Get Out of Debt

This page is dedicated to posts, articles, links and resources to help you get out of debt.

My Best Get out of Debt Posts here

Debt related posts

Outside resources to get out of debt

10 things to do when you are in debt and can’t sleep

  1. Work Out – Go for a quick jog (it’s warmer now that summer is here in Seattle!), do some push-ups and sit-ups. Nothing too crazy, but get the juices flowing so you can get back to debt-killing.
  2. Monotonous Work - Nothing will put you to sleep like some good old fashioned data entry. You know you’ve been meaning to update that financial spreadsheet of yours!
  3. Blog – It’s good for the soul.
  4. Jot down ideas – some of my most successful business ideas have come after midnight. Keep a notepad by your bed, and jot down the ideas that come to you as you fall asleep (if you keep your cell phone by your bed, most can also record short audio clips. This works even better)
  5. Work – You’re in debt. You need more money. If you’re self-employed like myself, there is always more work you can do to increase your business revenue.
  6. Pray – Ask God for wisdom and patience….not a million bucks.
  7. Read – Finish a few chapters in that book you are 1/3 of the way through. It’s kinda like outstanding debt, until you finish it, that book is still going to haunt you.
  8. Write a Poem - I haven’t written a poem since 7th grade when I was trying to impress my girlfriend. Why not? You’re never to old to express yourself poetically. Could debt be poetic?
  9. Count your blessings – Think about the blessings in your life, no matter how small. You have a roof, food to eat, a computer to read this journal.
  10. Read debtkid.com, even better, subscribe to my blog! I’ve got over 300K in debt to payback, so something interesting is bound to be happening here…

5 Debt Blogs Worth Reading

Sigh, I’ve had not much luck finding consistent staff writers to blog about their debt. Not a very fun topic I suppose. (I’m not talking to you Jessica and Nolan, you guys rock!).

But there are some great other bloggers out their who are sharing their journey out of debt.

5 Debt Blogs I like

Punch Debt In The Face – By far the most, ahem, colorful of the debt blogs I read, PDITF (Punch Debt in the Face) uses some great graphics to add some “punch” to his post. Recently married like myself, I imagine Ninja like that kid in grade school who after even the tiniest amount of sugar was off the wall crazy. I think we have some things in common. Twitter: @punchdebt

Debt Sucks Blog – Being obsessed with bar charts is cool in the debt world, and so I gotta give Jake credit there, he does debt bar charts like a I do shots of rockstar; big and often. One of the few real name debt bloggers out there, props to you Jake. Also college college dropout like me. Twitter: @DebtSucksBlog

Man vs Debt – We have a winner! Cutest debt blogger baby goes to Baker’s adorable little Milligan. One of the hardest working debt bloggers, Baker recently released “Sell Your Crap” a book about, well, you can figure that out. Also winner of the “largest buy now button I have ever seen” category, congrats Baker! Twitter: @manvsdebt

Girl in Debt – Like myself, GID went through a short sale, and a bankruptcy. Her latest post about trying to get approved for a credit line to take for her sick dog is just heartbreaking. Here’s a virtual hug Girl *HUGS*

Our Debt Blog – A commodity trader by day, he recently quit his job and is currently looking. Man, I should have talked to ODB back in the day before I lost so much money trading myself. In any case, I’m curious to see how his job search turns out. Worth checking in on.

Who did I miss

What other debt blogs are worth checking out?

7 Health Problems Associated With Debt

According to a 2009 study of over 1000 Americans, Debt does a wonder on your body. And not a good wonder.

I experienced 3 of these health problems (indicated by a *) in 2007-2009.debt and health problems

Today, I sleep like a rock, just like I used too in college, before I got in so much debt.

1. Insomnia*

When my debt was at it’s worst, I was having all kinds of trouble sleeping. It wasn’t until I had a healthy emergency fund that I started sleeping better again.

The statistic is shocking:

39% of people with debt stress had sleeping issues vs. 17% low debt stress

2. Headaches

The only time I got headaches during my deep debt run was when I gave up caffeine during Lent one year. Not so for most Americans in debt

44% of people with debt issues experienced Migraines or other headaches compared to just 15% without debt issues

3. Anxiety*

Being in debt is stressful. Any phone call from an unknown number causes your heart rate to skyrocket. Any normally small bump in the road (a single overdraft for example) can turn into a huge deal.

I struggled with this often when I was living on the edge financially. I dealt with it mostly through exercise, which was healthy, but it was still a constant dull weight on my back and in my heart.

29% of respondents said debt caused severe anxiety compared to just 4% of those with no debt stress. Wow.

4. Depression*

I had a mild depressive period where I even saw a counselor for some time in 2007/2008. It was directly related to the amount of debt I was dealing with at the time.

Having no money sucks. Having no money AND owing a lot of money is even worse.

23% of those with debt issues reported severe depression issues compared to just 4% of those without debt problems.

5. Heart Attacks

Considering my young age and exercise habits at the time of my bad debt issues I don’t think I was at a huge risk for this one.

But:

People with debt stress are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than those without

6. Ulcers

Ouch. Ulcers just sound terrible. I’ve never had one, and it wasn’t a issue for me, but I can see how the chronic stress of overwhelming debt could cause them.

back pain and debt

27% of those with debt stress indicated Ulcers or other digestive problems. Those without debt stress? Just 8%.

7. Back Pain

I had some back pain back in the day…but it was more to do with the $30 used craiglist mattress I was sleeping on than anything else.

51% of those with debt stressed indicated muscle tension and back pain compared to just 31% of those with low debt stress

Ouch.

Have you had health issues because of debt or financial issues? What were they?


9 Rules To Get Out Of Debt

Getting out of debt is possibly one of the most difficult tasks you can face in life. One slip up, and it’s bankruptcy for you. Follow these rules, and you’ll be on your way to getting out of debt.

Follow these 9 Rules, and you’ll be on the right track to being debt free…

1. Know Where You Stand

You absolutely. Positively. Must. Know. How. Much. Debt. You. Have.

There is no getting around this critical first step.

Layout all your bank statements, credit card statement, mortgage docs, everything.

You can’t know where you are going until you know how far you have to go!

You can setup a simple folder system for each debt like I did in 2007….

2. Slash Expenses Like Shredder

You must cut expenses like a butcher. Slash away.

Everything non-critical must go. It’s a painful process.

Netflix. Slash.
Starbucks. Slash.
Eating Out. Whack.
Movies at the Theatre. Gone.
Vacations? Hope you like camping.

Look, no one said getting out of debt was gonna be fun. It’s not. But the rewards of seeing your debts eliminated make it all worth it.

The first time you completely pay off a credit card or collections account, it makes all this slashing worth it.

3. Spend Less Than You Earn

4. Increase Cashflow

Once you’ve slashed your expenses to a skeleton of your former spending habits, you need to add some fuel to your debt attack. And then means increasing the cash you have coming in each month.

  • Stop all retirement contributions.
  • Sell non-essential items on eBay
  • Ask for a raise at work
  • Pickup extra hours at work
  • Start a house-cleaning service in your neighborhood
  • Get a 2nd/3rd job

None of these steps are easy either. Stopping retirement contributions is not always recommended by financial peeps, but I think it’s stupid to contribute to your future when you are drowning right now. Stop the bleeding now. Take that extra cash to build an “oh crap” fund or pay-down your debt.

