Dump debt - own your own life

5 June 2009
Simple life is usually about the little things - small steps, tracking small amounts of money spent during the day, taking time for yourself, cooking from scratch, cutting back, recycling instead of buying new, saying no to wasting time. It's all those small things adding up that will make or break you. So let's focus on small money matters today to help us with our budgeting and hopefully those small steps will add up to make a real difference in your life.

All graphics from allposters.com

Most of us think budgeting is a real pain. I know I used to. A good way to get around that is to set some financial goals for yourself. Doing that will give you a real reason to cut back on your spending. It doesn't take the pain out of it but it will be the light at the end of the tunnel. So what is it you need to do? Will your goal be to pay off your mortgage faster that you initially agreed to? Do you want to pay off your credit cards? Does the thought of reducing your grocery/electricity/water bill in half appeal to you? Do you want to save an extra $200 a month to go into a vacation fund? You really want chooks, don't you? You'll need a couple of hundred dollars to build a coop and to buy your girls. Whatever it is, decide on a firm goal, write it down, think about it and then make a plan to change your spending habits to achieve your goal.

Here is a list of things that have worked well for us. See if you can use a few of these ideas, and read the comments on this post because I know the smart cookies who read this blog will have a lot of good ideas for you. Sharing our ideas not only affirms what we are doing it also shows others that they are not alone in this quest to reduce debt.

I've already mentioned money tracking. This is an amazingly helpful way of showing you just how much money you spend during the month. You may think you know what you spend but until you track your money, you're only guessing. I have written a post about how to track money here. It's a small thing and you'll be tracking small amounts, but all those small amounts add up and they may be what is pushing you outside your comfort zone when it comes to money.

Stockpiling. This is a great way to save money and time. Once you've built a stockpile cupboard you'll be able to 'shop' at your little convenience store, right there in your home, and most of your stock items will have been bought at a reduced price. My main posts on stockpiling are here and here.

Make the decision today to change the way you spend and teach yourself to save. I have written a post about that here.

Make your own cleaners, the recipes are here and they will cost you a lot less than the chemical bombs that are sold at the supermarket. You win on two levels here - you save money and you have fewer chemicals in your home.

If you have the space and a bit of time, start growing some of the vegetables you eat. Vegetable gardening is a really enriching pastime and it will help build your independence. If you have an excess, see if you can barter for some of your other needs with your neighbours - eggs for honey, tomatoes for cabbages, cheese for fresh organic bread etc. Click on the 'organic vegetables' button above to find information about how to.

Stop using disposables - invest in cloth nappies/diapers, menstrual pads or a cup. (Check my sponsor buttons for suppliers - a cloth nappy/diaper sponsor will be up next week) Don't buy water in plastic bottles, fill a bottle at home and take it with you. Refuse plastic shopping bags, make yourself some tote bags and take them with you when you go shopping. Make cloth napkins and knit some dishcloths. All these little actions will save you money, will reduce the amount of plastic you have around you and will help cut your carbon emissions. I have written a post about disposables here.

Write up a budget and stick to it. This is difficult to start with but when you settle into it, it gets easier. Stop spending on items not in your budget and get rid of a few things you want but don't need - like a cell phone, second car or cable TV. If you can stop buying a few things that you used to buy every month, you'll be on the road to good savings.

These are just a few things you could be doing to save money for your goal, there are many more. The most important thing for you to recognise is that unless you change your spending behaviour, you'll stay the same. I know we all work hard and often buy things to reward ourselves for that, but although you might deserve those little rewards along the way, I believe you deserve to live a life free of debt, or at the very least, debt that is reducing. The first step here might be difficult, recognising that you need to change will be hard too, but if you can change and make that first step, if you can reduce your spending and spend your hard earned money on needs instead of wants, you'll be on your way to a life that is less pressured, you will have more time to do what you want and you won't have to work your entire life to pay off debt.

I invite you to share how you budget and pay off your debts. I think these comments will be very interesting and helpful and I am looking forward to reading what you do - both your spending and your budgeting.


  1. Thanks Rhonda - another timely and helpful post :)

    I've been slowly working up to keeping a spending diary again - I've done it before and got out of the habit. I do get a set amount out in cash each week though.

