All morning I’ve been thinking about debt, and how it drags us down.
Debt is a drag on our financial health – not only the interest we pay for things we bought in the past, but the outpouring of money it takes each month to make more than the minimum payment and eliminate the debt.
Debt is a drag on our energy. The Bible describes debt as a millstone around the neck, and I can remember feeling that way when my credit card balances were over $12,000. I thought I would never be free of the heavy feeling.
Debt is a drag on our relationships. Money is the #1 thing couples fight about, and being deep in debt just adds more conflict, pressure and stress.
Debt is a drag on our future. We can’t plan vacations, save for emergencies, or make improvements because we’re spending all our time and resources paying off those old balances.
A Ten Month Challenge
Today is February 23, and we have about ten months until Christmas. You deserve a wonderful present this holiday. I want you to experience the joy and freedom of paying off debt.
Could you divide your outstanding balances by 10, commit to paying 1/10 of the amount plus interest every month, and eliminate that debt altogether?
Could you put the card in a safety deposit box or under your mattress or somewhere where you won’t be tempted to use it at all in the next ten months?
If you owe on more than one credit card, could you get the scissors and cut up one of two of those cards? That’s what I had to do; I destroyed the cards so I couldn’t use them any more, which forced me to be good.
If your balance is too high to completely pay it off in ten months or if you owe money on several cards, could you commit to paying $200 a month or even $100 a month to eliminate a significant chunk of one of those balances?
I know that once I set a monthly goal for myself, I was better able to focus and commit to paying the monthly amount. $100 isn’t too much to scrape together each month, but paying down $1000 on a debt in ten months is a significant step forward.
I dug out of debt, and so can you. Step by step, you can become debt free and enjoy financial freedom.
How about you?
If you’re dealing with debt, what could you do about it in the next ten months? I challenge you to e-mail me at elizagcross(at)gmail(dot)com and state your 10-month plan. Our words and affirmations have power, and I will stand with you in your commitment!
If this is a problem area for you, I want you to vividly imagine waking up on Christmas morning and feeling proud that you made significant progress paying off debt this year.
If you formerly owed a lot of money and paid it off, will you share with us how you did it? I always love hearing your comments and strategies around this very important concept.
Here’s to getting rid of that heavy millstone, once and for all.
You deserve this.
Photo: Eric Magnuson
A shot glass holds a little white vinegar for spot-free dishes
You might think that a blog about simple living wouldn’t get ensnared in scandals, but you’d be surprised.
I’ve penned two posts that generated lots of debate and mostly-negative comments. Both of these articles were written about that most contentious of subjects:
Since 2012 when I wrote these articles I’ve stayed silent on the subject — hoping that with the passage of time, the public would find someone new to focus on and the negative publicity would pass. I think the time has finally come to publicly apologize for my past mistakes.
My first wrong-minded post in July 2012 was gleefully entitled:
“A Green, Clean and Cheap Way to Enjoy Spot-Free Dishes”
In this post, I innocently wrote about how I’d stopped using rinse aid in the dishwasher dispenser and replaced it with white vinegar. Not only was vinegar much less expensive, but I was concerned about the chemicals in commercial rinse aid. Here’s the actual label from the product I formerly used:
One reader insisted that the ingredients were “PROVED, HARMLESS substances” and called me out on my “wrong-headed conspiracy thinking.”
I later went back and updated the post, after hearing comments like this one from our helpful reader Kelsey:
“DO NOT PUT VINEGAR IN THE RINSE AID COMPARTMENT!! I came across an article about dishwasher tips and homemade detergent. The woman suggested putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. She posted an update saying that after a few years of doing this, she started having problems with her dishwasher and called a repair man. During the home visit she told him that she had been putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. He said vinegar is helpful but it’s BAD to put it in the rinse aid compartment because it wears down and destroys the rubber and internals. Instead, he told her to put a small cup on the top rack of the dishwasher and put in small amount of vinegar in the cup.”
I decided to heed her warning. I, too, began pouring a little white vinegar (about 2 teaspoons) in a shot glass and putting it in the top rack of the dishwasher.
Yes, that is a Hooters shot glass — which happens to be the only shot glass I own.
