A number of years ago, I met Kathryn and Galen. They’d won a contest sponsored by Woman’s Day magazine. The prize? A money makeover and financial coaching with … me! From our first meeting, we became fast friends. Not only were they drowning in debt but Galen was also dealing with a protracted season of unemployment. Their financial situation was grim.
Kathryn and Galen were totally committed to working with me as I created a plan that, if followed diligently, would get them out of debt and on their way to financial freedom.
The problem was that even with their new scaled-back lifestyle, my students were $1,000 short every month — an amount they would have to find somewhere, somehow, if this plan were to work.
Never have I seen a couple so committed to getting out of debt. They didn’t complain or seek pity. They didn’t whine or make excuses. Instead, they adopted a “scorched earth” attitude as they committed to doing anything possible to reach their goal.
Here’s Kathryn’s list of the 25 things they did to cut expenses and find the $1,000 they needed every month to stay on track with getting out of debt:
1. Joined The Grocery Game (an online program that is no longer in business; an excellent alternative is Grocery Budget Makeover) to slash our grocery bill.
2. Accepted help from community food distribution ministries and ended up working as volunteers once we were back on our feet.
3. When our oven failed and sofa wore out, we replaced them with cheap yet gently used items we found on Craigslist.
4. Made our own laundry detergent (instructions at EverydayCheapskate.com/laundry-detergent) plus anything else we could.
5. Our daughter withdrew from private college and moved home to attend local community college for a fraction of the cost.
6. Reevaluated our insurance needs and reduced premiums by more than $200 a month by increasing deductibles.
7. Quit the salons in favor of cosmetology schools for cheap haircuts.
8. Stopped eating out except for very special occasions to cut expenses.
9. Started paying bills online, saving postage, envelopes and time.
10. Cut the cable and borrowed movies for free from the library instead of renting or buying.
11. Enjoyed entertainment opportunities that were free and local (open houses, festivals, fairs) by looking in the paper.
12. Required kids to pay for things we used to cover (cellphone, gasoline, clothes). Had family meetings to update ourselves on where we are and what we can do as a family to do better and save more.
13. Were committed to thinking long and hard together before we bought anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g!
14. We did not use credit cards or any kind of “free financing.” Period. Even now we continue to pay cash or we don’t buy it.
15. Did a lot more cooking from scratch using all of the pantry items and stuff we have on hand; and learning all I could to keep doing better.
16. We made things last as long as we could and then determined to go for as long as possible before having to replace it.
17. Canceled the gym and gave up the lunchtime Pilates class.
18. We drove less and walked more — and continue to walk 1/2 mile to work.
19. I got a second job where I worked nights and weekends, which was also within walking distance of my house and daytime job.
20. Cut back all phone services (cell and landline) to bare bones — no bells or whistles.
21. Canceled “maintenance contracts” on everything but our computer.
22. We all gave up soda and replaced it with water.
23. We made our Christmas gifts — baskets with homemade bean soup mix and cornbread mix with other goodies tucked in.
24. We took our lunches in brown bags from home all the time.
25. We sold stuff we didn’t need at yard sales, resale shops and Craigslist. Gave lots to charity, taking full advantage of the receipts to reduce our taxes.
It took four years (only four years!) for Kathryn and Galen to make it all the way to debt-free. In that time, Galen became gainfully employed, which turbocharged their race to the goal.
The key to cutting expenses effectively is cutting a little bit in every area instead of eliminating a single spending category completely.
It was a thrill for me to watch Kathryn and Galen cross that finish line. We remain friends to this day. Their commitment to living debt-free continues to be so inspiring.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”