Feel stuck in paying off your debt? Here are the things that we gave up to help us get out of debt fast. It wasn’t easy but it was so worth it! And you can do it too!
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Fourteen years ago, my husband and I made a deliberate goal to get out of debt and then we buckled down and paid off our $90,000 mortgage in just 5 years time.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t even popular. And it most certainly meant that we had to make a lot of sacrifices.
But it has been a huge blessing in so many, many different ways and we have been very grateful that we did it!
In fact, being debt-free is one of the big things that factored into my husband currently being able to work on getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in England.
Because of the financial requirements needed to qualify for his scholarship, there would have been no way that he could be doing this otherwise!
Obviously, we had no idea when we decided to work at becoming debt-free that it would lead us here. But that is just one example of how getting out of debt can open up new possibilities and opportunities!
I want to be clear though. I certainly do not feel like everyone needs to do what we did. I recognize that we all have different priorities and needs.
And there are numerous people that we love and respect that are living with debt.
People that haven’t lived frivolously or carelessly. They have just chosen to prioritize differently than us (or have had things like ongoing expensive health needs), and that’s perfectly okay!
However, I also feel like it’s necessary and important to help dispel the myth that getting out of debt is pretty much impossible and that you might as well just get used to living with it!
I want to give hope to others that are thinking of going against the norm and working at getting out of debt.
And it for that reason, and that reason alone that I occasionally share our story.
I don’t share it because I think we are amazing or special or whatever. The fact of the matter is, we aren’t.
We are just two ordinary people that chose to make paying off debt a priority and decided to make the sacrifices that it took to do it.
Speaking of sacrifices, there were plenty of things that we gave up to get out of debt.
And I think that anyone that has done it will agree that if you want to become debt-free, you are going to have to be willing to give up quite a lot.
So what exactly did we choose to sacrifice?
Things We Gave up to Get Out of Debt Fast
1. Having a “perfect” house
This was probably one of the hardest things for me to give up because I love a beautiful house as much as the next person!
We bought a fixer-upper that needed quite a bit of work. And of course, to save money, we decided to do the majority of the work ourselves. But since both our time and money were rather limited, we needed to be very intentional about prioritizing projects.
Most times, the projects that would have made our house quickly look more beautiful weren’t the most important thing to get done, so they would get shoved off to do later.
This meant that there was almost always something torn up or half-finished during those years. And there were plenty of spaces that just felt ugly to me but that we were waiting to fix up until we could afford to do it or until the other more important projects were completed.
For example, we didn’t have flooring in our kitchen for about 2 years…just the ugly, rather hard-to-keep-clean underlayment.
We also went about a year with our main bathroom looking awful and only partially remodeled. My husband had taken a week off work to tackle house projects and as often happens, things took much longer than planned and the bathroom just didn’t get as far along in that week as we had hoped.
Several years later, those things don’t seem nearly as big of a deal. But at the time it felt really hard and I had to swallow my pride an awful lot!
2. New Cellphone
To save money, we’ve always stuck with older cellphone models.
And to be honest, in many ways, the majority of the time it hasn’t really been that big of a sacrifice, other than the fact that I often really wished for a phone that took better quality photos!
However, there was a period during the time that we were focusing on paying off debt when my phone really started to act wonky.
The storage was getting full which meant some of my apps didn’t want to work right. And because it was such an old model, it began to not work in various ways. It was super annoying!
But because we were somewhat close to having our debt paid off, I was determined to make it work until we did that and chose to just put up with the inconveniences.
RELATED: How We Easily Save $250/year on our cell phone bill
3. Buying things as soon as we needed them/wanted them
Because we were trying to pay off our debt as quickly as possible, we often ended up needing to wait to buy things that we needed or simply wanted.
Unless it was something that we absolutely had to have, such as a water heater that needed to be replaced or a washing machine etc., we tended to wait.
We didn’t enjoy delaying our gratification any more than the next person, but we did discover that sometimes there actually were some benefits!
For instance, during the waiting, we’d realize that we really didn’t need the item that much after all and would end up never even buying it!
The waiting also allowed us to watch for a sale or take the time to check around for the best price.
I also discovered that waiting actually often tended to increase our appreciation of the privilege of having the item.
Still, there were plenty of times that I wished that we could just go buy something and not have to wait because it felt like an annoying inconvenience!
4. Books and Magazines
I don’t think we could ever give up reading, but we did give up buying books or magazines for the most part.
Instead, we either borrowed books from friends or got them from the library.
And actually, there were even a couple of times that the library didn’t have a book that I really wanted to read so I asked them if they would consider buying it and they were more than happy to!
If there were books that we decided we definitely did want to own, we would ask for them as Christmas and birthday gifts or use gift money to purchase them.
As for magazines, we aren’t big magazine readers, but during those years I was able to find ways to get numerous magazines for free.
