look forward to the day we will be mortgage free!

    • Sarah

      WOW! Good for you 🙂

  9. Lori

    I always love to read about this issue, because it keeps me inspired. I am so sick and tired of just getting by. We have seriously looked debt in the face and we have a plan. It will still take us 2 more years though, and it feels like such a huge weight upon our shoulders (because it is).
    I wish we always lived like we are living now, because we wouldn’t be in debt. Don’t have money for Christmas? Can’t send gifts. No money to repair the car? We’ll just use one until we save a few hundred dollars. Can’t afford great lessons and activities for the kids? We won’t be able to sign them up. There are so many things we thought we “had” to use our credit card for. Never again. It’s not worth being a slave to the lenders.
    You are absolutely right. It takes very little financial knowledge for a family to live better than most in America. The key is, stay out of debt. And if you’re in it, get out as fast as possible. I hope your younger readers will take this advice very seriously. Nothing (except maybe a house) is worth getting into debt.

    • Tsh

      Lori, I agree with everything you say, 100%. Words of wisdom here! Nothing (except maybe a house, although that’s not even completely necessary) is worth debt.

      • Frugal Student

        Hi Lori and Tsh,
        I just wanted to let you know that you do have young readers and we are listening. I love reading financial advice from people who have lived through it (my parents won’t openly speak about money) and it has already impacted me. I live at home, rely on school scholarships, and manage what little money I do have. Due to all of the advice, I will graduate with only a few thousand dollars in student loans and I already have the knowledge of how to quickly pay this off. I want you to know that all of your hard work will allow me to start my adult life debt free. I can’t give enough thanks to you for this.

  10. Amanda W

    This post is so well written, thanks for sharing. We are in the twelve week count down to paying off all debt other than our mortgage and I am on the verge of giving up, this was just the encouragement I need to keep going.

    • Tsh

      Congrats! Keep going. And hopefully more posts the rest of the month will keep you inspired as well!

  11. Melissa

    What does your budget look like? I need concrete examples! I know the basics of Dave Ramsey’s budget but I would like to see what others are doing.


    • Tsh

      We’ll be talking about that soon, Melissa! Stay tuned. 🙂

    • Noelle

      We made our budget on Excel and simply listed our income, then the bills that will be paid during the first half of the month, then the next income on the 15th and the rest of the bills that will hit that month. I also added lines for tithing and variable weekly spending (ex: $300/week on gas, grocery, eating out, haircuts,etc). I hope that helps!

      • Noelle

        By bills, I mean fixed bills, loans, savings, and a little buffer for those unexpected things like doctor visits. Anything that needs to be accounted for is listed. The first column across is our expected amount for expenses and income, the second column is the actual expenses and the third column is our actual income. We had guidance setting this up about 6 months ago and it’s working pretty well so far.

    • lehall

      We use YNAB (You Need a Budget) excellent software that helps us plan for each month while also keeping it flexible. We budget for things we will have to pay this month, things we will have to pay in time (like insurance every 6 months), and we don’t know when, but we’ll have to pay stuff (car repairs, etc.) I really like the way that YNAB shows what the category balances are as we build up for the less frequent payments.

    • TuxGirl

      What I did is I went through all my bank statements for the previous 12 months (yeah… big job and took a while), and added up how much we spent in each category (eating out, groceries, medical, car repairs, gas, insurance, etc). Then, I divided by 12 and said “okay, here’s what we spent last year per month.”

      Then, I separated the categories into two groups. One group was the things that were fixed costs, and the other was flexible costs. So, I couldn’t just decide to cut our mortgage budget, but I could cut our groceries budget, or our eating out budget. I also included categories for future wants (ie, eventually, we want to replace our car…) and future needs (children’s needs as they grew). I sat down and made a “suggested” budget that fit all the categories in, but came in under what our income was. I sat down with my husband and went through it, and we adjusted, and made it something that would work for both of us.

      My method still has some manual work in that every week or two (or month, if I’m really lazy), I go through our spending and categorize it to make sure that we’re staying within each budget and paying attention to what we have left in each part of the budget. I’m not sure how to avoid that step, though…

      We try to look through the budget again each year to make sure that it’s still “working” for us, and adjusting as our family changes…

  12. Audrey McLaughlin

    We love Dave Ramsey! And we are about 7 months from being debt free!! Woohoo! Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. Kara @Simple Kids

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you and Kyle are so inspiring to Chris and I! Thank you for your example and for being so open about your family’s financial journey.

    We’re working on getting out of debt and I’m finding that right now our struggle is staying so “gazelle intense” now that our smaller debts are paid off and we’re working on the larger ones (for us it is the school loans left). We’re trying to pay those off as quickly as we can, of course, but it isn’t quite the same now that we aren’t crossing an debt off of our list and rolling our snowball larger practically every pay check.

    The motivation is certainly still there, but the level of intensity sometimes is hard to maintain. I’d love to hear from others how they stay motivated, especially those whose total amount of debt takes longer than a year (or more) to pay off, like our family’s.

    Thanks for the inspiration and motivation!

  14. Pennie

    My husband and I are mired in debt, and even though we make good money, we still live paycheck to paycheck. It’s ridiculous to look at our annual income and then look at how we are living. Barely squeaking by on rent, driving 1 vehicle, kids aren’t in extracurriculars… we need to learn to get serious about letting our money bleed out of our pockets.

  15. Rissa

    I would love it if you’d talk about food budgeting. That’s our ONE problem with budgeting as a whole. We just cannot seem to stay within our alotted amount each week. We refuse to buy packaged, processed foods, we rarely (if ever) eat meat, I make my own bread, pasta, etc from scratch, & we eat very simple meals (lentils & rice, or beans & homemade biscuits, or veggie soup, for example). Yet, we still feel like we overspend on food. We’ve got a 3yo & an almost 2yo & we haven’t used credit cards since before we had our firstborn. But we still struggle. We still have thousands of dollars in credit card debt & my husband’s school loans & medical bills. But when we go over our food budget, we squelch the funds that *would* be going into savings & toward paying off the debt. We just have SO little money to work with, as my husband is the breadwinner & I’m a stay-at-home mama (with a conviction to stay that way). HELP! How can we expect to become debt-free with so little income?

  16. Penny

    Thanks for the encouragement and words of wisdom! Our challenge is a single income which is both variable in amount and irregular over time (tradesman working on subcontract). We have a good budget based on a low estimation of average yearly income, but specifics of bill payment are very tough sometimes. Watching the cashflow like a hawk, and being scrupulous to keep saving even in the toughest times, have been our biggest lessons from 2010; but I would love some further tips if anyone has any.