This method works great, and the dishes come out sparkling clean with no spots, no chemical smell, and no worries about delicate rubber dishwasher gaskets and the like.
History Repeats Itself
Fast forward to November of 2012, when I for some reason decided to slosh back into the subject of washing dishes. Some of us never learn.
This time, my post was:
A Simple, Time-Saving Dishwasher Tip
In this most-controversial post, I naively suggested grouping silverware together in the basket so it was pre-sorted and took less time to put away. What was I thinking?
One comment neatly sums up readers’ thoughts on this idea:
“Just look at the spoons in the picture above, a lot of them are bunched together, and they might not get any water or soap and would come out cruddy. The silverware takes 2-3 minutes as it is, not a huge amount of savings.”
Chastened, I had to agree that the potential time savings wasn’t worth the possibility of cruddy spoons (although just between us, I do still group the forks and knives together that way. )
How about you?
Have you tried white vinegar in lieu of rinse aid?
Do you use a Hooters shot glass or something more classy?
Do you secretly group the spoons together in the silverware basket?
Have you ever been accused of being a conspiracy theorist?
Do you have any dish washing tips to share?
When are they going to invent a dishwasher that unloads the dishes for us?
Hugs and happy Presidents’ Day,
Jennifer – the January Money Diet Queen
Figuring out who should win the 2105 January Money Diet Gift Box was a huge challenge, because so many of you participated our our month-long spending break with enthusiasm and generosity.
In fact, I never could have chosen one winner based on my feelings because I love each one of you. Instead, I adopted a more methodical approach. I tallied the number of comments throughout the 31 days, and took special note of readers who enthusiastically participated in the challenges. I also marked extra points for participants who shared ideas and encouraged others.
A clear winner emerged through this exercise, and I’m proud to announce that Jennifer is our 2015 January Money Dieter of the Year. Here’s what she had to say at the end of the diet:
“Thank you so much for the great advice and motivation! We were able to catch up on monthly bills and even pay ahead on some. It has been awesome! I am grateful for the new habits that we are forming together as a family.
I do plan on splurging just a tad and start out by taking two more bags to The Salvation Army. Then we will have a family dinner out to celebrate our hard work this month. I want to make sure that we keep ourselves in check but also reward ourselves when we do a job well done!
Congratulations to all who joined and made it!”
Jennifer will receive a goodie box with a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.
Thanks so much to each one of you who participated this year, and I hope you’ll join us next January when we undertake this challenge again.
It’s officially the final day of the 2015 January Money Diet.
I logged in to my bank’s website yesterday, and was pleased to see over $1000 remaining in my checking account. A month of very limited, essentials-only spending means that all my money doesn’t evaporate by the end of the month — what a concept!
If you’ve followed the diet, perhaps you’ve seen a similar benefit to taking a spending break.
Our fellow dieter Laura shared this comment yesterday: “With the money we saved this month and from selling a few things, we were able to put an additional $800 towards the student loan!” Hurray!
I am so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together this month. You have been the most engaged, generous group of money dieters yet, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you.
Since January 1, we’ve undertaken many efforts to stretch our money: we’ve been resourceful, we’ve used up what we already had, we’ve fixed things, we’ve planned our meals, we’ve saved energy, we’ve rediscovered the public library, and we’ve reviewed our ongoing monthly expenses.
Many of you generously gave things away, and decluttered your drawers and shelves in the process. We considered the beauty of a simple home, and collectively agreed that less is the new more.
Some efforts produced big results and others are small, but financial stability comes as a result of many efforts and thoughtful decisions, practiced faithfully over time. If we continue what we started together in this first month of 2015, I promise that these steps will add up and produce real, lasting change in our finances.
Thoughts About Spending
Many of us — including me — will continue to stay on a modified version of the money diet in the coming days. As needs arise, we will inevitably shop again. Perhaps we might ask ourselves these questions before handing over our hard-earned money:
Do I love it?
This is now my mantra for every single clothing purchase. Do I love this? Do I feel great when I wear it? Will I want to wear it for years to come? Do I need it? I no longer buy something just because it’s a good deal. I have to love it. Consequently, my wardrobe has shrunk quite a bit. For one thing I don’t go shopping that often, and when I do, I don’t often find clothing that I truly adore. But interestingly, my smaller cache of clothes is evolving into a better selection of nice pieces that I truly love to wear.
