If you are, or ever have been in serious debt, you know the feeling that your creditors own you lock, stock and bank account.
Debt steals your freedom one option at a time. It keeps you chained to a job you hate. It keeps you stuck in the past, unable to move forward in life. And big debt causes terrible stress that makes it hard to breathe, keeps you awake, spoils relationships and zaps the joy out of living.
It makes sense that if debt steals your options, then repaying debt creates financial freedom. But that’s not necessarily true.
If you spend just the amount you earn, you won’t be living beyond your means or creating new debt to bridge the shortfall. But you will be broke at the end of every month spinning your wheels, living from one paycheck to the next.
The first rule of sound money management is to live below your means—to spend less than you earn. This means creating a margin between what you earn and what you spend.
The secret to finding financial freedom—freedom from financial worry, fear and want—is in the gap between the amount you earn and what you spend. The bigger the gap, the more freedom you will enjoy.
It’s the money you don’t spend that gives you the freedom to grow your dreams and prepare for the future.
Widen the gap
There are two ways to increase the space between what you earn and what you spend: 1) spend less and 2) earn more. The harder you work at doing either—or both—the more successful you’ll be in finding financial freedom: freedom to fund your children’s educations, freedom to travel, to invest; freedom to relocate, to retire—freedom to live the life you love.
How to spend less
Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Just spend less. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t be adding $2.2 billion in revolving consumer debt per month, as Americans did in Nov. 2007. We’ve become addicted to spending, so it takes a concerted effort to reverse that obsession.
Spending less takes work but it remains the best way to change your financial situation quickly. You’ve already earned the money and paid taxes on it, so there’s no waiting. |
Get serious. Put your commitment to spending less in writing. Be specific about how much you intend to reduce your spending and how you plan to do this. “Pre-spend” your income on paper before you ever spend it for real. Set limits and boldly enforce them. Keep track in writing where all the money goes.
Cheat sheet. Write the following on a 3x5 card or similar, which you can keep with you at all times and to which you will refer before spending more than $20 on anything:
a. Do I need it?
b. Do I have something already that will do just as well?
c. Do I need it right now or can it wait?
d. Have I found the best value?
Stop long enough to run whatever it is you’re about to buy through the filter of these questions. The minute you get a “No,” walk away.
Wait. Impose on yourself a specific period of time you must wait before making the purchase, time you can think clearly. You would never believe how many times I’ve come to the point of purchase and then enforced my personal 24-hour rule. It says I have to go home and sleep on it. More times than not I just don’t go back, either because I changed my mind or, more likely, because I completely forgot. This works well for us impulsive types.
Ways to earn more
While earning more money is more complicated than cutting spending and takes more time and effort to produce results, this is the way to expand your gap more dramatically.
Increase hours. If available, pick up more hours on your current job.
Improve a skill. There are myriad ways a skilled artisan or musician can create an income stream. If that’s you, hone those skills.
Moonlight. We’re not talking the rest of your life—only a season from time to time. It won’t kill you to work nights and weekends at a second job.
Freelance. Are you a graphic designer, website developer, marketing expert, copy editor or creative writer? Freelance your services to small businesses. Take a look at Elance.com where providers can bid on small jobs posted by businesses and others.
Rent out. Perhaps you have a garage you’re not using. Rent it out for vehicle storage. Rent a spare room to a college student.
Get educated. Finish a degree or take specific classes if it qualifies you for a promotion at your present place of employment. Figure out what you need and then do it.
Network. Get the word out in your social and business circles that you’re ready, willing and able to offer your services.
Frugality means maximizing every dollar so you stop wasting money and fund your gap. Set your own standards and you won’t have to worry about doing anything that makes you squeamish.
Plug the leaks. Start paying attention to where money is leaking out of your life. Look at everything, from using excessive amounts of electricity and water to paying too much for insurance.
Cook at home. Take a look at how much you’re spending on food outside the home—diners, coffee shops, restaurants, drive-thrus and other fast food joints. Yikes. Are you starting to see why your gap is so thin? Learn to cook at home and you’ll turn that $40 tab to feed a family of four into a tasty $5 meal at home.
Make a game of it. If you currently shop for groceries once a week, see if you can beat the frequency by going every ten days. Then stretch it to twelve—even two weeks. Make it a game to see how long you can make a tank of gas last. Now make it last even longer.
Get help. Resources galore are waiting for you (see below).
Debt-Proof Living was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates. Click here to subscribe. Also, you can receive Mary's free daily e-mail "Everyday Cheapskate" by signing up at EverydayCheapskate.com.