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Approaching The Debt-Repayment “Wall”?

If you’re about to hit a wall, choose one with an opening large enough to squeeze through.

DH = Dear Husband

Vaz Oxlade & Ramsey on “the wall”

Last summer I had coffee with Debt Debs, a fellow blogger, and she told me that according to her debt-reduction guru, Gail Vaz Oxlade, people often hit “a wall” after 3 years of intensive repayment. Naaah, I thought. I won’t hit that wall.

I remember when I first read my debt-reduction guru Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover, and getting to the part where he compares the typically 7-year effort to reach complete debt-freedom to a marathon. Many marathon runners, he says, confront a wall of exhaustion at the 18-mile point. It is then the choice of the athlete either to push through it – or to stop. For those of us on a path to debt-freedom, says Ramsey, we face that wall at the point where only the mortgage debt remains. Naah, I thought at the time. I won’t hit that wall.

By the end of next month, we’ll have reached the 3rd year anniversary of our journey out of debt. Our non-mortgage debt, which totaled $102,200 in June 2012, is now down to $9,500. The question is: Are we hitting a wall yet?

Naaah, I thought when I considered this question recently. We’re still going strong! 

What my thoughts about summer school reveal

But I seriously didn’t want to teach summer school this year.

I’m just tired

For the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014, I taught summer school as part of our debt-reduction efforts. It was something I hadn’t done for fifteen years, so it marked a big change. It was all about being gazelle intense, and I was there! For the past two summers, furthermore, I taught double credit courses through both July and August.  So it made sense to me that at this point, I was tired. This was not about hitting a wall.

Time for renovations

But then DH started to talk about renovations. His office space for his business has never been big enough. His equipment, orders, computers, and paperwork take over our living room and dining room, not to mention parts of the basement too. “I need more space!” is a complaint I’ve heard on repeat for years now. “Take the living room and dining room,” I’ve said – over and over again. “There’s nothing standing in your way.”

But DH is a careful man. There had to be a plan. There had to be money to pay for the renovations involved. There also had to be a justification for spending that money on something other than the business debt. Do you see where this is going? Soon – almost certainly by the end of July – we won’t have a business debt to pay down anymore. So DH is allowing himself to make plans for something that I would have supported him doing long ago.

Indulging in plans

Last week-end, as we spent hours driving to see extended family for Easter, we indulged in renovation talk. How would we incorporate a dining room into our family room? How would we set up DH’s former office space as a living room? There would be furniture to sell, and some to give away. There would be carpets to rip up, and new flooring to install. We would have to start looking out for new furniture – a sectional sofa for the old office space; a small love seat and two chairs for the combined family room/dining room . . . It was SO LOVELY to be able to think, talk, and plan in this way! I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture. I don’t even care how shallow that sounds!

3 years of growing frugality and dormant materialism

For the past three years, I’ve been conscientiously embracing the lifestyle changes and side-benefits of frugality. We have simplified as we’ve let go of spending-as-self-medication and trying to keep up with the Jonses. We’ve soaked in the bonuses of slow cooking – great smells of food, more family times in the kitchen and around the table. Instead of going out and spending money on entertainment, we play games like Monopoly and Settlers of Catan at home with our kids and their friends. Instead of meeting with friends at restaurants, we see them at our home or theirs. There has been a clarification of our values, and with it, a clarification of what we’ve needed to prioritize. And it hasn’t been furniture.

Over the last 3 years, we have watched our already old and worn furniture become torn and threadbare. We have witnessed the perpetration of stains all over our carpets. We have lived with the clutter of DH’s business paraphernalia taking over more and more of the house. And we have accepted it all. It has all been part of our gazelle intensity towards debt-reduction.

I didn’t realize the extent to which my dormant materialism was still alive and well – until it woke up with our talk of renovations. In my excitement about our plans, I am going to hold tight to our developing financial wisdom. We’re going to shop wisely, and we’re going to buy with cash. As for how much we’ll spend, we have a maximum in mind, and we’ll do what it takes so that we don’t exceed it.

