Debt in Hindsight: What Would You Do Differently

They say that hindsight is 20/20.  Looking back at how you got yourself into debt, would you do anything differently?  Let's learn from one another's experiences!

Welcome to the Wednesday Debt Discussion at Six Figures Under.  I started these Debt Discussions based on my philosophy that when burdens are shared, some heartache is spared.  As usual, all are welcome, whether you are debt-free or weighed down heavy with debt, though I’m specifically addressing the latter.

They say that hindsight is 20/20.  Looking back at how you got yourself into debt, would you do anything differently?  Are there habits you wish you had avoided?  Would you have patiently waited and saved instead of spending on credit?

Since this is a positive and encouraging place to discuss debt, I won’t say “regrets,” but I do want to talk about things we would do differently if we knew then what we know now.  Discussing debt prevention can not only help us from making the same mistakes again, but it can help others to not make similar mistakes in the first place.

Our Story

My husband and I both had frugal upbringings that carried over to our marriage.  We both graduated debt-free with undergraduate degrees.  We had a low-maintenance lifestyle and were money-conscious.

After working a couple years at a “real” post-college job, my husband felt like he needed to go back to school for more education. We knew some debt would be necessary, but it turned out being much more than we figured.

(You can get more details in the longer version of our debt story.)

During our law school years, we lived frugally.  Still, there are some areas where we could have done better.

Things I would change

Budget More

We tracked our spending, but we didn’t really budget.  My excuse was that since we didn’t have a real income, we didn’t need a real budget.  To our credit, I did have a goal of $200 per month on food, which we stuck to pretty faithfully.  In everything else, I just tried to spend as little as possible.

Since we have been living on even less now, I can really see the benefit of having a budget.  The challenge of keeping spending down is empowering.  Instead, without a budget I felt powerless to make anything happen.

I was involved in our finances in more of a passive role.  I tracked our spending and that’s about it.  If I had been actively budgeting, I would have had a better idea of how much we should take out in student loans.

Take out less

We always took out the maximum that we qualified for.  Having a family and a house and not knowing what the future held, we felt safer having money on hand.

Near the end of school, we still took out the full amount even though according to our bank account we probably didn’t need it.  The job market was looking bleaker than it had in years past.  On top of that, we didn’t know when our house would sell.  The thought of owning a house while we were trying to build a business across the country was a scary prospect.

We were very blessed to sell our house within a month.  My husband did get a job, and though he makes commission, he receives a draw which prevents irregularity in his income.  Knowing that everything had a happy ending, it is easy to say that we would have done things differently.  However, since we wouldn’t be able to see the future, it would be hard to make the decision to take out less.

Seeing what we’ve been able to accomplish as we’ve set goals and given them our all, I feel like we could have had more faith and worked harder so we wouldn’t have had to take out so much.

It’s Your Turn

  • If you could go back it time, what would you do differently to prevent or lessen your current debt burden?
  • What hindsight advice would you give to someone else who is now in the position you were?

No-Spend Month Update– Easter Edition

No-Spend Month Update: Easter Edition.  We're starting the last week of our No-Spend Month!  So far our no-spend month is going as planned.

I hope you each had a happy Easter!  We enjoyed beautiful spring weather while celebrating the most significant event in the history of the world!

April has flown by!  We’re starting the last week of our No-Spend Month!  So far our no-spend month is going as planned.  Our debt payment this month should reflect this sacrifice.  Stay tuned next week for that.

Where We’ve Spent

  • I spent about $30 to mail baby clothes to my sister.  When I had my first boy, my sister gave me all her baby boy clothes (see more ways to get kids clothes free or cheap).   After two girls, she is having another boy any day now.  I used her boy clothes for both of my boys.  I picked out the best things and jam-packed a box with something like 15 pounds of baby boy clothes.  I meant to have them sorted, packaged and sent at the end of last month, but it just didnt’ get done.  Since she is due soon, I couldn’t wait until next month.

For those of you who are thinking that paying postage for a bunch of used clothes is not very frugal, let me explain.  Since the clothes (which are my sister’s entire boy stash) belong to my sister, I really wanted to get them back.  She was generous to lend us those clothes, which saved us lots of money in clothing our boys.  Spending $30 to send them back to her is small price to pay for the use we got out of them.  Babies grow so fast, that the clothes still look nice.

Where We’ve Saved

  • I love making special Easter outfits for my kids.  My mom often sewed matching dresses for my sisters and me, which is a tradition that I wanted to continue.  I sewed the dress for my daughter and the bow ties for my sons with fabric I already had in my fabric stash.  In fact, the fabric is from a duvet cover that I got at a rummage sale years ago for $1.  I had already used the fabric for a dress for her when she was little.

I used notions and a pattern that I already had in my stash.  I got white sandals for my daughter several months ago at the thrift store for a dollar or two.  They were new (still had the tag), but one of the straps was broken.  With a couple of stitches, I mended the sandal to make it as good as new!