    I've worked out that if I take a few small, simple steps over the next few weeks, I can have August and September off work! so that's my goal, as you suggest, and I really really want it, so thanks for the encouragement! :)

    Hope your writing is going well

    best wishes,


  2. I'm a bit obsessive so I track everything :). I use a computer program (microsoft money) so I always know where every cent is. It helps me sleep at night :). We also have a budget, and we review it every 6 months to see how we are tracking. We are in the fortunate position to be able to save a bit at the moment, so I have this taken out of our bank account automatically each fortnight when DH gets paid. This goes into a separate account to our 'bills' account so there is no confusion. I've also started paying myself in cash the budgeted money for food and entertainment, and I put these in jars (got this idea from Canadian show til debt do us part). When you're looking at the cash it does really help to focus the mind on what you're spending.

  3. I hope you reach your goal, Daffy. Two months off work,that's fabulous. The writing is going well. Thanks love.

    Margo, we use the cash withdrawal put into jars system too. It's very effective to work with real money, and when it's gone, it's gone. Good luck with your budgeting.

  4. What a wealth of information. My big push right now is to start bringing my lunch to work. At $10/day (average) five days a week, that's $50 a week and $200 a month AND $2,400 a YEAR. Yikes!!

  5. STAY HOME. That is one of the greatest tools I have to help myself save money. I am someone who used to feel the need to "go out" nearly every weekend. And the old saying : "Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without." I want to learn more budgeting tips and I really appreciate all the wisdom you share on this. It helps when my sweet husband cooperates :)

  6. Hi Rhonda and all,

    It's the only way this country and everyone else's of course is going to get back on track. If we could all learn to watch how we spend our money there would be so much less sadness in the world as well. So often I hear that constant money problems have ruined families. How sad. I really like the idea of money jars. It would be an extra incentive to see if I could end the month or week with money still in the jar. Great idea and I think better than the envelope system. Looking forward to reading other comments. Have a good weekend Rhonda and Hanno and we'll see you here next week.

    Blessings Gail

  7. The desire for more convenience and comfort is out of control. Economic growth has become exponential. Morals, education, values and health have all taken second place to the economy. We would be much better off working less, enjoying more time with the family and eating simpler food and spending less money.


  8. We have been using the jar system for a few months now and it has changed our spending habits. Last month I also included paying ourselves first. Before any bills we put away 10% of our income.It is amazing how this one step has created a small emergency fund already.Sure does help the stress levels to know that there is a backup.
    Of course all these wonderful tips and simple steps are just adding to the fun while we save for our goals.

  9. Hello Rhonda~Your subtitle is fabulous...."own your own life"! What an incentive for personal responsibility and an end to blame.
    I am looking forward to that book!
    all the Best to you and Hanno~ Carolyne

  10. I work at a local restaurant as a small part of our income. As such, I make tips. This is my personal spending money and not really budgeted in anywhere. Some time ago, we acquired a big glass jar (like a half gallon or a gallon or something) and I started putting half the tips I earned each night into the jar. If the money was already set aside for gas in the car, I wouldn't quite do half, but usually it was half.

    At first, it seemed to hurt much more than it did in reality. But, it worked so much better than a savings account because I could actually see the money getting larger. It wasn't just numbers on paper, it was actual dollars in front of me.

    This saving (and incredibly cheap airfare) has allowed us to take a vacation this summer to visit my husbands family on the other side of the U.S.

    A couple of dollars here and there really do matter. Over the year they have added up to thousands!

    Granola Girl

  11. I hadn't really stockpiled until I "met" you Rhonda. I've always kept a little extra of things we use regularly but I'd never thought much further than that. Now I buy things such as canned tomatoes, passatta, washing detergent (not up to making my own yet), coffee, flours, dried fruit at a continental delicatessan in town where I can buy them in bulk. The unit price is astoundingly cheaper than in the supermarket. My grocery spending has gone down consistently for over 12 months with no decrease in standard. I'm a good cook who loves good ingredients so I certainly don't trade quality for price.

    I fill the car before it's empty and I fill up on Tuesdays only.

    The money we are saving is building up, and all I've done is change a few habits.