5. Build an Oh-Crap Fund

Forget an emergency fund. You need a “oh crap” fund. A overdraft charge can easily send you into an “oh crap” moment. So setup a $1,000 (or whatever you need to avoid an “oh crap” moment) account and keep it stashed in an online account you can access easily, but not instantly.

5. No New Debt*

It’s debt diet time. Absolutely no new credit cards, car loans, etc while getting out of debt. I don’t care how much Best Buy is going to give you off that iPod purchase for opening a store card. Just say no to new debt.

*The only exception being if you’re consolidating your debt with a loan from Lending Club for example. Even then, you must payoff your cards with that loan and nothing else! Be careful.

Otherwise, you must be on a strict no new credit diet!

6. Change Your Brain

No matter what techniques you employ to get out of debt, they will all be fruitless unless you can change your mental relationship with money.

The brain isn’t just your biggest sex organ, it’s your biggest obstacle you must overcome. Over the years you’ve built up thousands of unconscious habits relating to money. Many of them must now be broken to get out of debt.

Recognizing the importance of changing how you interact and think about money was the most significant factor in my own debt turnaround.

7. Think Big

Sometimes just the thought of being debt free will be enough.

But sometimes it won’t be enough.

Where do you really want to be financially? Beyond being debt free? Do you want a 12-month fund for expenses? A new house? A million bucks?

Thinking big is OK when you can use those dreams to motivate yourself to get that 2nd job, or resist that electronics purchase.

For me, I put up a printout of a small plane that I would someday like to own. I put it up in my bathroom to remind me everyday of what I was working towards beyond just being debt free.

8. But Set Small Goals

If you have $60,000 of debt….that’s a big number. Too big to tackle all at once. Setup small goals.

You can go the Dave Ramsey snowball method and pick your smallest debt first to tackle. I’m a fan of this way of setting goals.

Small, baby steps.

9. Celebrate Every Win No Matter How Small

I remember very clearly what I did when I hit a big goal….I splurged on a frosty and fries from Wendy’s…and it was awesome.

Find a small, cheap way to reward yourself for following these steps and hitting a milestone on your journey out of debt.

What did I miss?

What rules are you following to get out of debt?

This post is part of Lending Club’s Debt Buster Challenge that I am participating in along with 4 other debt busting bloggers, Flexo, Digerati Life, Debt Free Adventure, and Steve the debt guy.

 


Could You Live Without Debt?

There has been so much talk about money, budgets, credit cards and debt in the past few months many people have become desensitized to the state of the economy.  This of course is a normal reaction when one is bombarded with the same news each and every day, however it is important that we not forget the lessons learned in the past few months.  This does not mean people have forgotten the recent changes in the economy, just that many consumers have been forced to adjust and find ways to adapt to the current state of the economy.

The recession has brought to the forefront the need to re-evaluate how we think about money and our spending habits.  This of course is a good thing since many people have been consuming and consuming with little thought about the long term effects of living beyond their means.  Naturally this practice has come to a screeching halt for some consumers as millions face unemployment, increasing debt and dwindling savings.

It remains to be seen how long this new “awareness” of personal finance will last.  If people really want to change their financial future and live debt free they will have to make certain sacrifices and some of these adjustments may not be embraced by the general public.

If you are going to adopt a life of debt free living, you will have to accept that you now will pay with everything in cash..which means you will have to save money before making purchases big or small.

Common Uses of Debt

Here are a few things that many people may find difficult to pay for without some form of financing or credit.

  • Cars cost a lot of money.  For people who live in a large city and have access to some form of public transportation, living without a car is not necessarily a huge hardship.  For others who rely on a car to get back and forth to work and just about everywhere else they have to go, having a car in good working order is not an option.  Even purchasing a used car from a private seller or dealer will put you back several thousand dollars.
  • Higher education.  As the cost of a college education continues to rise, putting one or more children through college will cost someone considerable money.  Fortunately more people are taking advantage of 529 plans which allow them to begin saving for their child’s education long before it it time to pay the first bill.  For students who are on their own financially, paying for college will get very tricky if they have to pay the bill upfront.
  • Travel arrangements.  Most hotel, car rental and airlines require a credit card to secure reservations.  For this reason many people who have no desire to use a credit card will still carry one in order to make travel arrangements.  To avoid going in debt you should still save the amount needed before your trip enabling you to pay your balance in full when the statement arrives.
  • Purchasing a home.  Most people would prefer for their first home to not be a nursing home. Saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance to purchase a home is a bit of a stretch even for the best budget.  This means that many people may have to reconsider what they need in their first home and consider houses that are considerably less expensive than their dream home.  Even so in some areas of the country fixer uppers still cost more than the average person could afford to plunk down in cash.

When it comes right down to it, there are people who simply will not be able to maintain their standard of living if they choose to live a cash only lifestyle.  That does not mean they have to throw caution to the wind and spend more than they earn.  If you manage your finances well and live within your means you can still live comfortably without going in debt.

Could you live without debt?


Why you need an emergency Fund

I have gone back and forth on the emergency fund issue. Should I focus on paying off my debt first and THEN start building up my savings? Or should I build up a cash cushion before I focus on paying down debt. There are many schools of thought on this issue.  Some say that having an emergency fund when you have debt is stupid. Why have a large amount of cash available when you have large amounts costing you interest? Others argue that you never know what may come up and you have to be prepared. Here’s a snapshot of the journey I took to reach my current philosophy.

First Pay Others THEN Pay Yourself.

I admit it. I bought into the hype. Why have $2000 sitting in a checking or savings account earning $0.10 a month when you have $20,000 worth of debt charging you $100 (or more) in interest every month. It just didn’t make sense to me.  At this time, I basically had a zero based budget. Every single penny was accounted for and if I ever underspent in any category, that extra went straight to my debt. I felt focused and in control. That is, until I got a $600 gas bill.  I panicked. I didn’t know what to do because my budget for emergencies ($80) that seemed extravagant was merely a pittance. Because I had been throwing the extra I had at the end of each month at my debt, I had no extra money whatsoever. At this point, I changed my tune.

First Pay Yourself THEN Pay Others

The above incident plus some other factors made me see the importance of having money that was “just sitting around.” I realized at this point that if I lost my job (not so far fetched in this economy) I would not be able to pay my next months rent. I realized also that I had forgotten to put my car insurance in my budget (I used to pay it off in one month or 2 so I forgot about it) and it was about to be renewed. I’m not sure how insurance works for everyone but I have to cough up 3 months worth in the first month (then I get the last 2 month payment free). I didn’t have that money. I thought about things and decided that my debt was not going to be paid off in a matter of months. It was too optimistic and naive of me to believe I could live so frugally and hand to mouth for 3-5 years. I decided that the little I would save in interest by paying my debt off faster was not worth the stress. At this point, I felt that being debt free in 4 years would feel the same as being debt free in 4.5 years. So I reworked my budget. I reduced how much I paid to my debt and increased my savings. I really wanted to have at least a months rent + expenses saved up.

