50 Ways To Become Debt Free

Small Steps towards Financial Independence!

I’m always looking for ways to reach my goal of financial independence. I recently became debt free with the exception of my house so I’m one step closer to financial freedom! My current goal is to pay off my mortgage and it has been the biggest hurdle towards finally becoming financially independent.

Here’s what I did to become debt free:

CREATE A MONTHLY BUDGET (AND ACTUALLY USE IT):

1.     Make a written budget first. It all starts with a written budget, a plan for how you spend your money. Write down everything that you spend your money on each month. Set priorities and stick to the plan.

2.     Live within your means every day. Much easier said than done! But this is really the key to having extra money to pay off debt and be financially free! When I started living within my means, I really started seeing my debt decrease and my savings increase. Yes, we all have our vices, I’m not completely cheap, here are 7 Things I Refuse to Give Up to Save Money. But it’s all about having a written budget and living by it daily.

USE CASH:

Dollar, Money, Finance3.     Pay with cash. This forces you to only spend money that you actually have. It also avoids overdraft fees and lots of stress! I actually love the look people give me at the grocery store when I count out my cash and exact change. It’s almost like they’ve never seen someone pay in cash before. It’s amazing how we all rely on credit cards these days.

4.     Don’t use credit cards for every day living expenses. If you can’t afford something this month, add it to the budget for next month and save cash for it. If you can afford it, then buy it. Otherwise, keep saving your money.

CALCULATE YOUR DEBT:

5.      Sit down and figure out exactly how much debt you have. Exactly to the dollar. It’s depressing to sit down and go through all the bills and really know how much money you owe. But it’s exciting too because you get to watch it disappear as you become debt free!

6.       Prioritize your payments. Some people say to pay the lowest bill first to gain momentum and others says to pay the highest interest rate first to save money on interest. Either way, have a plan and get started paying down that debt. I agree with focusing on paying off one bill at a time while paying the minimum on the others.

CANCEL SERVICES THAT YOU NEVER USE:

7.     Cancel your gym membership. I used to spend $50 a month for a gym that is across the street from my house but didn’t offer any classes that I liked. I kept making excuses and never went. A year later, and $600 later, I finally cancelled it. That was clearly before my frugal days.

8.     Go for a run instead. It’s free. And for me, it’s the single best way to stay in shape, aside for yoga.

9.     Find free, local events. My local Lululemon (a yoga clothing store) offers free yoga on Sunday mornings which is much better than the local yoga studios for $90 per month membership. And the instructors often bring coupons for a free class at their yoga studios.

10.     Cancel your cable. Use Netflix or Redbox or an Antenna for TV shows and movies. Or at least cancel the channels that don’t use and cut down on the bill. Do you really have time to watch 400 channels anyway?

PAY FOR YOUR DEGREE WITH CASH & SCHOLARSHIPS:

11.     Plan ahead for college and get scholarships. I was fortunate enough get my undergraduate degree paid for by a Navy ROTC scholarship, which really helped my goal of becoming debt free. So plan ahead for college by getting awesome grades and go to school for free!

12.   Sign up for every possible scholarship. It’s amazing how many scholarships are available when you start researching. Ask your school, search online, and ask your local organizations. It will be completely worth it once you have a real job.

13.   Save your money and go to school when you have the cash. I paid for my MBA in cash but it took nearly 4 years of saving money. I was deployed in the Navy for some of that time so I didn’t spend much money anyway. I’ve been considering Law School lately but am putting it off until I can pay for it with full scholarships or cash. What’s the point in graduating with $150,000 in debt?

DON’T SPEND $900 A MONTH ON A CAR PAYMENT:

14.   Keep your car for 10 years. I have owned my Chrysler Ptcruiser for almost 10 years and I have been tempted to buy a new Mercedes-Benz convertible BUT there’s nothing wrong with my car so I can’t justify buying another car and paying that huge car payment.

15.   Pay for your car in cash. I know it’s almost time for another car so I’m saving up now. It won’t be a Mercedes-Benz, probably something more realistic for my budget right now, like a used Honda Civic. But I plan on using cash for it, my budget for the car will depend on how much cash I can afford to spend on it at the time.

16.   Drive safely to optimize your gas mileage. Driving over 60 mph is a waste of gas and money, slow down and save.

17.   Drive safely so you don’t get traffic fines. I ran a red light and got pulled over for a $300 fine last year! Luckily the police officer let me go. But that would have really impacted my budget for the month.

18.   Save money on gas. Look up lower gas prices with the GasBuddy app.

19.   Carpool. And split the gas costs. That savings really add up if you commute far to work each day.

PLAN AHEAD AND STOP PROCRASTINATING:

20.   Plan ahead instead of impulse buying for Christmas or birthdays. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be tempted to buy something, anything, and you will likely spend more money. This usually happens to me at Christmas when I procrastinate until 2 days before and then am forced to spend more money. Last year, I bought almost everything online during Black Friday deals. It was quick, easy, stress-free and cheaper.

