It’s Really Very Simple…Really

Spending within your means is really very simple (and yet so dang hard to do.)  There is nothing complicated about getting and keeping your financial house in order.  It’s straightforward, simple and doesn’t contain a convoluted formula.

Spend less than you take in!

Yep, that’s it, people!

I’m done with this post!

Mike:  No you’re not…


If it’s so simple to figure out what to do why are so many people in so much financial trouble?  How could I be frugal all through my twenties and yet within a few years find myself so deep in debt?  I think part of it was that I felt that once I had established myself as an adult I had outgrown the need to be frugal.  That was something you did getting your household started.  Spending and consuming can also be an emotional response.  I think the impulse to overspend must be similar to overeating.  The diet industry is making a fortune on new-fangled ‘solutions’ when we all know if you don’t want to be overweight you must take in the same or fewer calories than you burn daily.  No magic bullet there.

The world I live in doesn’t always support spending (or eating) within my means but that’s also just an excuse.  I started to incur debt with a loan to carry my new blooming design business.   My business never bloomed enough to pay it back.  When I shut the doors a few years later I was $20,000 in debt.  I didn’t learn much from that experience because after about a year I started another business.  It was risky one too- flipping houses.  After all was said and done we were over $70,000 in debt.  Remember 2002-2005’s no interest for 90 days credit cards?  Yeah, we used those to finance our business.   We acted like we were making money rather than loosing it because we thought we were going to make a profit in a future that never came.  (Damn you fickle future! *shakes fist in air*) We didn’t live extravagantly but we lived beyond our means.   Mike and I would talk about what we were going to do to cover the bills- our solution was to make more money.  Even as our salaries were rising paying off the debt seemed like a huge mountain that we could only tackle a little bit at a time.  Our decisions were emotional and not based in facts.  We could cut back on our spending but we were convinced our lives would suck if we did.

Finally, in 2009 instigator Mike (sick of the consumer treadmill) convinced me that we could cut back on our spending radically and make our debt disappear in a year or so.  I tentatively agreed to try his little experiment.  As we cut back I started talking about our finances to friends and found out many were living within their means they just didn’t advertise it.  The more open I was about what we were trying to achieve the more it came up in conversations.  Most people were supportive but I had a few voice concerns that we were taking it too far.  Spending less than I was making was taking it too far… funny huh?

Mike and I had to get to the underlying causes that made us spend, spend, spend.  Once I realized that having new stuff only felt good for a minute I focused on how good it felt to have the credit cards paid off.  At first it was like running a marathon that I had not trained for but after a few months it turned into a new habit.  I could walk through Target and not want to buy anything (My gold standard for conquering my spending impulses.)  After that I started looking at forums like the Compact.  Re-using things until they died really is something I believed in but had not practiced for a while.  Less shopping meant I had more time to work on my art, hang out with my kids and read.

No magic bullet, not so simple but not the hardest thing you’ll ever do….maybe 😉

Last week my friend Cynthia shared her story on appreciating what she already has.  Do you have a story to share on how you’ve changed your spending habits?  If so email it to us- We’d love to share your story with the readers!

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  1. Grumpyrumblings
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I love reading about the compact too.  🙂  Even though we don’t follow it, I like being mindful when we decide to purchase something new.  Can we fix it, is it worth fixing, etc.

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      Exactly. It’s a great beacon for our family to where we want to be heading.

  2. Posted September 26, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I think we all go through that cycle, even those of us that are frugal at heart.  Although I never had consumer debt, I got into loads of debt educating myself, getting  a car and a house…and then a second house for my mom.   I’m not sure how I would have gotten to where I was without debt.  I think it’s pretty common in someone’s 20’s to go through accumulation phase but as your picture indicates, there’s a point when you realize you have too much stuff and then you go into purge + simplify mode….then you realize your stuff that you use and love is starting to wear out and periodically you have to go into accumulation mode again.  

    I personally am trying to change my spending habits. I tend to buy nothing for long stretches of time and then everything wears out at once and I need everything again. I’m in shopping mode again. I look back at what I limped along with for so long and now I wonder..why did I wait so long to buy x?  I need to try to buy a few things a year so that the spending is more even.   That’s why I have 8000 blazers, but no summer clothes, because I tend to only go shopping at Xmas when I HAVE to and then I buy things for myself too.

    I’m glad I invested in my education which allows me to earn a good salary.  That makes spending less than I earn infinitely easier than if I were uneducated and debt free from the beginning.

    • Posted September 27, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I think you’re absolutely right. Being frugal for us equates being thoughtful. Like investing in your education, I don’t regret starting the businesses. I do believe if I had been a bit more thoughtful we would had had less debt and tackled it earlier.

  3. goat_girl
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for reminding us all of this.  Have you read “radical homemakers” yet?  Love it.  talks a lot about the way we have bought into the myth of 2 income households…that we consume and get into debt and the only way out is to make more…which isn’t happening anymore.  So, we, too, are trying to get back on track.

    • Posted September 27, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      I’ll have to check it out at the library. The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn challenges that same myth. In the 80’s she and her husband raised 6 kids on one income (her husband was in the military).

  4. Little House
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s great to see how honest you were with yourself and your friends. That’s really the key to getting out and staying out of debt.

    P.S. I love the design of your site. Did you do it yourself?

    • Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      It really is the key. I don’t have much of an edit button in conversations- it works for me on this subject and my big mouth typically breaks the ice on a subject that is not always talked about.
      As far as the website we did do it ourselves. Mike is the techie here. Check out Animating Mike and Molly where you can get an idea how we did it.

  5. Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Quite a rollercoaster ride to get there, but it sounds like you’re in the right place now.
    I’ve stopped going to yard sales.  Once the house is furnished and basic needs are taken care of, there’s not much more stuff that need as clutter.

    • Posted October 13, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      I have an automatic feed from Craigslist’s free section to my email which updates every 15 minutes courtesy my brother in law.  We’ve been able to get all sorts of great stuff from it but as Dumpling likes to remind me: Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to bring it home Dad!!!  I’m starting to think she may have a point.

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  1. By When Nature Speaks And Links | Minting Nickels on October 9, 2011 at 6:03 am

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  2. […] because tracking our spending weekly or bi-weekly keeps Mike and I from overspending on things like going out to eat, hobbies, and groceries.  We are on a very tight budget and if we stick to […]

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