  17. Sarah

    Setting aside money for charity is our family’s struggle.

    Right now we set aside money for: our debt snowball, emergency fund, Xmas fund-your book made an impact in having that fund set-up!, travel fund-our family lives across the country–, utilities, gas, groceries and whatever is left over is set aside for charity.

    It seems that whenever I have more set aside to put into that charity account a dental appt will crop up or more pet food…something always take away from giving to charity.


  18. Heather

    My husband and I agreed last month to start on Ramsey’s plan. We had $15,000 saved for a downpayment on a house, but we took that to pay off debt. We were in agreement that the consumer debt had to go. It’s the next step where we can’t seem to find common ground. We still have $60,000+ in school debt, which will take us at least 3 years to pay off. According to Ramsey’s books, it seems like the next thing to do would be to save up for an emergency fund and THEN tackle the school debt, since going 3 years without a fully-funded emergency fund would be risky. So, add 6 months to that timeline. But when in all of this do we pause to start our family? We’re in our 30’s and thought we might try to have a baby this year, but that will definitely throw a wrench in our plans. And if we focus on getting rid of the debt before we buy a house, we won’t be buying anything for another 5 years. I feel like I’m whining a little bit – after all, it’s our own fault we’re in this mess, so what if it takes some suffering to escape? But I could use some advice from those of you that already own your homes and have children: what should we do next? Waiting 4 years to start a family is out of the question. Could we have a baby and be gazelles at the same time?

    • Lauren

      Yes, you can have a baby and be gazelles at the same time! Actually, the birth of my first child is what inspired me to turn my finances around. I have had to make hard choices along the way, but all have been worth it. While my other friends with babies were out buying expensive new outfits (etc.) for their little ones, I was gratefully accepting hand-me-downs and shopping at secondhand stores. BUT, now my husband and I are eliminating our last bit of consumer debt this month (except mortgage) and it feels awesome! Plus, I feel great knowing that I am working toward providing a financially secure future for my daughter. And, she gets as many compliments on her cute outfits as any of my friends’ babies!

    • pkzcass

      I agree that you can have a baby as well. Will you be working or staying home? For the first several years, babies don’t have to be expensive. Breastfeed, don’t spend alot on the newest gadgets, don’t overdo it with toys and clothes…it can definitely be done on the cheap.

      I think being debt free is great. Except for a mortgage, we too are debt free. But would I deprive myself of a home in order to be completely out of debt? No. We don’t have school loans, but I did when I got out of college. It was good to get rid of them, but it didn’t weight me down. It was something I had to do to get an education, and I don’t regret it at all. I just put the payments into my budget. Without that degree, I wouldn’t have the type of job that I do, so I was fine with it. But lately, all of the money management websites talk about school loans as though they are the most evil thing in the world and that they must be paid back immediately! So, does that mean that if you can’t afford to pay for college outright, then you shouldn’t go? Sounds like the most recent crop of college graduates think that they shouldn’t have to borrow money for school or that they should have had a free ride, and they are all whining about how they have to pay off this debt.

      Heather, I’m not calling you a whiner. I am saying that I don’t think you should put your life entirely on hold because you have school loans. You can pay off debt, own a home, and have a family at the same time. And don’t feel guilty about it. Good luck!

      • 3mily

        I totally agree with the other two commenters. Babies definitely don’t have to be as expensive as pop culture tells us.

        Second hand/consignment all clothing, toys, and most equipment (getting new carseats is important and a new crib may be worth it). They don’t need to be signed up for classes, etc. The question is more what your health insurance will cover; if you don’t have insurance. check to see if you qualify for assistance for your pregnancy.

        My suggestion to you, though, is to carefully look at the reality of what you will be earning (if you work outside of the home) and what childcare will cost. For quite a few moms, the earnings you actually bring home after paying for childcare are negligible; in fact, sometimes people can go into the hole without knowing it and would be better off staying home. There is a myth about staying home being something attached to really wealthy people– in fact, often in lower income families with two parents, it makes more sense for the mom (or lower income partner) to stay home. Dave Ramsey talks about this.

    • Tsh

      Hi Heather — I know Dave doesn’t advocate delaying children in order to pay off debt. Families are more important than being debt-free. So honestly, you can start that at any time. 🙂 (And on a side note, babies don’t cost nearly as much as people say they do. There are posts around here on the topic, and Dave himself talks about this as well on his show.)

      One more thing — You’re right that you can get your FFEF before paying off your $60K, and I can completely understand how that would help you feel better. I’d entertain the thought as well. But — in listening to Dave’s show, there are plenty of people who call in to scream “Debt free!” who have way more debt that $60K. Way more. And they usually pay all that off with just an emergency fund, or near that. So while it could technically make sense to get a FFEF, that could also slow you down enough to lose some intensity. The fear, in a way, makes you that much more intense about plowing through the debt and getting it over with.

      Could you maybe find some middle ground? Say, a two-month EF? Slightly more than the meager $1K, but not quite a full 6 months?

    • Cara

      Babies aren’t as expensive as people might tell you. I think it’s the cost of losing time at work and maybe paying for childcare that really costs some serious money. My mom watched other people’s babies for 4 years while she had 3 kids, and that’s how she survived.
      Definitely cloth diaper and breastfeed if you can. These are huge money-savers. We made our own cloth wipes and wipe solution, too, and it totally got rid of any signs of diaper rash (which the hypoallergenic natural disposable wipes were apparently causing!).
      And if you have friends or relatives willing to babysit for free so you can work part-time, that would help with income, too.
      You can do it!

      • Heather

        Thank you all so much for this wonderful advice! I don’t know what we’ll do when we have a baby for childcare, but this is my primary area of financial concern. There was a time I never would have considered being a SAHM, but ever since my precious, changing-every-second, don’t-want-to-miss-a-thing nieces came into my life, I see things differently, and would like to at least have the option of being at home with my someday baby – even if only part-time. But this means advance planning on our part. I guess one good argument for plowing through the school debt is that it’s less money we’ll need to pay out each month post-baby.

        I really like your idea about going partway on the emergency fund and then returning to focus on the school debt. I think a key piece is that my husband and I need to be equally devoted to getting rid of the school debt. We were pretty hot and heavy to buy a house not 2 months ago, back in the days when we were both still under the impression that it’s perfectly acceptable to take the entire 25 years to repay school debt. I had a complete change of heart, and was able to convince him we needed to get rid of consumer debt, but haven’t been able to convince him that the school debt needs to go, too. He still wants a house, and I don’t blame him – I want one, too! – but… well, no need to preach to this choir. Point being: the next step for me is to try again to get us on the same page.