21.   Shop year-round for holidays or birthdays. Buy gifts when you see great deals. Or buy online at Amazon for lower prices.

SAVE ON YOUR MORTGAGE:

22.   Buy a house that you can afford. This is key to having extra money to pay off debt. Calculate all of the hosts of owning a home including move in costs, electricity and water, maintenance, lawn care, furniture, and emergencies. Who wants to be house broke anyway?

23.   Pay an extra $200 on your mortgage. I do this monthly to payoff my mortgage faster. For me, an extra $200 per month and bi-weekly payments cut 15 years off the loan.

24.   Consider a 15-year mortgage. This will really cut down on the interest fees over the cost of the loan and allow you to get debt free the fastest.

25.   Payoff your mortgage ASAP. Stop wasting money on interest rates. Look up an online mortgage calculator to see how much you would save by paying off your mortgage in 5, 10, or 15 years.

STOP EATING OUT EVERYDAY:

26.   Make your own breakfast at home. Breakfast is so inexpensive to make at home, especially if it’s oatmeal or coffee or quick breakfast burritos. Buying breakfast out every day costs amount $10 and that really starts to add up.

27.   Bring your lunch to work. We usually make extra for dinner and set up the leftovers in small containers, ready for lunch in the morning. That saves another $10-$20 per day compared to eating lunch out.

28.   Eat dinner at home. My favorite dinner is prime rib and mashed potatoes. I used to spend $30 on it pretty routinely but now I cook at home for myself and my friends for the same price. I realized that cooking can actually be fun and is MUCH healthier anyway.

29.   Pre-game at home or at a friend’s house. It’s almost free, probably healthier, and maybe even more fun than going out.

30.  Have a house party with a potluck instead of going out on the weekends. Potlucks are a great way to be social while still saving money on eating out.

HAVE FUN ON A BUDGET:

tpsdave / Pixabay

tpsdave / Pixabay

31.   Find free events in your city. Look up free concerts and outdoor activities. Meetup.com has lots of free local events or look up events in the newspaper or your city’s website.

32.   Go to the beach and watch the sunset. Relaxing and free! If you’re lucky enough to live near the beach.

33.   Have a picnic at a local park. Another relaxing and free idea that doesn’t involve the beach, but is just as romantic.

34.   Make friends with people who are frugal. Share you ideas and goals, you’ll be amazed at how it motivates to become more frugal than your friends!

35.   Consider if your hobbies are too expensive and look for free alternatives. I love yoga and it’s expensive but there are several options for free yoga in my city.

36.   Tailgate with a group of friends and family. It’s fun and inexpensive, whether or not you actually go to the game.

CUT DOWN YOUR GROCERY BILL:

37.   Shop at the Dollar Store. We routinely buy cleaning supplies, school supplies, party essentials, and holiday decorations at the Dollar Store.

38.   Use coupons at the grocery store. And only buy what you need.

39.    Skip grocery shopping for a week. Look in your refrigerator, if you still have leftover pasta or other leftovers, get creative and use the food you already have.

STOP WASTING MONEY:

40.   Don’t buy the new iPhone or iPad if last year’s model still works fine. Do you really NEED the new iPhone 5C? I’m embarrassed to say that I actually waited in line to buy the new iPhone 4S even paid $199 even though my iPhone 4 still looked brand new. Not this year! I’m perfectly happy with my iPhone 4S.

41.    Don’t buy everything you want simply because you want it. Having money in the bank does not you should spend it. Use it for debt or an emergency fund instead.

42.   Don’t spend money on clothing if you don’t actually need new clothes. This was also difficult for me. I always wanted a new dress for a party but recently went shopping in my own closet and realized how much I have!

43.   Go shopping in your own closet. You’ll be surprised how many outfits you really have.

CONSIDER A SIDE JOB FOR EXTRA MONEY:

44.   Find a side job like blogging or teaching classes. Use the extra money towards your goal of becoming debt free. I’ve recently looked into teaching local undergraduate classes to payoff my mortgage ASAP! You might figure out that you love your side job more.

45.   Figure out what you enjoy and see if you can teach it for extra money. If you love surfing: consider becoming a surf instructor. If you love yoga: consider teaching yoga. I’m a horrible surfer so this isn’t a good option for me. But I have considered teaching yoga and I have a friend who teaches step class and other fitness classes in the evenings and weekends.

GET INSPIRED!

