Spend less than you earn and a giveaway

28 March 2012
I guess that most people reading here every day would be working people - either out in the wide world earning money and/or at home running the household in ways to save it. I am proudly working class; work is part of my core, it's something I expect to do most days, but most of the work I do nowadays is not for money, it's to maintain the way I love to live. It may sound strange to some but I think that working for what you need and want makes you treasure it more, it has meaning because you know the hours of toil that went into it. And yet it seems to me that we have gone off the rails a bit with work. Many of us will work until we drop because we have too much debt to retire earlier. 

I believe that most of us work to get together our life's assets and to buy a house to live in, or to rent one. We might also buy a car. Once we have our assets, we work steadily to pay off the debt we acquired to buy it all. We hope to stay employed, we cut back and save what we can and if we're lucky, the mortgage is paid off earlier than planned and a few years later the credit card and car are all squared away. This kind of debt management is entirely possible, Hanno and I paid off our 20 year mortgage in eight years and have lived debt-free for many years.

But somewhere along the way, a whole generation fell for the idea that buying everything you want on a credit card is normal; encouraged in that by banks looking for higher profits and advertising promising happiness in a pair of shoes, a flash car, diamond earrings, or a jet ski, etc etc etc. It saddens me that many of these good honest people realise too late that they're in over their heads and they'll be working far into the future to pay for today's must-haves. Long after the bling has lost its shine, it is still being paid for.

There is a better way, although it requires sacrifice and hard work. It requires that we cut back on our desires, stop listening to best friends and focus on slowing down and living well rather than expecting to have it all, and then working to pay for it.

There is only one sure way to financial security. Spend less than you earn. One of the things that can delay paying off debt is paying more for the things you use a lot of, or for convenience foods. And by convenience I mean washed salads, processed food, pre-cooked frozen meals, tinned soups, as well as takeaway and fast food, and a whole array of foods that seemed to be a good idea at the time because they cut down on preparation and cooking time but they cost more and therefore add to the cost of living. When you're paying off debt, you want to reduce your cost of living, not raise it. Get back to basics and buy unprocessed foods, cook from scratch and reap the benefits - both in your health and in the money saved.

There is a decision to be made here. Do you work less so you have the time to do some things yourself or do you work more so you have the money to pay for everything you want? Your answer to that question will depend on whether you want to work your whole life so you can buy every thing you want and need, or whether you see value is cutting back on your wants so you have more time to enjoy life. 

You will never see an advertisement suggesting caution and prudence. On the contrary, they encourage excess and acquisition at any price. So I am going to encourage you to look beyond today, think about all those months you'll be handing over money to pay for what you buy today. Try to cut the cost of living and pay your debts off as fast as you can. Don't be conned into buying too much, expect to work hard for what you have, expect to do your fair share and think about saving rather than spending - not just this week or next, but far into the future too. Because if you can get off the debt roller coaster, if you stop spending just because you can, if you knuckle down and get serious about debt reduction, you will be able to retire sooner rather than later and just live. It may be with less "stuff" but it will be on your own terms and you'll own your life. I hope you find a plan of attack, encouragement and support in my group of budgeting posts here.

It all starts with a commitment to your own future, a clear vision about how you'll reduce debt and then the determination to get back on track and out of the clutches of the bank. I wish you the best and I'd be interested in hearing your story.

Kristen has done a review of my book and is generously giving away a copy of my book to Australians only. You can find her blog here for the details. The giveaway finishes next Monday. 


  1. That's exactly what people need to realise - when it's lost it's shine, or the kids have damaged it, you're still paying for it....not a great way to live :( And as I say to my kids, "Just because your friends have it, doesn't mean it's a necessity." The funny reply I got recently was, "Can't I have it now, then you don't have to get me a birthday present?" Is this a buy now, pay later mentality already??!!

