Is Not Keeping Up with the Joneses Boring?

We’ve been on a journey to pay off our debt for 3.5 years now.  At first, we were gazelle intense, but then I burned out from working too hard, so we slowed down on the debt repayment.

Last year, we moved to Arizona from Illinois, so our money became much tighter as we faced unexpected moving expenses.  (Aren’t there always unexpected expenses when making such a long move?)

To make matters worse, in the first 3.5 months of 2015, we’ve faced $5,000 in unexpected car repairs and dental bills.

The good news is that even though we haven’t made significant debt repayment progress over the last year, we’ve been able to pay for all of these most recent expenses in cash, without going further into debt.

Boring JonesesBasically, each year for the last 3.5 years, our budget has become tighter and tighter.  We’ve definitely NOT kept up with the Joneses.

Yet, we’ve not found this type of life boring.

We Appreciate Splurges More

If anything, living this way makes us appreciate a “treat” that we used to take for granted.  For instance, I homeschool my kids, and my daughters recently completed preschool and kindergarten.  They were both very excited about moving on to kindergarten and first grade, respectively, so my husband and I decided to take the family out for a treat.

We went to our favorite restaurant.  We went for breakfast, so the bill would be cheaper, and we used a $25 gift card that we had gotten at Christmas and saved.  Because we had not gone out to eat in about five months, the kids were beyond thrilled.  All of us enjoyed the meal greatly.

Because we haven’t gone out to eat in so long, doing so was a special treat.

Before we got on a budget and started paying down debt, we often went out to eat three or four times a week.  Honestly, because we did it so often, going out to eat had become boring.  Now, because we don’t do it very often, we appreciate the meal when we do go out.

Because we have simplified our lives, we are able to enjoy special occasions much more.

We Have Plenty of Fun—For Free

Just because we aren’t keeping up with the Jones and are on a budget doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun.  Just this week, my mom was in town for a visit.  We took her to a national park, which had free admission that day.  We watched artisans make homemade tortillas and weave baskets.  We listened to a local band, and we got an excellent tour of the site.  Before heading home, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds.

Last month we went to the Tucson Festival of Books.  There was so much to do (for free!) that we stayed over five hours.  We could have stayed even longer.

Going on a tight budget and deciding NOT to keep up with the Jones can be difficult at first.  Now, however, we’ve done it for so many years that we find living this way actually improves our quality of life.

 

How a Drop in Income Turned Out to Be a Good Thing

Over the last few months, my husband and I have lost some income.  Not a little drop in income.  About 20 to 25% of our monthly income.  And let me tell you, we weren’t earning more than the median income for a family of five to begin with.

Our budget was already tight, so when the drop in income happened a few months ago, I’ll admit, I panicked a bit.  I felt a little bit desperate.  I’m sure those of you who’ve been in a similar situation know the feeling.

And then I took a deep breath, and told myself we’d be alright.  And we are alright.  We’re actually better than alright.

Taking Stock of the Positive

The first thing I did, after I calmed down a bit, was to look at the positive side.  We had already paid off half of our debt, so we don’t have several debts to pay monthly.  We’re only left with one student loan payment every month, so that is a relief.  (When we started our debt repayment over two years ago, we had five monthly debt repayments that totaled almost $1,000 a month.  Now, we only need to pay $315 a month.)

drop in income a good thingSecondly, we’re used to living on a tight budget because we’ve been doing so as we try to pay down debt.  Our income drop, though not slight, was not going to throw us into a completely different style of living that we weren’t accustomed to.  I’m used to buying my clothes second hand.  I’m used to cooking all of our meals from scratch and not going out to eat.  The only adjustment we had to make was buckling down even more.

Why Our Income Drop Turned Out to Be a Good Thing

While our budget is lean, we still had some fat there.  We subscribe to Netflix for both streaming movies and DVD home delivery.  After the income drop, I decided the home delivery at $11.99 a month could go.  I had been thinking this for awhile, but I was afraid we’d miss the service.  Guess what?  We don’t.  I can borrow most of the movies for free from the library.

In addition, I think much more carefully about purchases now.  Buying something on a whim is no longer a possibility.  I have to think carefully before making a purchase, which has made me realize I don’t need many of the things I’ve been thinking of buying.

I also took other frugal steps that I’d been to lazy to take previously.  I had always read that making your own laundry detergent can be a big money saver.  A year ago, I bought all the supplies that I needed, but I never got around to making it.  Well, I finally did a few weeks ago, and it works great.  Sometimes it takes circumstances to prod me into changes I should have made a long time ago.

Of course, we don’t want to live with such a tight budget indefinitely.  But now I know that there are many cost cutting measures I’ve implemented that aren’t difficult.  When we make more money, that just means I’ll have room for greater savings and paying off that last student loan.

Have you ever experienced a tight budget?  If so, did you find it to be a good thing as I have?

How Your Confidence Affects Your Finances, Part Two

For part one of this series, go here.

In our earlier post, we talked about how debt can seem insurmountable to some, as documented in the movie, Maxed Out. Unfortunately, some people feel their debt is so overwhelming that they take their own lives. That includes a college student who owed $12,000. While $12,000 is not a small sum, it’s not worth taking your life.

Debt and Your Self Worth

Our culture recognizes that many people identify their worth by their jobs. When we meet someone new and tell them what we do for a living, we say, “I am a teacher” or “I am an engineer.” We literally take on the identity of the job that we do.

What is not discussed is that we often measure our worth by our debt, also. If you’re in debt and struggling to make your monthly payments, it’s easy to feel worthless and hopeless. When my husband and I finally faced our nearly $57,000 in credit card and student loan debt, I felt embarrassed and stupid. After all, how did I let myself get in this position?

Your Thoughts Can Determine How Quickly You Can Get Out of Debt

Keep Calm Payoff Debt 2You may begin your debt pay off journey as I did–chiding myself and feeling like it was hopeless. How would I pay off this debt that was greater than our annual income? The whole process felt hopeless, and I wanted to give up before I even started.

But through our two year long journey thus far, I learned some things that make paying off debt easier.

  1. Be confident. When I stopped chiding myself and instead decided to encourage myself, the weight caused by debt was lifted. Instead of thinking, “I’m so stupid for being in this much debt,” I thought, “We’ve made mistakes financially, but now we’re on the right path. We’re making strides in our debt repayment plan, and eventually we’ll be out of debt.” This encouraging self-talk increased my confidence and reduced my anxiety. I felt empowered.
  2. Look at the little picture. Sometimes looking at the big picture–the total debt that you owe–can be overwhelming. Instead, focus on the smallest debt. If you put your extra money on the smallest debt, you’ll see progress more quickly. If you owe $60,000 but your smallest debt is $5,000, focus only on that one. Don’t look at your total debt load. You’ll feel elated as you watch your progress paying down the smallest debt.
  3. Celebrate small victories. Encourage yourself every step of the way. Praise yourself when you’re able to pay more off in a month than you typically can pay. Celebrate when you pay off one debt. Shout in your house that the debt is gone. Share it with your friends if they know of your debt struggle.

If you’re in debt, you can either hurt yourself mentally and physically by berating yourself and wallowing in self-pity. Or, you can heal yourself mentally and physically by praising and encouraging yourself through the long journey of paying down debt. Which would you rather do?

How do you encourage yourself when paying down debt?