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Q&A: How did you stay determined & stick with it during your lean law school years?

I read your post on “If You Want Something Badly Enough” and wondered if you could share about your lean years when your husband was in law school. You were obviously highly motivated. Was there a catalyst for that? Something that moved you to sacrifice so much for so long without yielding?

All of us want to be debt-free, but wanting it isn’t always enough to carry us through the lean times because deprivation hurts! And doing it for an extended period of time requires a tremendous determination. Can you share your source for that determination? Did you have anything that pushed you through when you wanted to give up? -Lori

Thanks for a thought-provoking question, Lori! I don’t hold myself up as someone who has it altogether or has arrived, by any means. I have many struggles and short-comings and there are definitely times when self-discipline is the last thing I feel like practicing!

In thinking this through recently, here are some of the things that I believe were instrumental in keeping us motivated and determined to keep going during those lean law school years:

1) The Grace of God

As Christians, God is our hope, our Sustainer, and our Provider. He has proven Himself faithful time and time again.

Without His grace, I don’t know how we would have made it through law school. It wasn’t easy and there were many, many times when it felt like all we had was each other and God to cling to. Our faith was challenged and strengthened so much during those lean law school years.

2) Our Parents’ Examples

Jesse and I were both blessed to have parents who modeled wise financial stewardship before us. Seeing them make short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term benefits was a huge inspiration to us and one of the main reasons why we made the audacious commitment to stay out of debt during law school.

3) Being On the Same Page as a Couple

One of the biggest keys to our financial success has been the fact that Jesse and I are wholeheartedly on the same page when it comes to finances. We are best friends, we talk about everything, we see all of our finances as “ours”, and we set goals together — taking into account both of our needs and wants.

Nagging and dragging your spouse along never works. Believe me, I’ve tried that and it was a miserable failure. Both of you must be willing to communicate and compromise in order to get on the same page and the same team — in finances and in all of life. There is no “I” in team. 🙂

4) Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings

Not only have we set financial goals together since the beginning of our marriage, but we’ve also held a practice of having monthly Budget Accountability Meetings. This is when we both go over our current financial standings — what we spent over the last month, where each of our budget categories are looking like, and where we have a surplus and a deficit.

We talk about areas where we struggled, we discuss possible changes and tweaks to the budget, and we look at our yearly financial goals to see the progress (or lack thereof!). The Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings are not always fun and yes, sometimes there are some hearty discussions (ahem!), but without these regular check-ups, it would be a lot easier to lose touch with where we are financially and it would be a lot easier to get way off course without realizing we were going in a bad direction.

5) Making Room for Microscopic Splurges

We’ve always stuck to a strict written budget and there were many months in the beginning of our marriage when things were tighter than tight (you’ve probably heard me tell the story about the time our fish had to go for two weeks without food because we couldn’t afford to buy the $2 fish food as every penny of that was needed to buy groceries). That said, we made it a point from the get-go to find ways to regularly “splurge” — even if in a microscopic sense.

I worked as a mystery shopper so that we could occasionally get free dinners out at restaurants. I read daily emails from MyPoints in order to rack up enough points to get a few small gift cards each year to Barnes & Noble (too bad Swagbucks wasn’t in existence when Jesse was in law school!). And we saved our change in a jar to use toward $0.50 movie rentals at the movie store or a very occasional meal at a fast food restaurant with coupons.

6) Reminding Ourselves Of How Far We’d Come

It’s easy to focus on how far you have left to go, or how little progress it seems like you’re making. Instead, we tried to focus on how far we’d come.

Sometimes when we were feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we would sit down and look at our budget and bank account and just be in awe that it had held up for so long and we’d been able to pay all of our bills. That gave us hope to keep holding on and holding out.

