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How to Pay Off Debt Without Living Under a Rock

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For some people, paying off their debt is pretty cut and dry. They make a plan, stop spending and get the job done. For us, it hasn’t been so cut and dry. We started with a boat load of debt. We realized that there were many emotional reasons we were spending beyond our means and had to work to uncover and heal them. And we had to figure out ways to help pay off debt that worked for our individual personalities and for our family.

What I mean by that is that some people make a plan to stop spending in all areas, move to a trailer, sell everything they own but their bed and just kick it on their debt. I’m SO impressed with people who do things so intensely. But as Ruth spoke about on Fruclassity, you need to know yourself and make a debt payoff plan that works for you and yours. Our debt payoff journey wasn’t just about getting debt free, it was about getting debt free in a way that protected our family and helped us to heal from the financial mistakes we made and from what caused us to make those financial mistakes.

For a long time we felt guilty for not giving away our pets, selling our home and living in a tent to kick the debt to the curb ASAP. But we also knew that we were going with our guts and doing things the way we felt led to do them. I’m a big believer in instinct, and we wanted to crush our debt without destroying our family. So we made a plan that works for us and the plan is working.

Here are seven of the things we are doing that are helping us to pay down our debt without living in a van down by the river.

We Figured Out Ways to Increase Our Income

With such a high debt load we knew we had to increase income to get things done. Rick started picking up overtime hours whenever they were available, and I started to research ways to make money online. There are a million ways to make money via side hustles and online avenues, but I knew I had to find the ones that worked best for me and our family’s schedule. I chose two options:

  • Making money by freelance writing for others
  • Making money by blogging

Ironically, by starting a blog and learning how to monetize it, the freelance jobs came automatically as a result of that. Because I had started a blog and showed off my writing skills on the blog, people who needed freelancer writers started knocking on my (email) door. Ninety percent of the freelancing work I’ve gotten came without me doing ANYTHING but answering an email request. And as a bonus, I’m making thousands a year off the blog as well.

You can find a side hustle job that works for you as well. Here are a couple of books that can help you do that. Increasing your income will give you more cash to put toward your debt so that you can pay it off sooner rather than later.

Side hustle ideas by the side hustle pro, Nick Loper: The Side Hustle Path: 10 Proven Ways to Make Money Outside of Your Day Job (Volume 1)

Another great side hustle book: Hustle Away Debt: Eliminate Your Debt by Making More Money

We Switched to a Better Cell Phone Plan

For us, a part of good prepping is to each have a cell phone. That way we can be in contact if the SHTF even if we’re not near land lines. I shudder when I think of what we were paying for cell phone usage before we switched to Republic Wireless. Now that we’ve made the switch, we spend over fifty percent less for our cell phone usage than we were with our other carrier. We pay about $13-$15 per person for our cell phones now when you include taxes. That’s because Republic Wireless has this awesome plan that pays you back for unused data. The less data I use (wi-fi usage is FREE), the less my cell phone bill is. Switching to Republic Wireless (or whatever other cost-effective plan you can find) will result in a permanent income increase that will give you more cash to pay off your debt.

Is Republic right for me? Smartphone plans starting as low as $5 per month.

We Track Our Spending

People often brush this step off but I cannot under-emphasize what a powerful tool spend-tracking is. When you know exactly what you’re spending your cash on each month, you have to come face-to-face with your spending choices. While this may not sound fun to some people, facing up to your money waste is exactly what will help you to spend in a way that will help you grow wealth instead of squander it. Yay for financial freedom!

Recommended Reading: The One Week Budget: Learn to Create Your Money Management System in 7 Days or Less!

We Embrace Frugality

We used to look at frugality as a punishment of sorts. “Oh, woe is me. I’ve made this financial mess and now I can’t do A, B and C ever again until the debt is paid off.”

Now we view frugality as a means to achieve our dream of financial independence. And we’ve learned that it’s possible to be frugal without crossing the line over into cheap.

Frugality simply means choosing to spend your money on what’s most important to you instead of wasting it on mindless stuff that’s not really important to you. For us, mindless stuff meant going out to eat and picking up the cute stuff we saw at the big box stores just because “it’s only $5, or $10 or $20.” It was that nickel and diming that got us into debt, and now we’re saving those nickels and dimes and it’s getting us out of debt.

Recommended Reading: FrugalityPays: Money Saving Tips For The Underachiever

We Stopped Caring What Others Think

This one was huge for us. We both grew up thinking that other peoples’ opinions of us mattered, and we often made spending decisions based on those opinions. Once we stopped caring what others think and started making our financial decisions solely on what was best for our family, the debt started decreasing at a faster rate.