Somewhere in Between

Today, I fall a little bit in the middle. I found that when I saved a lot for emergencies, so many things suddenly became “emergencies” and I would dip into my savings for it. They were not large amounts but it’s silly to divert money from paying down debt in order to save and then use that money to fill your tank. If I didn’t have that money available in savings, I just would not have gone wherever it was that I “needed” to go or I’d have found someone with a car. Nowadays I’m working towards having 1-2 months expenses and rent saved up. I know most advisors advocate 6 months living expenses saved up but that just does not work in my situation.  It won’t make sense for me to have $20,000 sitting in my bank account at my debt level.  The way I work it, whenever my savings grow significantly over 2 months expenses, I put that excess towards my debt. That way I’ve been equipped to handle emergencies (believe my you will have some) but I also am working on my debt. It’s obviously slowed down my debt payment progress but I feel more secure. You have to just find the balance that works for you.

Everyone reading this should go and ask themselves this question. “If I lost my job today, would I be ok for at least a month?” If the answer is no, you should really start contributing to an emergency fund – even if it means paying the minimum on your credit cards for a couple of months. Believe me, it’s worth it.


Collection Companies Harassing You? Know Your Rights

Collection companies are known for their bad behavior. Although they do have the right to work on behalf of your creditors to get the money that is owed, they often go overboard and sometimes even violate government rules. Unfortunately, if you’re in debt you may feel as if you are at the mercy of these agencies and that you have no rights.

Don’t feel that way. Know your rights and force those companies to abide by them.

Contact Rules

The federal government has established rules about when you can be contacted by collection agencies. Calls before 8 am or after 9 pm are prohibited. If you receive a call during prohibited times, inform the caller they are violating your rights and ask them to call again during legal hours. If they persist, you may need to take further action.

Collection agencies can contact you at work. However, if you inform them not to call you at work they are legally bound to follow those instructions. Some companies will persist. In this case, inform the agency that you told them not to contact you at work again and that they are violating the law.

If you’ve filed bankruptcy, the company is no longer able to contact you either. Inform them that you are in the process of filing and provide them with the contact information for your attorney. They can then no longer contact you by phone or mail.

Privacy Regulations

These agencies are also not permitted to tell other people about your debt. Generally, if they have to leave a message they won’t give the name of the company and are often reluctant to say what the call is in regards to.

Despite these rules, some collection companies have been known to speak to parents, co-workers, even bosses about debt. If you find out this happened, you can take action against the agency.

Threats? Not Cool

Some collection representatives will say whatever they think will work to make you repay your debt. That includes threats, such as “I’ll send people to your house to repossess everything you own.” An agent is never allowed to make statements which cannot or will not be followed up on. Threats of illegal action, such as violence, are also violations of your rights.

The idea is simply to intimidate you and make you give into their demands for payment.

Repayment Plans

Unfortunately, many people have the misconception that they have the right to set up any type of payment plan they want with a collection agency. That’s not the case.

The collection agency has no legal obligation to accept your proposed terms for repayment or even to offer you a repayment plan. They usually will make lump sum settlement offers but those amounts must be paid in full.

Don’t assume that you can stop harassing phone calls by sending in a weekly check for $10 or something like that either. These companies can continue to contact you as long as the debt is not paid.

Keep in mind that violation of your rights entitles you to a monetary award through the courts if your claims are considered legitimate. Make sure to keep records of the offending contact and ask for the name of the person contacting you.


When should you use financing?

When should you not avoid debt? When is it better to finance a purchase?

I think there are two requirements you need to meet before deciding to finance a purchase. If you can meet both of them, you should finance the purchase.

Rule #1: The monthly payment should put no strain on your budget

And by no strain, I mean you don’t need to get a 2nd job, or a raise to afford the purchase.

Rule #2 You can earn a higher return by investing your cash elsewhere

This especially applies to small business owners. When I think about paying cash for a large purchase (not that I will be doing that anytime soon), I immediately think of what that money could do if invested in my business.

Could I get a 10% return? Very, very likely. A 100% return? Also possible.

In fact, I would argue the case for financing personal purchases is very high for small business owners at significant income levels (see rule #1).

Car Loan Example

Let’s say you want to finance a  $30,000 vehicle purchase. You have $30,000 in cash, and so you could pay cash and own the car free and clear. Dave Ramsey would be pleased if you went this route.

But lets run the numbers, sorry Dave.

Loan Amount: $30,000 Loan Term: 48 Months (4 years) Interest Rate: 7%

Monthly Payment: 718.39

Total Interest Paid: $4,482.59

Total Car Price: $34,482.59

When you can earn a higher return elsewhere….

Now, lets say that $718 a month isn’t a big payment to you (lucky you!). You would invest that $30,000 into your business and earn a 20% annual return. We will assume a tax rate of 35%, and inflation rate of 3.1%

whentofinance1

calc source: dinkytown

Invested Capital: $30,000

Simple Interest: $15,600 Compound Interest: $3,314

Total Interest Earned: $18,914 after taxes and inflation

Wow. You earned nearly 15K by being able to invest at a 20% return, even with a 35% tax rate.

A realistic example using a 9% Return

One more example. Lets say you can’t quite earn a 20% return, but you can achieve a 9% return by investing in notes at Lending Club. And, since you’ve got great credit, you can get a car loan at 4.9%.

Loan Amount: $30,000 Loan Term: 48 Months (4 years) Interest Rate: 4.9%

Monthly Payment: 689.53

Your total interest: $3,096.99

Now, let’s assume you invested that 30K at Lending Club vs. buying the car with cash….

whentofinance2

Simple Interest: $7,020 Compound Interest: $640

Total Interest Earned: $7,660 after taxes and inflation

What say you?

When would you finance something? Would you use my two rules? Or would you never finance a purchase when you could pay with cash?


How I Deal With Debt All The Time

For most of my short adult life, I was obsessed with financial success. I wanted the big house, the nice car, the fat bank account. Everything. In 2006 I had all that…and the $300,000+ in debt from day trading my way to that “success” I desired so much.

It wasn’t until I started taking accountability for what I had done to get into debt, and changing the habits that I could, that I finally started separating my self-worth from my financial situation.

Debt – The Silent Burden

Debt tends to be a silent burden for many of us. It’s not always the easiest issue to share or talk about, sometimes even with our family. And I think that is OK. You don’t need to broadcast to all your friends how much debt you have. What you do need to do is not let your debt control your self-talk and your self-worth.

First Step: Control What You Can

Your first step to feeling better about your debt is controlling what you can. Can you negotiate a better interest rate on some of your credit cards? Do it. Can you create a budget and stick to it? Do it. Can you take a 2nd job? Do it.

Once you’ve begun to control the factors you can, you need to start changing how you interact and think of your debt.

Change Your Thinking

1. Telling yourself each day that you are not defined by your debt – Literally say this to yourself in the mirror each morning. I’m not joking. It helps.
2. Begin thinking of your debt as reverse savings goals -For example, “I’m going to save $200 this month” (by paying down my credit card).
3. Tell A Friend – You need to have at least one person who you can share your debt reduction journey with. You don’t need to tell the whole world, but you need at least one person outside your family. I can’t stress this enough. It may be difficult sharing this at first, but a true friend will understand, recognize the efforts you’ve been making, and love you even if you really screwed up.

I’m able to function so much better today, even with a mountain of debt, because I am controlling what I can in terms of my debt.

Got Tips?

Do you have any tips that have helped you deal with your debt?


Top 10 Money Mistakes

I already told you about the money mistakes that make me crazy.  From fancy wheels on clunkers, to financed boob jobs (that last one didn’t make it earlier, but I’m adding it now) there’s a lot of money mistakes that make my skin crawl.  Now I’m going to tell you about some money mistakes that I’ve made—in the hopes that you won’t do the same.

