Debt Diet

We’re going on a diet at our house. Nope, not THAT kind of diet. (I addressed something like that recently, though!)

Dave recently sent me a link to an article on an awesome blog, And Then We Saved. The writer, Anna, went on a Spending Fastยฎ for a year and swept away her $24k in debt (actually, it was a total of 15 months, but I’m not sure if she was on the “diet” or “fast” that whole time…need to read more). There are some incredible tips on this site, and I appreciate her style of attacking financial issues.

While I’m not buried under massive debt (aside from our mortgage, which I don’t intend to pay off before moving to our next house; otherwise I’ve got a washer/dryer payment, car payment, and a tiny credit card payment that’ll be paid off this month :-)), my husband is still paying off some hefty student loans. Given that, I’d like to find a variation on the fast/diet to meet our needs and help me get better control of my monthly payments and a greater head-start on savings. I suppose we could call it “gaining control.”

The thing that I love here is the fact that I am far from a “Type A” personality, and the structure of this whole shebang is perfect for me. I’ve tried to budget a million times, and my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Go ahead and try to explain it to me; I just can’t do it. But, I’m not admitting defeat! There’s more than one way to make breakfast, y’know.

Which is why I’m doing a variation of what Anna touts. A fast is extreme; extremity tends to push me to the brink of giving up. However, if I can make some “serious” changes rather than extreme ones, it’s more likely to stick. It also means that it can lead to bigger and bigger changes — sticking in my toe, then my foot, then jumping in.

Another reason I can’t see myself doing a full fast *right now* is that it’s October and I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’re putting limits on everything and everyone, so it should be a basic, all-about-the-memories sort of year (and I’m stickin’ to it!) but this aligns more with the diet than the fast concept. I know this sounds like an excuse, but it’s actually just realistic thinkin’.

Alrighty, so, all that explaining boils down to this:

Following the How to do a Spending Diet guidelines, here’s my list of “NEEDS” (asterisked are the items that I can try to reduce; whether that proves to be possible or not is yet to be seen, but I shall try!):

– Mortgage
– Cable/Internet (WISH I could get this reduced further :-\)
– Food* (Only. Buying. What. We. NEED. I’ve been working on wasting less, and I think it’s sticking, but then I go and buy extra yogurt when Dave has an unopened pack sitting in the fridge. Grrr. Silly mistake, lady!)
– Cell Phone* (Dave and I share this; depending on our usage, we may be able to choose cheaper coverage, woot woot)
– Car (already refinanced…can’t get it any lower…although these payments will be over in about a year)
– Insurance (car and home)
– One small credit card use (Kohl’s be damned)
– New washer/dryer payment* (I was gifted some $ which I need to get deposited in order to make an extra payment here; this will help lessen my payments for the duration of the year)
– Automatic deductions from my paycheck are sticking; I’m at the lowest as far as retirement contributions, blah
– Cat care (food ‘n litter; Dave and I split this here and there, depending on who gets to PetSmart first)
– Gasoline* (Can’t help driving to and from work, but we need to get our trips to the Utica area under control…like, not every weekend and not during the week unless for a doctor’s appointment or something important; Dave works out there, and we often have to take 2 cars, which sucks.)ย 

Side note: Dave pays utilities and half the cell bill — I do hope to pay more attention to the thermostat (but keeping it regulated as far as the baby’s concerned; not gonna kick it down to 58 when he’s home) and simple electricity use, which we’ve gotten away from. Say, right now, the kitchen light’s on and QVC’s playing in the background. I clearly don’t need Today’s Special Value and no one’s hanging out in the kitchen. Off and off.
So, since these are all “needs”, when the “need” arises, I’ll shell over the ka-ching and try not to stress myself out doing so. When it comes to the non-needs, the time of year that I’m starting this little experiment dictates that I’m not “fasting” (only spending on “needs”), which means that I’ll allow myself a chunk of change.

