Cut back and pay off debt, it's life changing

7 February 2019
Angie Grant, please email me about your course.

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Do you sometimes wonder if change is possible?. You sail along accumulating debt with a home loan, car loan and credit cards that you thought you'd easily pay. Then on top of that there is your phone and your partner's phone, broadband, pay TV, gym memberships, insurance, your holiday, the kid's camps, entertainment, eating out, your new iPad, laptops for the kids, clothes and shoes for everyone, education costs and toys to make the kids happy. Oh, and don't forget food and fuel, both must be bought every week. If only you could press rewind, go back a few years and make better choices. Life would be easier if we didn't spend like this.



Don't get caught up in the ridiculous notion that the more you have, the better your life will be. I think it's the opposite. Everything has a price attached. Most of the time, that cost is both financial and environmental. When I stopped buying everything I thought I wanted/needed, I realised that the less I spent, the more I did for the environment, the more self-reliant I became and the more I was in control of my own future. And even though changing habits isn’t easy, it is possible.



We all pay a mortgage or rent. We all eat, most of us have cars and we buy fuel, we have phones, we insure our possessions, our homes, cars and sometimes our lives and our health. We all have regular financial commitments that keep us sheltered and fed. Once you have those expenses covered, the less you spend on everything else, the less you have to pay for. So, for instance, if you stop buying top of the range grooming products, a new dress every week or month, more shoes, knick-knacks, more fabric for you stash when it’s already groaning under the weigh of too much, the most expensive phone and TV package, a new car when the old one is still fine, another overseas holiday, coffee at a shop every day, bottles of water, magazines, lunch for work or school five days a week and a million other things, your weekly expenses will reduce considerably, you’ll be able to pay off your debts, daily stress will reduce and life will improve. There is a light at the end of the tunnel if you look for it.


Living to an unrealistic high standard, or to someone else’s standards, guarantees that you’ll work relentlessly all your life to pay for it . Don’t you want to get off that stress filled merry-go-round and live a slower and more peaceful life? You’ll still have all the necessities of life but you’ll be surrounded by the familiarity of things that you care about, not products that change with the whims of fashion. Your life won’t change much if you stop streaming TV on Netflix, or use a cheaper phone or computer. Cutting down on meat, disposables, eating out, coffees, clothes, entertainment and many other things you don’t need helps you and the environment. Do one thing at a time and it will get easier the longer you stick with it.


There has been research done that found once our basic needs of shelter, food and clothing are met, we are not made happier or more fulfilled by having more. When we have enough, it’s enough. If you're not convinced of that and you want to change, change your attitude and your goals and live simply. You’ll change more than you expect to and normal, every-day life will be easier.

How have you reduced your cost of living? Please tell me what difference it’s made to your life and what hints you can share with us here.

37 comments

  1. I have done most things you've suggested and yes, I can live quite cheaply. However the only thing I haven't cut out is one good expresso coffee most days. I can't stand instant, capsule or poor quality coffee, and will happily go without if my source of good coffee is closed. This is my reward! Cheers!

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    1. Almost two years ago we bought a Jura Impressa coffee maker. Coffee is our thing so why not put our money where we can enjoy it. We have not regretted it once. It is wonderful to have for friends to come by and have coffee and way cheaper than the cost of running a Keurig which makes terrible coffee anyway.

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    2. Recently a wise person in our lives said that you can have anything that you choose to spend your money on. We don't choose to spend it on a bunch of stuff or the latest gadget here. We enjoy our home and good food and good coffee and a few meals out every month. When we paid off the mortgage and were completely debt free it was as if we had been running on a treadmill for decades and we could finally get off. Now we are early retired and live on half what we had and it is plenty and in fact we seem to have more than ever before because of our mindset. We still live in the house that is too big and where we raised 5 children but the real estate market here prevents us from downsizing so we have come to terms with the extra that it takes to live here and have decided to just enjoy our home for now. We could most likely sell this house in a day or two as we have seen in our neighborhood but there is no where to move to as new people are coming to our area for jobs by hundred thousands every year.