Most times it involved doing surveys to earn rewards that I could redeem for a magazine subscription. And sometimes I’d come across free subscription offers on some of the money-saving blogs that I follow.
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5. A finished basement
When we bought our house we had dreamed of finishing the basement to make it more usable.
We had hopes of it being a place for children to play or just as extra space to hang out when we had friends over since our living room was rather small.
It was tempting to just go ahead and spend the money to fix it up, but instead, we put that money toward paying off the principal on our mortgage, allowing us to become debt free much quicker!
But I can’t tell you how often I wistfully thought about the convenience of having a nicely finished basement to use, especially when we were hosting!
We purposely chose to not take any expensive vacations at all during this time. In fact, in my mind, we didn’t take any vacations but I suppose it depends on how you define vacation.
I say all that because during the five years we were working at becoming debt free, we did take two trips from Pennsylvania to Arkansas to visit my husband’s brother and his family. And we also flew to Romania to visit my husband’s parents who were missionaries there.
The Romania trip was a chance for me to learn to know my in-laws better, as well as get to experience what daily life was like for them during the 10 years that they lived there.
I don’t regret choosing to take that trip at all, even though we definitely would have paid off our debt quite a bit sooner had we not gone!
Both trips to Arkansas we traveled with other family members which cut our travel cost in half. And on all three trips, we stayed with family and didn’t really have expenses other than our travel costs.
7. Eating Out
It might surprise you to know that even though I’m typically super frugal, I absolutely love eating out!
My husband, on the other hand, feels like eating out is a huge waste of money because it costs so much more than eating at home and you only get to enjoy it for a super short time.
Because I saw his point and agreed that it wasn’t the wisest use of our money, we rarely ate out. (And still rarely do, although now my husband helps with cooking, so I do get more of a break.)
At most, we went to a restaurant maybe once a month, oftentimes not even that.
And every now and then we’d enjoy the treat of walking downtown to a local coffee shop for coffee and cheesecake or we’d pop into the local ice cream shop for a scoop of their amazingly delicious ice cream.
The rest of the time, we ate at home and enjoyed simple, but tasty meals that I made, for a fraction of the cost!
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RELATED: $350 Month Budget Menu Plan for Our Family of 6 (Menu #48)
8. Free Time
We had very little downtime during those years. Most of our free time was spent doing house projects, putting in extra hours at work or side hustling.
I definitely don’t think that living without much downtime is ideal long term, and I don’t know that we always handled the busyness well.
But we knew that if we were super focused for several years that it would free us up a lot in the future, so it was a choice that we made.
And it was super motivating to see the difference our side hustles and extra hours were making as we put that money toward the principal on our loan.
By paying off our debt early, we saved thousands in interest!
Need a helpful way to keep track of your debt and payments as well as see the difference that extra payments make in decreasing the amount of interest that you’ll pay? I recommend checking out a free tool called Undebt.
It’s super handy to be able to easily see at a glance where things are at with all your different debts and can help keep you focused on the goal of becoming debt free!
9. New Clothes | Big Wardrobe
In general, we had a pretty minimalist wardrobe and bought very few new clothes.
It was especially easy to find clothes for our son at thrift stores or yard sales, so not buying brand-new clothes for him wasn’t too difficult.
For my husband and me, it was a little trickier and we weren’t always able to find everything that we needed secondhand. So there were definitely times that we did end up buying something new.
When that was the case, we watched for sales and used store coupons or rewards programs to still keep our costs relatively low.
And there were plenty of times that, because of price, we didn’t get the item that we loved the most and instead went with a less expensive item.
But for the most part, we just made do with what we had and tried to be content with our minimal wardrobe.
And the freedom that came from being debt-free made all of these sacrifices worth it in the end!
Looking for more frugal living inspiration? Check out these posts!
I love your blog and newsletters. You share simple and easy ways to save money. It’s encouraging to hear your stories, ideas, and examples for myself to follow. Thank you and Happy New Year!
Aw, thank you so much for your kind words, Ann! I’m so grateful that what I share is helpful to you. Happy New Year to you and your loved ones as well!
Thank you for sharing what helped you pay off your debt. I really enjoyed it. Every little bit helps and loved the encouragement.
You are so welcome, Debi! I’m grateful that it could be an encouragement. Thanks for taking the time to let me know! And all the best to you in your financial journey!
These are great ideas! I basically grew up like this and it has led me to be a pretty frugal person. My husband, on the other hand, did not. It’s definitely a balancing act to keep both of us happy and understand the other’s point of view.
Yes, it’s always a challenge to navigate money issues, especially if one of you tends to be much more frugal than the other! Both my husband I grew up doing without a lot of things that most people saw as normal, and I know that it made it much easier for us to live that way while working hard to pay off our debt!