All of this said, there’s a lot of things I’ve done right that I’m still thankful for. Some of these items (buying my house, for example) were mistakes, but they ended up working in my favor.  I’m attributing this to luck though, not any good planning on my part.

Here’s a few of the money mistakes I’ve actually made…. Some of which will be giving me heartburn for years.

  1. Buying my car new.  I did this because–get this–at the time I couldn’t afford a used car because the interest rate would be too high. You may stop laughing now.
  2. Buying our home before we were ready. Our first year of marriage our income tax bill was $11,000.  Holy SMOKES! We were BROKE, and needed some tax deductions, so we bought a house.  We stretched knowing our incomes would be going up in the near future (and they did). We didn’t buy all the “house” that we could for fear of stretching too far, but the mortgage on our zero-down condominium right outside of Seattle was pretty oppressive.  Within months, a serious flaw was found that had been missed in the inspection. We spent $5,000 re-building a bathroom—studs and everything.  Having a condo didn’t negate all of the home maintenance costs that we thought it would.  All that said, it’s been a good investment (it had doubled it’s value, and has since depreciated a bit but it’s still worth at least $125k more than we spent) our mortgage is now comfortable, but it really was a premature and risky gamble.
  3. Taking a Home Equity Loan. “Hey look how much the house has appreciated—that cash sure would be handy, wouldn’t it?” Wait! That’s not cash—that’s equity, which can go up and down…. Dramatically! It was at 8%, so not punishing, and the loan allowed us to make some dramatic, positive improvements in our life, but we really should have just waited and saved with real money.
  4. Consolidating our 2nd into our first. Our first mortgage was 5.25%, our small second mortgage was at 8%.  So we consolidated them at 4.25 (now 15 year) to save on the interest.  We should have refinanced the first, and debt-snowballed off the second.  Stretching a small and manageable second over 15 years was just dumb.
  5. Not shopping around. I used to buy everything new. Tags on, warrantee intact, and all that.  Then I got “smart” and started only buying things on sale.  Now I scrounge. I get four to five prices on items over $50 before I buy. I try thrift shops, pawn shops, online sales, craigslist  and freecycle for things I need. I wish I’d learned that years ago. The convenience of picking up everything at the mall just isn’t worth it—especially when you tack on the $7 at Cinnabon that can’t be resisted
  6. Staying in jobs too long. I once kept a really bad, outrageously-low-paying job for three years out of loyalty.  I didn’t like the job. I only liked the people.  I shudder to think of the income lost as a result.
  7. Not leveraging alternate income sources soon enough. I’ve got a number of “side hustle” projects. Freelancing, blogging, for a few years I sold books at gun shows! I stopped doing all of this when I became a mom, and didn’t start again until last January.  I missed out on four years of relatively unobtrusive income opportunities.
  8. Living on college loans. My tuition, room and board were paid for under my scholarships and financial aid. I took loans for living expenses and books. I should have taken a second job. I was only working 10 hours a week. I could have easily worked 20-30 and lived on less.
  9. Not learning to budget soon enough. This is especially true once my monthly income became variable and when we started the business. I roughly knew how to budget—money in, money out, etc., but I didn’t know how to plan cash-flow.  Learning this has been critical to our success.
  10. Not saving enough before starting our business. We started the business out of necessity, but didn’t plan enough cash to last us through the startup costs plus 45 days of receivables plus payroll.  If I were to do it again, I’d save twice that much first, just because a new business is likely to have some payment problems from new clients if they’re not familiar with screening new clients. I was really fortunate (lucky) not to have a single bad invoice in my first quarter.

Sharpening the Saw: Staying Motivated To Be Debt Free

Image from freedigitalphotos.net

Image from freedigitalphotos.net

OK, you’ve decided to get out of debt, but what’s the best way to pay it off? Snowballs, highest interest first, etc—there’s all kinds of theories, but the one we can all agree on is that faster is better when it comes to getting out of debt. It really isn’t much fun!

It helps to have a goal. Some people have a wedding to plan (ahem, Debtkid… looks like you’re making plans…congrats!), others are inching towards debt freedom because they think they should. In my house, my husband says he’s not agreeing to another adoption until it’s done cash–and there’s no debt. (He sure knows how to light a fire under me… I’m a planner, so I know if I want any more kids in the next half-dozen years, this has got to be tamed like yesterday!)

The trick is to pay as much as you can, as fast as you can, however you can!

After a few months of that, you realize that it really is no fun at all. You’d like to go out to dinner. It would be nice to get the car detailed. You really miss the local coffee shop. You may even indulge some of these off-track behaviors…

How do you stay motivated?

The trouble comes when you start to loose your motivation. I know myself well enough to that in the fall and winter, I just can’t maintain the energy through the lousy Seattle weather. The part of me that cares goes a little numb, and then I come out of it in the spring in a terrible panic. This year, between some goal-tending strategies and FPU, I resolve to stay on track—I’ll be debt-free by the end of winter if I do.

Here’s some strategies for staying motivated

  1. Create rituals. I know, it sounds strange, but burning the credit card or the statement after you pay it off and close the account, is a LOT of fun. I put my old statements in my worm composter as bedding. (It makes me happy to see them gobbled up by worms and old potato peels).
  2. Review your goals and progress to goals. When I revisited my goals and realized that we likely have six more months to go on this journey instead of the planned three months, I could have cried. Wondering if we’d had a setback like this before, I pulled out some old records and realized that already this year we’ve paid off about 4x what we have left to go. It’s the home-stretch, and I didn’t even realize it.
  3. Draw a chart. If you’re visual, draw or otherwise create a chart—watch your progress evolve! PS. Don’t forget to celebrate! A friend draws a cartoon and then colors in parts as he reaches his goals.
  4. Write down your goals for after you are complete. Like dieters have their goal outfit, you should plan for when you’re debt free. I was thinking of starting to save for a Magic Kingdom vacation, but the kids want to go to the Great Wolf Lodge water park (closer and cheaper, score!)
  5. Create a visual reminder. Put M&Ms in a jar (there’s about 1,000 per cup, so one cup per thousand dollars of debt).  If you send your creditor a $200 payment, treat yourself to a couple-hundered M&Ms. Share with the spouse and kids–that gets them excited about the goal too!  I read somewhere the recommendation to create a paper chain, with a circle for each dollar owed. I did a little math and determined that if you have 1″ circles and a 12,000 debt, your paper chain will be 987 feet long. That particular exercise could be fun (especially in the home-stretch) but might be really tough to explain to the neighbors over and over.
  6. Find a support network. This blog is a great support network–get to know the writers and commenters. For me, I listen to Dave Ramsey podcasts on the treadmill. Podcasts are an indulgence of mine as I find I can’t listen to them while teaching the kids or writing, so I only get to turn them on during “downtime.”

I  hope you find these tips helpful this fall as you continue on your journey to debt-freedom.  If you have additional ideas, please add them in the comments–you never known when you might inspire someone else!


The #1 Reason You Can’t Get Out of Debt

The number one reason you can’t get out of debt is because you don’t want it bad enough.

Until getting out of debt is more important than:

  • That $4 latte
  • Those new running shoes
  • Happy hour with your friends
  • Netflix

you’re going to struggle.