  2. Hi Rhonda,
    wow, the picture of British Snap press studs brought back memories of my Mum's sewing basket! I remember these in the back of dolly's dresses,lovingly made by my Nanna, and also in the backs of dresses my Mum made for me.
    Having done it both ways, working less and doing for yourself is less sressful but does require much more vigilence with spending.
    I've been working more lately to make headway paying off a renovation(urgent - mold,fibro and a leak that rotted the floor) and I'm sad to say some of my apples rotted on the tree because I forgot to pick them. This was a clear indicator to me that the work-life balance is off.
    Have a wonderful day all, Madeleine

  3. Rhonda - I'm a daily reader of your blog and enjoy it immensely. I responded to yesterday's post about the things I'm doing to simplify life. You mention retirement today - I struggle with that. I have a job that I enjoy but find myself counting the years until I can retire with a pension and paid-for health care. These are my benefits if I stay with what I'm doing for another 5 - 6 years. I try to remember how blessed I am to have meaningful employment and that I can retire at age 61, which is still young.

    I was so excited to read about the possiblity of winning a copy of your book - but it's only open to Australian readers ! I completely understand - however - I'm wondering how much the postage would be to mail it to the USA if I ordered one? I would love to read your book.

    Thank you, again.

  4. Hello Madeleine and Kristy. :- )

    Pammie, you're doing well. Retirement at 61 is excellent. I'm sure your hard work will pay off. The cost of the book postage to the US is about $16 from Fishpond. Look in the Down to Earth book tab at the top of the page for postal changes.

  5. Funny. I just posted yesterday about the big goal I've set: to pay off my 98K mortgage in 3 years. (I figured it'd keep me accountable.)
    It's do-able if I throw 2/3rds of my income at the bank and if I bring Skinflintery to a fine art. (Both of which I think I've been doing.)
    I've paid back the same amount in a little over 4 years, including going on a few holidays, getting solar panels, setting up wicking beds and putting in a water tank... as well as the myriad school camps both here and overseas that having teenagers entails. So I'm pretty sure it's do-able.
    Now I'm focussed. I have two more camps to Tasmania and two more year 12 camps to pay for, three more years of having child/ren at high school... but everything else is being subsumed into paying the debt. I'm just sick of it.

  6. I appreciate your response, Rhonda, to my earlier post regarding retirement.

    Also, I just ordered a copy of your book from Fishpond - I had hesitated because of the shipping charges to USA but I feel I MUST read it. I'm sure it will be worth every cent - I'm always encouraged by you and have learned so much from you.

  7. I just wanted to say that I am so thankful to have found your blog! It is such an encouragement to me. I'm just starting to try living more simply. I quit my job a year ago to be a stay at home wife, and your blog has helped me learn so much, and how to think about things in a different way. Thank you so, so much for your thoughtful, inspiring blog!

  8. Hi Rhonda
    I could not find your column in th Eweekly this month - are you still writing for them?

  9. My husband was telling me of a financial programme he was watching on ABC television during the last few days.
    A commentator stated that one third of Australians are retiring with a mortgage still to be paid off.
    I suppose with some of the bigger superannuation payments that could be managed but it is still very worrying to me.
    We are in our middle and late 50's and have owned our own modest home for some years . The money that was paying the mortgage off now goes into our super as it is unlikely we will qualify for an aged pension and so will be self funded retirees.

  10. your post expresses my sentiments..i've never owned a credit card and i have lived within my means all my life..i've also worked very hard bringing up 3 children ostensibly on my own while working and studying to become a psychologist..i fell into a heap though several years ago and i just couldn't do it all anymore so i sold my home, retired, bought and renovated a very modest little house in a less salubrious suburb and i couldn't be happier..i still work hard growing vegetables and making preserves and sewing etc but i am exceptionally happy and grateful not to be caught up in materialism..jane

  11. I am in my late sixties and still working part-time. I have a tub of tomatoes rotting on my verandah and apples falling off my trees just because I do not have time to do anything with them because I am working. I do already have lots of tomatoes processed so perhaps I don't need them at all.
    We have lived frugally for the past twenty five years and have no debts. This is the life we chose and love.
    It is very tempting to give the job away but I realise that at my age, I will never get another one! Saving for retirement is a priority now and there is a bit of super as well. At what point should you call it quits with a job given that you cannot go back?
    Tough decision. I just want to always be able to pay my way.
    All the best to you. Keep smiling, keep saving and be happy.
    It is a wonderful world.

