It seems pretty normal to me now, but people still drop their jaws when I tell them my husband and I have paid over $45K on our loans so far. We still have a year to go, and most days, I have mixed emotions of accomplishment for what we’ve done and annoyance about how far we have to go.
We’ve made conscious decisions to hold off on things like buying a house, going on trips, and even getting a couch that’s not covered in stains (all attempts to clean only make it worse). I didn’t agree to this at first, but over time, I’ve learned it’s necessary for our journey to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Don’t feel like you have to go vegan straight from an all McDonald’s diet. Wade into it with these foundational practices, and build your thriftiness over time. Make the commitment, and I promise you will reap the rewards, and they will be sweet, comfy, industrial-style brown leather rewards. (I’m working on paying off debt with a partner, but there are plenty of single people out there with success stories!)
Or listen to Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. Regardless of what you think about Dave’s philosophies, the man has the market nailed on the psychology of spending. My husband and I read this as part of our premarital counseling, and it was a game changer. I was in way too over my head to figure out where my money should go based on interest, investments, credit scores, etc. I needed a simple plan I could follow, and he offered that simplicity. The baby steps are the map we’re using, and they do work if you commit to them.
I won’t harp too much on budgets, but it’s the most important thing to getting out of debt and winning with money. None of these well-intentioned suggestions are worth anything without a plan for telling your money where to go.
If “budget” sounds too negative, you can refer to it as something else, like a Monthly Cash Flow Plan. It doesn’t matter what you call it, just make one and stick to it. You won’t be perfect, and you’ll never have the perfect budget, so make it as easy as possible for yourself by downloading an app like Mint to track card purchases in real time, or EveryDollar, if you’re a cash-only spender.
3. Buy Secondhand
Many of us know about the amazing wallet and environmental benefits of buying clothes secondhand, but I buy just about everything else used as well. We’re avid pawn shop browsers — they’re always willing to negotiate on price. We recently got a $100 indestructible Bluetooth speaker for $30! We also got all our furniture from Craigslist and OfferUp, and we browse Goodwill whenever we have free time to see what goodies they have. This goes for food, too.
Wait. What?! Hear me out: my mom works in cafeterias and catering, and will offer us leftovers whenever they’re available. This obviously isn’t an option for everyone, but if you know someone with extra food, don’t be shy to ask and offer to pick it up on site. It prevents waste and cuts down your grocery bill.
4. Eat at Home
We budget ourselves to 2 meals out per month. We have a $50 grocery budget per week, and we live very comfortably off that. I plan my meals, make a strict grocery list, and we switched to shopping at discount grocer Aldi. Lunch is exclusively leftovers or PB&J, but I haven’t had to cut a single coupon, so for that I am thankful. On another note, to my former single self, this idea sounds dreadful. My main form of socialization was eating out, and my thought was, how would I ever find a boyfriend (or new friends) if I eat at home alone every night?
In my opinion, it’s much easier to get to know people at home over a crock-pot dinner and a bottle of wine than a crowded restaurant with a live band. Married or single, eating at home is not as time-consuming and boring as I thought it’d be.
5. Side Hustle
Sometimes there’s just nothing left to squeeze out of the budget to pay down debt. The quickest way out of debt is increasing your income. I know that it seems impossible to squeeze more into your already busy life and it is no picnic, it’s exhausting. But the more you make now, the quicker you go from rice and beans to steak dinners (I’m vegetarian though so I’ll stick with the beans.)
I don’t recommend minimum wage soul-sucking side jobs (unless it’s over the holidays, when you can make bank); I mean hustles. Drive Uber during peak hours, deliver pizzas on nights and weekends, and rent your house/room out on Airbnb. Use the talents you already have to freelance some work (try a site like moonlighting or fiverr to advertise). Bringing in an extra few hundred bucks or even $1,000 a month now will change the rest of your life.
I could go on and on about ways we’ve changed our lifestyle to make this dream a reality, but start with these, and I’m sure you’ll be dumpster diving for furniture, too, in no time!
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