        Re: school debt – No, it’s not evil. If federal aid weren’t available, I never would have gotten my graduate degree and my awesome job, and, without inviting a major philosophical debate, I think it’s a key to social mobility in our society. But it is debt (debt that, unlike a mortgage or consumer debt, is inescapable through any legal action), and I could have been more thoughtful about how much I took out. I had to take that debt out because I was too poor to pay for graduate school out of pocket, but even at a low interest rate, these loans will keep me poor unless I get rid of them.

    • Mel

      Have that baby! Don’t wait until you’re too old if you can help it! You might just find that you’re putting your $ towards fertility treatments in a few years if you wait!

  19. Mariposa

    My husband and I are almost debt-free! We’ve been working toward it since we got married in May and are hoping to achieve it before the baby arrives in June…

    One thing that you could discuss is the cash system. I think it’s great for people who have a hard time with self-control, but we have found that it makes it difficult to track how much you have spent on certain things (like entertainment) over the year. Maybe because we aren’t good at staying within our budget all the time? idk

  20. Liisa

    My husband and I have a horrific time sticking to our budget. We have tried to do it with cash only, a cash-credit hybrid (flexible things with cash, necessities like gas and groceries on credit), and of course the time when everything went on the card! (We payed it off every month but pretty much blew through a hunk of extra savings we had.) Even though our accounts are completely combined, it still is difficult for two busy people to coordinate a budget.

    • Suzanne

      My husband and I have joint accounts, DH a full-time job me a part-time/full-time depending on the season, me a business and two young children: It’s busy. But we live on a budget.

      If you have never lived on a budget then having one would seem difficult it is a life changing decision (if you let it be). The trick is to set your limits and stick to them. If you are not good at using credit, debit and cash and staying on track then cash is fundimental to the plan. YOU HAVE TO STICK TO YOUR BUDGET AND YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR CHOICES ACCORDINGLY (not yelling just vitally important). We have had to make hard choices, we go to good will for our Abercrombie and Fitch jeans for 8.00 (not kidding) and we don’t buy convenience foods at the grocery store, they are expensive, we only eat out if we want to spend our fun money (20.00 a week). But we also look to the summer and want to save it for fun fairs, camping, pool excursions. So we think twice when we remove money from the envelope.

      It is all about choices and I have to tell you when I apply my money to something now, my money has to work hard for me and I really appreciate the purchase because we don’t “justify” purchases like we used to. “we need this” we used to tell ourselves but looking back not true.

      We need to feed our family, put a roof over our heads, heat the house and cloth ourselves everything else is an extra, but this is not how we are marketed to. Don’t let the advertisers win…be strong…and you’ll be so proud of your decisions 🙂

      • Liisa R

        First of all, I have to say how excited I am to find another Liisa! I must say I did a double-take when I read your post… not too often that I find another Finn with my unusual spelling! 🙂

        I can relate to your struggle… my husband and I started using the cash system in September and the hardest part has been the unexpected stuff that comes up. I think what has helped us is that any category we are tempted to over-spend in (for me groceries is a huge one, but not gas so much since we both have to drive for our jobs) is paid in cash. Bills that stay the same each month we use auto-bill pay for or a credit/debit card.

        We let ourselves off the cash system in January because of some unexpected replacements — me getting rid of all our health/beauty/aromatic products and switching to natural alternatives for some health issues I have — and I was shocked at how much I spent once I let myself use the debit card again. Now I am so grateful for the limits of the cash system because we really do spend less. And I generally feel better about myself at the end of the month! That new supply of cash feels amazing again when I’ve scrimped for a week or two beforehand! 🙂

        We have a hard time coordinating too but I usually do most of the shopping and we have decided to talk about things outside the budget before we do them. Doesn’t work perfectly, but once again we spend less this way! Hope that helps a little…

  21. Carla

    We’re making 2011 the year our financial lives change. We read Dave Ramsey two years ago and it was truly inspiring but then life happened. We’re focused again and determined to teach our kids by example so here’s to getting on the road to being debt free! ps. I love posts like these because it reminds me it is possible and so necessary.

  22. Laura Kinman

    Just curious Tsh – how were you able to pay off your mortgage? That is what we have left, but it seems we still have a few years on that. Just wondered if you had some aggressive tips on tackling that big boy!

    Congrats on being debt free!! It is awesome to have that money to save for your self and your kids!

    • Tsh

      Hi Laura,

      We actually never had a mortgage to pay off. 🙂 We knew from the beginning of our marriage that we were going overseas, so it was never a high priority to buy a home. And then we rented the whole time we lived overseas because, among other reasons, the interest rates were unbelievable in our host country (as in 19%).

      But… We may have a mortgage as of this summer. We’ll see. I much, much prefer buying a house with 100% cash, a la Crystal, but in our line of work (non-profit), it’s not terribly realistic.

      Our plan, should we get a mortgage, is to only get one with 20% down (to avoid PMI), and to get a super-duper cheap fixer-upper. Kyle’s a former contractor and knows how to build houses from scratch, so we’ve got potential sweat equity on our side.

      • Laura Kinman

        Thanks for sharing that link! Bill and I are not too handy – so we definitely struggle with the fixing it up by ourselves, but Bill’s father is so helpful. We are currently replacing the windows one by one and paying cash 🙂

  23. Missy June

    This is my month – I will be debt free, except for mortgage, on February 22! I’m thrilled! I’m a single mother with three children and it does get weary to be always guarded about spending. Still, I know the bondage of being in debt, it limits choices and robs energy that is better used LIVING. So it is worth the sacrifices.

    My greatest challenge is limited income. With one person, there is not a lot of room to expand income and only so many line-items that can be cut in the budget. I do have an emergency account, with only about two months funded and hoping to grow it.

    Soon, I will need to purchase a new vehicle and I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but I’m committed to remaining debt-free. So my “emergency” will likely happen with my old van finally gives up.

    • Tsh

      Congrats, Missy! What a huge milestone for you. You won’t believe the feeling one you submit that last payment. Hooray!

      As soon as we saved up our FFEF, then went on our vacation, we started a sinking fund for a car (we didn’t have one). It took a few months, but when we returned to the States a year ago, we were able to buy a reliable used one with 100% cash. It felt great.

