Home » Extreme Things We’ve Done to Save Money While Getting out of Debt

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Extreme Things We’ve Done to Save Money While Getting out of Debt

How to Save Money
How to Save Money

If you’re looking to get out of an extreme amount of debt, you’re likely going to have to take some extreme cost-cutting measures to save money and reach your debt free goal.  We haven’t yet stooped to dumpster diving for dinners or making our friends’ kids gifts out of what should be in the recycle bin, but we’ve done our fair share of cutting costs.  Here are something of the more intense things we’ve done to cut costs and save money in our home.

1. Make our own laundry detergent.  We’ve cut detergent costs by 90% doing this and this adds up to a lot of money for a family of six.  We also line-dry the majority of our clothes now.

2.  Stopped paying the kids’ allowance, or, work for pay, program.  This was REALLY difficult.  Luckily, the kids were awesome about it and we saved $70 a month.

3.  Cut charitable giving dramatically.  This was another tough one.  We’ve always worked to be generous with charitable giving, but we knew that we needed to be working on this debt stuff first.

4.  Cut down on entertainment dramatically.  Down to a goal of $60 a month.  We’re thinking of reducing it even further, but we want to make sure to give ourselves some leeway in this area, in order to avoid debt fatigue.

5. Cancelled cable.  It was only $45 a month or so, but again, priorities.  We did recently add back in Netflix for $8 a month, for sanity’s sake, in order to survive the long winters here.

6. Cut our grocery bill in half.  From $900 a month down to $450 or so a month. This wasn’t as hard as we thought it might be, but there are some days when we get terribly tired of beans and rice. 🙂

7.  Cut kids’ activities.  We’ve traded in most organized sports for group freebies such as bike rides, walks, hikes, etc.  Maddie is now taking Krav Maga, as we see this as more of a necessity now that she’s getting close to driving age.  We feel self-defense classes are very important in today’s world.

8.  Cut homeschooling expenses.  Dramatically, by probably about 90-95%.

9.  Cut out all salon expenses.  Yep, all of ’em.  I now cut my own hair, and I cut Rick and the kids’ hair too.

10.  Learned to grow, can and freeze our own food.  This is no easy chore, but it’s been a huge money saver for us, in fact, we’ve double the size of this year’s garden from what we planted last year, and plan to can and freeze 10 times the amount of food we canned/froze last year.

It can be difficult to make such extreme cuts when you’re working to get out of a large amount of debt, but it’s important to remember what your goals are for your money.  This one step will help you to decide which of your current expenses really matter to you, and will help you to reach your goals faster.

What extreme things have you done, or are you doing, to save money while paying off debt?


        • Laurie says:

          Wow – that’s great, Rob!!! With 4 kids we’re saving a decent amount of money on laundry detergent – with 13 you must be saving a boatload of cash. 🙂

  1. Britnee says:

    I have a confession to make! I just went to the salon and got my hair cut and highlighted last week! Last time I went to my hair stylist was, um, over 4 years ago. Before we decided to get our finances under control. This was one of many things we did to cut our spending and save money. Actually, we did a lot of what you posted above. I think kids understand more than what we give them credit for because my girl sure did. Great post, Laurie.

  2. I’ve done a lot of these things as well, Laurie! I’d love to cut my own hair, but curly hair definitely needs a professional 🙂 I’ve limited my hair cuts to twice a year. I never get manicures, pedicures, or wear makeup, so those are pretty easy things to avoid for me. If I had more free time I would absolutely grow all my produce. I love gardening!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, our oldest has curly hair too, Addison, and it is a lot harder to do yourself. That being said, it sounds like you’re doing a terrific job of cutting those beauty costs: way to go! 🙂

  3. Wow you cut half your grocery bill…that’s a great savings. I actually asked my wife if she wanted to cut my hair, but she didn’t want to mess it up. I’m a little worried too, but I was willing to give it a shot. I spend $14 a month so it’s not too bad. We cut down eating out, but that probably has to do with the baby than anything else.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, babies will do that to your eating out schedule. 🙂 Depending on your hairstyle, I think it might be difficult for your wife to cut it, and can’t blame her for not wanting to take that chance. $14 a month is pretty reasonable for a haircut.