7) Visualizing the Rewards at the Finish Line

For us, visualizing ourselves at the finish line having stayed out of debt and survived law school was a huge motivator for us. Sometimes, we’d have fun talking and dreaming about the things we would be able to do when we had a little wiggle room in our budget. And often, we’d remind ourselves how freeing it was going to be to not have to be sending a huge chunk of our pay checks toward school loans.

Remembering why we were making the sacrifices we were making and what our end goal helped us to stay the course even when we were completely ready to give up.

 What helps you stay determined to make short-term sacrifices and how do you keep from giving in and giving up?

photo from Big Stock

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  • Charity says:

    Aww, I haven’t heard the story about your fish. Did it live after two weeks with no food? I would’ve probably been trying to feed it bread crumbs or something, which probably would’ve led to a “trip to the ocean” for the poor fish.

    Thank you for this post. Sometimes it is so difficult to keep looking ahead. At times it feels like things will never change, but this post gives me courage to keep pressing forward.

    • Crystal says:

      Our fish was resilient and, much to our surprise, survived just fine. I was so, so thankful as I was very distraught over not being able to feed the Beta! I was so relieved when I was able to carve enough out of the grocery budget to buy fish food!

    • Courtney says:

      Poor fish, glad it turned out okay!

      Our bettas and goldfish like to nibble on veggies (green peas, lettuce, and very thin shavings of carrot, cucumber or zucchini). If anyone ever finds themselves in a similar predicament, try to rustle up some produce scraps to tide the fish over until you can get fish food.

      • Kim says:

        Thanks for the tip, Courtney! We have ample stock of fish food, but it’s great to have some other ideas of what they will eat. Even fish need a little variety! 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    I like your points about your parents’ examples and visualizing the reward to come. I really hope to impress these points on our children as they grow older. My husband and I have done a relatively good job of managing our finances (according to the mainstream) but still we aren’t where we could be if we’d had guidance growing up. It never occured to us that loans weren’t “necessary”. And we certainly never dreamed of paying cash for large purchases! 🙂 I’d say for those who are wondering how stay focused with their frugal journey to ask themselves these questions:
    1. Where are you right now in terms of your frugal journey?
    2. Where do you hope your children will be in their own frugal journey when they are your age?
    3. What can you do (or continue to do )to help your children learn lessons that will allow them to live lives free of dependency on credit?

    Like most of us, I am still figuring this out myself. Here’s a great example of what my son has learned but I sometimes forget:
    His school supply list indicated he needed one container of Play-Doh. Not one to buy more than we need, I was searching high and low for an individual container. I was debating the $2+ cost of a four pack when my son said “Mom, why don’t I just take one of the cans I already have?” Hello! Why did I think he needed a brand new container when we have several that have only been used briefly? Just one of the many ways I am still “deprogramming” myself! 🙂

  • It is different when there isn’t an end in sight, and things continue to worsen. For 5 1/2 years we have struggled, worse than we struggled when first married and unemployed, and then underemployed as well.

    We had a few good years in between, which I used to prepare us for the possibility of difficult ones. I am grateful that I did that. I bought food ahead, shoes, fabric, and more. I am so glad that I did. This month I opened the last container of powdered eggs that I bought in 2006. With a 90% cut in income from the good years, now, I hope that there is a positive end in sight.

    But there are blessings, every single day, that are wonderful. We are grateful for so much. The best things are things that money cannot buy–a hug from a child, a giggle from a baby, the words, “I love you” from a son or daughter.

    I agree with the microscopic splurges. The ones where you take a $10 off $10 purchase coupon and use it to get something you need (or even something you want!), for instance. The free photos from Walgreen’s. Hand-me-downs from a friend. The flowers that reseed themselves in the garden. They help to make things beautiful.

    I trimmed my apple tree yesterday, and brought the leafy branches in and arranged them in a vase. They look wonderful, and feel extravagent in the house.