Easter outfits from repurposed fabric.  SixFiguresUnder.com

An unsuccessful attempt to get all three of them looking at the camera at the same time.

 

  • Another tradition we have is Easter baskets.  I spent $6 on Easter candy last month.  I also used some non-Easter candy that we had on hand.  My kids don’t care weather it is shaped like an egg or not– candy is candy.   I re-used plastic Easter eggs saved from years past.  I included a few small things (wooden games, new underwear, stickers, kaleidoscopes)  from our gift box.  My mother-in-law got the new heavy duty garden trowels to go in their baskets.  We made finding the baskets part of the fun.  My husband made treasure hunt clues for the kids to follow to find their baskets.  
  • We dyed eggs laid by our chickens.   Even though the eggs are various shades of brown and tan, they still take the color just fine.
  • We got together with some other friends for a play date.  I had recently told my friend about my blog (see how I’m practicing what I preach about disclosing debt!).   As we were leaving, she totally surprised me with a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs.  She saw that I was really missing them this year and made a special trip to the store to get some for me.  They were just as wonderful as I had remembered.  Is that true friendship, or what?
  • We ate asparagus, spinach, chard, and lettuce from the garden.
  • We had a park date with friends in town(two play dates in one week is unusual, but it was spring break last week).  My mother-in-law had some appointments in town the same day, so we all rode together.  She offered to drive.  It’s 20 miles each way to town, so that saved us a couple gallons of gas!  It’s too early to say, but it looks like we might be under on gas this month even though gas is up to $4 a gallon.  Saving on gas is a nice side benefit of a no-spend month!
  • When we run out of bread before I have a chance to make bread, we have pancake sandwiches for lunch.  This isn’t a new thing for us, but I thought I’d mention it since I did it this morning.  I just make pancakes from our homemade pancake mix for breakfast and then use the leftover pancakes to make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch.  My husband thinks it’s a fun (and yummy) change from regular PBJs.

 

 How are you doing?

Once again, I look forward to hearing how you are doing, whether you are having an all-out no-spend month or doing some calculated budget downsizing for the month.

  • What successes have you had?  How have you avoided spending?
  • What challenges or temptations have you faced?

Other Posts

If you missed the other posts in the No-Spend Month series, you can read:

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6 Kitchen Appliances That Save Us Money

Some people equate thrifty with minimalist.  While some people avoid kitchen appliances that take up space and only perform one function, we have found that many of those kitchen appliances save us money.  They are worth their space in gold!

Many frugal people are also minimalists.  In some ways we are minimalists, but when it comes to kitchen appliances you might think otherwise.  While some people avoid kitchen appliances that take up space and only perform one function, we have found that many of those kitchen appliances save us money.  They are worth their space in gold!

Here’s our list of kitchen appliances that are worth their space in gold.

 

 Food Processor

When we received our Food Processor as a wedding gift, I had no idea how much we would love it.  I had never really used a food processor before, so I didn’t know what I was missing.  Unfortunately for you, the model I have, which we affectionately call “Gonzo,” is no longer made.

We use our food processor when we puree tomatoes to can, when we puree pumpkpin to freeze, when I grate zucchini, when I grate cheese in bulk, when I make homemade laundry detergent, and when I want thin slices of zucchini, carrots, potatoes, just to name a few!

Griddle

Since we started having Cold Cereal Sundays instead of having cold cereal everyday, pancakes and French toast became staples. The griddle allows me to cook a lot more at once than I could do in a pan.  We made sure to get a griddle that can handle 8 pancakes at a time.  Using the griddle and my homemade pancake mix, we can whip up pancakes in no time flat, which saves loads of money.

 

Blender

Blendtec BlendersI use my Blendtec to make green smoothies nearly every night.  I’ve talked about how we made our regular blender last for a year of green smoothies before we upgraded.  We really, really love our Blendtec.  Besides smoothies, we use it for purees, soups, eggs, and frozen treats.

Unlike other blenders, it grinds wheat.  My sister doesn’t have a wheat grinder so she mixes her pancake batter, wheat berries and all, in the blender.  The Blendtec makes nut butters as well.  I love that is has pre-programed cycles, so I can just press one button and the blender adjusts the speed to go through the appropriate cycle.  It has a greater capacity than our other blender which is great since I’m blending for five smoothie-lovers.  With it’s flat sides, it is a cinch to clean.  You can read more about how we eat healthy and save money with our Blendtec.

Rice Cooker

Rice is the epitome of frugal foods.  It is a staple for most of the world.  We love including rice in our menu, but making rice on the stove is not our forte.  Even when I watch it like a hawk, I still end up with the rice at the bottom of the pan burned or congealed together.  With the wise use of a gift card, we got a Rice Cookerabout 5 years ago and it has made all the difference.