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  2. Rhonda
    When I first read your blog I thought I was doing well, paying off my home, eating well, going on holidays etc. But then I looked at the cost of my waste (food, packaging and single use) and I felt horrified.
    I now grow what I can, make where possible (dishcloths) and recycle. I really try to assess any purchase to ensure it is the best choice possible.
    The result is I spend less, I have learnt skills and even though my choices may mean more effort I am more content. I am not afraid to retire as I know I can cope, thrive and care for not just my family. I feel I am now in control of my life :)

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  3. Hi Rhonda, Your baking photos are making my mouth water. Those are all of my favorite pre-arthritis foods. Yum! I have always lived on about $20,000. a year. I use a Jitterbug flip phone, I don't have t.v. or cable, and my car is twenty years old. My computer is eight years old, and I have a used mini ipad that I bought for fifty dollars seven years ago. I do splurge on travel, but that is a conscious choice. It fills my heart with excitement and joy, and I get really excellent rates as a friend and family member of one of the VIP's at NCL. My shoes last me for several years, and I ride a bike that I bought second hand at the Salvation Army. I've used it every day for seven years. Excellent post, thank you!

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  4. Your words are always so encouraging Rhonda. We just moved and downsized by nearly 40%. We are not out of the woods yet. We have to get the other house ready to sell. How do we feel? It's difficult to put into words, but we are elated! Over the moon! It's amazing how having less lets you feel "more." I recently said, I just want to put my money in the account and hang a "Do not disturb" sign on it. We now have a viable path towards planning our retirement rather than the "We'll just work til we die" outlook. Your first book was one of the first I read on the subject and remains one of the most sensible. Again thank you.

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  5. We're reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder in our homeschool right now, and Ma Ingalls has a saying, "Enough is as good as a feast," that I've been trying to remember, and remind my kids about, in these post-Christmas days and weeks where it seems like the holiday gifts and celebrations started a serious case of the "I wants." We're chipping away at getting our home paid for and pay off everything else every month, so hoping to be debt-free in a few years. I look around our home and really we have more than enough, so we are working on scaling back in some areas, using things up and not replacing them (or replacing them with handmade versions) in others, and in general trying to rein things in. It's all a process and we do the best we can, where we are, with what we have to work with.

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  6. I love budgeting and have been doing it for a long long time...I use an excel spreadsheet and it is brilliant. Total column plus different tabs for different things ie bills, food, petrol etc. These days the big issue is the actual living expenses with electricity being so expensive, house and contents insurance is outrageous etc. I love being in control and knowing how much is in each column and I also have a bills budget with everything listed for the year and when it's due so that's taken into account as well. Some people are scared to budget however knowing where everything is going and what's coming up to pay in the future is peace of mind in my opinion.

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  7. Hi there, Rhonda. I'm just catching up now on your more recent posts...how lovely you are writing here again for it's like hearing the voice of a wise friend. I have made a return to part-time work, now my son has started high school, but the simple, frugal things I've learned while I was on extended leave are second nature now. I sewed a few new work clothes myself and I op-shopped for others. My freezer is stocked with home cooked meals, they are a godsend after a long day, as is my little stockpile that I've got on a shelf in my linen cupboard. We just saved some extra money by switching mobile phone providers too. My husband will still cut my hair. We hope to save a significant amount by continuing on with these and other simple things. I am struggling with extra tiredness and trying to tweak some routines though.

    I loved the photos you posted recently of your home. It looks a happy and comfortable place to be. Meg:)

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    1. It's good to be back, Meg. 😊 It sounds like you're going well too. I hope your return to work has been a joy.

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  8. Hello and good morning from Norway Rhonda. We have had an awful year economically as almost everything we own has broken down and at great cost! We have however managed to stay off credit cards by cutting back quite harshly. Pay tv is one thing, dying my hair, stopping buying clothes, not wasting ANY food but getting creatve etc. etc. It is amazing how much one can do with potatoes 😊! It has been rather fun really, and we both want to continue on the same path. Hopefully saving a little now, unless more huge bills turn up (though we have certainly had enough already, shudder). I am soo greatful not to have a credit card debt! Blessings, Pam

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  9. Hi Rhonda,

    the main impact of reducing our expenses is that we are now soooo close to mortgage-free, and I have cut back my working hours. The reduction in stress when you only have a tiny mortgage is huge, and I can only imagine the elation when we make that last payment. We definitely would not be in this position if we did all of the things most people do - new cars, holidays, following fashion,upgrading everything etc...

