Despite having 13 years of combined experience in financial services when we first started dating, we had a combined total of $51,000 in credit card debt. The old saying, “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes,” could apply, except that was part of the problem. We had lots of really nice shoes.
After we paid off our $51,000 in credit card debt in two and a half years, we created a side hustle to help others pay off debt, save for retirement and live better lives. Now our goal is to turn our side hustle into our hustle.
We’re happy to say we’re halfway there! A few months back, one of us (me, as I’m the one writing this) quit his W-2 job. To maintain financial control, we’ve re-implemented much of what we did when we paid off our debt.
We actually re-implemented most of these practices six months before I left my W-2 job. We did this to ease ourselves back into more restrictive spending. After we paid off our debt about 10 years ago, our spending returned to conscious but comfortable levels. We knew that losing one W-2 income was possible, but it still required an adjustment to our spending behavior and was necessary to grow our business.
If you want to pay off debt, put retirement or college savings on the fast track, or grow your own business, this article is for you.
We Cut Out Comfort Expenses
We never planned to live in perpetuity with the frugal lifestyle that we adopted to pay off our debt. Our goal was to pay off our debt so that we could then improve our quality of life. We were paying $10,000 a year to finance our debt. When we paid that off, we had an extra $10,000 a year in “found money.” Who wouldn’t take that to Vegas?
Well, we didn’t go to Vegas, but we did improve our quality of life with a housekeeper, monthly massages and better wine. We experienced a conscious budget creep.
Our current goal is, again, not to live a perpetually frugal lifestyle but a bigger one. For the time being, however, we’re giving up margaritas at the bar downtown today to have margaritas on the beaches of Mexico tomorrow.
The best way to calculate where to cut back expenses is to itemize all your expenses on an Excel spreadsheet. We’re Excel junkies, and itemized all our expenses for a full six months. This exercise highlighted categories in which we could cut back or cut out. Some categories surprised us. It was not surprising, however, that we could cut back on wine.
Admittedly this exercise is tedious, but it’s effective. For those with less patience or time, we recommend using budgeting apps. These connect to all of your accounts and itemize expenses for you. Some only itemize as far back as each account allows. (For another way to see how your spending is affecting your finances, you can check out your two free credit scores, updated every two weeks, on Credit.com.)
We Resumed Our Pre-Debt-Free Grocery Budget
We’re calling this category out specifically because it’s a large category for most budgets, ours included. When we were paying off our debt, we spent $75 to feed two grown men for an entire week. After we paid off our debt, we increased that to between $100 and $150 by buying higher quality and luxury foods. Organic hummus is not a necessity.
Our weekly grocery budget is now $100. We’re achieving this in a number of ways. Our main grocery store has double-deal Wednesdays. This means that on Wednesdays only, both the previous week’s and the following week’s sales are active. We only shop this store on Wednesdays, and only buy sale items.
When we shop other stores, for personal care or cleaning products, for example, we only buy items that are either on sale or for which we have a coupon. If we’re lucky, we get both discounts.
Figure out the hook your stores use, and don’t take the bait. Use those hooks to your advantage. Only buy sale items or items for which you have coupons.
We’re Back to Free & Cheap
Just as when we were paying off our debt, we know we can’t go from being social butterflies to hermit crabs. With planning, we figure out how to have fun and still reach our financial goals. The operative word here is “planning.” Without financial safeguards in place, we know we’d easily fall off the money train.
Before each weekend, we establish money-conscious plans. Whether it’s a game night at our house, a free concert in our local park, or a no-cost physical activity such as riding our bikes or hiking, we’re scheduled.
We Increased One of Our Retirement Contributions
We adapted this strategy from what we did when we paid of our debt. When we did this, we cut back our 401K contributions to the minimum that allowed us to get the maximum retirement match from our employers. We didn’t want to leave money on the table.
As I work for myself, I have no company retirement match. So we don’t lose retirement savings momentum, we increased my husband’s 401K contribution to make up for my loss on contributions.
As soon as our business makes a profit (we currently only have revenue), I will contribute to a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA.
All Revenue Goes Back to the Business
This, too, is an adaptation of what we did when we were paying off our debt. Then, we implemented the above strategies and put all the money saved toward our debt. We’ve adapted this for our current goals to put any revenue our business earns back into our business. This is to grow our business so that it will someday support both of us.
Regardless of your financial goals, earmark where all your “extra money” will go. If your extra money doesn’t have a pre-determined destination, there’s a risk it will be spent unwisely.
As a wine enthusiast, it’s hard for me to say that a $60 bottle of wine isn’t a wise purchase. But as a money expert, I know that it’s not. However, we’re willing to give up a little today to have more tomorrow.
This is how we’ll achieve our financial and life dreams.