  4. My parents have been making their own laundry detergent for the last year. It appears to be the same recipe you use. They love it. Its a great opportunity to save. I tried to incorporate it with my Husband and he was not a fan. I think he’s so used to the smell of store bought detergent, he didn’t feel his clothes were clean without it. I need to play around with the scent to get my husband on board.
    As for my savings, I made it through 3 years of law school without cable or internet in my home. We have internet now, but still no TV package. We also do as much free entertainment as possible!

    • Laurie says:

      That’s great, Kate!! I can understand about the scent. We get around that by using the homemade laundry detergent and then using a regular scented dryer sheet (cut in half, of course 🙂 ). That way we get the yummy smell still. 🙂

  5. I think I or we have done most of these things in the past as either a way to cut expenses or simply to save more money. We’ve learned with quite a few of them that we’re more than fine with the curtailed spending and that just gives us more money to save. Another option for #9 is to find a local beauty school. Nicole did that about two years ago and cut her hair cutting costs from about $60+ per trip to $8. The great thing is that her hair looks just as good, if not better, and you also get to help someone else out who needs the practice. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, as a former cosmetologist, I’m a firm believer in the value of beauty schools. Right now, though, I don’t even want to spend the $10 plus tip. Maybe after cc balances are down a bit more.

  6. Brian says:

    We cut out some wants. I had satellite radio in my car, gone. We cut back on entertainment, eating out. Those quick convenient, unhealthy meals were very costly.

    • Laurie says:

      Ain’t it the truth, Brian!!! Now on the rare occasion that we go out to eat, we really notice how yucky you feel after eating out.

  7. I LOVE that you make your own detergent! I need to try that! And I am with you on a number of these items. For most of them, we don’t miss any of the changes that we made, although, I have a funny post I am writing soon about how my mom thought we were in terrible financial health because we cut cable. I laughed and told her that we never use cable, so it was just a responsible financial move to go from cable to Hulu Plus/Amazon Prime.

    • Laurie says:

      There really is something gratifying about it, Michelle. We are growing lettuce for the first time this year, and I can’t wait to eat our home-grown salads. 🙂

  8. I don’t think I’ve done anything too extreme actually. I’ve just tried to scale back slowly. Necessity is the mother of invention though so I know I’d be willing to do a lot if I had a lot of debt. The grocery thing is still really hard for me. Part of me wants to cut back, but then I know some of the things that are cheaper (like rice and pasta) make me gain weight. I’m also on the fence about getting something like Republic Wireless instead of my 94 per month bill for my at&t iPhone. For some reason that one is hard to let go of too.

  9. Great list, Laurie! I am particularly impressed with you making your own laundry detergent! Also, I totally understand why you would sign up for Netflix again, it’s a great way to save money on entertainment if you think about it (going to the movies is much more expensive). I’ve cut out cable, buying clothes, lattes in the morning and a lot of other small things. I definitely feel much more in control of my money and it feels great! 😛

    • Laurie says:

      It really has been kind of fun. The process was a bit tedious, but every month, when I can go into our bucket instead of paying $7 at the store for detergent, I get a little smile on my face. 🙂

  10. Kim says:

    We’ve done many of those things as well, but I still am not a gardener! Believe it or not, I even do minimal sewing now instead of throwing away anything needing repair. You also know how to just not need things. I used to use a moisturizer right after showering and then use lotion. Did it since I was a kid, then I tried only using lotion and it really wasn’t a big deal. It’s amazing how much habits cost us, and we really don’t even know why we do half of them. Do you see yourself staying with the same strict frugality when you’re out of debt? I bet you end up sticking with many of the same practices you are using now.

