As many have probably realized, my husband and I don't do things halfway.
My husband was talking to me, about a month ago, and asked me exactly how committed I was to paying off debt, because he really wanted to be able to pay it off in ten years, and he got the feeling I wasn't super invested. I wasn't hurt or offended by this comment, as I could see how it could look that way. I believe in investment purchasing, which means the purchases we make tend to be larger than a lot of people might pay ($90 for a dress that will last me forever, for example). I admitted to him that I had a “secret” goal of paying off all our debt by the time I'm 30, which will happen in about three years.
Before I go on, I will qualify exactly what our debt entails. It isn't as much as some might have – around 30K – because it is only to pay off four years of college and one private loan. It is, however, a great burden to us, and we want to be rid of it as quickly as possible.
We have cut back in a ton of ways in order to live frugally. We make our own cleaning supplies, we don't tend to be impulse buyers, we get almost all our furniture for free by curb-shopping, we buy what clothes we can second hand (we have a $1-per-item budget for our daughter, excluding shoes, which we buy new), and the list goes on.
As my husband's business grows, he has become more and more intent on paying off debt, and he didn't sense this same urgency in me. This isn't his fault; I don't generally wear my heart on my sleeve. So when he realized I did care, and I actually had a goal, he said: “That's great! Let's do it!”
So we started talking about ways we could make this crazy goal happen. We figured we'd need to pay about 1K a month, which is a lot for our little budget. The first thing we did was downgrade our internet; we now pay $15 for the lowest quality our service provider has. We downgraded our phone, getting a $15 dollar basic phone at Wal-Mart and paying $30 for unlimited everything (we don't actually use data or text much, but we need the unlimited minutes, and this was the only option for us right now). I started hanging laundry in the basement, which doesn't look nice, but it's cheaper than using the drier.
As we made these and other changes, I brought up to my husband the idea of a no-spend week/month/year or whatever amount of time the person saving for something decides on. As we talked about it, he decided he really liked the idea, and we decided to have a no-spend three years.
Now, this seems extreme, but our no-spend probably looks different than some. Here are some of the things we're cutting and/or leaving.
- We're still buying groceries (we do not keep a large pantry, so I can't make do with that – plus I'm meal prepping for when this new baby gets here in a month!). There are some food and drink items we're cutting, like juice and nice cheeses, that aren't necessary for what we regularly eat – just nice treats. We also committed to cutting pre-made items, like pizza, although we don't buy those things often anyway.
- We are still planning to buy clothes, since we have minimalist wardrobes (ten items or less for myself and my husband, ten outfits for our daughter), but only on a replacement basis.
- We have drastically cut our Christmas budget but left some allowance for gifts, as it is always comprised of things that a person will find beneficial long-term (gloves that will last a lifetime, for example).
- We're paying all our bills, like rent, insurance, and electricity, but we're also going to make efforts to lower those where we can.
- We will cap our savings at 1K per person.
- We will buy necessary items for hygiene and cleaning, but no make-up or unnecessary finery, such as jewelry.
- We won't buy anything relating to crafts or projects. Either we'll figure out how to make do or we'll forgo whatever we'd planned. This might be small to some, but we tend to “fix things up” to sell or pick up something and buy tools or materials to make it better. This isn't necessary, and we can find other creative outlets that aren't costing us anything.
It's funny. We're only a couple weeks into this, and already there have been surprise purchases we needed to make, like winter boots for our daughter, as well as things we forewent, like a shirt in my husband's size at Goodwill. He's European, so clothes his size – especially in a thrift store – are not easy to find state-side. It was hard to say: “we don't need to replace anything, so we can't get it”. One way we had counted on making groceries a little cheaper is no longer an option, so we're spending more than we had planned there. There was also an unexpected gift of a kitchen item I've been wanting since we married from some friends.
So far, I have not felt overly burdened by this commitment. Although it sounds like a big deal, it isn't much more extreme than we were already doing. On the other hand, it has me thinking more creatively when I think of something that would be handy to have around, and I feel encouraged to be more thrifty when I can.
Who knows where we'll be in three years, three months, three weeks... it's hard to know what will come up, but we're excited to see how things go. Hopefully we'll get this debt paid off as soon as we hope – or sooner! I'm looking forward to that burden being behind us.