I’m choosing $150 per month for incidentals (but trying hard NOT to use that amount; post-holidays, I’ll reevaluate and possibly cut it back to $100 or less), be they clothes/makeup (a rare expense)/haircut (even rarer – maybe once a year)/entertainment/eating out/gifts/home decor stuff/cat toys (ahem)/etc. Once I’ve used up this cash, I cannot spend on ANYTHING other than the NEEDS above. This essentially means that we won’t be eating out (maybe once a month, even if it means ordering a pizza), buying clothes for myself, buying a bunch of books just because they’re on clearance (dude, it’s still not free) or sinking tons of money into the house. Looks like I’ll be working on some organizing; that’s free! And maybe an on-sale can of paint here and there. *cough*diningroom*cough*

The tough thing here? I already mentioned it — Christmas. I do have quite a bit saved in Christmas Club, but not everything I need (especially since we need to purchase a real tree), so this should get interesting. But, I feel almost like this is more of a game. My ultimate goal is to gift purposefully, with items that the person will enjoy and want, that I put lots of thought (not necessarily cashola) into. Heck, sometimes it’s a gift card; sometimes it’s a little homemade sumpin’ sumpin’. PINTEREST, HERE I COME!!! I’m hoping this makes it a more memorable holiday, as well. No new ornaments, so it’ll be a hodgepodge sort of tree, but at least we purchased the tree stand and LED lights already. Hoping to spend minimally on more decorations as well as things like wrapping paper, etc.

It’s also a game to see how little I can spend/how much I can save per month, in general. Looking at it this way makes it feel a little less stressed and simply more vigilant about my purchases. I’m forced to question myself instead of being a thoughtless consumer (hate that term!!! Hate even more that I am one!!!) “Yes, it’s a good price, but do I NEED it?” I’ve also read about sleeping on purchases, which is a very valuable tip. It’s easy to say, “But, I won’t be coming back to this area tomorrow” or “But, the sale ends today!” It WILL be on sale again, and when it is, if it’s still something that will serve a purpose and that I NEED to have in my life or will truly benefit me in some way, then I’ll get it.

Time to dig out my tiny notebook for incidental tallying! The heat is on! What method do you use to budget (hate that term) maintain spending? How do you control your holiday expenses? I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and methods!

8 thoughts on “Debt Diet”

  1. Dave Ramsey!! He's a financial Guru and I have been applying his principals for a few months now … already I see the difference!

    As for Holiday Sending…Lists! I number in priority the things the kids would like, need, etc and purchase the rest at craft fairs or through direct sales distributors – not only does it help save money, but it helps other parents purchase for their children. And never underestimate the joy someone has when opening a tin full of Homemade (fill in blank). Once my list is in place, I NEVER deviate, unless I cross something out and replace it. We have one gift purchaser in the house (me) so as not to double up accidentally on gifts for people. TaDa! Christmas that doesn't hurt feelings or the wallet.

  2. Great tips, Mickela!!! I wouldn't survive the holidays without lists. I do always wonder if homemade *fill-in-the-blank* is truly appreciated as much as I hope (I know I appreciate receiving such items!). ๐Ÿ™‚ And after I ease into the “diet”, I may jump on the Ramsey bandwagon. Dave's already implementing some of his ideas, so it's only a matter of time before he converts me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks so much for your thoughts!!!

  3. Ramsey principles (totally spelled that wrong above…oops) are great, easier said than done sometimes though. When my envelope for “whatever” has been spent I sometimes add more money in and pretend it was there the whole time….until Dan catches wind and gently reminds me that is not quite how it's suppose to work. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I'm getting better. Share tricks to the diet, if you find any easy to implement – I'm a impulse buyer by nature – trying to curb it these last few months.

  4. LOL I understand. I think this blogger's a little less…um…”my way or the highway,” and I definitely need some gentle pushes rather than a no-holds-barred approach. I'm sure I'll share any tips I find that work along the way! And good job admitting you're an impulse buyer! Half the problem is not being realistic with yourself. (I think that's how half of America ended up with the problems they have.) I have a tendency not to buy anything for months, then over-buy on sale. Grr.

  5. I second the Dave Ramsey stuff. We've been dong a less strict Ramsey approach for a few years and it's allowed us to eliminate all debt except student loans and mortgage, and save up 6 months worth of living expenses, while living on one income. I also approach it like a “game” to see how under budget I can come (esp with groceries.) You have to give yourself some “play” money or you will blow the budget when you get frustrated. It's become a way of life for us now and I can't imagine not having a budget to work within. This is coming from someone who never budgeted and pretty much estimated how much money I had (back in our 2 income days!) Let me know if you need any help. I've actually been toying with the idea of teaching a class or doing personal consultations to help people create budgets they can live with!

  6. Yay! That's awesome ๐Ÿ™‚ My best advice is to avoid stores as much as possible – it's easier for me to do that than say no to myself after I get inside the store.

    Good luck!

  7. Thanks, Shauna! Again, I'm a tad gun-shy right now, so I'm only comfortable getting into it a little at a time (my husband's already excitedly taking on a Dave Ramsey challenge, I'm so proud of him!), but I may ask for your guidance if I need it down the line. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much for lending your thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.