    When my parents had young children, they had a new house, bought in 1981, with a 17% interest rate. My dad had to work 3 weeks of every month just to pay the mortgage. He worked from early in the morning until late at night–salaried, not hourly–just to make sure he didn’t lose his job during that recession. Everything else–utilities, clothing, food–had to come from that last paycheck. I didn’t know this until just last year. When most of the people in our neighborhod lost their homes, my parents held on, and made it through.

    Each morning you just need to get up and get to work.

    Do your best and then do better.

    Think differently about needs and wants. Constantly find new ways to save and stretch money. I STILL find ways to cut expenses, even after all that we have already cut.

    Thank you for all that share on here; you have made both needs and wants possible by the things that you have posted. Thank you for being a blessing in my life.

    • anonymously struggling says:

      Thank you for commenting about this. We too have gone through 4 very lean years now when there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. My husband started working full time in retail after he was laid off and couldn’t find a job in his field. He went back to school three years ago to get a degree in a different field. I survived by looking toward the end and thinking that when he graduated he would find a better job and things would get easier but he graduated last year and still no better job. We are using food stamps, WIC, medical assistance and heating assistance and are able to stay in our home only because we are renting from a family member who has been generous in letting us pay a much reduced amount. The small amount of debt we have is being paid off slowly but surely. But we discovered in a very short amount of time that we are not in position to “snowball” our debt as Dave Ramsey suggests.
      These years have drawn us closer to God and made us rely completely on him. I know that there are many Christians who are completely against governmental aid of any kind but right now that is how God is providing for us and I am grateful. There are times when I cry just because I wonder if the Lord will ever change our circumstances but then I remind myself that he commands us to find joy in ALL circumstances. I live daily trying to do this, and praying that God will use us to his glory. That said, I rarely share with anyone how bad things are for us and so people will often make mean, prejudiced comments about welfare right in front of me not realizing. I feel very alone in these circumstances and sometimes get angry at God wondering why my children have to pay for my past mistakes.
      Sorry, lots to get off my chest as I don’t talk to anyone about this.
      Thank you again for sharing for those of us who have no end in sight. It’s the most difficult place I’ve ever been.

      • L says:

        Agreed, and you are not alone! I too am doing some of the same things, I am embarrassed and don’t know if and when the end goal is coming. Some days I am much stronger than others and think it will all be okay and I keep inching VERY slowly toward things getting better and then an unexpected bill will come or something will break that we need and it feels like we aren’t getting anywhere or going back. I feel bad that my kids are living this way, but they are loved and have a loving and generous extended family that would not let them go with a necessity. I am thankful for that. And maybe in some way they will turn out more amazing not being spoiled and be thankful for much more than the average. But during school registration yesterday I felt so sad for them not having new clothes, supplies etc that others get so easily and take for granted-those moments break your heart as a parent and I came home and cried. I don’t have any amazing advice-just know you are not alone.

        • Karen says:

          We did not go clothes shopping this year either and it was hard but I told my kids to pick out their favorite outfit for the first day and it was OK. I saw lots of kids on the first day wearing clothes that were not new. 🙂

      • Angela says:

        Anonymously, your post moved me. I hope there is a end in sight for you and so many others that are struggling these days.

    • Laura says:


      I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles and I wanted to give you a virtual hug. I also wanted to know if you’ve ever looked at the blog realwaystoearnmoneyonline. I’ve found many great opportunities on her website and maybe you or your husband might be able to find somthing that could help to bring in additional income during these tough times. I wish I could offer something more & I really hope that times improve for you and yours.


  • Jenny M. says:

    One of your best finance related posts Crystal!

  • Tabitha says:

    I think for me its been learning to be content with what I have today. We’ve been really striving to pay off our debt and we are almost there, but its been 3 1/2 years. So its a journey. I now look at paying off what we owe, as a time to teach me three character qualities: contentment, patience and endurance.

  • This is such an important topic to discuss and I do believe everyone has to find what works for them. My husband is in seminary. We have one more year until he finishes his MDiv and then he will be doing a PhD. We are committed to debt-free living so it isn’t always easy.