Until you are willing to work 3 part time jobs, it’s not going to happen.

If you are not truly, 100% devoted to getting out of debt….it won’t happen. Until that shift in your brain happens, you’ll continue to fight yourself. You’ll be swimming upstream.debt and brain

Your brain is the most powerful tool you have to eliminate debt.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve realized how powerful your internal thought process is to getting out of debt, or becoming more financially stable.

Before you can be successful in cutting expenses or increasing your income, your mind has to be in the right place.

Getting out of debt requires sacrifice, but if your mind is right, those sacrifices become almost enjoyable, instead of unbearable.

Sound a little tough? Well, no one said getting out of debt would be easy. If it was, everyone would be debt free. And that certainly is not the case.

Right now, I’m still in debt. Do I want to be? Of course not. That’s why I’m working two jobs (my own business plus Lending Club). That’s why I’m learning to cook more. That’s why I play board games instead of drinking games. I want it more than just about anything.

Is desire the #1 reason you can’t get out of debt?


What would you do to get out of debt?

get out of debt with blood?
I’m constantly amazed by some acquaintances, whom I know to have significant credit card and/or student loan debt, who continue to spend without regards to their current debt load.

It makes me think these people don’t really care about getting out of debt.

Well, that’s crazy. It will catch up with them eventually.

I hate debt. It hurts productivity, and is like a giant freakin’ 200 lbs weight around your neck 24/7.

Here’s what I’ve done to try to reduce my debt over the past few years:

- Sold stuff on ebay/craigslist
- Lived in my office for 2 months
- Worked friday/saturday night for months
- “Treated” myself with $5 or less rewards
- Tricked myself into saving money
- Took freelance writing gigs, other various 2nd incomes

I’ve made a ton of progress in the past few years, but it’s been because I was willing to sacrifice a bit, and work my buns off.

But, there are some things I never did do, like:

- Sell my plasma
- Sell my sperm
- Live in my car long term
- Go dumpster diving
- Apply for government aid
- Borrow more money

I don’t know if any of those things would have gotten me out of debt faster, but who knows.

So, what would you do to get out of debt?


Tips for negotiating with a credit card company

Just a few quick tips I learned from my Whimsical Negotiation with the credit card company.  This was my progression, and yours will probably be the same.

  1. Actually ask.  If you don’t ask you get nothing.  NOTHING.  The credit card company has no incentive to reduce your interest rate out of the goodness of their hearts.  You need to ask.  What do you have to lose?
  2. Be in the right frame of mind.  You have nothing to lose, something to gain, so take a light hearted approach.  The worst they can do is say no, and you are in the same spot.  So if you can, have a bit of fun with the process.
  3. Expect the first response to be an explanation and for them to do nothing and offer to do nothing.  Most people will get turned down once and stop there.  This is the absolute best way for the credit card company to avoid cutting into their profit margin by lowering interest rates.  Most people will get the first no and give up.
  4. Be tenacious.  After they say no, ask to talk to some one with more authority.  The first step is always a no, which weeds out the people who shot off an email but are willing to give up and accept their fate.
  5. Being tenacious gets you a token interest rate change.  I got a 2% adjustment down, you may get more or less.  2% is still 2%.  This is intended to throw you a bone and hopefully shut you up.
  6. Be tenacious, yeah, go back at them again.  Thank them for the token gesture of good will, and ask to talk to some one who can make a substantive change.
  7. You will probably get another “No” at this point.  I did.  After all, the company may really just refuse to work with you any further.  Although, like the initial no, this may just be intended to get you to give up after the token gesture.  So why not ask again?  What do you have to lose?
  8. BDB tactics.  BDB stands for Bull Dog on a Bone, and you are going to gnaw on them like one.  Shooting off an email to their customer service asking to escalate the request to a higher authority took me 5 minutes today.  It may not yield a result, but why not ask?

Seriously, it may take you 5 minutes of time to save hundreds or thousands of dollars every year.  So why don’t you just ask them already? =)


Dating when you’re in debt

My girlfriend and I have been dating about 5 months now, which has given me lots of opportunities to discover how to date when you’re in debt.

The Main Issue: Expectations

The person I’ve been dating knows my entire story. She knows how much I owe, how I’m trying to pay it, and has seen me progress the last few years.

This has made our “date nights” incredibly easy. I have nothing to hide, and she doesn’t expect a fancy date.

It’s all about expectations. If you “date” like you’re not in debt…it’s going to get you into trouble. Either financially, or down the line in the relationship. One way or the other, it’s gonna get you in hot water.

Does this mean I’m an open book about my debt?

No, of course not.

Especially if you are meeting someone for the first time. Any sort of financial discussion is something you’d have further down the relationship line. Even my girlfriend who knows my whole situation doesn’t know exact income numbers (though she does know the debt numbers), that’s more appropriate for a marriage situation.

But are you taking your date to a $50/plate dinner for your first or second date? If you’re doing that and in some financial trouble…you are setting the expectations incorrectly.

And the reality is that if your date is “impressed” by fancy spending…is that what you really want? Especially when you can’t keep that up? That’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m in debt and want to date. Now what?

If you are in a manageable amount of debt, I don’t think you need to postpone a dating relationship.

What you do need to do is make sure you show your date that you are financially responsible. If you take her out and blow $200 on a first date, that’s going to look really bad when eventually you have to explain how much debt you are in.

However if you date within your budget, when it comes time to share more openly about your debt, you will look prudent and I’m sure your date will appreciate your foresight instead of trying to impress them with your play credit card money.

You don’t need a dime to have a great date

You don’t need to spend a dime to have a great date. Creativity and just being interested in your date is way sexier than a $100 dinner.

Here’s a list of 7 creative and cheap date ideas I wrote for Lending Club a while back.

Should you date when you’re in debt?

What do you think? Should you date when in debt? How do you handle dating when you’re in debt? Any great date ideas for someone in debt?

For Love or Money


Debt Got You Down? 12 Painless Ways To Cope

depressiondebt.jpg

Are you down because of your debt?

Join the club. Being in debt blows. The past 12 months I’ve been learning to cope and deal with the on-going pressure that debt brings into your day to day life. So far I’ve found a few things that seem to lighten the burden. These are actually techniques I’ve been using that are cheap and effective in handling the stress and emotion of being in debt.