Summer school : )

And where is this money going to come from? Suddenly, I don’t feel too burned-out to take on summer school. Hmmm . . . So I WAS approaching that wall – whether it was the 3-year wall or the only-the-mortgage-left wall. The fire in my belly that had burned so strongly for so long was waning.

Managing the wall – by squeezing through the opening

But there is a convenient opening in this wall, just like the one you see above – between our staircase and what is now the dining room. There is logic to our plans. It’s not a matter of impulse. We’re taking on these renovations as a practical way to solve a problem DH has had in operating his home business. Our timing and execution will be fully in line with our goals to be financially wise and completely debt-free. So although there were undeniably several drug-like hits of sheer joy today as we looked through three furniture stores, the adrenaline rush won’t cloud our minds or soften our resolve.

Is it possible to be frugal and financially fit while at the same time LOVING this kind of thing? I sure hope so!

 Your comments are welcome. Do you find that your efforts to be financially sensible can co-exist with the emotional high that sometimes comes with plans to purchase?





March Triumph: Debt #3 Down to 4 Figures March Fail: NSF

The view out our window this morning. Winter slowly giving way to spring.

DH = Dear Husband

Taking the punches of a financial journey in stride

I just read a post yesterday by C. at The Single Dollar in which she describes her financial progress in March, a month filled with unexpected twists that drained her accounts. A single woman who is on a mission to take full ownership of her money management and to pave the way towards a future of financial abundance, she chose to absorb the blip that was March with a good sense of humour. I gave her a thumbs-up for that attitude, because any journey to debt freedom or financial freedom is L-O-N-G and marked by downs as well as ups.

It’s a good attitude for me to adopt too. March was a month of mixed success. I’ll start with the good news:

Slices 18 & 19 off Debt#3

High expectations in winter

Debt#3, our business debt, has been coming down consistently over the last few months, but I’ve been more than usually impatient with it. At the end of January, I expressed my disappointment with relatively small repayments despite a whopping Christmas rush for DH’s business. “Time to put on your big girl panties!” was the moral of that story. I’d had very high expectations for November, December, and January, and so the “merely” steady progress of those months came as a let down.

Low expectations in spring

February, March, and April are typically slow business months for DH. They are also months when my pay is lower because of pension and employment insurance deductions that decrease my take-home income through the first months of any year. In the first year of our journey out of debt, I felt very low when we could make no extra payments off of our debt through March and April due to slow business. Since then, I’ve come to accept that the spring months will be slower, and to look upon any progress they offer as a bonus.

So when our 18th slice out of Debt #3 came in at $2,500 at the end of February, we were very happy. Our business debt, which had been an impossible $80,800 in December 2012, was now down to $15,000. Some uncharacteristically generous business came DH’s way through March, and so again, just before the last week of the month, he was able to put $2,500 against Debt #3. Down to $12,500! We could taste that $10,000 barrier. Getting down from 5 figures to 4 suddenly became incredibly enticing. The last week of March proved to be consistent with the rest of the month, and a few days ago, DH said, “I can put another $3,000 down.” In my ongoing efforts not to give way to emotion or impulse in money matters, I asked, “Do you think we should wait to see how April pans out?” He thought for a whole second. “No,” was the answer.

Our 19th slice out of the business debt is a combination of two parts. Add $3,000 to that initial $2,500, and it ends up being a surprisingly huge spring slice of $5,500. And Debt #3 has become of 4-figure debt of $9,500! Guess what we can taste now? ZERO! Time to put on my Zen. Steady, steady.

NSF fail in my discretionary account

My areas of frugal weakness

Against the backdrop of this wonderful encouragement comes the bad news. Two areas of particular weakness have emerged over the almost 3 years of my writing this blog: I HATE housework, and I am terrible with my personal discretionary money. I have launched upon earnest quests towards cheerful house cleaning and clever discretionary money management, but success keeps eluding me.

When life gets out of balance

March was an exceptionally busy month for me. At work, the province-wide grade 10 literacy test was scheduled for March 26, and a colleague and I took on the massive task of preparing our students for it. As a result, both February and March were insane. All for a good cause, but still insane. On top of hyper-drive at work, I experienced hyper-drive in my blogging life. Laurie from The Frugal Farmer and I launched our new site for debtors trying to get out of debt: Fruclassity. So exciting! Again, for a good cause. Again, insane.