    The best part is that when you wean yourself off all of the things you thought you 'should' have and do, you find a lovely, quiet contentment. And you give your self more choices about how much to work, for whom, and when you will stop work.

    We live a very simple life and I often think to myself how rich we are because we have money we don't need to spend, and no debts hanging over our heads.

    Madeleine

    PS Rhonda, I couldn't find a 'contact' button for you and I wanted to write to you about something that is so much on my mind regarding retirement in rapidly changing times. How can I contact you?

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  10. My mum used to say 'If you can't afford it do without'. It has stuck with me all my life. I lived without carpet for a few years until I saved up and bought the cheapest I could… and house slippers for everyone. We take our shoes off at the door and it meant that my cheap cheap carpet lasted several years until I could afford better.. We still take our shoes off at the door. I hand washed the whole families clothes until I could afford a second hand washing machine... five children and two adults worth.... It was hard but I just would not go into debt to buy a machine. Heck, people managed for generations without all the gadgets that we take for granted. I own my house and am completely mortgage and debt free and saving up for my retirement years. We will downsize to a much smaller property in a less popular area just before retiring so we can add a cash injection into the fund. It will cost half the price to run a smaller place. Properties near to good schools cost a lot more than something a little distance away. You can save tens of thousands of pounds by buying in a different neighbourhood. People are people wherever you live.. A better property location doesn't always mean that nice people will be your neighbours.

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  11. Thank you for your post - helping to put everything into perspective. I have taken early retirement and my husband is working part time as we prepare for retirement. We have paid off our mortgage and completed major projects on the house and are now cutting back in all the usual areas. This has led to more creative thinking and solutions and I'm enjoying the challenge. Life is slower, simpler and much less stressful and this has shown up in reduced blood pressure etc.
    Reducing expenditure is a work in progress and our attitude is the most important aspect of this - we are embarking on a new phase of life with a reduced income and embracing it fully takes some time. We're getting there and the reward of a simpler, more mindful and meaningful life is in sight. Thank you for your encouragement and that of your readers - it really helps to find your tribe.

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  12. I remember reading a similar post of yours about 5 or 6 years ago - the first time I had ever read your blog Rhonda. We have done amazingly well since then - nearly unbelievable. Using this common sense approach we have gone from being debt drongos to debt free, money in the bank, wise investments for retirement and a feeling of deep content.

    This is why you need to keep writing and telling this message - it changes lives.

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  13. Finally after 35yrs our old blankets need to be changed - I was horrified when I saw the cost of buying new ones ......instead I'm using yarn from my wool stash to crochet some blankets and material from my stash to put a quilt together! Meantime, I'd love to start making our own bread - itsbeen years since I did that and yours looks soooooo yummy!

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  14. I loved this article! My husband and I began downsizing and living a more simple life about 5 years ago. The more of our accumulated lifetime [42 yrs] of 'stuff' we let go, the more free we felt. We gave away everything that we could to family and friends and Hubs still took 6 truckloads of 'treasures' to our local charity shop. We went from lives of aimless consumer consumption to our present life of slow, simple living in a paid-for small home at the beach, driving a 15 year old car, and still saving money each month even though we live on a modest fixed income. We are happier than we've ever been. I wish like crazy I'd learned that 'enough' is truly 'enough' and far better than 'too much' decades ago! Thank you for all you do to show folks the simple, frugal life. Living with intention, as you write about, saved our lives when we didn't even know we needed to be saved.

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  15. For us, one of the biggest savings has been to hang onto our older cars when all our friends around us get new ones every five years or so -- it seems like once one is paid off, they buy another and start making payments again. We have one 20 year-old Subaru and another 14 year old SUV. Both run well, and we do spend money on maintaining them, because a thousand dollars or so a year spent on a car you own outright is STILL cheaper than two new cars would cost if you were making payments. And eventually those "new" cars would also need maintenance anyway, so to us it's kind of a no-brainer to hang on to your vehicles as long as they are still safe and in good working order.