      • Lori

        Tsh, your sinking fund post was very inspiring to me. We have such a tight budget with paying our debt that there isn’t room to save right now. But having those accounts start to build up, and knowing I will have the money to pay for bills that WILL come, is a huge relief. I opened the sinking funds at the start of this year, and I’m thrilled. I have “life insurance”, “HOA”, “education”, “Christmas”, “gifts/celebrations”, and “vacation”.
        Another thing that has helped me is to keep a cash card for gas money, since paying cash for gas is inconvenient. I bought a Costco cash card and I just add my budgeted amount to it every payday. I keep the receipt wrapped around the cash card so I know what the balance on the card is. I wrote “gas money, please return” with my phone number on the back (who would want to steal a momma’s gas money?)
        A cash card could also be used for grocery money, but I make a big trip to the store each payday and use up my budget at once (saves gas money on multiple trips to the store). The cash card really works for me because I can’t “borrow” from it to go to a drive through on a whim. Cash in an envelope is easier to use on other things in a moment of weakness.
        Sorry such a long post, but it seems like people can use some how to tips. These ideas go along with Dave Ramsey, just with an added twist. I do end up telling my money where to go (usually it goes straight to bills and debt as soon as it hits my bank account), but I don’t have the need for many envelopes of cash with the use of sinking funds and cash cards.

        • Lori

          By the way, congrats Missy! I can’t wait to say, “I’ll be debt free this month”. What an accomplishment!!

      • Missy June

        My struggle is that on one, limited income (I work 32 hours per week, when I have sick little ones or dr. appointments etc., I miss work and miss the hourly pay), I have SO LITTLE to save each month. Fully funding an emergency fund would literally take me seven and a half years. That is simply unrealistic.

        I am seeking ways to increase my income, but it will only be in small increments. Two of my children are not yet in school, so the childcare costs outway working more time.

        I am creative, we tithe to our church and donate our used clothing, toys, etc. I do not pay for cell phone or cable, we gratefully accept hand-me-downs and buy second-hand, I am strict on all budget items including electricity, groceries and gas (green is less expensive in many ways – smile). I contribute a small amount for retirement. But the very real limitations of a small income are difficult to overcome. My plan is to survive this season and prepare for the time when our monthly childcare expenses go down. In the meantime, an emergency situation would put us back to square one. I just have to trust that God will provide what we need and really learn to define need vs. want.

  24. scarlet

    I long to be debt free. But sometimes it stresses me out because I feel like we will never get there! Slowly but surely, I keep hoping that works! Thanks for your article!

  25. Lisa Hanson

    Thanks for the great article! I’d like to read about how to get your spouse to want to save, instead of always spending. It can be frustrating when it goes away so fast. We really only have our mortgage as debt, but with the economy, you just never know when you will loose your job, have an accident or health problems . It would be nice to have a NICE savings. Any suggestions would be great!

  26. Meredith

    What a great post! Dave Ramsey has been a huge blessing in our marriage. We finished Baby Step #2 in October and are now working on funding our Emergency Fund. What a blessing!! By following his principles, we not only got out of debt, but were also able to pay cash for two years of private speech and occupational therapy for our son, all while getting out of debt. Now, my son has caught up to his peers and we’re out of debt! We’ll feel better when our EF is fully funded, but the anxiety is almost completely gone. Our 2nd car needs major repair work, but we have the money set aside to fix it. For those of you who are working on your debt snowball, keep with it… it does work!!! I’m looking forward to your future blogs on this topic!

  27. Terri F

    Our biggest challenge is sticking to a budget…or maybe making a budget we can realistically stick with. We have monthly excel spreadsheets where I keep track of expenses, but it’s more we pay it and then check what’s availalbe, vs. checking, then paying. And, I find it really hard to figure out what should be budgeted monthly for recurring bills such as electricity when they change drastically during the course of the year (sometimes by $150 from one month to the next!). I pay all of our bills online, so the cash system wouldn’t work for that, but I have thought about it for gas and food. We do have a lot of consumer debt, too, which we know we need to pay off. We do really well for awhile, then something big happens and since we don’t have any emergency fund, we use credit again. We are also in the process of adopting internationally, most of which God has provided for (we were determined not to go into debt with that!) but the travel is looming in front of us, and we want to make sure that we have some money available for that if God chooses not to supply in some other way. Therefore, our tax return and my husband’s bonus, which we would like to use to pay down debt, may have to be used for travel expenses. To me, money management is exhausting!

    • Sally

      One thing we did for the monthly bills that vary, which for us right now is just the utilities, is start a sinking fund for those as well. We took a look at a year’s worth of utilities, water, gas and electric, and averaged it out. That amount goes in our sinking fund and we take from it as needed (we use ING). The spring and fall months here in the south help us accumulate for the higher months of summer (electric goes up and gas goes down) and winter (just the opposite). It has worked really well and I no longer feel the sinking feeling in my stomache when I know we didn’t budget enough for that bill. Hope this helps and good luck with the adoption! How exciting for you guys!

  28. Deja

    Thank you for the lovely post. We are debt free and have a nice savings but I would like to gain some perspective on saving for retirement. We have become a one income family to give our first born time at home instead of in day care. How do families save for retirement with one income?

  29. Susan

    Thanks, Tsh, for an encouraging post. Lauren’s comment also really encouraged me, as I’m hoping to start my family in a couple of years. At the moment money and debt are such sources of anxiety for me. I’m in graduate school and making very little money, and I’ll have $60,000 to $80,000 in school loans (I don’t get funded by my department) by the time I’m done. I don’t have any consumer debt, and I do have a $500 emergency fund and a small Roth IRA. I try to stay hopeful by remembering that if I get a job related to my field when I graduate, I’ll make more money than I have in the past, and that will help a lot (I’ve mostly lived near the poverty line), but it is really stressful right now to manage my money and focus on my schoolwork. Thanks for the encouragement.

  30. Kathy

    Great post. We are in the process of paying off our cars and trying to live on a budget. The hardest thing right now is controlling our spending on things we don’t need i.e. trips to Target, ordering from Amazon,etc…

  31. Abby

    We JUST started getting a budget together – literally filled out Dave Ramsey’s Monthly Cash Flow sheet last week! Up to now, we’ve let life just happen to us and hoped for the best – and it hasn’t gone that great financially! What I’d love to talk about, though, are some alternative ideas to the envelope system of budgeting – I just don’t want to carry around an accordion file of cash, but can’t think of good alternatives. Multiple bank accounts for different areas of the budget? I’m curious as to wether anyone has any other approaches. Also, any good apps that allow my husband and I to track our spending in the moment, without requiring a sit-down budget-balancing session nightly that feels like doing taxes. Or maybe I’m hoping for too much? 🙂

    • Tsh

      Hi Abby — Here’s an older post I wrote about how we set up our sinking funds in different savings accounts. It’s not exactly regular monthly expenses, but maybe that can point you in the right direction.

      I’ll discuss this topic soon! Thanks for your $.02.

