Friday, March 17, 2017

How to Conquer the Debt Monster



Over a year ago my husband and I decided we were tired of living under a mountain of debt.  We were always stressed, and felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back a lot of the time.  Our reasons for our debt was partly out of our control, as well as some poor decisions on our part.

Right after Christmas of 2015 We decided we would not use credit cards anymore.  We never used them just to shop, but often we pulled them out for groceries or gas during a tough time fully intending to pay it off in the next few weeks to come.  But a few weeks would go by and all of a sudden there was no extra money for a credit card payment.  And thus, the cycle, for many years continued.

Not only did we stop using credit cards, but we worked harder to pay down our debt.  We managed to pay over 6000 dollars towards debt on top of saving 2200 dollars for a vacation out to Colorado.  On a low-income. While some may think it is foolish to pay for a vacation instead of putting that money to debt, for our family travelling is very important to me.  We travel on a budget when we go (we drove 40 hours to see the Colorado mountains and mostly camped and made our own meals!) and we decided that while we would pay down debt though we wouldn't buy fancy items for ourselves or our home, we wanted to continue making memories while travelling.  

Oh, did I mention that during this past year my husband spent 8 weeks away from full-time work so he could attend school as he works towards being certified as a Carpenter?

All this to say, while we are still working on our debt, I feel we have made good progress.  And so while we can't quite say "We're debt-free!" yet, we are taking the steps to get there.

Some of the ways we managed to pay so much and save for a trip as well:

1.  We stopped eating out frequently.  It became a treat, not a weekly thing.  

2.  We don't shop.  No, really, we don't go wandering the stores looking for new clothes or furniture or anything.  Basically, our clothes have to have holes in it before I'll buy a replacement (from the secondhand store) and even then I'll try to repair the hole before I buy a new item.

3.  We don't do elaborate birthday parties.  It's a thing now for kids these days - you either pay a lot to rent a space with entertainers of some sort, or you stay at home and rent a bouncy castle, have a menu fit for a king or queen, and the party bags and game prizes are no longer small, but over the top.  Seriously, for our birthday parties it's homemade pizza or hot dogs, homemade cake, some games and small prizes and that's it.

My daughter's birthday party. a friend came over to help me paint faces
 and we had homemade tie-dye cake, lemonade, some games, and lots of fun!

4.  Our kids do extra-curriculars that are easier on the budget.
 Soccer is a cheap sport, and churches offer tons of kids clubs.  My daughter did some horseback riding lessons but we saved in advance for the lessons and went to a place that did not require her to have a bunch of fancy equipment or to perform in shows.

5.  Christmas is simple.  We do 4 gifts for the kids - Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.  And we pick items that are affordable.  And while I am on the subject of Christmas, we only put up one Christmas tree.

6.  Extra money is not spend money.  Any extra money we get, whether it is a gift or some unexpected cheque we put towards the debt or savings fund.

7.  We are a one vehicle family.  Aside from the actual cost of what a vehicle costs, you have insurance and gas and maintenance to add to that.  Having only one vehicle lessens those expenses.

8.  We don't have a car payment.  We bought our van outright. Sure, it's 12 years old but it gets us from point A to point B.

9.  I don't go to the salon.  The last time I was at a salon to get my hair done was 3 years ago to fix my hair after taking my dreadlocks out.  If I want a new colour I dye it at home, and I let my hair grow instead of cutting it.  Doesn't mean I won't go to the salon again, but it just isn't a regular thing in my life.  

10.  I cut the boys' hair at home.  Last year I bought clippers to be able to cut my boys' and husband's hair at home.  It really isn't that hard if you can get them to sit still. :)

The bottom line is, to pay down debt or save up some cash you need to keep your living expenses low.  The lower you can keep them, the more leftover money there is to go towards those necessary places.  There are times you will feel frustrated at the process, but in the end it will be worth it.  Watching the numbers of your debt mountain go down will give you a high like no other!

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