A Reader’s Journey to Becoming Debt-Free

wine and candles
(An anonymous reader’s story on her journey to becoming completely debt-free.  I wanted to share this with you all so you know it’s definitely do-able! I hope you get as inspired as I did :))

The wake-up call came for me when I was 53 years old. I was operations manager in a construction company. Working in construction I was used to being laid off every few years, so I was accustomed to saving for those times. I had started out my career as a book-keeper, so I understood the cost of borrowing money, and had never been a big fan of debt. I had always lived within my means, but as my means went up, so did my expenses.

The visit to my banker

At 53 I found myself laid off again, and no one I knew was starting a new project. I didn’t want to do it, I did not want to have to go out and sell myself to a bunch of contractors I didn’t know. I didn’t want to sit there and prove to them that I can bring jobs in under budget and on time. So I went to see my banker instead.

I told him I knew I didn’t have enough to retire now, but I wanted a figure, I wanted to know when I had saved this much I could retire. He looked over my accounts and told me that I was spending about $3500 a month (Which I already knew). He then said, at your current expenses you can’t afford to retire now, but if you cut $1500 a month from your expenses you could afford to retire today. I was in shock, I had been putting up with all the crap at work and I didn’t even need to be working.

What I did about it

I knew immediately the house could go, my kids were grown. I was living alone. I was air conditioning and heating rooms I never went into. I was paying someone to clean the house and mow a lawn I never used. That’s when I sat down with my budget and asked myself what was and wasn’t important to me. After eliminating those thing that really didn’t matter, I looked at the things that did. I had developed a habit of drinking $40 bottles of wine. I asked my wine buyer to recommend something less expensive and he found me a $12 bottle that I enjoy. Occasionally I might spurge for a $40 bottle, but it is no longer a regular expense, just because I can afford it. I took as many of my expenses off contract. My Fios internet is month to month, my cell phone is prepaid.

I sold the suburban house and moved to the city, where I now live in a two bedroom 940 sq. ft. house with a tiny yard that I paid cash for. I have 98 restaurants within walking distance of my house. With no house payment, no car, and no contracts. Aside from a few annual expenses, insurance, taxes, etc., my monthly obligations are just utilities and food. I am able to keep my obligated spending to under $500 a month, that leaves me with a couple thousand dollars a month of disposable income, most of which just goes into savings. But If I decide I want to buy something, or take a trip, I can without much thought.

Back to work – on MY terms

I did eventually return to work. A former boss called with a job that was over budget and behind schedule. But when they are calling you, you can negotiate terms to your liking, including working from home unless I am absolutely needed in the office. Work was also a lot less stressful when I could say “If you want it done under budget, on time, you will do it my way, if your not going to do it my way, fire me and I will go home and watch a soap opera.” — Because there is a lot less drama on a soap opera, than there is in a construction office when a woman tells a contractor that he has to use this supplier and that crew, and the concrete truck will be there at this time and he better be ready.

I work a lot less these days, but I enjoy it when I do. The stuff I was throwing my money away on every month, I don’t miss. I am much happier now than I was in my suburban life full of things. I also know when I earn money, either actively or passively, I can do what I want with it, I am not obligated to give it to someone else. I like that kind flexibility in my life.

Guest post by an Anonymous reader, who shares that she really enjoys blogs like these because, like converts to a religion, we need a place we can go to share our experiences without annoying the unconverted. She knows good and well that her unconverted friends don’t want to listen to her debt-free lifestyle and her heretical belief that just because she CAN get credit, doesn’t mean she should use it.  I AGREE!!  And thanks so much for allowing us to read your story :)

(Photo by Eustaquio Santimano)

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  1. Kevin @ Thousandaire.com September 27, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    Great job! Cutting expenses to $500 a month is serious business! Way to live the life that makes you happy!

  2. Jesse@MoneyCrashers September 27, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    This is an amazing story. I love when people take control of the situation like this. Getting out of those contracts and getting on prepaid or month to month makes a huge difference, mentally. You are no longer required, but the power is in your hands to have those services or not.

    Love tho soap opera comment, ah to be in control ;)

  3. Stephanie September 27, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    Wow, and I thought I was frugal!

    Granted, I’m in a very different place than the author of this post. I’m 28 and my husband and I are only just starting to think about starting a family… I won’t be giving up the house in the ‘burbs anytime soon! But we are trying to live more simply, and really trying to curb our discretionary spending so we can add more to our short-term savings. I’d love to pay off our mortgage early, and the thought of only having to worry about food and utilities is so appealing!

  4. Miriam September 27, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Amazing and inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Uncle El September 27, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Awsome Story and thanks for sharing. Inspiring!

  6. Jana @ Daily Money Shot September 27, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    This is quite an inspirational story. A paid for house in a city? Awesome!

  7. Evan September 27, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Wow now that is what I call Financial Freedom! I only hope to be in her shoes one day

  8. Justin Wright September 27, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    Congrats! I remember when I did my own debt snowball and it felt like it was going to take forever, but the day I made that last payment was amazing. I have a feeling you feel like nothing is holding you back now.

  9. Michelle Barber September 27, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    “…if your not going to do it my way, fire me and I will go home and watch a soap opera.” I love it!

  10. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager September 27, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Sarah L September 27, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Inspiring…I love this! J$, let’s have more of these kinda stories! :)

  12. brooklyn money September 27, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    Rock on! Love this story. I share the same philosophy (except I pay rent and will continue to do so while I work. Will probably buy something in cash when I retire). I live in a small space in the city — so no car, no property taxes, no home maintenance costs, no cell phone (free through work), very low utilities (less than $50 a month total). My biggest fixed expense is probably cable/internet at $100 a month.

  13. Michelle September 27, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    Great post, thanks for sharing this.

  14. Elle @ Odd Cents September 27, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    What an inspiration! I would love to hear more of her story and others just like it. Her story really drives home the idea that anyone and everyone can benefit from budgeting. And she did it by finding economical alternatives and she is still living comfortably. Plus she has options! Brilliant!

  15. cashflowmantra September 27, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    I love this story. Very few realize that it is not about the things in life but control and being able to do what you want to do. Others might refer to this as freedom.

  16. Derek - BankAim September 28, 2011 at 12:14 AM

    wow.. definitely inspiring. An anonymous story of someone who doesn’t care about getting credit for it.. awesome

  17. Briana @ 20 and Engaged September 28, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    Great story! I wish I could do the same, but I know it’d be harder to see what I could live without, with emotional attachment and all.

  18. Jaime September 28, 2011 at 3:12 AM

    Well good for you Anonymous. I don’t think life in general has to be expensive. :)

  19. Natalie @ Mango September 29, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story, and congratulations on being out of debt! I know how hard it can be to cut back on the things you love, but when it comes down to it, they really are just things. Living without the constant stress of paying off a debt is much more important than any “thing” in the end. At the same time, though, it’s important not to get so frugal that you begin denying yourself life’s little pleasures! Which is why I love that rather than nix what you enjoy altogether, you just found cheaper alternatives (ex: the less expensive wine.) Good job!

  20. J. Money October 6, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    I’m so glad you all enjoyed this!!! It took me a bit to convince Anonymous to allow me to post it up, but I kept assuring him/her that it would inspire others :) And I think it did! I’ll try and post up more in the future – I get a lot out of them too.

    If any of YOU have interesting background stories, or philosophies, let me know! j (at) budgets are sexy (dot) com. I always have my eyes open.