Comfort in shared experience

I am so often grateful for the insights of other financial bloggers. Kim at Eyes on the Dollar recently posted about her own experience of life out of balance. “The result . . . is making mistakes, bad decisions, and forgetting important things. This usually leads to increased spending in one way or another.” There is unfailing comfort in knowing that you are not the only one making mistakes. Lately, I’ve had blog-related expenses that I fund through my personal money. I knew about these expenses well in advance, and I took them on very consciously. I had great intentions to grow a cushion of extra cash in my discretionary account to absorb these expenses. But I forgot about the laws of addition and subtraction, and my great intentions were insufficient. So were my funds.


Paypal sent me an NSF notification in March. Some expert on frugal living, financial management, and debt-reduction I am! It was mortifying! It seems that all the old bad money habits that I have been so intentional about overcoming – the carelessness, the impulse, the chaos . . . – they all continue to dwell in my personal account. It was all handled graciously by Paypal, and with apology by me. The person on the receiving end of my payment didn’t even know about it. (And I’m pretty sure he won’t be reading this.) My bank dinged me for $45. Ouch!


I don’t take it lightly, but I do choose to be forgiving of myself. And when I compare that $45 to the $71,300 we’ve paid off our business debt, it’s clear that in the grand scheme of things, we’re succeeding. I’ll keep trying to love housework. I’ll keep trying to manage my discretionary account well. No doubt, I’ll experience more failures as I grow into a frugal lifestyle. But as Kim concludes her post about mishaps when life is out of balance, “even when frugal fails, it’s not that bad.”

Have you made money mistakes that you find mortifying? How do you balance these mistakes against the bigger picture?

 I posted about Commandment #3 (A) at Fruclassity this week. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others



Bad Money Management & Wake-up Calls

Rocky is always so happy to wake up!

DH = Dear Husband

Waking up: Rocky’s way vs. mine

I always know when our dog Rocky has woken up. Thump, thump, thump. It’s the  sound of a happy tail in the confines of his cozy crate.  I’m usually the first to see him, and I get the full benefit of his adoring gaze as he wags his enthusiasm for what is to follow. Am I going to go outside? Am I going to get breakfast? Oh, this is just too good to be true! His day is entirely predictable, but he wakes up and embraces it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up like that. I drift pleasantly enough through semi-consciousness, but once I hit that fully wakened state, there’s an immediate back-pedal reaction. Nooooooo! Not yet. A few minutes more… Sometimes, I trick myself back into that fog between sleep and wakefulness, and on rare occasions I manage to sink right back into sleep. But inevitably, I have to resign myself to consciousness.

Waking up to my financial state

When it came to waking up to my finances, I was much, much more stubborn. I remember significant wake-up calls in every decade I have lived. Life lessons with the clear moral to be wise with my money. But for some reason, I ignored each one and remained in denial. I kept hitting the snooze button . . .

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Debt-Reduction Website:

What’s with the sudden fearless revelation?

DH = Dear Husband

I’m considering that image and thinking, I look tired! And my hair is frizzy and my chin seems big. Well, I AM tired. And my hair is frizzy and my chin is big (so is my nose), but it’s time to get over all of that. Big changes in my blogging life have come about.


If you’ve been reading at this site for any length of time, you already know the story behind “Fruclassity”. I wrote a post last July about Mr. Money Mustache’s subculture of Badassity. “Is It For Me?” was the question. The answer was “No.” On occasion, I can pull off a feat of stick-it-to-the-man hyper-frugality that defines Badassity – and I’m mighty proud of myself when I do. But on an ongoing basis? No. At least not yet. In that post, I wrote about one such feat, but I had to contrast it with the indulgence DH and I had enjoyed the same week in using a $100 gift card to a high-end (at least in our books) restaurant. It was so delicious, we allowed ourselves to go over the $100 limit. Not so badass, right?

