I've been reading Prudence DebtFree's third anniversary post on how much they've cut their debt. (And it's a lot.) They've paid more than $137,000 over the past three years.
And they still owe $134,000.
She also has a profile of Ron on her sister site, Fruclassity. Ron got himself through adult high school, while working as a custodian. And thanks to commitment (and a willingness to take on extra work), he is now close to owning his own home, as well. He's not even 30.
Who's to say what this guy can accomplish by the time he retires? (He wants to do it by 55.)
Prudence comments that she and her husband had much higher incomes over the same period -- yet they're the ones in deep debt. Not Ron.
Which made me think... when the Brick first started working full-time, after getting two college engineering degrees, we were making big bucks. (I was contributing a little -- but no one pays a starting-out quilting teacher and writer much.) Or so it seemed to me. My dad, a farmer, made about $20,000 yearly -- and the Brick was getting a little more than $50,000!
He was also putting in 60-80 hours a workweek. (Engineers do that.) And when the inevitable breakdown happened, he began life again -- as a bus driver. Daughter #1 was in 6th grade, Daughter #2 in fourth.
We lived on a bus driver's (and a slowly increasing quilter/writer's) income after that -- generally between $15,000-20,000 annually. This, in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. We qualified not only for foodstamps (which we didn't get), but free lunches (which we did -- and the girlies hated, because they didn't like looking "poor.")
It wasn't until the past few years that our combined income has come anywhere close to what the Brick made as an engineer.
Having said that --
Our house is paid off.
Our credit cards are paid off -- every single month.
We have little debt: a few medical bills from bad teeth (sigh) and the Brick's emergency room visits for kidney stones. Those bills are paid, $250 or so at a time, every month. They'll finish this fall.
We also owe Daughter #2 less than a thousand on money we borrowed for a car. That will be paid off this fall, as well.
How did we do it? (Other than God's grace, that is.)
*We didn't spend what we didn't have. With few exceptions (underwear, mostly), I bought all our clothes at the local thrift shop. And since we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., those clothes were generally of higher quality and lasted longer than anything we afford at Wal-Mart.
Or we were given hand-me-downs. (Our church had a wonderful circle of friends who passed their children's clothes along as they grew out of them -- the "circuit," we called it. I laughed to myself to see Daughter #2's dresses parading along on other girlies. No doubt their parents felt the same way about our kids.)
Or we made do with fewer, but well-made clothes. Colorado is a casual state; wearing a dress coat over your jeans (and nice boots) is considered dressing up. I wore a lot of classic turtlenecks and nicer sweaters with my jeans...plus a thick fur-collared leather coat. ($29 at the thrift shop. I still wear it, to compliments.)
*We worked extra. The Brick did a stint in Home Depot's plumbing dept. for a while. I worked at Wal-Mart. We both did our own cleaning and home repair. I taught piano lessons, and began appraising. I also made and restored quilts to pay for a chainsaw and one of the Brick's crowns. (Teeth, not head.) That extra income kept bills paid, and allowed us to --
*We paid medical bills, a little at a time. If you pay regularly, hospitals and dentists will let you pay your bill without charging interest. Or, if you can scrape the money together to pay it in full, they'll often offer a discount. (We saved about 20% this way on the Brick's colonoscopy.) You must pay regularly, though -- even if it means skimping on groceries that week.
*We also saved a little each month. That money not only became our emergency fund, but it also let us take advantage of crazy bargains and discounts. It doesn't matter how little: even $10 set aside each month grows into $120 a year.
*We didn't buy anything new. Refrigerators, bikes, cars, furniture...any large items were purchased from the thrift shop, Craigslist, or scavenged. Granted, we were fussy about it. We did a lot of research on the best brands and were careful about condition and mileage. We also haggled a lot. (Never make the first offer, my dad would say -- because that sets the price. Also -- never pay what the person is asking for. Always start underneath.)
Were these items used? Sure -- but they were still in excellent condition, because they were well-made and cared for, to begin with. Or we didn't buy them.
Those things have continued to last well over the years -- or we've sold them, for a profit. Even paying a little more up-front, they've still been good purchases -- partly because we didn't have to keep replacing them. Which makes another point:
*We waited. If we took a cruise, we found the best price possible -- which took a while. That gave us time to save money, research what we wanted to do on land (and find the best-priced trips), and gave us something to look forward to on bleak days.
We bought our house for less, in part because we'd visited more than 70 places before it -- and knew what a bargain it could be. (After repairs, and replacing the awful blue siding, it was, too.)
We've purchased every single car for less -- because we were willing to wait and compare prices, as well as models with the best long-term reliability. (The Subaru proved itself not only for maintenance but for the savings in gas. Which really helped last summer, when I put in more than 7,000 miles, due to The Mama's surgery in Michigan. It's also helped when two trips had to be done this spring, so far, on short notice.)
I just read about a guy who used the "tomorrow" approach: if he needed milk or groceries, he would wait until "tomorrow," if possible -- and get by for one more day without them. Learning to do that means you learn to use what you have...and lets you save for when you really do need those things.
*Once we had it, we generally kept it. Buying higher quality in the first place meant that we could literally drive our vehicles into the ground. My $200 cowboy boots have been worn for more than a decade now -- and though the soles have been replaced, the uppers show little wear. Ladders, tools, vacuums...if you buy better quality to begin with, you'll be able to use them longer. And that means you'll be able to use that money somewhere else, instead of replacing equipment every few months.
My struggle now?
I hate debt. Hate it, hate it, hate it.
I keep thinking we could use that $250 or a so a month toward a good long vacation. Maybe a combined scuba driving/Spanish language class in Ecuador? Or how about a leisurely trip through the Greek Islands, which the Brick visited when he was in the Navy (and loved).
Or maybe a lightweight trailer, so we don't have to sleep on the ground anymore when camping?
Guess what we'll start saving for, when the medical bills are done?
Guess what we won't go into debt for?
One final thing we did -- and both the Brick and I continue to think this is essential.
We tithed our income. Even in the darkest times, 10% went to our church, missionaries we supported, and organizations like Compassion (for sponsoring kids), the Mennonite Central Committee (for building fishponds and getting good water for isolated villages) or Samaritan's Purse (for the recent earthquake in Nepal). We gave our time and energy, too, besides the money.
This did several things. First, it made us think about someone other than ourselves. Second, it helped people and causes we believed in. And thirdly, we always got by without that extra money. I don't know how -- but our bills were paid.
If you honor God, He honors that commitment, as well. And not just with money, either.
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