    • Laurie says:

      I totally agree about the habit thing, Kim. So many things we just buy and use because we’ve always done it. We’ve worked really hard lately to analyze what we’re using more to see if it’s a want or a need, and it’s amazing how many things we’ve been able to cut out. As far as our frugality after the debt is paid off, I’m not sure. I can totally see us still making our own laundry detergent, but I’ll likely go back to going to the salon. 🙂

  11. These are some great ideas. I am really lucky in the food side of my budget, I don’t pay for meat except chicken and seafood, which I rarely eat seafood. My family raises beef and pork and my parents have one of each butchered each year and they are still kind enough to provide me with both beef and pork for no charge (except bacon because there’s never enough to go around :)). This really helps my grocery budget!

  12. This just shows your awesome determination Laurie! You are dedicated to being debt free and that is awesome. When you want something, you have to come up with ways to do it. I can’t even remember what I did to save, but brown bagging my lunch for the past 7 years has helped tremendously.

    • Laurie says:

      The brown-bagging saves SO much money, doesn’t it?? Rick’s co-workers give him a bit of grief for it, but we’re saving so much money he doesn’t even care. 🙂

  13. I agree with what you said that this step will help you decide which of your current expenses are the most important to you. We cut back on eating out, buying clothes and our allowance to mention a few. For us these were easy to cut back on and we’ve seen a big savings. We really are not upset about it either because it was a trade off in order to have other things we really want and are more important to us.

    • Laurie says:

      It really is worth it, isn’t it!! I wouldn’t trade the money we’re saving for any of the stuff we’ve given up. The road to debt free feels SO much better than these little luxuries. 🙂

  14. I’m not sure how “extreme” they are, but my wife cuts my hair, we coupon quite a bit, enter giveaways for income (which has been quite a bit of fun, actually! It’s crazy to make thousands of dollars entering giveaways. My wife also works Saturdays at a part-time job she’s had for years now and I do my side hustles as well.

    • Laurie says:

      The haircut thing is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Those little amounts each 4-6 weeks can really add up! You guys are doing a great job, DC. You’re well on your way to that FI you’re working toward! 🙂

  15. Some of these extreme things could be considered, in the end, welcomed. Although today making your own detergent or canning your own food might seem strange or a waste of time, it’s also really great: not only for the pocket, but it’s also a lot healthier. When I read the ingredients listed on something very basic and see tens of things listed there, I get the headaches. Funnily enough, we once bought some strawberry-filled cookies (or something similar) and there were NO strawberries (or extract or syrup or anything) on the ingredients list. Yuck!

    • Laurie says:

      That kind of stuff scares the crap out of me, C, and is precisely why we are working so hard at growing our own food. When we read the ingredient list on some of this stuff, and it’s stuff we can’t even pronounce, that’s a very good sign we probably shouldn’t be eating it.

  16. To be honest, I haven’t done anything even close to “extreme” in efforts to save money and pay off debt faster. Maybe the closest thing would be learning to cook. Apparently I’m not that bad of a cook. 😛

  17. Our food budget has stayed more or less the same because we did up the quality of certain foods we eat but my husband saves a lot of money by growing a beard! We haven’t had to buy razors for him in a long while.

    I haven’t had a hair cut since Christmas and I usually only get one every six months or so, and when I get one, I opt for a cheap $25 or less hair cut. I’m too afraid to cut my own hair yet but I might try it too!

    • Laurie says:

      Razors are SO expensive, aren’t they?? I think they jack up the price b/c they know the guys don’t have a choice. You’ve done a great job of finding cheap haircut places. I would imagine the typical salon out there is quite spendy!

  18. Dianne says:

    One thing I do is I make gifts to give for Christmas and birthdays. I also make my own laundry soap, and recently I made my own shampoo with soap nuts and face cream using essential oils, coconut oil and shea butter. I discovered making your own face cream costs 1/4 the price of buying it, and it’s pure without any additives. I’ve been without cable for years, and have the good old fashioned antenna perched on my roof. I refuse to pay for TV! 🙂

  19. Thanks for the mention, Laurie! It can be really hard to cut back expenses, particularly things like charitable giving or kid’s allowance (or earning money opportunities!). The good thing is that it is short-term and by taking care of your debt – you’ll actually do far greater good later. I’m impressed you cut your own hair. I fear what mine would like if I attempted to do so. You are clearly braver and more talented than I am!