    Some things that have helped us. Obviously, all of this is ultimately God’s grace, but here is the practical stuff.
    1. Deciding where (if you have anything extra) you are going to spend it ahead of time. For us, we decided that good food is more important than anything else. So, while we have a super low grocery budget, when there is a little bit more, it goes toward extra food/fruit, etc. I would rather have a little more in the grocery budget than a second car, more clothes, or a larger living situation. That’s us, and others would choose differently, I’m sure.
    2. Having (even if miniscule) a blow category. This is what we use for family entertainment. We have three young kids, so it is rare that we do anything that costs money, but having something for an occasional McDonalds ice cream cones feels like a luxery.
    3. Remind yourself of the end goal…that is if you have one. This is, of course, not to assume that it will get better. There is a difference between being patient to wait for something and actually being content. (I wrote a post on that What If Later Never Comes?)

    • Michelle says:

      We too have recently decided to spend more on food. Basically out of necessity, since my 15 month old was recently diagnosed with a gluten allergy on top of his egg and peanut allergies. For weeks I have been trying to feed us on the same budget, but the food he needs to eat now is more expensive, even if I do make his things myself, even a 32 ounce bag of gluten free oatmeal is over $6. I try to do as much organic dairy and meat as possible too, and I finally realized we were going to have to cut some areas to make sure that everyone in our family can eat healthy food. It is definitely worth it to us, of course our son’s health is a top priority, but still frustrating sometimes when I read about families larger than mine with a $50/week grocery budget.

      The blow catergory is super important too. there are lots of creative ways to do this too. Our debit card has a rewards program, and we get points for paying bills online with it (which is all we use it for, I use cash for everything else). For 2000 points I can get a $10 starbucks gift card. Swagbucks is awesome too, and I love all the freebies that Crystal posts. Really research your area too — there is a daycare in my town with an awesome indoor playground, and I just found out that on Fridays they open it to the public for free. So we are definitely going tomorrow 🙂 It doesn’t take much to entertain children. One of our favorite things to do is go to the bookstore and play/browse in the children’s section. We make a list of books my daughter wants and then go get them from the library, and I use my Starbucks gift cards for a little coffee treat 🙂

      Christmas and birthdays are great too, if you still get presents. every year my in-laws give me a $100 JC Penney’s gift card, which I use to buy my make up at Sephora. If I am careful I can make that last all year (Of course I usually only wear make up once or twice a week).

      • Amanda L says:

        We have adjusted our food category as well. With trying to eat more organic and more produce, the costs were just adding up. Especially since my daughter is eating table food. I think she eats more than me some days! We work with some food allergies and it can be tough.

  • Jennifer says:

    What great timing for this post! I am really struggling right now. We had saved for 2 years to pay cash for dd’s braces. $5200 we had set aside. We had the appointment set and were ready to write the check. 1 week before we had major plumbing issues = $800.

    Then we found out that in order for my dh to get the college credit he needed for a conference he had done we would have to pay $747.

    Then we found out out that in order to complete our refinance from a 30-year loan to a 20-year loan we would have to bring $2000 to the table because our house did not appraise for what it should.

    So now I feel like I am starting over on saving for braces and I am having a hard time coming to terms with how much of a tight budget we need to live on in order to get the braces done any time soon. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Crystal says:

      You are so welcome. Set backs are hard, especially when they come one after the other. 🙁

    • Jessie says:

      Have you checked your local dental college? Our dental college offers braces for $3,600. Our local dental school offers a reasonable payment plan option. It may be worth it to call. Hang in there. Things will get easier.

      • Momof3 says:

        Our orthodontic office wants kids to have the braces and offers free financing. In fact I looked at the numbers and I saved $300 to finance it interest free for 24 months through there office rather than just paying it up front. On the plus side the big chunk is sitting in my savings account to make the monthly payments and drawing interest.