    • Lindsey

      Abby–I’d suggest! It has helped my husband and I out big time. You can connect ALL your accounts (including credit cards), even if they aren’t at the same bank. And it’s easy to see how much you’ve spent in what categories and where you stand in relation to your budget. Also, it’s free! 🙂

  32. Jana

    Thank you for this post – I too, needed the encouragement! We have been working on the debt snowball since November of 2009 and paid off $2500 MORE than our goal last year, just by being focused on the goal. It also helped that I made a poster which gave us a visual for seeing our debt go down 🙂

    Our biggest struggle is creating a realistic budget with two straight commission jobs where our income varies a lot every month. We sit down at the beginning of each month and sketch out an anticipated budget, compare it to our income and then decide if there is something that can be cut, if we can add money to our student loan payment or if we need to take money from the account that we set up as a source to supplement when needed (kind of like that $1k fund, which we also have, but an account designated specifically for supplementing bills if we fall short).

    My discouragement comes when I look too far ahead… we hope to pay off our one debt beside the mortgage – student loan – by the end of 2012. At that point, we’ll free up some money to put toward saving for a van, but that seems like a loooooong time from now (lets not mention what that means for how far away a FFEF is). We have 3 kids (9, 6, 5) that have been smashed into the back seat of a Camry for 5 years and it looks like they’ll still be smashed together for another 2 1/2 – 3 years. I get antsy and upset when I see everyone around me buying everything they want whenever they want. I understand that we are choosing to live this way, but I WANT A VAN so the fighting isn’t right on top of me anymore!!!! 🙂 lol!

  33. Tara

    We’ve completed baby step 2, and are having trouble staying motivated to complete bs3. I’d love any tips you can share that could help us stay motivated through this step!

    • Meredith

      What aspect of it is giving you the most trouble? What else would you be doing with the money that was going towards bills? Our last debt was our car payment, so we have that automatically going to our ING account. I wish we could be saving more, but there’s so much that needs to be fixed and/or repaired around our house, that we have to save the cash for those things. We’ve put a lot of things off so we could get out of debt. I keep reminding myself that once my kids are out of daycare, we’ll have a lot more money to save. I’m not wishing this time away, just looking forward to saving faster:)

      • Tara

        Part of it is that we put off so much during the snowball (repairing appliances, car repairs, etc), that it feels like we’ve lost traction now.

        We’ve also gotten lazy on the budget. I just need to motivate myself to be more disciplined, I think!

  34. Katherine

    This is so timely! For 2011 I am trying one new resolution per month, and one month this year I want to be “no spend” month. To gear up for this I am spending some time trying to get a handle on our finances– where our money has gone, is going, how we could be saving and investing better, etc etc.

    My current dilemma is simply being content with where we are financially and in our living space. I would like to have a third child sometime soon, but we are in a two bedroom apartment and I am afraid to bring a third baby into that! What if we are cramped and miserable in here? But what if we buy a bigger house and bite off more financially than we can chew?

    In theory I am frugal and enjoy living with less, but it is still hard to turn down invitations and things I think I need, for the sake of the cause!

    • Sally

      We actually did 4 kids in a two beroom apartment for a year and it really is doable….you just find ways to get a long (or to get out of the house if everyone is on everyone else’s toes). We had the 3 older kids in one bedroom and the baby in with us. Before baby #4 arrived we went through and got rid of a lot of ‘stuff’ that was cluttering up our life. It made more room in our apartment and it actully felt less cluttery even with the addition of baby stuff. It’s amazing what you can do without and not even notice or miss.

      • Katherine

        It’s incredible how one person saying “I did it” makes me feel like maybe I could do it too! Thanks for the reply, Sally. Space is super-tight here, but even if we tackled that problem we still have concerns about living upstairs in an old house. Our neighbor downstairs is very patient and tolerant, but I know he puts up with a lot of noise from us. We have beautiful hardwood floors and he hears a lot of clattering and crashing– in spite of a “no shoes in the house” rule and my constant attempts at keeping noisy toys on the rug and off the hardwood floors. Did you have to deal with that at all?

        • Sally

          We actually lived in the downstairs (basement but it walked out to the yard in the back), so we didn’t have the problem with the noise. I do know that the people upstairs had kids too and were always worried they were making too much noise (hardwood floors as well) and really we hardly heard them. One thing you could do is to add some noise reducers to your rooms. Rugs are the obvious, but very expensive, but even curtains and some quilts hung as ‘tapestries’ make a big difference too. As for the tight space, we had about 1000 square feet counting the storage room and the laundry room. It really is amazing how much you can have in a little space.

  35. Alison

    Thanks for this post. We’re getting BACK on our budget again and it’s tough b/c sometimes I just “need” that latte from the cafe. But once my monthly blow money is gone, I will have to make do with coffee from home. One thing I’m struggling with now is our grocery budget. We’re adjusting it a little bit b/c we just started buying organic milk products AND this is the first time we’re really following our budget since adding a member of the family (my 16-month-old son, who eats us out of house and home). I think it’s still going to be tough to stay in the budget for groceries, even with our adjustments. I would LOVE to know how to save on the grocery bill while still making healthy choices. I already try to find online coupons for organic products, but most of them only allow you to print out one, and we usually need milk again before the next publishing period. Looking forward to your posts!

  36. Nichole

    The only debt we have is student loans – almost $60,000 of them though. Two problems exist – one we are now a one-income family and we’re struggling to have enough to just live, let alone pay off the students loans and two – we struggle going through the trenches. We will agree to be good for a while, but then we spend over our budget on I don’t know what. Eating out, entertainment, etc. Any tips?

  37. Living the Balanced Life

    Awesome to hear how things worked out for you. We have never been very money savvy and my husband makes a good salary, we struggle to make ends meet. We have 2 older teens who seem to have trouble finding work and have put them on very strict allowances with the hope it will force them into finding work.
    I was working a nice full time corporate job and we made lots of money, but we also spent lots of money. Unfortunately the job took its toll on me mentally and physcially and I have been out of work for over 6 months. We seem to be accumulating more credit card debt just to get by now, and I hate it. I feel guilty because I am not contributing to the financial coffers and I am not ready to go back to work anywhere yet. I am working on some other ventures, and writing an e-book, but don’t foresee being able to leave the house for work for quite a while. I guess I am feeling even more guilty on this Valentine Day as I would love to give my husband the gift of relieving some of this pressure from him!
    Thanks for letting me vent! I look forward to reading your posts on finances!

  38. Lindsey

    Thanks for this post. Our Bible study is about to start going through Financial Peace University together. We’re six young married couples, and one girl’s parents offered to pay for all of us to take the class. I know it’s going to be a huge blessing.