Laurie from The Frugal Farmer commented on that post:

“Ok, LOVE this!!!!!! We live the same way, and I think we should figure out our own name for it. :-)

To which I replied:

“Thank you, Laurie. OK, so our subculture won’t have a swear word in it. Agreed? How about Fruclassity – for frugal yet classy?”

The Ten Commandments

Laurie liked both the word and what it stood for. In October, she sent me an e-mail saying she’d been thinking seriously about Fruclassity. “How would you like to work together and take that term and run with it?” I didn’t know what running with a term looked like, but I was certainly honoured, and I was definitely in. Laurie came up with the idea for us to write a series of “commandments” which we’ve called The Ten Commandments of Fruclassity. (They’ve been somewhat modified since Laurie originally posted them.) We each started to write about specific commandments and how they applied to us.

Jay $ and

I received a very excited e-mail message from Laurie in November. She said that Jay $ – of Budgets Are Sexy and Rockstar Finance fame – had contacted her after reading one of her posts about Fruclassity. He “LOVED it (said it was a ‘brilliant concept’) and said that we should pick up the domain just in case we decide to take this further than a series.” Laurie bought the domain name immediately, and we started to build a vision for our web site.

Our vision

Laurie and I have a lot in common in terms of our experience with debt, and there was a real flow in our back-and-forth discussions about what we wanted to create. We envisioned a web site that:

  • targets people struggling with debt who want to turn things around
  • gives these people a safe place to discuss money matters in spite of the larger culture that makes a taboo of money-talk
  • helps people get past the debilitating shame that many feel when they take ownership of their financial state (Laurie and I both know what that shame is all about. It is NOT fun or constructive.)
  • recognizes the vast differences in people’s incomes, expenses, ages, and values
  • unifies people who often feel there are barriers between them because of different incomes, expenses, ages, and values
  • points out solutions in terms of budgeting, tracking, becoming more frugal
  • prepares people for the long-term nature of financial change (It takes the average household 7 years to get out of debt.)
  • provides a community for people as they pursue long-term financial change
  • makes people aware of the side-benefits of minimalism and simplicity that come with frugal living
  • provides a counter-weight to the messages that bombard us all on a daily basis to Buy! Borrow! Because you deserve it!
  • challenges people to step up
  • allows people to start from where they are

I could go on and on – even more than I have. I think you get the idea.

MMM’s blessing

But what about Mr. Money Mustache? Would he be annoyed by this modification of his badass vision? Wouldn’t he see Fruclassity as being too “soft”? The possibility weighed on me so much that I sent him an e-mail telling him about our plans. “The essential point is that Fruclassity doesn’t exist without reference to Badassity,” I explained. “That’s why your OK is important to us.”

Would he approve? I was astonished to see his reply within minutes:

“Hi Ruth / Ms. Debtfree, nice to hear from you! OF COURSE your idea sounds great to me. I am highly in favor of made-up words being used to spread good ideas. I hope you have as much fun with Fruclassity as I do with Badassity 🙂



Join us

I’m going to keep chronicling our own journey out of debt right here. But I wanted you to know about, and I hope you’ll visit the new site. Jay $, who has been advising us, mentioned it in his post yesterday at Budgets Are Sexy, and Laurie and I went into overdrive trying to make the site viewer-ready for the curious. We’d been working on it all week (March Break for me), but yesterday was especially busy. No wonder I look tired.

You’ll notice a “Join the Fruclassity Movement” tab on the site. Consider putting your name to it. If you’re trying to get out of debt or you want to support people who are doing so, join us. And tell all of your friends and family to do the same : )

If you only have time to leave one comment for me today, please do so at where our first post is from me and tells about the debt story that DH and I have been living. It’s a brand new baby site – just a few hours old now. It needs a little love. This is all a very big deal for me. Thank you for your support : )

 Your comments are welcome. (But today, they’re even more welcome at



In Debt & Waiting for Inheritance: Not a Proud Moment for Boomers

The boomer generation started out so … groovy.

DH = Dear husband

A boomer trend: waiting

Les Kotzer is a Toronto lawyer, and when a woman in a fur coat came into his office with her well-dressed husband, his automatic impression was that the two – both in their late 50s – were well off. After finding out that the fur-clad woman was a substitute teacher, he asked her husband about his profession. “Harry’s not going to tell you this, but he’s a waiter,” answered his wife. When Kotzer asked at which restaurant he worked, she corrected his misconception. “Oh, Harry’s not that kind of a waiter. He’s waiting for his inheritance.”