        • Trish says:

          That is what we chose to do as well. The small discount if we paid up front was actually less than the interest I am earning on the amount while it just sits there. Then I also have just been able to cash flow the monthly payments, giving our savings just a little extra buffer. We own small businesses so that may change tomorrow but I know there is more than enough to get us there now a year into the process.

          Another completely separate reason that I chose to do monthly payments was, what if something happened to the dentist? There is no clause that if the dentist is no longer practicing (via death, disability, or whatever) that you will get a portion refunded. I actually know a couple that this has happened to. So I would rather pay for the work as it is performed.

    • Andrea says:

      Crunch the numbers on the braces. Sometimes, the monthly payment plan is a good deal. Our orthodontist has an option that allows us to pay three large lump sums (in cash) over the course of treatment, without losing the “up front” cash discount.

  • Meredith says:

    My advice to this question is to stop worrying about seeing an end. Financially, we are all always going to see things arise. If we stay positive in the present and quit worrying about the end result, tough times don’t usually seem as tough. It’s like potty training. If we get discouraged after accident #100, we are definitely going to see many more to come. However, if we stay positive and give minor rewards for minor victories, accidents become less and less.

    On minor splurges, they are a necessity. This is really the only time I am greedy. We give ourselves a weekly allowance in cash. When we first started, we gave ourselves 5 dollars every two weeks, so $2.50 a week. It seemed like we were tweens but that money ended up going a long way. It seems like here coupons come in the mail for free things. I try to use those as much as possible.

  • Cassi says:

    We are staying motivated by setting goals-we meet to discuss our budget and talk about our financial goals. The goals help because they are there motivating us to stay on track. We continually check to see how we are doing each month. We are currently working our way through a 5 year plan that we set for ourselves.
    Our kids are huge motivators for us! We want them to have a better financial start in life than we did so we lead by example. We don’t buy things we can’t afford, we plan for larger expenses and we discuss money/budgeting openly in front of the kids. We go “window shopping” to price compare items and find the best deal on big purchases. I coupon to save money and also talk about that with my children. I want them to get off on the right foot!

    • Crystal says:

      You are setting such a great example for your kids — way to go!

    • KJ says:

      My 10 year old just told me (about 15 minutes ago!) that he would like a new Nintendo DS soon. Then he said, “I better start saving now for it. It will be pretty expensive.” I was so thankful that our lessons about money have been sinking in. It was a good feeling.

      • Cassi says:

        KJ that is awesome! My son recently saved for an iPod touch…my husband and I joke with him that we wish we could afford one! The best part is that he loves setting and accomplishing those goals! Soon after he finishes saving for one thing he figures out what is next! He also loves saving his giving money all year long to spend on charity of his choice-he loves having more to spend on toys and things for needy kids. Rather than going to the toy aisle in the store and have to listen to my kiddos say “Can I get…” they ofen like to go and “window shop” to figure out what things they are intersted in and how much things cost. If my 3 year old starts to say “I want” my 7 year old usually chimes in with “How much do you have saved?” My friends often tell me that my kids are better with money than they are which I take as a huge compliment. They also have huge hearts and love to share and give 🙂

  • J says:

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write all of this out. We are still striving for the finish line with a few hiccups along the way.

  • I love visualizing the rewards part, and charting progress. When we were paying off our house I made a graph on the fridge and we colored it in as we made progress. It really helped to see how we were making progress and motivated us to keep going.
    Kind of like a chart showing how much weight you’ve lost helps keep you from eating that ice cream!

    • Heather says:

      That’s a great idea! I get so overwhelmed by the size of my student loans, and the few extra dollars each month seem to make no dent. However, since I am a visual person this might help me track some progress! Thanks!