  12. Further to mrshester, Don't Move House.
    I am currently in the middle of moving and the number of people who want to rip you off along the way is incredible.
    Telstra wants to charge me $295 to have my old phone reconnected at the house I'm moving back to after 15 months away! VoIP and a new phone provider beckons.
    And don't pay the removalists all their money until they finish the job. Mine have suddenly changed the delivery date on me which is going to cause me all sorts of hassles and extra expense to accommodate their new timetable. Grrr.
    Thank goodness there's a new job at the end of it to look forward to (to pay all the bills!).

  13. We budget very carefully -- always have -- but I think the thing that has helped us the most to live within our means is that we give a certain percentage away. That is our top priority and we always have plenty left over.

  14. The most significant step we ever took in managing our money was paying off and closing out our credit card accounts.

    My husband has a chronic health condition which means paying for monthly presciptions, regular office visits, etc. The credit cards had been our safety net for unplanned medical expenses. When our "safety net" started spiraling out of control, we knew that it was time to change. It took two years to pay off all of the credit cards.

    Initially it felt good having fewer bills to pay each month. Slowly it began to seep in that we were living in a strictly cash world. We learned to watch every penny. No more coffe stops, fast food lunches, needless magazines or impulse purchases.

    It's been about six years since everything was paid off. We worked a little at at time and have finally reached our goal of saving at least 10% (sometimes more) of our weekly income.

    Thanks so much for your sound advice and encouragement!

  15. Thanks Rhonda - a very useful post!

    Ways that I help myself budget that weren't already mentioned in your post:

    1) I avoid window shopping. The more I see the harder it is to curb the impulse-spending instinct.

    2) I have set up my bank accounts to help me portion out my pay according to my budget. (One main working account with smaller sub-accounts. Only the main account is linked to my bank card.) On pay day I portion out the money to those accounts via internet banking. (i.e. - money needed for bills goes into bills account. Savings for my wedding goes into another account. etc.) This means that when I look at my bank balance it shows me only the 'touchable' money I have left for food and my allowance.

    3) I bring lunch from home every day (always leftovers from dinner meals) and I make cups of tea and hot chocolate in the office kitchen instead of buying them. I could not believe how much money I saved from this alone.

    4) I am still learning new ways to dodge bank fees. I only use the ATM of the bank I belong to to dodge the extra $1.25 fee. If my main bank account balance gets lower than $20 I sweep $40 from my savings account to sit there, unspent, as a buffer against any surprise direct debits which may overdraw the account (which used to happen to me a lot costing an extra $40 bank fee). The money then gets put back into my savings account next pay. I am still working at new ways I can minimise bank fees so any suggestions are welcome!

    5) Lastly, I try to group activities/errands that require using the car. e.g I was going to go to the local fruit and veg markets in my area on Sunday, attend the lifeline bookfest (hooray for getting cheap books and supporting charity at the same time!) on the Saturday and see my cousin sometime over the long weekend. Instead of spreading things out over two or three days I have instead asked my cousin to come out with me to the further away West End markets which is close to the bookfest. Three tasks that would use fuel done in one trip. We'll probably also drop into greenfest in the city botanical gardens as well and make the fuel use even more economical!

  16. We make it our goal to live at what the government considers "poverty level". For our family of 5, that is $26,000 per year. We take no assistance and save everything that we make above this amount.

  17. My first comment but I have been reading this blog for quite a while as I go along the simplicity journey.

    This post is very timely because our family is doing a 'no spend' month for June (we of course still buy food and pay bills) but it's interesting to see the psychology of marketing because when we first decided to try this I felt a sense of dread and almost nakedness.

    Now a week into it and I feel really liberated! Whenever the junk mail comes in or I see an ad my brain switches off automatically because I am simply not even allowed to imagine buying anything this month!

    I always thought we were good with money but I think we have let our cents drip our dollars away - not any more:)

    As a stay at home mother the world can often make me feel 'less'. Thankfully blogs like yours reasure me that I am enough; even without the latest gizmos and the flashy house/car/whatever the trend is.

    Thank you for encouraging us to find contentment in the little things and to teach our children the same.


  18. We aren't very good about sticking to a strict budget, so instead I pay ourselves first out of each paycheck. On payday I have an automatic withdrawal of a set amount go into savings. I also have another set amount go into a 'bill paying account', so we don't have to worry about semi annual insurance payments and property taxes. Then the rest is for us to spend as we need and want to.