12 Ways I Deal With Debt (all 300K+ of it)

  1. Burn Stuff – I’m not talking about burning down your bank. That would get you jail, not relief (well, it might give you some satisfaction). Try a 3-hour firelog, or real firewood. Add in a movie and you’ve got a nice relaxing few hours. There is just something soothing about flames. Also, for bonus points, burn all those credit card offers you still get (just don’t burn the plastic. it’s not safe).
  2. Give away your sweat – Do you have a charity or cause that you wish you could give money too, but you just can’t spare a penny? Why not volunteer there? Give them a call and see if you can work a few hours each week. You may not be able to contribute with your pocketbook right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help out. Volunteering can also put your life and blessings into perspective.
  3. Walk it out - Go for a walk. It clears the mind, and gets you some fresh air
  4. Read a fiction book from way back – Find an old favorite fiction book from your childhood and re-read it. My favorites? The Mossflower series, Harry Potter, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (a fantastic escape book).
  5. Pray – Just don’t pray for money. Pray for strength and guidance. Praying for money isn’t cool.
  6. Pay Someone – Got a bill lying around. Got some money? Pay the bill. You’ll feel better. Trust me
  7. Watch a funny movie – Rent a comedy and totally let yourself get sucked into the movie. Some movies lately I’ve gotten hearty chuckles from: Hot Fuzz, About A Boy, Little Miss Sunshine, Lars and the Real Girl (not out on DVD yet…)
  8. Talk to someone – You need to have at least one person outside your immediate family that you can talk with about your financial issues. Maybe it’s a co-worker, or a good friend. Share with them your situation, it might be hard at first, but it’s worth it to have that someone. If they are a true friend, it won’t matter how much debt you have, they will still love you.
  9. Work at a coffee shop for a day – I don’t mean go get a job at starbucks. But if you work from home like many people, you need a change of scenery. Spend a day working at a coffee shop. Order a drink or two, pack a lunch, and get a change of scenery.
  10. Blog about it - Got debt? Why not blog about your progress? Deciding to blog about my debt journey has been one of the most therapeutic and best deicions I’ve made in the past 12 months. You can setup a blog in no time at wordpress.com or blogger.com. If you stick to it, you’ll find that writing (and having readers) will keep you accountable, motivate you, and maybe you’ll be the next Trent at Simple Dollar or JD at Get Rich Slowly.
  11. Meet other peeps in debt – There are a number of good forums out there where you can lurk for tips or meet other people dealing with debt issues. DCC (payday loan issues dominate here), the new WiseBread forums, and the Get Rich Slowly forums are all great resources to meet people in debt just like you and me!
  12. Treat yourself – Don’t go overboard here, but find something under $10 that is a treat for you when you hit a goal, or even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’m a fan of a large frosty and large fry at Wendy’s, but that’s just me. Find your own treat and don’t feel guilty about treating yourself now and again.

Lastly, remember that your debt doesn’t have to define your life!

How do you cope with your debt?

I’m always looking for more ways to deal with my debt load. Please share a tip or two about how you deal with debt (or other stressors)


Finding Your ‘Side Hustle’ to Get Out of Debt

image credit flikr:Vigalant20

What will you do to blow up your debt?

Many of us, upon deciding to get out of debt spent the first three months trying to live within a budget of our monthly income… some of us have even lost steam thinking we’ll never actually get to the point of paying down debt, but don’t despair–you can still blow away that debt! My suggestion, especially as you’re getting started is to develop what I call a “side hustle.” This can be a hobby, skill, or other asset that you engage in all of your spare time to make money to apply towards your debt.

Can you imagine blowing away your debt by making balloon swords and ponies at children’s birthday parties? I can! What about starting a business to remove pesky pet waste for homeowners and real estate developers? Do you ever babysit? What about doing that a little more regularly?

Every day I’m hustling

Just after college graduation I had a 9-5 job at a nonprofit. On weekends I sold books at gun shows and helped firearms instructors monitor range safety for large classes. (Oh yes I did!) Flash forward 10 years, I had taken my freelance writing career to full-time and also used my status and experience as a Notary Public as my “side hustle.” Now I have a full-time notary signing agent business providing courtesy closings for mortgage companies at their borrowers’ homes or offices. (I can also focus on finding and taking only the writing jobs I want—not just the ones that will pay fast!)

Padding the Emergency Fund

Nervous about the recession, my friend Tasha Burton of St. Louis, MO built a successful side hustle to build her cash reserves. By day she works for Washington University School of Medicine as an interviewer for clinical studies. She used her own interest in creating skin and hair moisturizers to found Belle Butters in 2009. Her decadent cosmetic creations are gaining in popularity and she’s looking at going full-time eventually. All this from an Etsy store!

Call 911, here comes the bride!

My sister is a dispatcher. Her job is high-stress and a constant barrage of bad news. Last year she began employing her hobby and talent in photography and now photographs weddings, as well as law enforcement training events and publicity photos. Not too shabby of a side hustle, and works nicely with her shift work. It also gives her the needed infusion of “good news” in her workweek.

Microbusiness Ideas

Everyone has something to offer, especially now in our service-based economy. Here are a few ideas with limited training or start-up costs that you may be able to take on to supplement your get-out-of-debt effort. Plus, you won’t have to sell stuff to your friends or buy inventories from a major company.

  • Balloon sculpture or clown services for kids’ birthday parties (confession: I do balloon sculptures, though I’ve never tried marketing my services, I do regularly volunteer them for community events.)
  • House cleaning
  • Baby sitting (I’ve hired several sitters from Sittercity.com)
  • Dog walking
  • House sitting
  • Elder care/companion services (grocery trips, help in the garden, etc)
  • Lawn mowing
  • Window washing
  • Designing real estate fliers for real estate agents
  • Real estate photography (or any photography for that matter if you have skills)
  • Drive-by services (property checkups for REO properties and property management companies)
  • Blogging
  • Selling handcrafts like jewelry, candies, cosmetics, soaps, candles, etc
  • Selling used books
  • Freelance writing, coding or design
  • Selling used books (scavenging thrift stores and garage sales for salable titles and reselling)
  • Ebay (listing for others, or listing items you find at garage sales or thrift stores for a higher price.)
  • Pet waste removal services
  • Personal assisting, virtual assisting or personal shopping.
  • Pizza delivery

Reminders

Keep in mind that so long as you aren’t getting a payroll check for your side hustle employer/client, you’re likely considered an independent contractor or a 1099 employee/vendor. Investigate state and local licensing laws to see if you must carry a business license, insurance or a bond to do the work that you would like to do. Don’t worry–these are often not as bad as you might think. Also, keep detailed expenses and save at least 25% of all of your revenue to pay your self-employment taxes.

Good luck!


Getting Discouraged

Eighteen months we’ve been at this. I’m not joking. Eighteen months. We’ve been radically making-over our lives—on a scorched-earth financial plan that at months’ end leaves us with no money and no energy. Our “entertainment” comes from clicking “send” on e-pay or holding “shredding parties” when we’ve snowballed the snot out of a bill and finally paid it off. I’m unsure of exactly what we’ve paid off in the last 18 months, but it’s right around 25-35k not counting the progress on our mortgage (Another $14-18K)

We said goodbye to two Visa cards—even the one we liked with the spiffy airline miles (the annual fee was high anyhow). We paid off an adoption loan, a student loan as old as our fifth-grader and our cars.

Some of these debts were so old that we actually MISSED the bills when they were supposed to come around. It’s the 17th—why haven’t we heard from Toyota yet? I used to take my car in for service every third payment. We haven’t had a payment on it in nearly eighteen months… and it’s only been in for service twice. I actually started putting a reminder on my Outlook since I don’t get service reminders with the bills.

We’re down to the last debt in our snowball program.

But it’s a big one, with a $11,000 balance. This was the card that has always been our “emergency un-fund.” It helped out when our adoption went sideways and I was unexpectedly detained in Africa another 20 days. It helped us when I was laid off unexpectedly. It helped us when we had surprise hospital bills in excess of $7,000. We’ve had a balance on that card for at least 5 years, and at its highest was about $17,000 (with a limit of $25,000). Yes, the MasterCard has bailed us out more times than an old friend.

But my gosh, it is so hard to pay off that debt. No matter what, nothing seems to feel like progress.

I’m tired and discouraged. I feel like we may never reach the end of this. Our debt-free date seems to be perpetually four months away—and keeps moving out accordingly.