  • Tara H says:

    I am so grateful for all the advice that you have given here! My husband and I have lived with his parents for the last 8 years of our 11 year marriage. We have had to do this because of poor financial decisions…ok, stupid financial decisions! BUT, we just finished FPU and recently paid of a loan that gives us almost $600 more a month. We have half of our $1000 emergency fund and are ready to start debt snowballing!! 🙂 We have just under $37,000 to pay off! It seems like sooo much (and it is) but I have learned so much from you, Dave Ramsey, and other blogs that we have a goal. An earlier comment said that contenment is key and it really is! Sometimes for me it’s hard to be content since we don’t have our own house, but God has always provided for us. When I remember how good God is (even though we don’t deserve it!) how can I not be content?!

  • L says:

    Maybe this is unrelated…but a lesson learned. When my children are old enough and in the real world, I will strongly suggest an emergency fund. When we were first married, we had many “major to us” expenses come at about the same time. Needing a new furnace, wash machine, and a “new to us” vehicle. Also in our business, a few things needed major repair. It was a very stressful time as we prefer to pay cash (and for the most part have been able to) instead of credit. (Looking back, we did the best we could with the income coming in.) So several years ago we were able to put a decent amount away in an emergency savings account. So hopefully now if an appliance needs to be repaired or replaced, or if one of our vehicles needs a major repair or new tires, we have some funding available….lesson learned.

    • Cassi says:

      Each of our savings accounts are broken down to the dollar into a category. After dealing with a refridgerator replacement that we didn’t expect (it was less than 2 years old!) We realized that one of the lines in our savings needed to be for appliance repair or replacement. Since then we have not had to worry about it! Also, we can usually “borrow” money from ourselves in the case of an emergency car repair that we couldn’t quite cover completely with our savings for that item. We have a $1,000 emergency fund that we have never had to dip into through our ability to borrow from ourselves! It has been wonderful.

  • When I was a single mom in college I struggled a lot with finances. It helped me to have an end date or a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that when I finished school It would get better so I had a count down on my fridge and every day I took off one day. That I could see the end was so helpful.

  • Sarah says:

    In addition to the listed ways we make it.

    We all should list that we do not accomplish it on our own.
    It is all the blessings we are given week by week , free samples from companies, a gift from a church member of some free clothing for a child, a bit of extra food from a garden, a gift from an aunt….. The list goes on and on. No one accomplishes it all by themselves and not even two as a couple get through all by themselves.

    If we as a country are all facing hard times it takes everyone, helping everyone!
    Those who have more can give more and those who have next to nothing can dig deeper and find other ways to help.

    I always make the joke too. If everyone is going to be living out of boxes, just make certain you have the best box you can have and try to help others.

  • MelissaZ says:

    To stay motivated, we dream. Right now my husband & I are living in different states while he goes to school & I work. I live with my parents & see him on weekends. It’s difficult, but it’s a lot easier if I intentionally make the best of things & remind myself of all the good about the situation. If I frame things in their positive light, instead of thinking about all the negatives, I’m much happier.

    We would like our next house to be on an acreage & I’d like to be able to have chickens & maybe a cow & try making cheese, so I spend time studying those things & it helps remind me why we’re making the sacrifices we are.

    I *could* be in the same location as my husband, but it would have meant giving up a very well paying job (& having more student loans) and having to work longer after our daughter is born. Short term sacrifices for long term gain. I want to be able to stay at home with our kid(s).

  • Rachael says:

    Phillipians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

    We found this passage marked in my grandma’s Bible when she died. It was a tremendous source of inspiration to me while we struggled financially through my Ph.D. It took a while to feel like we were back to living in times of plenty, but we appreciate it so much more than we did before.

  • Really great advice, thanks!
    I’m in my last 1.5 years of college and I cannot wait to be done. I live frugal as much as I can -but I need to remember the occasional, little splurge. I’ve recently started collecting Vintage Pyrex because it’s something I’ve also admired during years of thrifting with my mom and dad. Every week, I spend a few dollars or so on a piece(s) that I love. They are useful, dependable and make me smile every time I see them. I don’t mind spending a few dollars on them 🙂
    Plus, all the bowls and casserole dishes make me cook more… which is cheaper than eating out/eating processed food!