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Shannon!! I’m glad you get our long-term perspective thinking here. LOL, without my previous cosmetology training (YEARS ago this was a short-term career for me), I wouldn’t do my own hair either. Even now, sometimes when I’m doing it, I have to wonder what the heck I’m doing. 🙂

  20. Kay says:

    Wow, you guys are really doing great! The grocery bill amazes me the most, that’s a big difference. I also cut my son’s and husband’s hair but am not brave enough to tackle my own – at least not while I have to show up to an office every day!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, it’s easy for me to say, knowing I can hide myself in my house with my unprofessional haircut, but most times people don’t notice. 🙂

  21. I think a lot of those changes are just good moves, Laurie. I wish, some days, that we cut the cable. But then Game of Thrones comes on and I’m happy it’s there. 🙂

    The most extreme thing we do is probably renting out a room, or maybe riding a scooter to save on gas money. I don’t think they’re that far out of the norm, but others probably do. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      I think sharing your house with others is a huge sacrifice, DB40. Giving up your privacy is quite the unselfish act. I’ve heard about that Game of Thrones, sounds addicting! 🙂

  22. We did cut our satellite TV several years ago to focus that money to pay down debt. Cutting the kid’s allowance and any charitable giving would be really difficult. I’d try to find a way to make both of those continue to happen at some level. There are too many blessings and lessons that come in those areas to completely abandon them. Of course, I’ve never been in such a dire situation to have to consider doing that, so I’m really speaking from non-experience. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, you know, we didn’t cut those things at first, but then realized we were in a situation where we had to temporarily. We’ll do much better at blessing our kids and others once we get to a more stable financial situation. But for now, we’ve got to get our own situation settled and stable.

  23. Super cool tips, Laurie! One of the things I’ve stopped doing all in the name of savings is getting my nails done. It was $50 every 2 weeks and I just couldn’t justify any more 🙂 I do that at home now and it’s worked out very well. I’m saving $1,200 just with that one activity alone! You just never know how much your outsourced personal grooming costs 🙂 I’m glad I’m off that train!

  24. debt debs says:

    Laurie ~ you guys are inspirational! It really makes me think we could do more. We tried the laundry detergent but didn’t really like it. Maybe we were making it wrong. 🙁

    • Laurie says:

      I think it takes some getting used to, the different color/consistency/scent, when we’re used to how companies have worked SO hard to make items pleasing to the eye/nose/pallet. My thought when we first started using the homemade stuff was “I want my pretty, thick, clear-colored detergent back”. Now though, I couldn’t care less b/c we’re saving so much cash. 🙂

  25. You know what my feelings are about being frugal and although we’ve always been frugal I think many other people could benefit from making changes to their budget. Simple changes can save loads of money. I read somewhere the other day that just by checking rates every month ie. Insurance etc you might be able to save some cash. We cut our grocery bill quite a bit because we were spending far too much. Now we track everything. Great post.

    • Laurie says:

      It really helps us too, tracking everything, Mr. CBB. When you can look, at a glance, and see how much you’re spending each month/year/week on stuff, those numbers hit you in the face real quick, don’t they!

  26. Pauline says:

    My mum has been cutting my hair for most of my life, now it is $2 in Guatemala so it is affordable 🙂 but my sister regularly pays about $80 to get it cut in Paris when my mum is 5 minutes away and wonders why she is broke..

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, $80 is pretty common here too, and I just can’t do it. It’s amazing how people don’t see that those “little” choices can add up to BIG cash, isn’t it, Pauline?

