How We Remain Debt Free

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In response to my husband’s story about our path to debt freedom, I received an e-mail from a reader, who asked how we continue to live debt free in these trying economic times.

This is an excellent question, but before I answer it, I want to share a comment from Pendy, which made me smile:

“Your first clue that she was beyond being in love with you is that she was willing to deal will all of the STUFF! Isn’t God good?”

Pendy is absolutely right! Sometimes, during those years of paring down, I would get really fed up. It was usually when I had discovered boxes of his ex-wife’s stuff that I had to go through and get rid of. To be perfectly honest, I resented having to clean Rolaids and old check stubs out of her 1980s purses. It was at times like this when I would look at him and say, “It’s a good thing you’re so cute,” or “I must love you an awful lot.”

The truth is, I did (and do) love him a lot, and while I certainly had times of serious frustration, and sometimes even anger, I never thought, “Well, he made this mess, so he’s gonna have to clean it up.” He’s my husband, and our marriage is a partnership, so his problems are my problems. Heaven knows he’s supported me through many trials, and he’s always my solid foundation, my support system, and my safety net. He would never stand back and let me fall. I worked alongside him to make our lives better, not just because I was sick of all the stuff, and wanted to be free of it, but because I wanted him to be happy. I wanted to see him enjoy his life again, instead of just running to keep up. When we sold the auto shop and finally left our old town, we were crammed into a tiny apartment like sardines, with most of our stuff in storage, and yet he was calmer and happier than I had ever seen him. He was free, and his happiness made all of the years of work totally worth it. I can’t even tell you how much happier life is, for all of us, now that we lead a calm, orderly existence, free of excess. We’ve actually pared down so much now that we can’t even find enough stuff to have a garage sale this year, for the first time in 8 years!

In regard to remaining debt free, I won’t sugar coat it and say that it’s always a piece of cake. It’s not. There are times when I think that life would be so much easier if we could just borrow some money! Of course we could, but we choose not to.

For example, we have a three-bedroom house with a basement laundry. Last fall we invested a large chunk of money in some mutual funds, with the intention of earning a nice return for about a year, so that we could add on a master suite and a first floor laundry without having to borrow. Then the economy went in the toilet, the stock market crashed, and we lost a fourth of our investment. Since we’re going to have another baby in January, that extra bedroom would really be nice, and we could easily get a home equity line of credit to build it…but we won’t. Instead we’ll wait until the market goes back up, and hope that we recoup our investment, because we choose to live by this biblical principle:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. Roman’s 13:8

Remaining debt free for life requires great discipline. Any big ticket items that you need must be purchased with cash, which can be stressful. In our case, we live on a budget, with a certain amount of money set aside each month for the big stuff – vehicles, retirement, our children’s education, and a vacation fund. I should add that we didn’t start saving for these things until we had an emergency fund established, to cover 6 months of expenses. We felt that this was very important, because we’re a single-income family, and if my husband were to suddenly be out of work, we would need something to fall back on.

(If you would like to read more about how we plan our budget, please see “How I Make Our Monthly Budget.”)

Living debt free also means that we make do, or do without. We don’t have iPods, a flat screen TV, or even a stereo. Last month we purchased a very small cable package for the first time in 3 years. Until then, we only had local channels. We almost never buy new clothes (or new anything, for that matter), and most of our furniture is more than 10 years old. We do eat out, but we try to keep it to only once a week. We cook from scratch, make our own, well….everything, pretty much, and almost never hire anyone to do anything for us. My husband does our vehicle maintenance, and we do the landscaping and gardening together. My husband has installed flooring, built shelves, and plumbed bathrooms, and together we’ve painted rooms, refinished cabinets, and even installed carpet. We don’t mind doing these things together, because every project we complete ourselves helps us achieve our goal of being debt free for life.

Sometimes people act surprised when we tell them that we love our life! They think that we work too hard and don’t have any fun, or that we deprive ourselves. We don’t see it that way at all. To us frugality is fun, and because of it, we have more than we need. We don’t care about having the latest toys, or a huge, fancy house. What we want is time. Time to live, to have fun with our kids, to enjoy each other and the blessing of life. All that other stuff is just that – stuff. It means absolutely nothing.

If you’re new to this blog, and are interested in learning more about our way of life, you might be interested in these posts:

A Typical Day at Our House

My Debt-Free Decorating Philosophy

My Frugal Kitchen Makeover

Getting Control of Your Bills

Managing Your Finances

How to Keep a Price Book

The Frugal Pantry

Organized Pack-Rattery

My Simple, 3-Part Organizing System

Specifically for mothers of young children:

A Daily Schedule for Stay-at-Home Moms

How to Use Cloth Diapers

How to Make Your Own Baby Wipes

How to Make Your Own Baby Food

For frugal recipes, please see my recipe blog, Economical Eats.

You can also find links to other popular posts in the left sidebar. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

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Heather is a minimalist in love with a recovering packrat. 7 years ago, she and her husband sold pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in order to pay off their mortgage, and they've been living happily debt-free ever since. They have 3 hilarious little kids who were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, and they haven't had a good night's sleep in the last decade. Heather is an anglophile who loves all things British, and spends her free time looking at real estate listings in Cornwall. Every day, she and her family work toward a simpler, more meaningful life. Some days are awesome, some are disastrous, and you can read about all of them here.

Have a question? Need a listening ear? Contact Heather, or visit Want What You Have on Facebook.

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