  • Jessica says:

    I feel like you wrote this post for me. My husband starts nursing school on Monday. I am a stay at home mom. My husband will be able to work part time, but our income is about to go down dramatically. Thanks for the encouragement. I am going to bookmark this post to share with my husband.

  • I’ve been doing a lot of #6 (Reminding ourselves how far we’ve come) and #7 (Visualizing the rewards at the finish line) lately.

    We had $238,000 in debt when we got married (house, truck, 3 student loans). I remind myself that we’ve paid off $105,197 in the last 6.5 years of marriage.

    We’ve been doing full-time youth ministry in China and the USA for 4 of those years. We’ve been through half-salary, a lay-off, moving in with my parents, 6 moves in 6 years, and adding 2 children. Yet God (#1) has met every one of our needs, and we are still making headway on our debts and goals. 🙂

    • Another law school wife says:

      I agree with MelissaZ. My dream has always been to be a stay at home mom. My husband and I got married a few months after he graduated from law school with $175,000 in school loans. We’ve almost been married for a year and have been able to make good progress so far by putting all of my savings into the loans, but now paying them off is going to go more slowly for the next 4-5 years. I just keep thinking about our future children that I hope the Lord blesses us with and that is my motivation to keep going! Thank you for this post and your blog! It is encouraging to read all of the comments that attest to God’s faithfulness. He is good to us!

  • Natasha says:

    Thank you for this post! Very encouraging!

  • WilliamB says:

    I think your last point is the most important. Visualizing, not just thinking but actually envisioning, is a potent counter to thinking about what you’re not able to had.

    For example, instead of focusing on the coffee you’d love to have, think about how you dread seeing the credit card bill in the mail then focus on how happy you’ll be when you never get that bill again.

  • lori says:

    Beautiful post and great advice as always Crystal. Thanks so much for the in-depth answer 🙂 Wish I could give you a big hug for sharing so much of your journey in order that others could benefit.

  • Great post! One thing that I have been learning since I moved out on my own a month ago (for a job) is to find creative ways to make all of my money stretch as faaaaar as possible, and make it a game. For instance, I need blackout curtains in my bedroom (I work night shift). I will be setting aside a few dollars each paycheck towards new curtains, and then use that money to purchase a discounted gift card. Combine a coupon with a gift card and my money goes even farther!

    My grocery budget is $27 every two weeks, and I love being creative with leftovers and making sure my food is nutrient-dense and my dollars go as far as possible.

    • Target has blackout curtains that acutally work quite well (especially the darker colors) for under $20 a panel. I got ours on sale for $12 a panel, so it might be worth checking that out if you have a Target near you.

      And way to go with the grocery budget!

    • Andrea says:

      Look for flat (not fitted) king size sheets at a thrift store in a dark color. Fold them in half, throw them over a rod and they’ll help a lot. If the rod is anchored securely, dark colored towels help, too. Think creatively and you might be able to find a temporary solution that saves you a lot of money!

  • Amanda L says:

    The only debt we carry is our mortgage. I would love to throw more money at the mortgage and get rid of it, but we also struggle to make the hard choices that are counter cultural. I also have a hard time when we were able to get such a great low rate on the house. It can easily become an excuse to not worry about it because the rate is so low. I think that its easier to keep going once you’re started than to make those initial cuts and changes!