  27. FI Fighter says:

    Sounds intense, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I haven’t had cable in like forever, and I was eating free food from work for the longest time. It’ll pay off in the long run.

  28. deborah almaraz says:

    hi to everyone with all your sugestions but the title here is extreme saving. I was a single mom and let my sister and her husband and 3 year old move in my one bedroom apartment to save money. They slept on a sleeper sofa in the living room. I found the best way to get used furniture was when one of the tenants moved out they left furniture and household items. I still did not have a kitchen table and chairs so we used an ironing board and sat around it on the floor. I am now 57 and my kids laugh at me when I tell them that. And i also washed clothes in the tub with a bar of soap because i didnt have 50 cents for the washer. We hung the clothes on hangars to dry. Yes i did iron them. I already had the ironing board if werent eating off it. I had short hair all my life till now. The kids have moved out and Im letting it grow out. Gray and all. Thank you for your blog and good luck.

    • Laurie says:

      Deborah, kudos to you for doing whatever you needed to do to care for your family. You really are a terrific example for today’s society, when needs and wants are so easily confused. Thanks so much for sharing your great story, and best of luck to you!

  29. anna says:

    I tried cutting B’s hair before, and let’s just say as spendthrift as he is, he’d rather fork over the $35 to a professional any day. 😉 I’m so envious of your food bill, especially from your starting point, great job, Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, Rick said that when we took the kids to the $1 movie theater, which was absolutely grimy and disgusting. You know it’s bad when the guys say “I’d rather spend the cash”. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Ramen is cheap, and okay for a once-in-a-while meal, but not sure if I could do it long-term. We’ve got some as back-up food storage, that’s about as far as it gets here, but the kids and Rick LOVE it. 🙂

  30. You’ve done some great things to save money Laurie! DIY Laundry Detergent and I still need to try this!

    I’ve just reinstated netflix too after surviving without cable for a year and a half. It’s £5 per month over here in the UK!

  31. We also did the “cut the allowance” thing. It just seemed crazy to be struggling to make ends meet, but pay a significant amount of money to our kids each week. What we also did was to keep track of how much we “owed” our kids during the allowance suspension period. Once things got better for us financially, we paid them double allowance until we were “even.”

  32. I had one terrible experience with letting my cousin try to trim my bangs in college. I’ve gone to a professional every since. But to keep it cost effective, I only go about twice a year. I love that your daughter is in Krav Maga. I feel like I should take some self-defense classes. Instead, I just sleep with a bat next to my bed!

  33. We are not in debt repayment right now and hopefully never will but we have done some of these things to save money. We are trying to grow garden to cut back on our grocery costs.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, thanks, Melanie. Mostly I feel more like I’m trying to find my way out of a lost jungle than being an inspiration. 🙂

  34. Jen says:

    I think it is wonderful that your family has made great strides in lifestyle changes to get out of debt. However, I have read your blog from the beginning, and I am beginning to lose interest because we never see any NUMBERS! You are telling us that you are getting out of debt slowly, but as far as I am concerned, there really isn’t any proof. After all, anyone can SAY they are paying off debt. Maybe full disclosure is really what you need to be truly honest and accountable to yourselves in your debt pay-off journey. Otherwise, I don’t truly accept your blog as a personal finance blog.

    • Laurie says:

      Jen, thanks for your honesty – I appreciate it. Our reasons in not disclosing the numbers are a few-fold: #1, there are people in our lives who’ve found out about our blog (not by our choice; by the gossip train) that we really aren’t interested in knowing about our finances. #2, We are a bit concerned about revealing our numbers out of fear that people will be discouraging to us, although we realize that most of our readers will continue to be supportive. #3, we are a bit embarrassed about how high the numbers are, we are also a bit uncertain of revealing the numbers because then, because we’ve revealed what our DTI is, people will know what our annual income is, and we’re not sure we’re comfy with that. We do have plans to reveal them in the book that we’re writing on our journey, however, we might reveal these numbers beforehand, or maybe do a percentage of debt graph instead of an actual numbers graph. We’ll have to think more on this. Thanks again for weighing in – we appreciate it, Jen! I might add too that even with bloggers who do reveal the numbers, there’s no real proof that they are paying off their debt either. Anyone can say or chart what they want as far as their numbers are concerned.