My husband has been working outrageous amounts of overtime for months and is so tired he just took ten days of paid leave to sit home and unwind before he goes postal. I’m working more than ever (a good thing in my growing business) but working with trepidation. What if I work so much my printer breaks? I don’t want to shell out another $500 for a new business machine (I did just get a good backup machine on Craig’s List that provides me with peace of mind).

We’ve got many delayed-maintenance items now that are starting to build up. A car needing a serpentine belt and some elective (for now) medical procedures that need to be managed before they get worse. My daughter needs fillings, and I need wisdom teeth out soon. The kids need new mattresses on their beds soon. Not a big expense, but one I want to make after we’re debt free. I’m starting to see the price tag on the light at the end of the tunnel and it is scaring me.

My regular motivation tricks aren’t helping me. All the Ramsey podcasts and pep talks and blogs just aren’t doing it. I’m worn out. I’m dizzy, unsure if my energy is best spent making money, finding efficiencies or balancing the budget or spending quality time with the family so we don’t all get stressed to bits in the process.

My husband confirmed that he’s feeling the strain too. We’ve agreed to give ourselves a psychological breather by splitting the big debt into two smaller ones—we found a fixed interest loan for half of the balance that will give us some time interest-free to breath without an origination cost. Payments are manageable and the interest rate is the same as the card it’s already on. This will allow us to focus on one $5,500 balance and pay minimums on the other before we turn our attention to it.

The psychological feeling of making progress really does help to keep us on track, and the break from interest should help with the bottom line and speed progress up, even if infinitesimally.

On a more positive note, one of the reasons that we’ve been so tired is that we’ve had a lot of work. I’ve had two back-to-back record-setting months in my small business and just added several new (long-term) clients. This means my costs went much higher in the past few months and my revenue won’t pick up for a few more weeks (as invoices get paid). So much of this feeling of being out of steam is likely just in my head. But in my head it is, and it’s affecting my behavior. I’m wimping out. I’m tired. I want a break. I want to order pizza. (Oh, and to top this all off, I’ve recently found out I may have a gluten intolerance, so I’m on a special—and expensive—diet which takes a huge amount of energy to manage).

Hopefully the “divide and conquer” approach to our debt will give us a psychological break without loosing us any momentum.

I know that some of our readers have already achieved debt-freedom. Can you share with me how you did it, especially in the last few months? I’m especially interested in hearing from those who used the snowball method. That last big bill is really, really daunting. How did you overcome it?

Finally, my apologies for whining. I sat down tonight to write three posts about how to get out of debt, and then I felt like a hypocritical bigot so I decided to come clean on this one. I’m running out of steam. It will come back. This, too shall pass. I know it, but in the interest of honesty, disclosure and transparency, working this program with this kind of long-term intensity is really, really hard and it sucks.

When we’re done with this, I’m done with debt. I don’t think I’ll ever even take out another mortgage.

Your opinions, advice, and criticism are welcome. Until next time—keep it up. Every long journey starts with a single step!


Giving & tithing when in debt

Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve been pretty open about our struggle to get out of debt, and making the decision in our family that we don’t believe in debt and won’t use it anymore.  To my surprise, this news hits many of my friends as a surprise, because they believed that we are a wealthy family.

This struck me as interesting, as we’ve never been especially “high on the hog” nor do we have especially grand-paying jobs. I wondered what led people to believe that we have wealth—and asked a couple of people who I know well.

I was surprised to learn that many people believe that we are a wealthy family because throughout the past two years, we’ve continued to give and serve in our community.

However, we don’t give and serve in the same way we used to.

Yes, we volunteer our time, and we give to charitable causes.

How?

We’re gazelle intense and working the side hustle. If you’re doing the same thing—how can you find time to volunteer or money to give?

Giving

You might have a resource that you can give that doesn’t cost you anything. For example, we share produce from our garden with the local food bank. Last year, we sent our Airline Miles to Haiti earthquake recovery efforts, when giving wasn’t in our budget.   For cash giving, we make a budget, and giving is at the top of the list. We give before we pay the mortgage, not because it makes financial sense, but because in our faith (Evangelical Christian) we are mandated to give.   We have a set monthly giving budget, and then when we tithe on any additional unbudgeted income.  For now, while we are getting out of debt, we will give only 10% of our income. Sometimes this is hard, see my earlier post on why I didn’t give as much money as I wanted to after the Haiti earthquake. We also find that giving keeps us focused on something outside our household. Especially if you’re in for a long journey out of debt, maintaining focus outside of your household can offer quite a lot of perspective.

Volunteering

If you volunteer, it really does get into your “income earning” potential, but there is a good way to volunteer. Don’t commit to regular volunteer times/dates. Instead, find ways to plug yourself into one-time or short-term commitments. For instance, during the winter, my family committed to helping a short-term cold weather shelter.  The shelter opened on very short notice and only when the temperature dropped below 30 degrees for three days. Then the shelter opened to transients, and those living in cars. We volunteered for four days with the shelter during a cold snap this winter, always on a moment’s notice, but our family was able to serve more than 300 hot meals to people who were living on the street.  We passed out mittens and hot coffee, and served homemade peach cobbler to people who seldom receive personal care. It was a very minor commitment on our part, in terms of time and expense, but a terrific impact to our community

(We still regularly run into shelter diners in our neighborhood—and they remember us fondly. There’s nothing like a homeless man pointing at you from across the street and shouting “She’s the really good cook!!”)

Our kids helped with this adventure, and were terribly disappointed to learn that we couldn’t cook for them every day. My oldest daughter hopes to become a chef, so a crash course in spaghetti feed for fifty diners was a challenge she was eager to rise to.

Other good examples of short-term volunteer opportunities are tree-planting or graffiti removal events hosted in your community, or mentoring a family through your community. I also give one or two days every summer making balloon animals at community events for children.

What has changed?

While I’m a very political person, I have stopped giving to political candidates during this time. (Frankly, the return on investment just isn’t very good.)  I used to give $1,000-$5,000 a year.

We no longer give in “conspicuous” ways such as fundraiser galas or pressure giving, such as buying a table at a charity gala, and inviting friends to join us (expecting them to also donate to the charity).

We no longer attend charity auctions.

We no longer give to many organizations during the year.  While we used to give to 10+ charities per year, we’ve narrowed our focus to just a few, and increased our giving to those. This way, we don’t go over our budgets accidentally.

We consider the effect per dollar on our donations.  For example, how many people will this dollar serve? When we make dinner for the cold weather shelter, I know I can feed 50 homeless men and women a hot dinner and breakfast, and give them a sack lunch for the following day for under $150.  I evaluate, will my $150 to another organization serve so many in such a large way?  I can potentially save a child’s life with a $10 mosquito net, but my $10 to a hospital fund might not cover the cost of sending me the solicitation. As a result of this strategy, we give a lot more to non-profit organizations that are working overseas, but this is because in many places (specifically Africa), you can do much more with one dollar than you can in the USA.

What is your strategy?

While you’re on your way out of debt, are you giving or not?


Frugal Tips To Get Out of Debt

Sometimes you just want to spend some money. Sometimes, you have to.

Sometimes your kid comes to you and says “mom, I need a white, collared shirt for the school play” or “mom, I can’t button my jeans anymore.” Sometimes you get an invitation to an evening outdoor wedding in the springtime (what to wear?). Some of you are likely even dealing with prom expenses or upcoming graduation events.