    Every couple of months I track our expenses and put it into an excel spreadsheet to make sure we haven't gone bananas in any one category.

    Luckily both my husband and I are fairly restrained in our spending (except when it comes to food!), so we do okay. But if we didn't have that money going into savings first, we'd certainly spend it somehow.

  19. The one thing that I've found that we do that many people don't is to check what we already have rather than buying new stuff for every project. If I want to build something for the yard, I check what's in my shed that I can adapt first before buying new materials. If I want to make a particular dish, I check what's in the kitchen cupboard, and what I can substitute. Ditto sewing cupboard.

    This does require having things vaguely organised so that you can find stuff you have, but you don't need to do much to see an improvement.

  20. We have loosely followed a debt-free living plan introduced by Dave Ramsey. You can look him up by Googling him.

    Our general "debt-free" approach has been gradual. First, when we got married almost 3 years ago, we tried to just live on my husband's income, and used my part-time income to pay off $18,000 of graduate school loans in one year. This was the only debt we had - we both drive fully paid for older cars, which saves on insurance as well as eliminating car payments. This was perfect timing, as I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (and be free to be as domestic as I want to be!) for our first son who arrived just after we paid off that debt. What a relief it was to know that we really could live on $40,000 in an area that usually costs upwards of $50,000 or $60,000 to live for our family size!

    Secondly, I have made lots of things from scratch and try to stockpile when possible, though I'll need to do more now that son #2 is on the way this September. I also have 3 main stores I hit for grocery deals, as we don't have the space for a garden (sigh . . . one day).

    After paying off our debt, we knew that we would need more space for the baby, but cheaper rent, so we moved to an apartment complex that was bigger, but in a slightly rougher neighborhood. Not my favorite neighborhood to be, but then again, our apartment neighbors are fantastic. In this manner, we are paying $300/month less for a much larger apartment - a net savings of $3600 a year. If you compared our rent to other 2 BR apartments of our size, the savings would be even greater (in the range of $5000 - $6000). We don't want to be in this neighborhood forever, but for now it helps us to get a bit more momentum financially, and what better time to do so than when our kid(s) are young.

    Currently, we are almost finished building up an emergency fund of 6 months' expenses, and once we do that, we'd like to be able to save toward other things, perhaps a down payment (not for a house in California where we live, though - too expensive!). Or maybe another used car if one of ours dies.

    It's not always easy, though. There are times where I wish we could just go out and buy whatever we wanted, but when we look at what we're living on, and what we're able to save even as we give away 13 percent of our small income, we are thankful to God for His provision.

  21. I don't know if being debt free is entirely possible. One doesn't have to own a credit card or mortgage, but the cost of living still keeps rolling in. That's still debt, until the money is earned and put aside to pay for it.

    I've always been curious about stockpiling too. In theory it sounds great, but I've always had to spend more to stockpile in the first place. The shop less theory only works because you spend and shop more in the first place. Maybe I'm doing something wrong in my approach?

    This isn't a criticism of the practices being offered in the article Rhonda, I think what you and Hanno have achieved is a great life's work.

    But I think that's the point to a lot of these techniques - they're a life's work where one never truly escapes debt entirely. We just build a bigger safety barrier the less we waste and the more we pay off.

    Do we ever own our life or our place in it? I find it very ironic that the government even manages to tax us in death, so that our family's are burdened with debt even after our life's work comes to a close.

    I offer this only as food for thought, not a criticism of positive techniques to get out of debt. We should all try to do it. :)

    By the way, I love reading your blog entries. They are always full of practical advice. My application of some of them though, don't always work. That's not to say the techniques are wrong. I think stage of life plays a big part (which I know you've commented on before).

    I question what we actually expect from society though. On one hand we don't want to burden ourselves with debt, but if a large chunk of society did manage to become financially independent - we'd still expect to pay for food and medical services that we can afford today. In reality they would go up, because there's less money circulating around for the businesses running on "debt".

    Our personal investment in society, pays off when we share the financial burden together. Will our expectations of being personally debt free, really match up with the social outcome?

