It only takes a few questionable decisions to end up deeply in debt. If you are struggling like I was, you understand. I hated to pick up the telephone or open my mail. Every day brought a new financial challenge, a new creditor looking for money and a new load of guilt for my shoulders. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to climb out of debt. I’ve done it, and I speak from experience.
Before you do anything else, take stock of your current situation. Go through that pile of unopened mail and make a list of each obligation, the balance, and the minimum payment. Be brave, and leave no debt off the list.
Now that you’ve taken stock of your situation, it’s important that you learn to live within your means. Unless you solve the problems that lead to debt in the first place, getting out of debt will only be a temporary solution. You must change your lifestyle and learn to live frugally to stay out of debt permanently.
Eliminate Luxury Expenditures – Live Well For Less
One of the first ways you can learn to live frugally is by eliminating any luxury expenditures in your budget. Vacations, expensive entertainment options, toys and extra vehicles all strain your already limited financial resources. Debt management programs will advise you to cut back. The answer is looking for low cost or free equivalent activities.
Planning an expensive vacation this year? Instead of travelling a long distance, consider taking a vacation at home this year. Visit your local chamber of commerce or convention and visitors bureau and see what types of free or low cost activities are available in your area. You can enjoy a week of fun and family relaxation without paying for travel costs or lodging. Worried that you won’t relax at home? Try camping in your backyard. Our family set up tents in our back yard and cooked on a camp stove for a week. We didn’t allow electronic gadgets or cell phones. Instead we played games, went for walks, and spent time as a family.
Eat At Home – Better Nutrition, Lower Cost
At first I balked at the idea of eating at home all week. Our family was accustomed to eating out at least three times, and frequently we ordered take out or pizza on the other nights. While I’ve always enjoyed cooking, our busy lifestyle didn’t allow time for preparing meals. Instead, we went to restaurants and used credit cards if money was tight.
I found there are many advantages to eating at home. Not only is it much less expensive, the meals are much healthier. I was able to reduce our portion sizes to something reasonable and eliminate extra salt and fat from our diet. My children enjoyed helping prepare meals, and I took advantage of the experience to teach my oldest children to cook. We had mistakenly thought eating out provided a great family experience. It turns out that our own dining table was the best experience of all.
Here are some tips for cooking at home frugally and efficiently…
- Plan meals in advance. It’s tough to think of something to cook after a long day of work.
- Use grocery store specials to plan the least expensive meals possible in a given week.
- Use your freezer to preserve extras and your crock pot to cook while you work.
- Clip coupons and buy non- perishable items in bulk.
- Stay away from packaged foods. Cooking your own meals is much less expensive than popping something ready made in the microwave or oven.
Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
Living within your means can be good for the environment. Living frugally means looking at each item in your home and finding new ways to reuse it or lengthen its life. All it takes is creativity and the cooperation of your entire family.
Shop Consignment Stores – Many people sell used furniture and clothing at a substantially reduced price in consignment stores. It takes some effort to look for the best quality, but bargains are available. I’m selective, but I frequently find name brand clothing and top quality furniture for 25 – 50% of its original price.
Reduce consumption of common household products – You might not believe me, but it does not take the full cap of laundry detergent to clean a load of clothes. Hand soap and dishwashing detergent work just as well in small quantities as they do in excess. Shampoo and hair products can be watered down without reducing their effectiveness. Amazingly, cloth towels can be washed and reused while paper towels are just discarded. You can save a lot of money by reducing your consumption of common goods.
Anne Hunter is a survivor of deep debt and threatened personal insolvency. She avoided IVA by learning to live frugally and teaching her family to do the same. Ms. Hunter works daily on making the right kind of financially sound decisions to keep her out of debt for the rest of her life.