    Our challenge is that my husband and I are both in graduate school, so every semester we get a little further into debt with student loans. I’m hoping to get a teaching job in the fall and switch to working on my Masters part-time, but right now we feel stuck. We’d like to get out of debt, and instead we’re doing the opposite but don’t see another option. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

    • Tsh

      I loved FPU; what a great gift you were given! Do share your thoughts on the class some time.

  39. Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama}

    Thank you for this post. I was inspired reading about your financial accomplishments. My husband just finished reading Dave Ramsey’s book and we are trying to figure out our budget so we can eliminate our debt and get our emergency fund fully funded. It’s great to read success stories!

  40. Sallie Belle Howell

    Thank you for this encouragement! We have just made our last payment to be debt free. We have made our budget and plan to begin our emergency fund next month. We are feeling so FREE! We need help in allowances for kids. We have two teens and two preteens. We’ve never done this before, but feel the need to help them learn money management. Also your ideas on balancing needs vs wants. We have tightened the belt so long that we have some “needs” that are important, but I don’t want us to be overwhelmed by those.

    • Tsh

      Congrats, Sallie! That’s a huge accomplishment.

      And good news for you — in two weeks one of our new contributors is writing about handling allowance with teenagers. Stay tuned!

  41. Heather Allard


    This is such a great post – thank you!

    I’d love to hear how YOU manage your money, bills, debit cards, cleared checks, etc.

    I can’t seem to find a system that works with a joint checking account, a debit-card-wielding husband who doesn’t save his receipts and a wife who doesn’t use a check register. 😀

    Thanks again!

  42. Hannah

    Well, this isn’t earth-shattering, but my biggest frustration with abiding by a budget (which we generally do, even during our four years of my husband being in grad school and with three kids) is the fact that sometimes there are just expenses that can’t fit into our budget, but need to be reckoned with. For example, what if we budget a certain amount for medical expenses, but someone has an unexpected doctor’s visit that month, plus medicine … thus the trip to the allergist that two of my kids really need (plus my own OB visit) keeps getting pushed back. Or the grocery budget runs up against the fact that we have people over for dinner with some frequency. Etc.
    You know what I mean? It’s not like I can’t fit things in because I’m splurging on cute high heels! 🙂

  43. ginger

    our biggest challenge by far is sticking to our budget, or, rather, creating a realistic budget. we can never seem to actually spend what we have on paper that we should be spending. we’ve tried several of the budgeting websites and give up after a few months because we can’t stay in the green and still feel like we’re constantly penny pinching. another big challenge is being diligent enough to transfer funds at the end of a month, like rolling over money we should be saving on those payments that come out annually or bi-annually.

  44. Megan @ Faith Like Mustard

    We have worked really hard to remain almost debt free throughout our married life and I couldn’t be happier that we committed to that from the start of our marriage. I think the biggest obstacle has been just arranging bill payment and what-not so that it’s not lean during one pay period and abundance during the next. I like to keep things fairly even and that takes a little planning ahead and setting back money for bills that aren’t due quite yet.

  45. Jenny

    Great post! We’ve been debt free (except the house) since September and it’s been amazing. The funny thing is now that we have that extra money, it’s still hard to spend it. You get used to saving and start to understand stuff is just stuff. We just bought a sofa, chair and ottoman this weekend and couldn’t believe we spent that much money, but we had it and that’s what the money was for.
    Anyway, I’m so with you on this post. When the debt is paid off, there is a huge weight lifted off of your chest that you might not have even known was there!

    • Tsh

      It’s interesting when that happens, isn’t it? Suddenly the need to spend feels ridiculous. It’s more fun to watch that number go up in the account than it is to get a new “thing.”

  46. kim

    Great timing! I have been working on creating a budget for us that won’t have my husband crying! I am a SAHM, who is much more money concious than my husband. I would be very interested in any advice you have on getting your partner on the same page when it comes to savings. Thanks!

  47. Jenny G

    What an inspiring story! Thanks for the motivation…. I just wish i had the emergency fund!!

  48. Becky @ Our Peaceful home

    There is truly NOTHING like not owing anyone, any money. There is NOTHING like having no bondage attached with money that you owe to someone else. May we not be a slave to our debts! Congrats! We are pretty much debt free except for a small inconspicuous loan, long story. Anyway, thanks for communicating this!

  49. Karla

    Hi Tsh,

    Thanks for such an inspirational and thoughtful post. Our family is like many others trying to get rid of our debt and save an emergency fund. Your words are very encouraging.

    You asked what our biggest challenge was when it comes to money. For our family, the biggest challenge is the high cost of childcare. We have two children and have to pay for care three days a week. It is a really hard balance finding somewhere you feel comfortable leaving your children that you can also afford.

    • Missy June

      From a single working mother – I totally relate to your childcare cost issues. It is the largest line-item in my budget, other than mortgage. It’s tough!

  50. Annemarijne

    Thank you so much for this post!
    Last week was the final drop for me as in being sick and tired of being in debt and seeing our hard earned money going to financial institutes! Luckily I will be receiving a nice commission at work which will allow me to pay off one of our loans and part of a second one. I told myself that this year I want to be debt free and being able to buy some land to be able to construct a house in a few years from now. I still have a study loan in my home country, but don’t need to pay it off as i am living in Mexico (due to currency differences I wouldn’t be able to pay) and after 15 years it will be waved completely.
    Thanks again for giving me some motivation in getting my financial situation back in order!!!

  51. Rachel

    Right on! I wish more people would be this candid and honest and spunky about financial choices. My husband and I are in the middle of paying down our last $70k in student loans- an aggressive savings plan has worked wonders. Getting spending down and income up is certainly key!

  52. Shannon

    I would love to see a post on talking with your partner about money and creating a budget, savings plan, and joint accounts when you don’t yet have them, as well as negotiating the issues that come up when partners bring home significantly different amounts of money.

    • Meredith

      Can I ask why you don’t have joint accounts? The different incomes shouldn’t matter if you’re working together to create a debt free lifestyle for your family. While we’ve always had a joint checking account, my husband was a little hesistant about starting our Total Money Makeover. I outlined the plan and asked him to agree to 3 months. He did agree. During that time, we were able to use cash for expenses that came up and he was hooked. Now fast forward two years, we’re debt free, saving our EF, and saving money to do house repairs, vacations, etc. Good luck!