Besides allowing us to eat ever-frugal rice, the rice cooker also steams veggies.  Just stick the veggies in the steaming basket on top of the rice for the last 10 minutes of the rice cycle and you’ll have perfectly steamed veggies!  Our rice cooker also has a delay timer, so our rice can be ready for us right when we want it.

Slow Cooker

Making home-cooked meals can be difficult for people who work.  After a long day of work, the idea of cooking from scratch might not sound like much fun.  A slow cooker changes all that.  Crock pot meals involve tossing all the ingredients in the pot and plugging it in.  When you get home from work or a busy day of errands, dinner is waiting for you.  Using a slow cooker will save you again and again as you eat at home instead of ordering take-out.

In addition to making whole meals ahead of time, I use my slow cooker to make homemade yogurt.  I can make a gallon of yogurt at a time!  I also cook beans in bulk in my crock pot.  I freeze them in can-sized portions.  It’s much cheaper than canned beans and doesn’t have any weird preservatives!

If you don’t have a crock pot, check out a yard sale or thrift store.  Better yet, ask some newlyweds.  They probably have several!

 

Wheat Mill

Ever since we got serious about paying off our student loan debt, I have been making all of our bread from scratch.  A while back, we bought about a year’s supply of wheat at a good price.  We store it under our bed which is raised up on cinder blocks (you do what you can when you live in a basement).  Needless to say, our wheat mill has played an integral part in making our own bread.

 

Bonus:

Popcorn Popper

This is a bonus, because it’s an appliance we don’t actually have… yet.  My kids love popcorn, but we don’t eat it very often.  Our friends have a Stir Crazy popcorn popper that is pretty amazing!  I am on the lookout to find one at a yard sale or thrift store.

 

There’s More

Even in our small basement kitchen, everything has a place.  Besides these money-saving appliances, there’s also all of our canning equipment!  I thought about including those items too, because they save us loads of money, but since they don’t plug in they aren’t really appliances.  You can read about a few of our favorites here.

What about you?

  • Are you a kitchen appliance minimalist?
  • What are your favorite kitchen appliances that help your family save money?

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The Formula for Financial Freedom

The answer to getting out of debt, saving for the future and any other financial goal is the application of the same formula.  It's not rocket science, but simple principles that not everyone puts into practice.

Believe it or not, the answer to getting out of debt, saving for the future and any other financial goal is the application of the same formula.

Live on less than you earn

The most basic rule of personal finance is to live on less than you earn.  For some it’s intuitive, for others it needs to be taught.

If you spend nearly everything you earn, you’ll be living paycheck-to-paycheck.

If you don’t live on less than you earn, you’ll find yourself in debt.

If you live on less than you earn, you will be on your way to reaching your financial goals.

Anything you earn and don’t spend can go toward your debt or savings goals.  The bigger the difference between what you earn and what you spend, the faster you will make progress toward your goals.  I will call the difference between what you earn and what you spend your “margin.”

Increase the margin

The primary way to make financial progress is to increase the margin between your earning and spending.  You can do this in two ways:  increasing your earnings and decreasing your spending.  Doing either of these will yield results, but doing both will increase and expedite your success.

For starters, decrease your expenses.  For instance, with a few simple questions, you could save big on your monthly bills.  Eat at home instead of eating out.  If you already do that, try cooking from scratch.  Try some cheaper alternatives to cable.  Try having a no-spend month.  Whatever sacrifices you choose to make, you will increase your margin immediately.

Start making plans to increase your income.  Whether that means finding a part-time job, starting an Etsy shop, looking for a better career, or doing what’s necessary to get a promotion, is up to you.  The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll increase your margin.

While decreasing your expenses is the easiest place to start and see results, in the long run increasing your income will make the biggest difference in increasing your margin.  You can improve your margin through cost-cutting only to the amount that you currently spend.  On the other hand, there is no upper limit to how much you can improve your margin through increased earnings.

The answer to getting out of debt, saving for the future and any other financial goal is the application of the same formula.  It's not rocket science, but simple principles that not everyone puts into practice.

It sounds so simple.  Why is it so hard?

When your earnings increase, the natural tendency is to increase your spending.  Lifestyle inflation can be sneaky and subtle.  It will add up in a lot of little changes.   We can go out to eat more now that we got that raise.  With that raise, let’s go ahead with the bathroom remodel.  We can go to Disneyland this year after all, thanks to that raise.  Without even noticing, we justify away any increase in margin.

Sometimes it’s not an issue of lifestyle inflation that makes it hard to increase your margin.  Sometimes you just need more income.  Maybe you have cut your expenses down to the minimum and you feel like you’re just barely keeping your financial head above water.  Your challenge will be getting creative in finding new streams of income.  Here are some ideas to start you thinking.  Don’t give up!

The third and often over-looked part of the equation is time.  If your first financial goal is to get out of debt, then it’s going to take some patience.  Focus on what you can do and don’t get discouraged.

It’s Your Turn!

  • What’s the hardest part of the equation for you, decreasing your spending, increasing your income, or waiting?