  12. Rhonda you are spot on as always! I come from a family of 'buy now, pay later' though my parents do work very hard for the 'pay later', and they are happy to live like that. For myself however, I find the stress of debt far greater than the enjoyment of the purchase. We do have a large mortgage but are paying extra off it each week, even on a single income. We own our cars and we are paying off our Thermomix (which we do not regret in the slightest) but everything else we wait for once we have saved.

    We decline dinner invitations, we rarely buy takeaway, the kids wear hand me downs and are spoilt by their grandparents with clothes. We only give handmade gifts or offer our time for a project. My partner complains from time to time about not having any money but I just keep pointing out that we have a roof over our heads, nutritious food in our bellies and plenty of projects to keep us occupied at home, what more do we really need?

    One day we will travel and have new furniture but for now what we have is all we need, and we have each other, it really doesn't get much better than that!

    Thank you again for the link to my giveaway, and good luck to everyone that enters! Pammie, I'm sorry I couldn't offer the book to international readers but I hope you'll understand that the cost of postage overseas, on top of the cost of the book was more than our budget would allow :-) You will not regret your purchase though, I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me.

    Kristen xo

  13. Thank you Rhonda for Kristen's link...I have visited her and loved her writing...Your book is wonderful, Congratulations...Dzintra

  14. Oh Rhonda how exciting - I have been trying to see how I could fit the cost of your book into my budget. I have entered the giveaway. Long term goals are so important, and we stick to our budget. It seems harder every day though with the cost of living rising. I keep working to make the garden produce more as getting organic food straight out of the backyard definitely helps the budget. thanks for your inspiration.

  15. Hi Rhonda, great post. We are conned into parting with our money and once I realised that I found it easy to stop mindless consumption. A great film about money can be seen here

  16. Hello everyone!

    Kate, thanks for the link.

    Kathyros, I hadn't seen the current issue but I emailed in and asked. You're right, I'm not in this month. This happens sometimes when a full page ad comes in late - one of the single page columns gets dropped that month. This month was my turn. :- ) Are you enjoying the WW columns?

  17. Wonderful words of wisdom here.

    If I can indulge in a little bragging, we will be paying off our house within the next few months. As of today, we owe $602.80. Our house payment is only $216.93, but we'll pay double principal (been doing this for years) next month, the the balance the following month. We are ecstatic.

    We have always been frugal, but Todd and I are really getting to that place where we can really do without many of the luxuries that we have felt like we needed for years. It's great to feel like even with less, it's enough. :)

    Have a great day, Rhonda.

  18. Kristi, congratulations, that is excellent! You deserve to brag a bit and it shows others that this can be done.

  19. Hi Rhonda

    I have recently changed the way I look at life and my priorties have changed so much. Thanks to you it feels alright to stay at home and look after my family and not to worry about what others think. I look forward to saving as much as possible on one income and looking after my family. Thanks again Rhonda.


  20. wow, it looks like a very inspiring book! fingers crossed...

  21. Thanks Rhonda,
    This post is what I needed to read today. I have a huge amount of credit card debt (most people would scream in horror if I revealed how much) from spending far more than I earn for far too many years. After picking up your book recently I have become expired to get my finances under some sort of control and live the life I actually want - a more simple life. I have started what I like to consider as 'my road to recovery' with a detailed budget, spending tracker and a second hand bread maker. I'm absolutely loving the sense of freedom these smells steps have given me. I'm considering starting my own blog to help me stay accountable and track my progress. It might not be daily (single mum working full time) but any encouragement would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you. You can't possibly know the difference you are making in my life. - KL

  22. KL, congratulations on making a change in your life. Debt will suck the life right out of you and although it will be difficult at times to stay on track, you've already done the most difficult thing and that is starting. I wish you the very best. Stay in touch and let me know how you're going.

  23. I hope in future that more people will be able to build their own house, using renewable materials like straw bale, and reduce the amount of time they are in thrall to the bank for a mortgage. I wonder when it became the norm to take 15-30 year to pay off a mortgage? Even in tiny Britain in Pembrokeshire, there are programs to sustain eco-housing that literally doesn't cost the earth.