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  16. I have just returned to full-time work, and the transition has been challenging (2 parents working full-time, with 2 teenagers). We are both putting in the maximum superannuation contributions allowed, and I am always mindful/frugal about spending choices. I have noticed that it is a lot harder when I am busy/stressed, since convenience often wins out.

    Until recently we had paid for our home, but we just undertook a renovation that will significantly improve our quality of life. I think we could have the mortgage paid off in 5 years though.

    I have a lot of frugal habits, but I sometimes feel like my husband and kids make it very hard.

    We have consciously made the decision to align our spending with our values. Therefore we spend our money (after living expenses and salary sacrificing the maximum into our super) - on education and travel. Both are very expensive. We had an epiphany a few years ago, after a life-threatening health experience. Since then we have taken the kids to USA, Europe, Asia etc. I don't regret it, since we have (and still do) a significant amount of savings.

    My best tip for frugal living, is to spend aligned to your values. I also reject caring about the Jones's. Who cares? It is my observation that you never know other people's true financial situation. Sometimes the people with the new car (leased) and new house are struggling the most.

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  17. Hi Rhona,
    Four years ago I went back to uni full time in my late thirties (with a two year old) and we lived off my husbands modest income and some casual work (by me) to supplement it. To make it work, I looked at every dollar and we made big cut backs. We were constantly amazed at how we could still afford the important stuff, on what previously we would have thought was not enough money. Now I'm qualified and working and my husband has started as a first year apprentice along with a smaller income. We have maintained our happily frugal ways in order to pay off our mortgage as soon as possible and create opportunities for our future. I'm horrified at how much we aimlessly spent previously and I feel so lucky that we got to make this big change that will benefit us greatly in the future. We happily drive 2 very old cars, because I don't need my car to contribute to my status, I just need it to get me places. I haven't bought many new clothes in recent years because I'm quite happy to wear the things I love and make me feel good over and over (and I look after them). Funnily enough, I realised the other day that I unintentionally I have a capsule wardrobe. while these changes were all initially to save money, they also balance well with my desire to tread more lightly on the earth...take care Rhonda! xx Skye in Tasmania

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  18. I am sure you have heard this many times already but - IT IS SOOOOO GOOD TO HEAR YOU AGAIN XXOOXX

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  19. We moved from one coast to the other this year, and as the dust settles, I'm so, so happy to have your "voice" back in my inbox once again. We did upgrade our living space (1800 square feet for five people, as opposed to 940), and I am truly finding my feet in this new venture. We were lucky enough to pay off everything but our mortgages this past year. Now to build that retirement account!

    But what I truly want to thank you for, Rhonda, is food that looks like food that could come from my kitchen. I agonize over my rising bread, thing to make it look "perfect," and then I just pass over the compliments about how good it tastes because it doesn't look pretty. But I forget that all that matters is how good it tastes, not how it looks. So now I'm off to feed Herman, my sourdough. Thank you!

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    1. I'm happy to be back, Yvette. It's good to meet you. Don't fuss over the bread. If it tastes good, that's all you need.

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  20. Hello Rhonda and friends! I discovered your blog about a month ago and have been enjoying reading all about your life over the years, slowly catching up to current times. I have always enjoyed a frugal mindset and now that my youngest is in college I am getting rid of extra possessions in anticipation of downsizing once he graduates and I'm on my own. I'm both nervous and excited at the thought of finding a smaller home, perhaps a townhouse instead of the single family home I live in now. I keep my monthly expenses low and am debt-free except for a small amount left on my mortgage. I love reading your blog and hope you'll keep writing to us. It's like finding a friend across the world who thinks very much like I do.