  53. MainlineMom aka Sarah

    What a great post!! We are debt free except for our mortgage and this month we completed Baby Step 3 and now have a FFEF! For a long time the idea of having so much money just sitting in the bank for a rainy day seemed dumb to me and not a motivating goal, but taking FPU changed all that. We are well on our way in steps 4 and 5 and I can’t wait to pay down our mortgage. It really is emotionally freeing to be in this position.

  54. Ellen

    I would really like to discuss the double savings goal of paying off debt (in our case, my graduate school loan, our only debt left) versus retirement savings. We are trying to do both and I wonder if we need to focus on one at a time. A budget has been fantastic for our family! We use the cash envelope system ( in fact, it was probably your site that introduced this concept to me, now that I think about it!)

  55. Rae

    The ignorance is bliss thing is my problem…when I sit down to crunch the numbers I get overwhelmed and it seems hopeless. Most months it looks like there wouldn’t be enough to live on when I write it all down, but it always seems to work. When I think about serious debt re-payment on top of that, I just want to crawl into a hole and hope it will all go away.
    I suppose it won’t. Sigh.

  56. Alison

    Great post! I needed this encouragement as our little family is newly back on a budget. After budgeting strictly for close to a year, we had a small windfall that built up our emergency fund and then we had our second child (16 months ago) so the budget was not a priority. Now we’re realizing how much we frittered away just by not paying attention. Our emergency fund is still there, but we’d like to save above and beyond that for home improvements and other things. My biggest challenge right now is the grocery bill. I love to cook and prefer to buy all-natural, whole foods, and organic when I can but a lot of organic food is super-expensive. Any tips on how to save on groceries?

  57. Gene

    I love reading success stories of being debt free. It makes me so inspired. We are trying to follow your lead with zero-budgeting and being debt free. As of now, it’s not possible to save for a baby emergency fund but it’s good to know that with our calculation, all of our debts will be over by October. It makes me giddy to know that we can actually complete our Emergency Fund by the end of the year. It feels like we’ve skipped a stepped and yet will be completing steps 2 and 3 by December. I still feel safe even without the baby emergency fund set aside in our current budget. We have a change jar where I keep all my loose coins. It’s amazing how after balancing our spreadsheet, I find a few change here and there and I put those extras in our change jar. Plus I’m looking forward to our next trip to the junk shop.

    • Tsh

      That’s awesome! We’ll definitely be talking about “snowflakes” — the loose change, the small bits here and there we can set aside that truly add up.

  58. Denise C.

    That is exactly how it is with my husband & myself. We have 2 kids, & a dog. My husband makes good money, I stay at home with the kids. We live paycheck to paycheck & are tired if it. We have no credit card debt. We have a mortgage & 2 car payments (unplanned purchases last year, after major mechanical break downs that wiped out our savings account).

    I am trying to lower our grocery bill, & health/beauty stuff at Target. Every time we get a wee bit ahead, something throws us off track, & we’re tried of it. :(. We need to stop living paycheck to paycheck, the stress that is causes us both is just too much.

    One other note, some may think we should pay off our cars as soon as possible, we have thought of that too, but our interest rate is next to nothing, & our savings needs to be replenished.

    • Meredith

      Just consider that the burden of having NO car payments can’t be beat. It really does take away so much anxiety.

      • Denise C.

        True. It was so great when we paid off our previous cars. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though the tunnel is a wee bit far away! 🙂

  59. Denise C.

    One other thing, we really need to rebuild our savings, & it is so hard to do when we’re broke after every paycheck. 🙁

  60. JT

    How do I get my husband on the same page? He is a wonderful provider and I’m blessed to be a SAHM. I’m the saver, he’s the spender. We have a budget and it has worked well for several years but I want to work on paying off CC debt, we only have that and our mortgage. Honestly, he is opposed to Dave Ramsey’s methods as our world thrives on credit scores for everything. I’ve just had to stop talking about it with him and continue to do the best I can as I handle our budget but it’s not easy.

    • Meredith

      I highly suggest you keep talking about it with your husband. You can’t handle this burden alone and you shouldn’t have to. My husband and I used to think we had to bow at the altar of the great FICO, as Dave says, but have since found out that being debt free is so much better!! My husband wasn’t on board in the beginning; I suggested we try it for 3 months, during that time, we were able to pay cash for tools for his job and car repairs, he became hooked after that. Don’t give up!

  61. Kate

    Great topic.

    We are currently paying down school loans, etc…But my big issue is groceries. Every time I am in the grocery store – I struggle between going cheap and going healthy. I know eating healthy (organic, etc…) can be done on a budget – I just haven’t figured it out yet. This struggle makes me dread grocery shopping. And that’s sad – because going to the store and having the money to buy what we need is a privilege. Help!

    Blessings to you all,
    Kate 🙂

  62. Laura Jeanne

    Well for us right now the biggest challenge to paying off debt is that my husband is unemployed! So we’re just trying to concentrate on putting food on the table somehow. But over time, I’d say the biggest challenge is that my husband and I have different styles of financial management. I’m a hard-core saver. He is definitely more of a spender, and it’s hard for me to convince him that not only do all those little “treats” add up, but they’re not worth it in the long run. So I’d like to see some advice on paying off debts when both partners don’t necessarily agree on how much money should be saved/spent.

    • larae

      this is my challenge too!

      • Kham

        We were on one income for almost two years when my husband stayed home w/ the baby. Since he was the spender, I took access away from him from our accounts and gave him an allowance. For example, if he was use to “treating” himself up to $100 a month and I felt like $50 was reasonable, I reduce his allowance by $10/month until it reached to the reasonable amount.

  63. Angela S-L

    I have the hardest time with the “misc” items that are $50 or less here and there. We tend to use our credit card for those and it adds up. I know we should go to a cash system, but feel nervous about that and not sure how to go to a cash system.

    • Kham

      Try setting a credit limit on two cards according to your budget goals:

      (#1) one for bare essentials (gas to work & groceries). Decide how much you can spend per month, call the credit card company and have the credit limit set to $100 above your limit or whatever wiggle room you can afford

      (#2) the “want” card (or in your case, the card you would use to purchase those under $50 items that gets you in trouble). Set the monthly credit limit with NO wiggle room. So if you hit your limit in the first week in the month, then you’ll learn to pace yourself better the next month… and the next.

      **Note: the credit card will always try to scare you and say if you lower the credit limit, it may be difficult for you to raise it back up. I find the total opposite. They always raise my credit limit and I have to constantly call them to lower it back down to where I need it to be!

  64. DK Stangeland

    Great post! We decided to get gazelle-intense about 4 years ago. We paid off all our debts (except our mortgage) and started our six-month fund. As we got that funded my husband lost his job. 2.5 years later we used our fund and have been struggling with the rest of the country, but the beauty of the story is that we had solid habits and important knowledge already in place. We have not had to use any credit in spite of being in a very difficult place. Because we learned how to budget before the difficult times, we just adjusted our budget for our current situation.