Recommended Reading: Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want

We Assess Our Plan Weekly and Change Things if Necessary

Can’t emphasize this one enough. We are constantly assessing our plan, seeing what’s working, what we could be doing better and monitoring our spending for waste. When we find an area in which we can spend less, save more or whatever, we implement the change. We keep on working and trying different things until we find a system that produces maximum results.

Recommended Reading: Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!

We Embrace Continuing Education

Part of where we get new ideas to implement is by continually reading books, reading blogs and looking for other avenues of financial education. We figure the more we know, the faster we can get the debt gone. And it’s working. If you want to improve your finances, turn off the TV, put down the smartphone and start reading!!!

Recommended Reading: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

More from Ramit Sethi here at his blog. Ramit’s blog is one of the leading PF blogs out there.

Which reminds me: we don’t just educate ourselves about debt payoff. We educate ourselves about how to grow wealth and manage wealth too. We’re preparing for that day when the money is flowing in big time by learning how to get it flowing in and how to manage it when the flow starts increasing.

Money isn’t everything by a long short, but the more financial independence you have, the more freedom you have to do the things you want to do and to spend time with those you love. Start working your way to financial freedom today!

What is the biggest thing you’re doing that’s helping you to pay off debt and/or build wealth?


  1. There are so many personal choices involved with paying off debt. I could have never given up my pet either. And when I was struggling financially, I just couldn’t bring myself to move out of my apt and in with a roommate. Just couldn’t. You can’t be miserable AND pay off debt. You have to be able to survive the journey.

    • Laurie says:

      “You can’t be miserable AND pay off debt. You have to be able to survive the journey.” Well said!!! I like what you said about not being able to deal with having a roommate. If that’s not your thing (it wouldn’t be mine either πŸ™‚ ) there’s absolutely no sense in living an unbearable life during the journey. Good for you, Tonya, for doing what you needed to do!

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Laurie,

    You are growing your income and being frugal. That is like a double edged sword that cuts your debt down both ways. You are taking all the right steps.

    At this point, I am reviewing and looking for ways to improve my savings rate.


  3. Puh-reach!!

    So many people avoid making lifestyle changes to save money. I think this is because they’re terrified they’ll turn into penny-pinching hermits. It’s really not true. I was terrified and insisted I had a “standard of living to maintain” when we started our journey. But it’s amazing how much better life is once you commit to living beneath your means and appreciating a simpler way of life.

    Our focus is primarily on smarter food planning. We’re big foodies, which means we have very particular tastes. We can’t just eat canned food and call it a day–it has to be fancy. We’ve realized FIRE is still possible while eating very fancy meals. It’s all about planning and learning and gaining new skills. πŸ™‚

    • Laurie says:

      Funny how the standard of living goes out the window when you see the debt numbers flying downward and the savings numbers flying upward. πŸ™‚

      I think there is a balance, even with the groceries issue. You can enjoy a nice meal without breaking the bank. You just have to get creative. πŸ™‚

  4. Erik says:

    Great post FF, I really like the way you weave in your amazon links effortlessly. I hope to be able to do that in the future as well.

    For me, I’m focused on increasing my income. I’m mindful of lifestyle inflation and need to stay consistent with my savings efforts. I was able to pay off my student loans and car loan a few years back. Now it’s about growing and investing wisely πŸ™‚

    Do see yourself getting into debt again, say, to finance a business or real estate, etc?

    • Laurie says:

      The key is in promoting only the stuff you believe in, Erik. If it’s about the readers, it’s easy to choose how and what links to put in. Good for you for keeping an eye on lifestyle inflation – it can be a big detractor from goals! Honestly, I have doubts about us getting into debt again, even to finance a business or investment real estate. We just don’t like having it. We are just in the beginning stages of learning about real estate investments, but our plan for now is to buy fixer uppers with cash so that it’s all cash flow and no mortgage hindering us.

  5. Great post, Laurie! I think knowing yourself is the first step to getting out of debt and/or taking control of your money. Everyone is different and like you said, some people are fine selling their home and eating ramen noodles for every meal and others are not. We all have to make sacrifices, learn from past mistakes and adjust our money mindset but being miserable while doing it, just makes the journey longer and increases the odds that you will quit. The one step I still struggle with in life and in money is not comparing myself. I’m better but if I don’t pay attention, I quickly revert to the comparison game, which is one I can never win.

    • Laurie says:

      Ha! I wrote about that on Fruclassity today!! Yeah, the comparison stuff is a huge dream killer. It’s hard not to fall into it, but feels so much better when you conquer that urge.