46.   Read books on personal finances and get motivated to save more money. There are a ridiculous amount of personal finance books about getting out of debt. I personally like Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” as a get out of debt guide but there are lots of other great books too.

47.   Read other personal finance blogs for motivation. Here’s a list of my favorite personal finance blogs for inspiration, motivation, and money-saving advice. Crystal at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff recently paid off her mortgage in only 6 years! Reading her amazing story motivates me to payoff my mortgage sooner! Alexa at SingleMomsIncome Confesses About Turning Into A Scrooge, which I can also relate to! And Michelle at Making Sense of Cents posted Fun, Frugal, and Free Activities. I’m always looking for free activities!

48.   Find these books at your local library. I’m sure the local library has countless free books on personal finances. When I was in college, I always checked the library first for a textbook.

49.    Track your progress. Keep track on how much debt you’re paying off and how much you still owe. Use an excel spreadsheet or online tracker and review it at least monthly to stay on track with your budget and your debt free plan.

50.   Celebrate paying off each debt and dream about your debt free future.  I was so excited when I finally paid off my credit card balance after years of keeping a high credit card balance. Celebrate your victories, but find a frugal way to celebrate and dream about what you’ll do when you’re completely debt free!
These small steps add up to significant savings and ultimately lead to financial independence! I can’t wait!!
What are you doing to save more money and become debt free?

Leave a comment

  1. says

    Great list. I do or have done many of this. Big props on paying cash for your education – wow, that took discipline, but certainly would be worth it. As you can guess, I’m especially partial to #20. Not waiting until the last minute is one key but also to learn about the person you’re buy for, then shop for sales/bargains in those areas. The price comparison sites are also an awesome tool.

    And I love the free events in our area. You get 2 for 1: relaxation and saving money!

    • says

      You’re right, Debbie! Not waiting until the last minute can actually save a lot of money in the long run. Sometimes, it also comes down to planning ahead and not needing instant gratification with purchases too. I just bought my yearly supply of contact lenses and almost paid $11.99 just to have them in 3 days instead of in 7 days. Wow! That’s a lot for just convenience. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Tracy from Scotland says

    Great advice, I am working on becoming debt free. I just wanted to comment on your note about vet fees, my vet has a plan in place where you pay a small fee every month (£11.33 per month) and this covers all annual vaccinations, flea and worming treatments, health checks plus it also allows you discounts on other procedures that your pet may need. I know it’s not really saving funds but it makes managing the costs a bit easier. I am sure some of the vets in your country will have a similar plan.

  3. says

    Brilliant list! I am fortunate that I have never been in huge amounts of debt and the small personal loan my ex and I had stayed with him when we divorced, it was his in his name.

    It is great you were so committed and did so many things to clear your debt.

  4. says

    Hi Monica, I’m glad to have stumbled upon your blog. I need all the tips and resources I can get to know how to better budget my limited money (and save some, too), and of course to live frugally. I want to be a minimalist someday but like you I also have a few things that I refuse to give up! :)

  5. says

    Hello Monica,

    Love your work here. As a former member of the – too much month at the end of the money club – I am always reading about debt reduction and lifestyle improvement. Would you consider adding my website to your blog to provide another perspective? I am in Denver, CO and the VIP Financial Education is a cutting edge company that just wants to help people get out of debt. Formed over a decade ago by leaders in the industry with over 400+ years of combined experience. I would love to discuss this with you, especially with you and the president of our company.

    Thank you,

  6. ES4MI says

    Excellent post! That list is impressive.

    Debt = Financial Slavery

    Here is a pretty easy equation for everyone to live by. If you bring home “$x” every month, but spend “$x + $1″ each month…you will go broke. Spend less than you bring home each month. It really is that easy. Stop spending on discretionary items until you have extra cash for such items. If you do use a credit card, pay it off in full each month. Becoming debt free (including one’s house) is so liberating!

    I tend to place a lot of the blame for why people don’t get this simple concept on a complete lack of financial education and an overall lack of caring.

    1. Our education system should spend some time teaching children from middle school up through high school about sound money practices. As a tax payer, I’d be willing to toss some tax money at teaching kids that grow up to become adults how to properly evaluate financial matters. It would go a long way to solving some of the problems we currently are facing with financial illiteracy.

    2. Also, we need to adapt/create a societal mindset of caring about one’s finances. Some people out there just don’t care if they go into debt and they are lost in the financial mess they created. Others fall victim to undeserved circumstances, but they need to “brush the dirt off their shoulders,” get back up and restart the program of getting back into sound financial shape.

  7. says

    Great tips! I do agree with most of them but I still think it’s a better idea to try to make more money instead of saving and budgeting on absolutely everything.

