After having accumulated $109,000 in credit card debt, our finances finally reached a boiling point in June 2009. No longer able to meet all of our financial commitments, my wife and I enrolled in a debt management plan. This lowered the interest rates on our lines of credit, allowing us to finally make progress on the balances.
But that wasn’t good enough.
We needed to reduce our expenses. Each month, my wife and I examined every expense and cut everything we could to create more breathing room in our budget. But there was one thing that I promised my wife I would fight tooth and nail to keep.
I promised her we wouldn’t sell our house.
This statement would likely make many financial experts cringe. After all, our mortgage payment is our largest monthly cost, so downsizing our housing expenses would make a huge difference.
But to us, our house was more than just a structure. Sure, we loved the house we had designed and built just a few years prior, but it was the neighborhood that truly made it special. The families that lived in our cul-de-sac had become a close-knit group of friends who would sit out on the deck together until the late hours of the night and get together each Sunday to watch football games. We went to each other’s children’s sporting events and watered the plants when someone was away.
It was the picture perfect American Dream, and we didn’t want to let go.
I fully admit that when I made that promise to my wife, I didn’t fully realize how much our lifestyle would have to change to get our finances back on track. It took close to two years of struggling and scraping to really understand how much we needed to cut our monthly expenditures to avoid living in a constant mode of financial crisis. But, over time, we figured it out.
Here’s how we got our finances under control (while staying in our home):
I’ve become a master at getting the most for our money at the grocery store. I roam the aisles with my list and calculator resting in the child seat of the cart. After everything is in the cart, the number displayed on the calculator simply can’t exceed the target grocery allowance. Even if the total is within budget, I’ll sift through and re-evaluate every item before heading to the checkout line. I’ll make a second round through the aisles to put things back or exchange items for a cheaper brand.
I started doing mystery shopping, picking up $10-$15 per job. The time and effort often seemed not worth the pay, but when that $50 check showed up in the mail each month, there was no complaining.
I took up freelance writing, starting out as a customer blogger for my debt relief company. Over time, I picked up additional writing jobs, as well as work maintaining social media profiles. I go to bed late and get up early — as my blossoming second career will take up as much time as I let it.
When I was younger, I’d complain to my parents about how cold it was in the house during the winter months. I always said that when I grew up, I’d have the heat set so high that you’d mistake my home for a tropical island. Now that I’m the one paying the bills, I sit on the couch bundled up in a sweatshirt and blanket — because I’d rather see a record low utility bill.
As we reduced our expenditures and increased our income, a sustainable budget finally began to take form. We held onto my promise that we wouldn’t sell our house, but not because of some statement I made in brazen naiveté. Our home had become our rallying point and our anchor. In our fight against debt, our home had become one symbolic object we wouldn’t let debt take from us.
We could eat pasta three days a week, work our fingers to the bone, and be huddled up under blankets to keep warm — but as long as we kept our home, we were winning.
We are now less than four months away from completely eliminating that $109,000 of credit card debt. It’s been a difficult four and a half years full of hard work, determination, and tears. Having something that my wife and I could focus on and rally around has been invaluable in pushing us towards the finish line.
Not to mention, it makes the phrase, “Home, sweet home” so meaningful.
Are you struggling with debt? Do you have something that you’re focusing on that helps push you forward?