I was fascinated in a morbid sort of way by the cover story of Maclean’s magazine this week. Photos of people not much older than I am, and their happily aging parents, a little younger looking than my mom, brought it close to home. Images of elderly parents, blissfully unaware of their children’s thoughts as they wait not-so-patiently for the transfer of wealth that will happen when mom and dad pass on.

Boomers’ impact over the decades


The boomers have always been just ahead of me as a generation. I have childhood memories of going downtown with my family and seeing hippies. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Young men with long hair. Young women with flowing skirts. Tie-dyed t-shirts, head bands. They clustered together in public spaces outside with a peaceful defiance and were, in my eyes, groovy.


As I approached my twenties, the boomers were redefining adulthood with their yuppy culture. Images in ads of the well-dressed, high-living, glamorous yuppy captured my imagination. The lifestyle of my parents, in comparison, seemed flat, dull, deprived. I had some awareness of the influence of ads at that time, but little awareness of how profoundly I personally was being influenced. I wanted what those yuppies had. The clothes, the big house, the travel, the fine-dining … My loftier plans to end poverty and generally save the world were rather stifled by the needs of my less acknowledged ambition to yuppify.


And we all know where that got me: in debt. What I didn’t quite grasp before reading this article in Maclean’s was that I’m sharing my plight with my role models. But I sure don’t want to share in the coping strategy that many boomers seem to be using to deal with their debt problem. 50% of Canadians nearing retirement expect to carry their mortgage debt into their retirement, and there is no shortage of consumer debt among them either.  “. . . [T]he average person aged 56-65 is carrying $27,000 in consumer debt, such as credit cards and car loans. They’re going to need cash to maintain their standard of living, say experts, and their desperation is starting to show. Court files are replete with challenges to wills involving claimants nearing retirement age, while the sheer nastiness of family battles is on the rise. ‘There is a degree of entitlement there,’ says Megan Connolly, a Toronto wills and estates specialist. “It’s this attitude that . . . what’s my mom’s is mine.'”

Guarding against a bad trend

It’s a sad closing chapter for a generation that started out so cool. Of course not all boomers are in this situation, but the trend is disturbing to say the least – something to watch out for. Have I ever thought about a future inheritance in a way that shows I’m relying upon it? I would have to say that I have. In our worst years of job loss, career uncertainty, and financial stress, my future inheritance had the comforting promise of a safety net. Nothing in line with the nastiness described in the Maclean’s article, but something to take note of nonetheless.

When DH and I started our journey out of debt, mom was rendered speechless by our total of $257,000 in the red, and she thought debt-repayment for us was a hopeless goal. “Just wait,” she once said during the early days of our journey, in the sense that it wouldn’t be so hopeless one day. I knew exactly what she meant. My mother is at perfect peace with her own mortality, and she’ll occasionally refer to it. But after almost three years, DH and I are nearing the half-way point, and mom, who never fails to ask, “So how’s the debt?” is impressed.

“I want you to stay alive,” I said to her recently, in a rare burst of frankness on this sensitive topic. “I want you to be there when we make our last payment. When we become debt-free.” “Well!” said my mom, her voice charged with new optimism. “That’s something that’s worth living for.”

Gillis, Charlie. “The Inheritance Wars.” Macleansca. Roger’s Publishing Ltd, 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <>.

What do you think of the “waiting” trend? Your comments are welcome.



Dad’s Frugal-Intense vs. Mom’s Frugal-Lite

Mom and Dad in our last family photo

DH = Dear Husband

We’re in the 34th month of our journey out of debt, and I still find myself having “Aha!” moments. This week I had another one.

Two brands of frugal: -intense and -lite

I don’t know about you, but when I think about “frugality”, I think of doing without and toughening up. We used to hire cleaners for our house, but we’re doing without, and we’re (I’m) doing our (my) own house cleaning. (Sometimes). We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries, but we’re doing without, and we’ve cut that bill down to $150. We used to eat at nice restaurants occasionally, but we’re doing without and spending way less – and way less often – on meals out. We used to go on mini-get-aways the odd week-end, but we’re doing without and staying put.