      • Jen says:

        Thanks for your response, but I do have to disagree. I believe if you start a blog about getting out of debt and want the support of other PF bloggers to continue, you need to get those numbers out there! Otherwise, your blog title is really kind of a misnomer. If not, you could perhaps just focus your blog on ways to live frugally, and that’s OK. There are a lot of great frugal living blogs out there too.

        I honestly feel that people who reveal their personal debt (especially when they have a personal photo and a name out there!) are being honest about their debt totals and their debt pay-off. For instance, when I read about Melananie at “Dear Debt” or “Debt-Free Tejana,” I know that they are being truthful. What would it benefit them to be dishonest? It doesn’t change the debt!

        Perhaps you could begin by just sharing the totals on one of your debts and the progress you have made. I really don’t think you can go on and on with a debt blog without some disclosure. Another blog, “The Pursuit of Riches” is following the lack of disclosure, and I just don’t feel I can root for her anymore when we are completely in the dark!

        I don’t expect you to publish this reply, but these are just my two cents. Good luck in your journey. 🙂

        • Laurie says:

          Jen, thanks again for your honesty. There are lots of opinions out there on this subject, and in the end, the decision has to be ours. No matter what anyone else says, we do have the right to our privacy. And just because someone “reveals” their debt, by putting a number that they choose on their blog, doesn’t mean they’re being honest, and it certainly doesn’t mean that if someone doesn’t put a number up that they are being dishonest. Unfortunately, those are uneducated judgments and nothing else. Our life is our life, and we (along with Pursuit of Riches) are blogging to help and encourage those who wish to be helped and encouraged by our writings.

  35. Pingback: Week End Round Up # 29 » Debt DisciplineDebt Discipline
    • Laurie says:

      Hi William! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Teaching your children to work, IMHO, is one of the best gifts you can give them. 🙂

  36. Congrats on the cost cutting measures. Growing your own food is the bomb. Especially when you get to compare it to organic produce prices.

    I would suggest considering fruit shrubs and trees. They produce A LOT, are easy to care for and their fruit can easily be frozen. We planted a variety of plants & shrubs on our small property as opposed to grass (various berries, apple trees, rhubarb, lots of lilies and other flowering plants). Last year we got 66lbs of various berries from our yard, which we rack freeze and use all winter long–they last until the next picking season starts. I didn’t bother weighing the apples from our two still very small apple trees because we had way too much to freeze and gave dozens of buckets away. We use the flowers to make arrangements for our home and to prepare lovely bouquets as gifts when we are invited to various gatherings. They are always well received.

    • Laurie says:

      We do actually have several fruit trees and shrubs. 🙂 4 apple trees, a pear tree, a blueberry bush and tons of raspberry bushes. We’ve also got an abundance of flowers/flowering plants around the property, all of which were here when we bought. It is indeed a great money-saver!

  37. I agree with one of the earlier comments about making your kids work for their allowance. I think that it’s a good teacher for kids. But I think that making the decision to talk to your kids and honestly telling them the situation that you all need to work together as a family to sacrifice to pay off your debts might be an even bigger teacher for your children. I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but it’s one that I think your kids will probably remember growing up and give them a better sense of the true value of money and hard work.

    This is a great list and I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

    Also, in response to that other commenter, I don’t think numbers qualify you as a PF blogger or not. It’s about the journey and the process, I think that numbers really mean the most to the individual. Everyone else has different conditions and standards of living so their individual needs will be much different.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Zee, for the comment!! Yes, a lot of the decisions we’ve had to make have been tough ones, but I’m certain the kids will be glad for the sacrifices, knowing that we’re putting our family in a better place financially, and knowing that they won’t have to worry about being financial responsible for us along with their own families.

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