    Sorry for rabbiting on, I find it a very fascinating subject to contemplate from all sides. :)

  22. Good Day Rhonda, I have given up the cell phone and do not miss it at all. Also gave up cable and using an Antenna which with everything going digital I am getting 14 channels with my antenna and it is plenty and I do not miss cable at all. My company is sometimes disappointed that they cannot watch a favorite tv show on pay tv. I paid a one time fee to download Beyond Tv and I am able to record programs just like tivo and have plenty to watch if needed. Guest being unaware of Beyond Tv love the program. I have the Chooks and lucky to have one broody hen that just recently hatched 14 biddies. I love my simple life and so much happier. It is very rewarding to bake your own bread, make your own soap, jams, etc.... Also rewarding to sew, knit, mend and so on. I am working on paying off my debt and then saving money.

  23. Thanks for this post Rhonda!
    I wrote about this on my blog (you read my mind LOL), for the dutchies who are interested:

    Some tips from me:
    -I make a weekly menu and shoppinglist
    - I take cash with me to the supermarket (every week the same amount).
    - even when you are in depth, you can still save, you need to! Don't underestimate the importance of an emergeny account. If you don't have one and something bad happens you will ben further in depth!
    - Challenge yourself to not spend money today, not use the car etc.
    - We have a very little garden but we grow some vegetables, fruits and herbs in pots.
    -If you want to go to the movies with your children, make a movie night at home instead. Rent a dvd (or maybe your library has some), make popcorn, close the curtains and enjoy your own movienight!

    I could go on for a while, but these are some of my tips.

    from the Netherlands,

  24. Budgeting and saving is hard. And I haven't been consistent because sometimes I do feel the need to compensate myself.
    But I've done some good things: 3 years ago I disconnected cable tv and land line. I work 2 jobs (isn´t it 3?)and save 15% of my net income; it goes to a pension fund and also an emergency fund. This way I feel like I never have money to spend and sometimes it is hard.
    I bring lunch to work almost every day; started making my own laundry detergent and dog food (with Rhonda's recipes). I want to start making soap at home, haven´t a thermometer yet.
    I colect rain water with a 100 L trash can and in buckets the tap water while I wait the shower to heat up.
    Switched most lamps to energy saving lamps and unplug most of the apliances when not in use - have electrical cords with a switch for the tv, stereo and computer and learned how to switch off dishwasher and clothes washer in my electric board just this week.
    I cook from scratch, clean my own home, mend my clothes.
    I still have a lot to learn, but the most difficult form me is to budget and really restrain me from buying something pretty once in a while...

  25. Great post Rhonda and lots of wonderful comments. And as people say, very timely. We are looking to move to rural France next year and live a simpler life and have started on our way by looking at what do we really need to "have" to be content - it is liberating but also we need to get our finances under control so I will be bringing many of these ideas into play, many thanks as always :)

  26. I think that while reading about how to budget, do things by hand, etc. is all wonderful and we now do lots of that, however, if you are just starting out, concentrate on incorporating one new thning at a time until it becomes habit. For example, maybe start with making homemade bread until it becomes simply part of your everday routine.
    Then add making your own cleaners until you don't even have to think about the ingredients to add.
    It is all worthwhile, however.
    Many blessings,

  27. I live on a very limited budget as a retired teacher, working now only part time. I have enough for basic expenses and bills, no more. My only debt is an educational loan that I took out to pay for a specialized school for a young teen. The school saved her life and she is now an amazing young woman. Some people spend $50,000 on a vehicle...I invested in the life of a child. I won't "own my life" for a very long time.

    I live very simply, yet have a full, rich life with many "free" extras that bring me great joy.

  28. roSuch a good post Rhonda..it's not impossible to keep a budget, it's our wants that get in the way.
    So many great comments on living 'within our means'. We have done many of these throughout the years and they really do work. At the moment I can't think of any that haven't already been mentioned.
    Thank you for your insights Rhonda and thank you to all those that comment. You all have offered great ideas for others to follow.

  29. I enjoy hearing about what you and others do to become and remain debt-free. I agree wholeheartedly about tracking our expenses; even though I have always been fairly frugal, it was a real eye-opener when I started tracking my expenses. I really changed some small spending habits when I saw how much I was spending in some categories (and felt that the totals spent were not consistent wtih my goals).

