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!
Not only were they drowning in debt but Galen was also dealing with a protracted season of unemployment.
Even with our new scaled-back lifestyle, my students were $1,000 short every month.
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 became committed to doing anything and everything possible to reach our goal.
Here's Kathryn's list of the 25 things they did to cut expenses:
1. Coupons: We 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. Sought help: We accepted help from community food-distribution ministries and ended up working as volunteers once we were back on our feet.
3. Bought used: When our oven failed and sofa wore out, we replaced them with cheap yet gently used items we found on Craigslist.
4. DIY: We made our own laundry detergent — plus anything else we could.
5. Community college: Our daughter withdrew from private college and moved home to attend local community college for a fraction of the cost.
6. Cut premiums: We re-evaluated our insurance needs and reduced premiums by more than $200 a month by increasing deductibles.
7. Cheap cuts: We quit the salons in favor of beauty schools for cheap haircuts.
8. Eat in: We stopped eating out except for very special occasions.
9. Online bill pay: We started paying bills online, saving postage, envelopes and time.
10. Cut cable: We cut the cable and borrowed movies for free from the library instead of renting or buying.
11. Freebies: We enjoyed free and local entertainment opportunities (open houses, festivals, fairs) we found in the paper.
12. No handouts: We required our kids to pay for things we used to cover (cellphone, gasoline, clothes). We had family meetings to update ourselves on where we were and what we could do as a family to do better and save more.
13. Stop, think: We were committed to thinking long and hard together before we bought anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g!
14. No plastic: We did not use credit cards or any kind of "free financing." Period. Even now we continue to either pay cash or not buy it.
15. Scratch cooking: We did a lot more cooking from scratch, using all of the pantry items and stuff we had on hand, and learning all we could to keep doing better.
16. Frugal lifestyle: We made things last as long as we could and then went for as long as possible before replacing them.
17. Cancel the gym: I gave up my lunchtime Pilates class.
18. Cut driving: We drove less and walked more. I continue to walk 1/2 mile to work.
19. Moonlight: I got a second job where I worked nights and weekends, which was also within walking distance of my house and daytime job.
20. Bare bones: We cut back all phone services (cell and landline) to bare bones — no bells or whistles.
21. Canceled contracts: We canceled maintenance contracts on everything but our computer.
22. Drink water: We all gave up soda and replaced it with water.
23. Homemade: We made our Christmas gifts — baskets with homemade bean soup mix and cornbread mix, with other goodies tucked in.
24. Brown bag: We brought our lunches from home all the time.
25. Sell assets: We sold stuff we didn't need at yard sales, resale shops and online. We gave lots to charity, taking full advantage of the receipts to reduce our taxes.
They did it!
It took four years for them to be debt-free. In that time, Galen became gainfully employed, turbocharging our race to the goal.
The key to cutting expenses effectively is to cut a little bit in every area. It was a thrill for me to watch Kathryn and Galen cross that debt-free finish line!
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: NikolayFrolochkin at Pixabay