    • Cindy Brick says:

      To all of you struggling right now…I know. I’ve been through it myself for 36+ years, some of them prosperous, but many penny-pinching, especially after my husband went from a mechanical engineer to a school bus driver — a 75-85% cut in pay. We live in a Colorado county considered one of the most wealthy in the United States, but for most of that time, we’ve lived on $20,000 or less annually. So you see — I DO understand.
      The key, to my mind, is giving all of your finances — and your worries about them — to God, and trusting Him that you WILL get through the hard times. Next, plan. We’ve never had a specific budget, but I had a pretty good idea how much I could spend on groceries and such. Having our own chickens (who paid for themselves when I sold eggs to the neighbors) and a big garden helped a lot, but so did:
      *Taking advantage of every sale and marked-down item I could
      *Stretching meat to cover multiple meals — a little meat, to my family, is better than none
      *Using more inexpensive snacks: fruit in season, popcorn, etc.
      *Only going out to eat for very special occasions — primarily birthdays, and what we call “bad kitty” occasions (those almost always used sales and coupons)

      Other than necessities like dogfood and deodorant, I pretty much limited going to stores — and even then relied on sales. I went to Wal-Mart every other month, at most. (Surprisingly, I still do this, buying enough at one trip to cover us.) I rarely bought clothes there, except for the critical stuff, like underwear, or a really low clearance sale.
      Where did I get clothing, and even presents? Our local thrift shops. With care, you can find even new in-the-box items that you can give with pride.
      A few other things are really important:

      *Make sure your utilities are turned down and well-used. This is not a time to keep your home temp at 72 degrees, and lights on in empty rooms. Close off your bedrooms; you’ll sleep better, and save energy.

      *If you can find some small sources of additional income, they help so much. In my day, I’ve dogsat (catsat — is that how you put it?), sold eggs and vegetables, run errands, taken temp jobs like working elections, shoveled snow, catered, typed papers, cleaned, gave piano and voice lessons…and even written articles. My mom did ironing for people. Even $10-20 extra a week will make a difference.

      *Whatever you can’t pay for, you can sometimes swap for. Husband needed a crown — so I made a quilt for the dentist to give his wife for Christmas. Another quilt repair job paid for our chainsaw. Perhaps that person needs someone to pick up his/her kids after school for the coming months. MAKE AN OFFER — they will say yes, more than you think!

      *Give yourselves a small allowance. Even $5 a month means you can get that burger, or buy your husband a small present without feeling guilty. It’s incredible how a tiny amount makes it seem as if you’re not having to be careful with money; after all, you can spend that cash in your wallet anytime you wish!

      *Pay all your bills, as much as possible, on credit cards that give you cashback dollars — THEN PAY THE CREDIT CARDS OFF EVERY MONTH. Use that money, plus anything you can earn on places like Swagbucks, to get the ‘extras:’ I use ours mostly for Amazon sales and presents. Anywhere you can get a bonus or discount for places you shop at, anyways, DO IT. (Christmas time and giftcards are a prime occasion for this — I earned $20 bonus when I bought $50 worth of giftcards for Outback, for example. And you can be sure that when we eat there, we choose one of their deals…or go at lunchtime, when prices are lower.)

      *One word: library. I read so many books I couldn’t afford to buy, thanks to it — and we watch a lot of movies, too. Children’s programs are especially good — and a chance for you to get a break from the kids. (You should also be going to MOPS — Mothers of Preschoolers — or swapping with another mom to babysit every other week, so you can each get a break.)

      *Even if it’s only a few dollars a month (hopefully each week), you MUST be saving some money regularly. This comes in handy to close holes, and help cover unexpected costs. (And you use the money only when you absolutely have to.)

      *Pay extra on the principal — even if it’s just a few dollars. These add up. If at all possible, make your mortgage or loan payment early in the month, rather than at month’s-end. You will save more on interest this way, even if you’re making the same amount of payment.

      *You need to give back. Even in our sparsest periods, we have tithed 10% to our church and organizations we believe in, like Compassion and MCC (Mennonite Central Committee – no, we’re not Mennonites). I am still not sure how, but our expenses continued to be covered. I believe God honors that commitment — because we honored Him by doing it.

      What you quickly find is that money has a little to do with happiness…but not that much. There are so many things to experience that cost little, if nothing. And eventually it DOES get better.
      You can do this.

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