    I'll add a few more that help me:

    1. Stay out of the stores as much as possible. Do not shop for entertainment! In fact, other than grocery shopping, I only go to stores a few times a year and when I do, it's with a list of needs and I stick to the list.

    2. Plan ahead for things you will need. If you can do this, it will give you the opportunity to shop for a better deal, look for secondhand, etc.

    3. Associate with like-minded (frugal) people if you can. It can be a setback to only hang out with people of a spendthrift mentality, and I think it can leave some of us feeling deprived when we wouldn't otherwise. I have been frugal (and debt-free) for a long time, but I'll notice myself feeling a bit restless if I spend too much time with friends who talk about new cars, clothes, furniture, trips, etc.

  30. not precisely on target here-though baking at home does save money. what are the dimensions of a nut loaf tin? is it something like the 9" x 13" pan used here in the states?


    kim in maryland

  31. We are trying to pay off car debt that partially came about by trying to help my husband's ex by selling my completely paid off car to her.

    Here is how we are finding extra money to put down on the debt:
    1. Overtime: Occasionally my husband works overtime. We can live without the overtime therefore obviously we don't need to use it when it does come in the house. I take that money out of our account for payment of debt.

    2. I get a small performance bonus every quarter. Again, unbudgeted money so I remove it from our account for payment of debt.

    3. We get paid weekly(him) and biweekly(me). We base our monthly budget on income from 2/4 paycheques. A few months of the year has an extra paycheque or two in it. When those 'extra' paycheques arrive, I take the money and put it towards the debt.

    Without doing a single thing to cut back, we have found enough extra money to pay a 5 year loan off in what is expected to be just over 2 years. We didn't even start the extra payments until were were almost a year into the loan. When we get this loan paid off, we are going to use the extra money from 1-3 above AND the now freed up loan payment to pay off the other car loan. We expect to be completely free of debt at the end of 2010.

  32. Great post Rhonda. Thank you. I have an ebook available at just $5 (US) about debt reduction. Do you mind if I post the link here? I thought I would ask your permission first before publishing it.

  33. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  34. Thanks for the reminder, Rhonda. We're debt free and cut up the credit card last month thanks to reading your blog, but are searching for ways to pare down our spending even more. With a family of five - two with special diets - it can get tricky but is entirely do-able.

    We want to increase our savings as we rent and would like the opportunity to buy a house if the right one comes along. We have a very possible move at the end of this year or next. I think we'll try your jar idea, Rhonda - our expenses are predictable and it would help to see real money disappearing rather than an online balance.

    Hope you enjoy your weekend with Hanno. :-)

    Cath in Sydney

  35. I like to have my pantry fairly well stocked - say enough for a couple of weeks but stockpiling shouldnt become hoarding - some countries make it illegal to do this - it creates shortages I guess.
    I think perhaps we might all eat less and therefore save money - this would be hard though as we are so used to eating what we normally eat but it is worth looking at

  36. Thanks Rhonda for another great post. We've been stockpiling for several months and the savings are terrific. Our stockpile pantry is a small cool room at the rear of our house. Anything on special we buy up big. We're saving money, not only on groceries but also on fuel and time shopping. During these lean economic times (our industry has been particularly affected) we have food to see us through and a roof over our heads. We've also been doing the money jar idea. We don't dare touch the contents of that jar!
    Thanks for all your encouragement.

  37. I love the idea of the jars! What a great visual trick on the mind for spending less.

  38. Another Great Post! I especially love the first paragraph. Says it all.

    Look what amazing things you can create with recycled plastic bags, (here.

  39. Hi Ronda

    Completely agree with making your own cleaners. This not only saves a fortune but it could be doing our kids a lot more good than breathing in a load of chemicals.


  40. I really like your blog, thank you for the great tips!

    I’m a thirtysomething girl from Holland with a huge debt (€ 27000,00) and am tryhing to get out. I also have a blog.

    You can help me earn some money by clicking on one of the Google Ads you see on my blog.

    I've live on € 20,00 a week now (about 25 $), and try to get by. Hope you'll help me by going to my website and click on the ads!


    In the mean time; I will keep reading your great tips. Thank you so much!



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