Of all of the many frugal things I’ve done to get this far along in our debt freedom journey, embracing second-hand shopping has been the hardest part. It’s so much work, and well, sometimes kind of dingy.

But now, I’m in love.

Yes, in LOVE with thrift store shopping.

Normally a debit-card shopper, but for thrift stores, I load up my wallet with $20 bills and hit the chain thrift stores (like Goodwill) in the nicest neighborhoods. Bellevue, WA with a per-capita income similar to Hong Kong—one of the richest places in the world is just a 30 minute jaunt from my house. I can’t even count the number of high-quality kid outfits I’ve purchased for less than $2, many with store tags still on them. It’s also a great place for work clothes for yours truly. I kid you not, I recently found a pair of Apple Bottom baby jeans in size 2T for $2.50 at Goodwill. Original price $51. (For baby jeans!) I didn’t buy the baby jeans, but I had a pretty hearty laugh at their expense.

(When I buy second-hand, I like to buy big brands as I tend to know what to expect from the quality of the items).

A few weeks ago my daughters had simultaneous growth spurts (they gang up on me, I swear). Both woke up and could no longer button their pants. I withdrew $60 in cash and hit the local thrift shop. Two hours later, I had five pairs of pants for each kid and several cute tops for my oldest. I carried my bags up into the house almost shamefully and counted out my change. Lo and behold, I had only spend $25.68.

Here’s a few tips for getting used to thrift store shopping.

Shop with a list. Know what you need and what sizes and favorite brands.

Shop on a weekday during business hours if you can. Fewer crowds, greater selection and best staffing at the store. Wednesdays are great—by this time they should have weekend donations tagged and on the shelf.

Watch for “green tag day” or “half price day” or other promotions.

Some stores specialize in certain items. I know that the downtown Seattle Goodwill store does an annual event of special occasion clothes (great for proms, etc), other stores have especially large selections of kids’ clothes or business attire. Some stores are even kids-only or “tweens/teens” only. A friend of mine fosters children and buys children’s clothes on the “pound sale” days, when she can buy kid clothes for thirty cents per pound. She’s not particular on sizes as she never knows which child will come next or how long they’ll be in her care, so she buys $8 worth of clothes and washes and sorts them by size and pulls them out when she needs them.

When I’m shopping for myself, I shop at the Children’s Hospital Thrift Store near my house which has a great selection of womens clothing, especially business wear, but no kids’ clothes. I’ve found the best selection of kids’ clothes at Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul. For my tween, she’s a fan of Plato’s Closet, and while slightly more expensive than Goodwill, she’s usually willing to fork out the difference for slightly-more-fashionable items and better selection. (Plato’s closet is perfect for her sizing too, she wears “slim” sized jeans which can be hard to find even at retail).

Also, aside from just clothing, thrift shops can be excellent places for kitchen items, especially if you shop just after wedding season when many households are merging (and thus, purging). We’ve found many outstanding pots and pans for under $1. It’s also a great place to find high-end kitchen appliances like stand mixers, juicers and bread-makers that many people can’t live without and then later admit that they seldom use.

Ultimately, plan to take your time. If you have kids, consider going without them. Thrifting in a rush is no fun. Its something that has to be done in the right frame of mind. Also, don’t forget to wash everything before wearing. Different stores have different policies about the washing and acceptance of used items, and some leave items on the shelf for a very long time. Finally, check return policies. Sometimes items are in the thrift stores because the sizing was off. Most stores will accept returns within a few days, some will only accept returns for store credit, others don’t do returns at all, but generally, I’ve found thrift stores to be very generous and their shoppers quite loyal.


Cutting Bills

Back in December when I was laid off from my regular 9-5 job and decided to pursue self employment in lieu of reliable income, I did some pretty serious bill slashing.

I called every service provider to our household and demanded a better deal. In all but one instance, I got a better deal. Now for ten months, I’ve been resting on my laurels.

We’ve been in our Financial Peace University (FPU) class for three weeks now so we’re in to budgeting and cash flow, and had to create a zero-based budget. More on this later, but ultimately, it makes me really uncomfortable, so I wanted to whack down our fixed expenses even further.

This week I took a look at all of our expenses from largest (house) to smallest (my gas money—at about $35 a month) and made some likely targets for a better deal. Here are my results.

Newspaper

My husband likes to read the NYT on the ferry to work though, but he doesn’t touch it on weekends. Total cost: $65.00/mo It really was always our intentions to read the weekend papers… but, well, you know where good intentions get you. This week I phoned the circulation desk and asked for a deal. Could I drop the weekend papers? They seldom do this for residential addresses, but they agreed. New cost: $30 a month!

Mobile Phone

I have a contract with my provider. Two lines, two phones with data plans. I use my phone for my business, but rely very little on actual minutes—more on the ability to send/receive data on the road. I checked out the competition with www.billshrink.com and saw that my $260/mo bill wasn’t exactly competitive. Mind you, I’m under contract, so I don’t have a lot of leverage here, but I tried anyhow. I called and asked for a plan “that fit the family better.” And they were happy to oblige—reviewing our past use history, and reducing our bill to $120/mo with no change in service. Just fewer “anytime minutes” (though we’ll still have more than we’ve ever used in a month). Total savings: $140/mo!

Food

We’re a family of four, and food is a major expense. I’ve been tackling this with a series of $1/serving dinner recipes, but have also found that meal planning saves a fortune on food. We’ve literally knocked our weekly grocery bill from $150/week a year ago to $90 a week now (and that’s adding one person and disposable diapers to the expenses!) We don’t waste food due to spoilage. We also batch cook a few “convenience” meals for those days when nobody wants to cook. Total monthly savings $120

It’s amazing the difference that such a few little changes could make! The total monthly savings of these easy changes is actually $295!

Even More Frugal Tips

One of the things that surprises me about this two-year journey out of debt, is that each month we find new ways to be frugal.  Yes, really.   Every month, it seems our household expenses go down further.

Are you finding the same?

Here’s a few ways we’re continuing to reduce household costs:

  1. Renegotiate utilities (cable, mobile phone) every 3 months. Call and ask for a lower rate or the latest promotional rate.
  2. Change my mobile phone contract. (Turns out that on Verizon, operating an iPhone is less expensive than the Blackberry that I had!)
  3. Plan the weekly menu while grocery shopping. We use special grocery lists and menu planning lists that make this task really easy, and ensure no wasted food. (Menu planning pad: http://amzn.to/gL8Pp2) (Grocery list pad: http://amzn.to/h0cwBC).
  4. Use envelopes for budgeting. I resented them at first, but they really do work great.
  5. Grow a vegetable garden.  We’ve got vegetables in containers in our condo—even a lemon tree in our living room. We also have turned a flowerbed into a berry garden and participate in the community pea-patch.
  6. Barter and trade whenever possible.
  7. Use coupons on items you’re already buying.
  8. Use Craig’s List’s free boards, and Freecycle whenever possible.
  9. Use the library more.
  10. 10.  Selling some stuff (I recently sold some old gold jewelry and made some fast cash).
  11. 11.  Do work ourselves that we may have hired out before (carpet cleaning, window washing, other home improvements).
  12. 12.  Buy nearly everything used.

What are your top frugal tips for people who are already frugal?

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