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  21. Hi Rhonda, Is there an email subscribe option for you blog now? Sally

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  22. Lovely to hear from you again Rhonda. Life has moved on for us in Swan Hill. Children are either married or working and now we have a Grandson. Hubby has changed jobs a couple of times but we are still working hard and have very, very little left on our mortgage - it should be paid by June this year. Can hardly wait until we are debt free I’ve put in heaps of fruit trees and am about to renovate the veg garden so it will supply us with most, if not all, of our veg needs. We have chooks and ducks and two sheep. Life is good and I would not be as far along this path without your wise words of wisdom over the years and lots of hard work. I’ve realised that what I have is “enough” and am working my way though my house and craft stash keeping only what is needed and dispensing with the clutter. Thank you Rhonda and Hanno for sharing your way of life over the years

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    1. Now there's a name from the past. Great to see you again, Calidore and good to know life is going well for you. xx

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  23. "more fabric for you stash" But don't you know she with the most fabric wins? ;-)

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  24. So pleased to see you back Rhonda. I've checked in from time to time hoping you would maybe be here. Thank you for your quiet, calm wisdom. I have learnt so much from you. I pray that you health will improve and you will be blogging away for many more years to come - we need your common sense and values.

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  25. In 1995 I took out our grassy backyard and began gardening/growing food. In 2012 I added teh front yard space to food growing/preservation.

    20 years ago a wise person (I don't remember who) said, "when you buy your next car, pay it off. But don't stop making payments. Put those payments in a savings account and when you need to replace it, write a check". We already had no credit card debt as we had achieved that from 1987-1992.

    Also at that time I had read "Your Money or Your Life". We did the work and follow it to this day. That was the beginning of "the present" for us. We aimed to be debt free. We started a snowball mortgage plan and paid off our home and an acquired cabin in the mountains in just 79 months.

    We have enough cash on-hand for new roofs, appliance replacement, Heat/AC replacement so big costs are already covered. Our retirement accounts are already sufficient to fund us at our current lifestyle.

    We are 57 and work because we want to-not because we must. We continue to track every penny and control our $ instead of it controlling us.

    I cannot say enough good things about a thought-filled financial life. I have followed you for many years for your wise guidance. I follow other frugal blogs as well. Being part of a community is VERY helpful. You are one of my "jones's" :-)

    oh the car story......after 17 years I sold the car from 1999 and bought my dream-car....wrote a check. I love my car and have no regrets about that check size. It was such a wonderful experience.

    For those of you just beginning this journey, we are proof that it can be done. From the brink of bankruptcy to this reality. Take control.....today! :-)

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  26. I loved reading this. We have been slowly cutting back over the last year and our biggest saving was going down to one small car. Last week our phone plans ended, instead of up upgrading we had them repaired and put onto a new connection for half the price. Your book and Scott Pape's "Barefoot Investor" changed our lives.

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  27. Rhonda, I loved this post and equally loved all of the fantastic and inspiring comments it inspired!

    Madeleine

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  28. The food that you prepare always looks so delicious !

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  29. Hi Rhonda, I just discovered your blog and am reading through your posts from the beginning. I learn something new from every post! Did you have another blog before this one, it seems to start a little abrupt? We sold everything 8 years ago and are living full time in an (older) 5th wheel that we bought at an auction and a truck we got at Craigslist. They're both paid for. We stay in the cheaper campgrounds for seasonal or monthly prices and often do some work as a bargain towards the rent.We do travel which is our biggest cost but otherwise we buy at thrift stores, e-bay, craigslist etc, although we seldom 'need' anything. No credit cards, if we can not pay for it we don't buy it. I'm from Europe myself and was dumbfounded when I first came to the US and heard about the concept of 'establishing credit'. Huh? Since we're often 'rural' I started to bake my own bread and grow veggies in hanging baskets that I hang from my awning. I'd love to have some chicken or sheep (I'm a spinner) so maybe in the future, when we settle down, I'll get some. I don't think we'll ever buy or rent a house again though, we'll just anchor down in a nice campground or rent a small lot somewhere nice.

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    1. A warm welcome, Brigitta. Yes, establishing credit is quite odd when you think about it with a critical eye but I have no doubt it's not questioned by most westerners. Brandywines was my first post. I didn't want to make a big splash or stand on my ego to introduce myself, so I wrote about what I was doing that day. I continued to do that and am still doing it today, 11 years later. I hope you enjoy the read and I hope you continue to comment. You're living an interesting life and I'd like to know how you move forward.

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