Can I plan for the purchase?
If your old hot water heater suddenly breaks, you’ll have to raid your emergency savings account and make a fast buying decision based on what’s in stock locally. On the other hand, if you know your water heater needs to be replaced and you have the luxury of a little time, you can research the best quality models on Consumer Reports (at the library, of course). You can figure out the exact size you need for your family, and choose whether you want a tank or an on-demand heater. You can comparison shop, and watch for sales. Best of all, you can save up the money for the water heater, and replace it before your old one breaks and causes damage and stress.
Can I wait?
I have a weakness for the light fixtures made by Rejuvenation. The designs are classic, the quality is first-rate, and the products are priced accordingly. For a few years I’ve been lusting after an Art Deco semi-flush light with reproduction slipper shades for my office. I created a custom search on eBay, and several times a week I receive e-mail notices about Rejuvenation light fixtures that are listed for a fraction of their original price. My exact fixture hasn’t been offered yet, but the hunt is part of the fun. In the mean time, I have a simple overhead light in my office that illuminates the room just fine.
By being willing to wait, I used this method nine years ago to purchase the exact energy-efficient ceiling fan I wanted for our kitchen at a deep discount; you can see the old and new fixture here.
Will this purchase lower our overhead?
Certain purchases might quickly pay for themselves in future savings — a rechargeable lawnmower that you use instead of paying a lawn service, for instance, or quality scissors that you use for kids’ haircuts.
Denver Water is currently offering rebates up to $150 for certain models of high-efficiency toilets. Some of the models are priced below $150, meaning that if I can figure out installation I can replace our privies practically for free and in turn save water and money. However, I’ve read that some models can require multiple flushes under certain conditions — which would cancel out the environmental and monetary advantages. Guess who will be researching toilets next month?
Can I innovate instead of spending money?
I love the Budget Living section of Apartment Therapy, where readers show their amazing hacks to transform spaces for little or no money. Lois at The Eco Grandma frequently posts about her own and others’ adventures in repurposing on her Thrifty Thursdays feature. Make it and Mend It has tons of DIY ideas. Figuring out a solution for little or no money can be not only fiscally rewarding, but personally satisfying.
How About You?
Did you achieve any specific results as a result of your participation in the January Money Diet? If so, we’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments section.
If you have excess cash left over as a result of saving all month, I challenge you to go stash it immediately in an inconvenient savings account, pay off debt, or invest the money before it drifts into the slush fund.
As you may remember, I have a special Happy Simple Living gift box for one lucky January Money Diet participant. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.
I don’t know how I’ll choose just one of you, but early next week I will give away the box to one dieter who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results.
Let’s Continue What We Started
Although our month-long experiment is coming to an end, I look forward to continuing this journey with you in the year ahead. I’ll be sharing ideas and posting about my money-saving strategies in the coming months, and I encourage you to do the same.
If you have any ideas about how to improve next year’s January Money Diet, I’d love to hear from you at elizagcross (at) gmail (dot) com.
Hugs and high fives to each and every one of you,
P.S. If you survived the 2015 January Money Diet, you’re entitled to post this badge wherever you like. (To copy, right-click the graphic with your mouse and save the image):
Keeping our monthly overhead as low as possible is an important savings strategy. The expenses we pay month after month, year after year, can really add up. Companies love to commit us to automatic monthly payments, so we need to be vigilant about evaluating our ongoing expenses.
Look at each of your regular monthly expenses and ask yourself whether you’re truly getting your money’s worth from your hard-earned dollars. Could you eliminate something and pocket the savings each month?
Utilities and Other Monopolies
By now you probably know many people who have cancelled their home telephone service, and simply use their mobile phone for calls. How much do you spend each month for a land line? How many quality calls do you receive, and how many telemarketing calls do you receive? Can you still justify the cost?