    We’ve learned to do with less and it’s been hard, but I know without a doubt that we would have never survived this economic downturn without having the skills to manage what we do have. Our marriage is stronger today, with so little, than it ever was with debt and so “much” by the world’s standards.

    The best thing any couple can do is get a hold of there family economics. It will transform your life, your marriage and your future! Start today – get that $1k in your savings account. You CAN do it.

  65. Emily

    Our biggest issue – and my question – is sticking with the budget throughout the month when other things come up. It just seems like there is always something that we couldn’t account for at the beginning of the month when we make the budget, that comes up that needs to be taken care of and throws off the rest of the budget.

    We are on a very tight budget – we don’t have a lot of wiggle room, so how do we make our budget flexible to meet the needs that come up during the month without throwing off the whole budget (and resorting to using our savings or putting it on credit cards) when there’s not really any extra to be flexible with?

    Thanks for this series Tsh! I’m looking forward to reading and following along!

    • Meredith

      Try and write down the things coming up for the next month on a sticky note before you do your budget. It helps remind you to put them in and adjust other areas if needed. You’ll get used to it after a few months and it won’t seem so difficult after a while.

  66. Vanessa

    Thank you for your post!. I am a new single mom. Soon to be divorce. My still husband has a really good pay check. I work full time in a nonprofit christian health center. I have a 10 yrs old son. I am pretty good with money. But, have only $500.00 in saving for emergencies. My husband only gives me some $ for child support. I use that $ for my weekly transportation to go to work and food shopping. I am very frugal. But, I will like to know ways to save more money. I have debts, such as mortgage, ultilities and ymca monthly payments (I have a grant for the “Y”). Any advice?

    • Missy June


      I’m a single mother, too, and completely understand the strain of being smart, frugal and doing well…but still having just so little to work with. I’m looking forward to any way to improve!

  67. Angela

    My husband and I are free of debt minus our mortgage – and we are striving to save for 3 little ones’ college funds but also want to rid ourselves of our mortgage at some point and it’s hard to find the balance of saving for the future and paying off your mortgage for freedom now…

  68. LeAnne

    I desperately want a financial makeover and was looking over the Dave Ramsey site today. I was looking at the FPU online option and wondering if anyone has had any success doing the program this way. I was also wondering if it is best to complete the FPU and then do the Total Money Makeover or can you just do one of the two. I am a mother of two, soon to be three and there is not a class in my area to take, so I thought the online version might be best. However, if it is best to travel to the classes I could arrange a location about an hour away. We would then have to pay for a sitter – yuck – or just have my husband or myself go. Any thoughts or ideas?

  69. larae

    we use the software called Budget (can be used on Mac or PC and i think that they now have an app to use for phones on the go). i love it because it’s an electronic envelope system. i had trouble with the cash envelopes since one shopping trip might pull from different categories and i didn’t have exact change and then would have to go figure it out at home later. with this, i can take my receipt to the computer and pull out just that amount from that envelope and know how much is left. the trick is to enter in expenses regularly instead of only a few times a month. also, i have a CC envelope so that whenever i use it (to earn reward points), i just move the money from the necessary envelop over the CC envelope and it’s ready and waiting when it comes time to pay the bill in full each month.

    our only debt right now is one car payment. we have an EF, but we’re also trying to save for a down payment on a house (not easy when i have a husband who is a spender). hubby says that being able to put 20% down is more important than paying off the car.

  70. Tricia Ballad

    What frustrates me most about trying to pay off debt, establish an emergency fund, etc. is that it seems so unrealistic for us. We’ve done the basics – established a budget, cut out frivolous spending, etc. etc. etc. but the simple fact is that every time we manage to put a few hundred away, the car breaks down or it’s time to buy new winter/summer clothes for the kids, or something else comes along. That’s ok, but the worst is when we take a deep breath, pay off some debt and the next day an unexpected bill or expense shows up leaving us to figure out how to pay it. Again. Usually, paying it involves more debt. It’s this hamster wheel that makes everything the experts say about saving, paying off debt, etc. so frustratingly unrealistic.

    • Kham

      Hi! I know it’s not an option for many because they don’t have family in the area. But it is tradition in my culture to shack with the parents (even with kids) to save the money they would spend on rent for down payment on a house, emergency fund or both. If it’s not an option for you, start planning as an option for your kids to get them started on debt-free life. My parents did that for me for a year after college. I worked two jobs, helped with groceries and saved the rest.

  71. charis

    this is a great post! it is so hard to be counter culture financially but so worth it to be free from the oppression of debt. love your story, thanks for sharing.

  72. Kham

    Great post!! Nothing can be done untill both are on the same page. When I got married, I was financially secured worlds ahead of my husband because I was raised that way. A month into our marriage, I realized the trouble I was in. As a big-time saver and someone who never had a cable bill, the romance fizzled out quick when I saw my financial future potentially go down the toilet! So, I made it a make or break deal in our marriage. He thanks me everyday for tough love!

  73. Mary

    You wrote such an inspiring story! The line that resonated with me was “and we’re still here!” I saw you post a few times on the Dave Ramsey forums just as Simple Mom was really taking off. I know you’re the real deal Tsh and I hope you continue to do well!

  74. Johanna

    I like talking about money too. And saving for- which is your goal nowadays?

  75. Sarah

    A great post. We have been working on our financial plan in our house for a while, and, slowly but surely it is working. I found a way (through mystery shopping) to earn some extra money to go toward the budget. I can take jobs when I want to and the jobs don’t take much time. The added benefit is someone else paying for some of the things we would buy anyway. (I found a good site to learn about it at Anyway, the extra income has helped our future.
    I like your writing… thanks.

  76. James

    Hello everyone,s
    My name is Mr James David i live in Texas USA nd i am talking as the happiest person in the whole wide world today and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will tell the name to the whole wild world and i am so happy to say that my family is back for good because i was in need a loan of $ 85,000 USD to start my life all over as i am a single father with 2kids and the whole world seemed like it was hanging on me until i met the GOD sent loan lender that changed my life and that of my family, a GOD fearing lender, Mrs Mary Smart , She was the Savior GOD sent to rescue my family and at first i thought it was not going to be possible until i received my loan of $ 125,000 USD , i will advise any one who is in genuine need of a loan to contact Mrs Mrs Mary Smart ,via email because She is the most understanding and kind hearten lender.

    Mr James David

    Testimony on how i got my loan

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