The tagline for Budget101 has always been “Digging yourself out of debt when all you have is a spoon.” You might be wondering why, or even how?
Like many young families, when our kids were very little, we were a struggling family trying to survive on less than twenty thousand dollars a year. Childcare was atrociously expensive, enough so that it canceled out anything that I was earning at work. It became more cost-effective for me to stay at home with our two young children.
Down to a single income with two littles to take care of, that left us with some serious challenges. We had a mortgage, insurance, car payment, and all the regular monthly bills to attend to that goes along with that.
We cut out all the extras- cable/satellite television, we had dial-up internet (if you can imagine the horror of that), we had the most basic phone plan available, etc. The only thing that I had complete control over was our family’s grocery expenses.
Digging Out of Debt with a Spoon!
Like most families, we had a set monthly allowance for food/ groceries. We rarely ate out anyway, as we couldn’t afford it. My thought was, if I could reduce the grocery bill, I could use the money that I was used to spending on groceries to pay down back debts, thereby digging out of debt with a spoon!
I took this a step further; I didn’t tell anyone that’s what I was doing. As far as my spouse knew, I was spending the same amount on groceries; in the meantime, I was sending double and sometimes triple (principal only!) payments to the lender for our vehicle. I managed to pay the car off nearly two and a half years early.
My spouse was still not privy to this information. Now, not only did I have the grocery money savings to apply to back debts, I had the car payment that we were used to making to apply to back debt. I started sending double and triple house payments (principal only!) to the mortgage company.
By the time our boys became teenagers, we were entirely debt-free. That isn’t to say that we didn’t have expenses and were banking all of the money into an account somewhere. It means we no longer had a house or car payment that we were chained to. In other words, the income started flowing into the home, in the form of renovations and improvements.
This means that we were able to contribute a significant amount of money towards our children’s college education.
In short, we choose to save money on things that are not that important to us so that we can use the funds on things that are important to us.
Gain Control of Grocery Expenses
First and foremost, to get started reducing your grocery expenses, you have to understand the total picture of how much you truly spend on food. Hopefully, you save your receipts when you dine out or go grocery shopping. Whenever possible, you should gather a month’s worth of receipts for the past thirty days. By doing this you have not been paying close attention to daily expenses, and you can more accurately see an overall picture of your spending.
Gather the grocery store receipts and total them up according to the amount of each receipt. Receipts from stores like Walmart, Lowes Foods, Food Lion, etc. I specifically mean actual groceries. Then add the total of all of the money spent on prepared food and beverages, be sure to include takeout, coffeeshop stops, fast food, bars, restaurants, school lunch accounts, etc.
Add the two totals together to see precisely how much you are spending each month on food. This in itself may be quite eye-opening. Sometimes people inadvertently eat their way into debt. That five-dollar specialty coffee three times a week on the way to work doesn’t seem like much, but over the course of a single year can equate to a whopping $780!
Take the total amount you spend each month as determined by the above exercise and subtract three hundred dollars. What is the total? That total is how much money you could be applying to other debts to dig yourself out of debt, using a spoon.
For our family, we initially reduced our grocery expenses to $200 a month, then $250, then, nearly two decades later, with 4 adults- $300 a month. For a family of four, we worked to ensure our food expenses remained under three hundred dollars per month. We’ve created a definitive step by step guide to groceries under $300 a month to help you get started.
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1 thought on “Digging Out of Debt with a Spoon!”
Before we moved to a new state when our youngest child was 8 weeks old, I had a job that paid me quarterly (talk about a budgeting challenge!) and I used my last paycheck to pay off both cars and we were debt free except our mortgage. We were older when we had children and I developed some medical conditions in my early 40’s. My husband had a good paying job, however, the insurance was mediocre and that caused some major problems for us.
We would sometimes charge medical bills when we couldn’t pay them off. This was terrible decision. Before we knew it, our non-mortgage debt was 200% of our income. We couldn’t save hundreds a month by cutting out a list of things because we didn’t spend money on any of those things.
I changed part time jobs and we sat down and got serious. We went to a cash only payment for groceries and locally purchased things. We didn’t buy anything we couldn’t pay cash for. Then we looked at habits. My husband had been buying juice and a muffin at work. Off to Sam’s Club and we bought a case of juice and a box of large muffins. By cutting the muffins in half, that lasted him a month at work…. for the cost of two muffin and juice at work. We baked and froze cookies for his afternoon snack and the kids’ after school snack. Well, the kids usually ate cut up apples with cheese but would take cookies every now and then.
It took 7 years but we paid it all off. Things got very slow the last 3 years. Hubby was laid off from his job of 20 years and found a new job paying 50% of what he used to make. We kept paying as much as we could on the debt. Then everything was very good for a few years.
Then in 2016 it got really bad. I lost my job and then 4 months later, I fell in my kitchen and had a life threatening injury to my left leg. It took 3 months in the hospital, 7 surgeries, then home with 3 months of physical therapy followed by a final surgery, a knee replacement. That was followed by almost a year of physical therapy. The good news is that I came out of all that with a mostly functional leg and a lot of medical bills. The total billed was more than $1,000,000, insurance either wrote off or paid all by $10,000. In addition, because going up or down steps was an adventure in pain, we had to move to a ranch style house. Now we had $10K of debt with a larger mortgage. In the middle of house hunting, I was approved for Social Security Disability, which allowed me to stay home and recover.
A lot of the medical bills went to collections because the hospitals no longer were patient with people owing large amounts and only able to pay small payments. I started every debt collector call by saying that we owed the debt and planned on paying it off, we just had to pay slowly. They were all nice and polite. We started off with them wanting more and I told them I didn’t have it. I offered to show them a copy of my budget plus a list of the bills I owed. One person wanted to see it, thinking I was bluffing. He then reduced the amount I was offering. We were using the snowball method where you pay off the smallest bill, then add that amount to what you are paying for the next smallest bill and so forth until you have a lot to pay on the largest bills. Luckily all that was paid off in 2019.
Then 2020 hit. I worked the morning of March 7th and because the university was on break, I had the next week off. That was the week the lockdowns started. That ended up being the last day I worked. Due to having to do everything online, there wasn’t a huge need for me and to take the pressure and guilt off my friends, I decided to retire at the same time my husband did in late Sept. 2020. Because I had been paying extra on the house principal since we moved in, we were able to refinance our loan to a lower interest rate and cut our payment by about 1/3. Now we are debt free and retired. When the lockdowns started, my youngest child moved out of the college dorm (about 6 miles away) and moved back home. I’m glad she’s here because I think it’s safer for her. She is taking all her classes online and is a huge help for us.
One thing that has really helped reduce our grocery bill has been using the frugal recipes from Budget101™ and making a lot of our mixes. I also buy freeze-dried items to make my own items like hamburger helper. I’ll get freeze-dried cream, sour cream, white sauce, etc. to make it. We have a favorite recipe for sloppy joes and I’m thinking about trying to make a flavoring mix. I found powdered Wostershire sauce to use it in. It’s amazing what one can find on Amazon.
It’s not easy to use a spoon and dig your way out of debt, but it can happen. We’ve done it twice.
The future looks bright and healthy for us.