Are you happy with your cable or satellite TV bill? Break down your monthly bill and divide it by the number of shows you watch. Is it worth it? Some people don’t pay a nickle for cable TV yet still enjoy dozens of free stations. Forbes writer Amadou Diallo explains various ways to eliminate cable and save a bundle.
Many of your favorite programs are probably available online via the network’s website, and YouTube often features clips or full programs of popular shows. You might also be able to connect your laptop or mobile device to your TV and watch shows from your favorite networks right on the big screen. Tom’s Guide has straightforward advice about streaming video from common devices to your TV, either using a cord or doing so wirelessly.
Other Ways to Save
Speaking of entertainment, do you subscribe to Netflix or another service with a monthly fee? Could you get movies from the library or pay an occasional small fee to Redbox instead? And what about subscriptions to periodicals? If you find you’re regularly recycling publications without reading them, perhaps it’s time to do your reading online or check out publications free from the library.
Does your dog go to the groomer regularly? Learn how to do it yourself, and save both time and money.
Could you cut your own lawn and let the lawn service go? (What about eliminating your lawn altogether and replacing it with hardy clover, xeriscaping — or edible plants?)
If you belong to a gym, are you going often enough to justify the expense? Could you jog, walk and work out at home?
Spend an hour doing the math with your health insurance plan’s various offerings. The true cost for the convenience of a small co-pay for doctor’s visits can often be quite expensive. If you’re healthy and generally only go to the doctor a couple of times a year, you might save hundreds of dollars by increasing the co-pay on doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
How About You?
Today’s challenge is to go through your regular monthly expenses with a ruthless eye, and see if you can find anything to trim or cancel. If you’ve recently found a monthly expense to eliminate, be sure to let us know about it!
As our no-spending month winds down, I feel deeply grateful for each one of you — for your commitment, enthusiasm, ideas and comments.
All the money in the world won’t buy good health.
For any of us who have ever experienced an injury, pain, or sickness, we know how it feels to wake up unwell and think we’d give anything — anything — for a normal, healthy, pain-free day.
Many of us are juggling a million things right now, and taking care of ourselves can fall to the bottom of the list. But really, self-care deserves to be one of our very top priorities. The good news is that most of the ways we can nurture our health are absolutely free.
10 ways to care for your one-and-only precious body
1. Get a good night’s sleep. Here are my 7 natural ways to enjoy better slumber.
2. Exercise each day. I try to alternate each day between upper body, lower body and cardio. Some days are better than others, but I keep trying. In the morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to heat, I do stretches. We walk the dog as often as possible, and I use small hand weights to build muscle strength. Exercising doesn’t need to be complicated.
3. Eat nutrient-rich foods, for a strong immune system and healthy bones. The fewer processed foods, preservatives and chemicals we consume, the better our bodies will feel. We owe it to ourselves to eat as many good foods as possible.
4. Drink water. Staying hydrated helps us look and feel better, and reduces headaches and fatigue. Why don’t we all drink a few more glasses of water today? I think I’ll go pour one right now.
5. Floss your teeth. Dental problems are no fun, and flossing is an easy way to care for our teeth and gums. This simple act has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which might even reduce rates of cancer and other diseases. Let’s floss our teeth today — I challenge you!
6. Have some down time, every day. Meditate. Take a warm bath. Pray. Read. Think. Listen to music. Watch the grass grow.
7. Limit time interacting with digital devices. We all can feel it in our brains when we’ve been online too much, don’t you agree? Push away from the computer. Power off the TV. Unplug from social media for a while. Engage with the real world.
8. Stimulate your brain. Practice your favorite hobby. Write a poem. Do a crossword puzzle. Learn something new.
9. Go outside. Take a walk. Get fresh air. Enjoy whatever today’s weather brings. Notice the world around you.
10. Seek balance. Have you ever gotten sick at the worst possible time? For several years I woke up sick every Christmas morning, because I’d been trying to do too much. Our bodies will complain, and sometimes even shut down, when things are out of whack. A more balanced life will ultimately give us the energy to do the things we really want to.
Let’s agree to honor our health, and make caring for ourselves a higher priority.
How about you?
Time’s a wastin’! What can you do today to better care for yourself? Do you have things to add to my list above? I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies for living a healthier life.
Photo: Villa Amor