Several years ago, I met Kathryn and Galen, who live in the St. Louis area. At the time, they were drowning in debt, and Galen was dealing with his recent job layoff. Their financial situation appeared grim.
I agreed to work with them to set up a plan that if followed diligently would get them out of debt and on their way to financial freedom.
Together, we determined that given their current lifestyle and financial commitments, they were $1,000 short every month, an amount they would have to find somewhere, some how, for this plan to work.
Never have I seen a couple so committed to getting out of debt! They didn't complain or expect any pity. Instead, they adopted a scorched-earth attitude as they became committed to doing anything and everything possible to reach the goal.
Here's Kathryn's list of the 25 things they did to find the $1,000 they needed every month to stay on track getting out of debt:
1. We joined The Grocery Game (an online program that is no longer in business; an excellent alternative is the CouponMom website) to slash our grocery bill.
2. We accepted help from community food-distribution ministries and ended up working as volunteers once we were back on our feet.
3. We replaced our oven and sofa with gently used items we found on Craigslist.
4. I made my own laundry detergent.
5. Our daughter withdrew from private college and moved home to attend a local community college for a fraction of the cost.
6. We re-evaluated our insurance needs and reduced premiums by more than $200 a month.
7. We quit salons in favor of beauty schools for haircuts.
8. We stopped eating out, except for very special occasions.
9. We started paying bills online, saving on the cost of postage, envelopes and time.
10. We borrowed movies from the library for free, instead of renting or buying.
11. We enjoyed entertainment opportunities that were free and local (open houses, festivals, fairs) and found them by looking in the paper.
12. We required our kids to pay for things we used to cover (cellphone, gasoline and clothes). We held family meetings to update ourselves on where we were and what we could do as a family to do better and save more.
13. We were committed to thinking long and hard together before we bought anything — anything.
14. We did not use credit cards or any kind of "free financing." Period. We continue to pay for it now, or we don't buy it.
15. I did a lot more cooking from scratch by using stuff I had on hand and learning all I could to keep doing better.
16. We made stuff last as long as we could and then determined to go for as long as possible before having to replace it.
17. I gave up my lunchtime Pilates class.
18. We drove less and walked more. I 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. We cut back all phone services (cell and landline) to bare bones.
21. We canceled maintenance contracts on everything but our computer.
22. We all gave up soda and replaced it with water.
23. We made our own Christmas gifts: baskets with homemade bean-soup mix and cornbread, with other goodies tucked in as well.
24. We brought our lunches from home all the time.
25. We sold stuff we didn't need at yard sales and resale shops and on Craigslist. We gave lots to charity, taking full advantage of the receipt to reduce our taxes.
It took four years, but Kathryn and Galen made it all the way to being debt-free. In that time, Galen became gainfully employed, which turbocharged their plan.
It was a thrill for me to watch Kathryn and Galen cross that finish line. Their commitment to living debt-free continues to be so inspiring.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.