    Husband and I are in our mid-forties, and we became debt free five years ago. Rhonda Jean is right. There is no better feeling than having no financial worries

    AM of the Bread

  24. Hi Rhonda, I have been a stay at home worker for many years and do not regret it. However your blog has helped me to value the way I live. Just thought I would say the main way I have stayed out of debt for those years is recycling both my 'stuff' and others. I am constantly amazed at the really fine goods people throw away or sell for a few dollars. Over time I have got the word out that before any of my friends or their friends throw anything away to offer it to me. What I cannot use myself goes to a friend who sells things for a charity. This way I can have most things I need and even a few I want and still no major debts. Hope this is helpful to others.

  25. Hi Rhonda, great post and wonderful timing. I made my 19 year son read the post as he is contemplating getting a credit card. Yes, he is working full-time (as an apprentice baker) however his wage is not great. His bank has been sending asking him to get a credit card. We explained to him many times that having a credit card is not 'free money'. Yes, his dad and I almost own our house and the only debt we have is the mortgage. We have explained to him about 'living within your means' and how we wished we did when we were younger. The amount of money we have wasted over the years. At least my son now knows why I am trying to simplify our lives. So thank you Rhonda for a wonderful post.

  26. When the BF and I met, he had three credit cards (very unusual for a German, and one maxed out), university debts and a loan for his camera (which he only uses for his hobby, although he is really good at photographing). It took lots of discussing and fighting, but by now the camera loan is almost paid, one credit card is paid off and gone, the others are being paid off and only one will be kept for emergencies and he is making his university loans regularly. I hope in the end he will see how much easier it is to save money and spend it than to spend it first and try to pay it back later.

    (To be honest, I have got university debts as well - my family was much too poor to help me out, and the obligatory work load was 60-70hours/week... I worked in return for cheap accommodation, but would never have had the time to work a paying job.)

  27. What an inspiring post. We read it together my husband and I. Thanks Rhonda!

  28. This blog helped me get out of debt very quickly. It is so much easier to save money when you are debt free. All of that interest really adds up quickly. People refer to me as "retired" at 47, but I feel like I work all day long: baking, cleaning, growing food, etc. I enjoy the rewards, and my stress level is very low. My values have changed, and I need very little. I am surprised at how much time I spend on repairs. That seems to be my main activity these days!

    awakened soul

  29. Oh Rhonda,

    I am so excited. I didn't realize that I could order a copy of your book to be sent to me here in America for not too much in shipping costs! I will count the days until my book comes. As some of the other posters have said, you have not idea of the impact you have had on my life in the areas of contentment, frugality, saving, self-sufficiency...the list goes on and on.

    Diane in North Carolina

  30. Hi Rhonda, just i do love to read your column. I even subscribed to Weekly so I would not miss it. I usually treat myself to one subscription a year :)
    hope you are having a good week

  31. I loved your comment about things having lost their bling before they are paid off. Very true. Fortunately Mr Provincial and I grew up in prudent - don't buy it unless you have the money - households, so this hasn't been an issue for us. That said, it made me think of a comment of St Teresa of Avila "Thank God for the things I don't own":)

  32. I agree with all of that. I decided to retire early as work related stress was making me mentally ill. Hubby retired early as well. Yes, we have less money but boy, are we happy. We hardly buy drink, don't smoke, eat freshly prepared food, grow some more food, walk, work at home and enjoy each others company. Who could ask for anything more.

  33. I'm curious about the 'one piece' lids you use with your canning. I notice these in several photos. From the photos it appears they are lids (and jars) from jam or jelly. Do you reuse those over and over? How safe is it to can with those? Here in the USA we are told never to use the lids more than once. I'm wondering if you know something I should know about the lids.

  34. Anita, yes, we recycle lids here, we inherited that from the English and Irish who do it too. I would imagine the Welsh and Scots do as well. We're all still fine, nothing happened to us.

  35. Rhonda,
    What a timely post, I was looking at buying some fabric online and your post appeared in google reader. Needless to say my fabric shopping got stopped and I was encouraged to use what I already have.

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