  6. Great post with a great point, Laurie! Since we’ve relied on one income for so many years, we’ve mostly relied on frugality and lowering expenses (with a few small side-hustles thrown in). I love the point you make about checking in weekly to adjust as needed. We do the same – look at our expenses from the week/month and adjust based on that info.

    I can think of two big things that have been game changers for us – 1) tracking spending and 2) spending more intentionally. Though we’re not perfect, evaluating spending to see if it lines up with our values and priorities really helps us make better decisions.

    • Laurie says:

      Tracking spending is still my favorite. It allows you to have a quick glance at where your money is going and change directions quickly if one spending area is out of control. Thanks, Amanda!

  7. There no one size fits all plan. You have to make it work for you. Sure you can use some of the same basic principles like the debt snowball, or tracking expenses, etc, but ultimately its about personal choice and what works for you. We never once considered getting rid of our pets, in fact we got a new puppy when were still in debt. We worked it into our budget and didn’t slow down our debt repayment at all. I’m sure some frowned upon that decision, but its not up to them.

    Continued success Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly!!! I love that you got the dog while you were still in debt because you knew that you were committed to your plan and the dog wasn’t the catalyst to throw in the towel. It was just one, well-thought-out decision that was right for your family. Way to go!

  8. Mackenzie says:

    “It was that nickel and diming that got us into debt, and now we’re saving those nickels and dimes and it’s getting us out of debt.” Yes!!! Those little things add up for sure. It is just $5 or it is just $10, oh how we all wish we could take those words back! πŸ™‚

  9. Great tips. Everyone just assumes that to pay off debt, you have to really deprive yourself. They don’t want to do that and often give up before they even start. Frugality for some reason has that negative connotation of sacrifice and deprivation. But to me, it’s just learning that living a rich life doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money.

  10. katscratch says:

    I could do the deprivation tactic when I had no choice, and my debt was largely due to a big tax bill and moving costs after divorce, but I resented it a lot and felt like I wasn’t giving my kiddo the life I thought he’d have (and had up until that point). Of course, looking back, he remembers all the fun stuff we did like riding bikes and playing at the lake playground every day. He doesn’t remember how frustrated I was working more than full time because thankfully he was doing fun stuff with his dad at those times πŸ™‚ He doesn’t remember eating rice and beans, eggs, and salad every day, but he also doesn’t remember being hungry.

    My pace this time is just right for me so far. I have enough wiggle room to pay surprise vet bills, or car repairs, and have enough grace to let myself spend the money needed every now and then for events that are important to us.

  11. This is a great list, Laurie. It never ceases to amaze me how factors besides income and expenses and spreadsheets impact our financial health. “We stopped caring what other people think” and “We embrace continuing education” – these aren’t things that automatically make people think of money management, but they point to a mindset that is more powerful in money management than any budget could be.

  12. Great post. It’s amazing (“disturbing”?) how many people refuse to track their spending. This in itself can have a HUGE impact on financial fitness. Some people seem to believe that just ignoring the spending makes it all okay though -? Everyone should budget – broke or wealthy. It’s just a matter of personal prioritization, which is a good thing, not bad. Maybe we can all help get the word out there to more people over time.

    • Laurie says:

      I always tell people that spend tracking is life-changing. It’s so easy to piddle away your money when you’re not tracking it. Spend-tracking has been the main thing that’s helped us fix our money problems and get out of debt!!

      • Ditto for us. I’m a huge proponent of tracking- it literally changed our lives. I think budgeting is an excuse to spend. It may sound like splitting hairs but it makes a huge difference in my life.

        I also love how you begin this list with increasing income, and end with increasing knowledge. I think that says it all. You’ve got to earn and learn, stay in one place and you will drown (like a shark). You can track all the spending in the world but in the end, it is your internal drive that will make you financially secure. After all, you can drive your expense to near zero, but they can’t go lower than zero.

        • Laurie says:

          Love what you said about budgeting being an excuse to spend – that can SO be true!!! We realized that after about three years into debt payoff. We would use our budget as an excuse to spend up to our allotted numbers on groceries, entertainment, etc. Now we work to see how much lower we can go than our budgeted amount.

  13. Olivia says:

    We’ve been through the “rice and beans” times, not to get out of debt, but to stay afloat. All of your suggestions work for those who need a bit extra to keep above water. Thanks.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it can be tough – we’ve been there too, for the purposes of staying afloat. In the Depression, this was normal, but it’s much more difficult for us in today’s world, I think.

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