  8. says

    Love the post! The biggest thing that I think you got down perfectly was don’t buy something to replace something that already works just fine. We always want something bigger or better, but people who do that are generally under mountains of debt. Believe me, I’m related to some of them :)

    • says

      @Ben- Thanks for your support, I’m glad you enjoyed my post! I know it’s not always easy but you’re right, I try not to buy anything if I don’t need it. The car is a great example. How many of us want a new car every 2 or 3 years, just to have a shiny new toy? Or a new 70 inch TV when we already have a 42 inch TV in the living room! I appreciate all of your comments lately, thank you :)

  9. Caley says

    Hey Monica — this is a great post, I’m glad you mentioned the bit about safe driving, I need to tell my lead foot that one! I actually found a great way to justify a lot of my expenses like dining out/shopping online because I earn annuity on them. If you’re interested, I’d love to chat sometime about it :)

  10. says

    What a useful and extensive list, Monica! Thanks for sharing pretty much every tip in the book and after reading and following this, I don’t think people have the excuse of not moving away from their debt :) I think the idea of staying away from student loans is extra important because that is when it all starts. You get into college thinking you’ll pay off the loan as soon as you find a good job but the future is so uncertain these days, unemployment is so high and in the meantime, your debt is growing nice and fat. And after that a cycle just starts where you borrow more to pay off old debt.

    • says

      @FemmeFrugality- Wow, congrats on getting your degree debt free too! I love to hear more about how you saved up money to pay for it. Thanks for sharing for experiences and have an awesome weekend! Looking forward to the next link party too :)

    • says

      @Stephanie- Maybe I’ll write a follow up article with additional ways to get debt free. 50 more ways…and I’ll include your point about using credit and rewards. Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. says

    Great tips on saving money. I thought about saving on my gym membership because I live a two minute walk away from a track but I only pay $10 a month at planet fitness which isn’t bad at all. Theres a lot of people who are paying gym memberships per month and they forget they have them. My sister has been paying $30 bucks a month for her gym membership and hasn’t been to the gym in a whole year!

    • says

      @Romona- Wow, I know exactly what you mean! I paid for a gym membership for so long that I forgot that I was still paying for it. $10 is a great deal for a gym membership if you’re using it. Good luck!

  12. says

    Great list Monica! We do quite a number of them in our
    family in order to stretch our budget. I love #39 – we go shopping
    once every two weeks now and it saves us a good chunk of money and
    we have little food waste now.

    • says

      @John- Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always! I like shopping twice a month instead of weekly because it really cuts down on the amount of food that I waste each week, like you mentioned. I used to actually THROW AWAY food every week and I replaced it with newer good. Crazy right?! And this always makes us much more creative with our meals, especially for dinner!

    • says

      @Mr. Utopia- I completely agree with you. Living frugal and finding ways to save is a way of life that adds up to thousands of dollars in savings. It helps me to think about how much a recurring payment will cost over a period of 5 years. That really makes me stop and think more than a $30 per month payment. Cost savings slowly add up!

    • says

      @Nick- Thanks for the support! I start writing my list of how I became debt free and before I knew it I had a “50 ways” list! I could probably right a “50 more ways to..” list also since I’m always looking at how to get out of debt faster.

  13. says

    Great tips! Impressed that you paid cash for your MBA. I think law school is even more expensive so make sure that’s what you want to do before jumping in. Many of my former law school classmates regret the decision because it was not worth the investment and the debt is crushing. I worked full time while going to school so my debt load is slightly less than theirs.

    • says

      @Andrew- Thank you! Paying for my MBA with cash wasn’t easy but having an actually goal helped to motivate me. Instead of just saving as much money as I could, I was saving a fixed amount of money, which challenged me to meet that goal. I’m competitive like that! I agree with your comment about Law School and it’s crazy high costs, which is part of why I’m debating on whether it’s worth it. There are also high opportunity costs with going to law school since a) its on average $150,000 and b) it’s 3 years long and c) full time day students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week. Congrats to making working and going to school, it’s not easy or fun and it’s a major accomplishment!

  14. says

    Good article! I just wrote an article similar to this topic on my blog. I think if people want to be financially free, the need to stop making other people rich.

    • says

      @Kevin- That’s an excellent point, thanks for bringing it up! We are sometimes unaware of how much money is going to other people or companies for interest payments! I’ll check out your article too, looking forward to reading it. Thanks for reading my blog!

    • says

      @Michelle- Absolutely! Making more money really helps pay down the debt and have more money to get out of debt quickly. I’m glad that worked for you.

    • says

      @Laurie- Thank you! I’m glad to see that we share some of the same ideas on saving money. I always try to drive safely, leave early (that doens’t always happen!), and not drive distracted.

    • says

      You’re right! And it’s amazing how quickly saving can add up too, especially when you start to get inspired to get debt free! Thanks for sharing!

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