I like feeling tough. My dad was tough. He grew up on a prairie farm during the Great Depression, with only the basics at the best of times. Scholarships were his ticket out of poverty. Physically strong and athletic, academically rigorous, socially aware and contentious, my dad was adamantly frugal with a sort of reverse pride about it all. A bit of contempt in his attitude towards his “softer” fellow men I must admit. I suppose I feel a bit of an “atta girl!” pat on the back when I tough it out.

But here’s the thing. I’m not really that tough. I’m a product of my mother too, after all. Like my dad, she grew up in the era of the Great Depression. But she was a city girl. And her family had a live-in maid. AND a house-cleaner who came every Wednesday. Her name was Jessie. I just found out about that a few days ago. My mother’s hush, hush disposition towards certain topics is giving way to more disclosure now that she’s 90 years old. There had always been a bit of teasing towards my mom for having come from some privilege, and there were jokes about household staff, but I didn’t know it was beyond anything that I have experienced myself – house cleaners doing their wonderful work every two weeks. A stay-at-home mom, a live-in maid, and weekly cleaning service? OK.

My mother’s lifestyle changed dramatically after she married my dad, but she never complained. It wasn’t in a stiff-upper-lip way of not complaining – stoically suffering in silence. She didn’t suffer. She really didn’t miss the privileges of her upbringing. Perhaps she knew that they hadn’t afforded her any more happiness than she was enjoying as an adult having to live within her means.  But she was never “tough”. She indulged thoroughly in the charm of life – just not by spending money.

Our frugal groceries: both -intense and -lite

My big New Year’s resolution this year has been frugal grocery shopping. I set the limit of $150 per week, and so far, so good. My first forays into the grocery store this year were characterized by a fierce determination. Calculator in hand, I weighed the vegetables and bananas and studied comparative prices with great focus. I was tough. Atta girl! But in the last few weeks, I’ve forgotten to bring the calculator. And I haven’t bothered to weigh everything. And I’m still coming in under $150.

I actually LIKE this frugal grocery thing. I love the abundance of food that happens when I slow cook large quantities of chicken, beef, beans, pork. I love the high quality hanging out time that takes place in the kitchen as people linger to talk or just share the space while I chop or stir or clean up. I love the enthusiasm with which these new old meals are anticipated, and the way they draw us around the table together again after years of separate eating and separate diets and separate schedules.

My dad’s frugal intensity is present in the time and work devoted to preparations. But my mom’s frugal-lite is also present. In the slowed pace and the casual chit-chat. Something of great value that we’ve done without for far too long – until we started doing without. A few weeks ago, on a Saturday when I was cooking up a storm, DH came through the door and stopped in his tracks. “Hmmm!” he said, eyes closed and nose in high gear. “It smells like home.” We’ve been living in this house for almost 17 years. But I knew what he meant.

Moving forward . . .

Each one of us is a product of two parents. I have approached our journey out of debt almost exclusively with my dad’s frugal-intensity. And there’s been a lot of good that has come of it. But I’m going to embrace my mom’s frugal-lite as I move forward, and I suspect the combination of these two brands will prove to be better for us than either one on its own.

But what about house cleaning?

I’m especially curious to see if it will have an impact on house-cleaning. Is there a frugal-lite side benefit here? I think there must be, but I haven’t found it yet. I really do miss our house-cleaner days. I really am jealous of my mom’s mom. Where is MY Jessie? I really do feel like we’re doing without – and that I’ve got to toughen up. Or not. Maybe what I’ve got to do is open up to the frugal-lite side of cleaning – whatever it might be. I’ll share any discoveries I make. Stay tuned.

 How have your parents influenced your attitudes towards frugality? Do you operate with the frugal-intense or the frugal-lite brand? Your comments are welcome.

Debt Reduction: Isolating a Bad Spending Habit (and taking it down)

Packing food to avoid huger-spending.

DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

“odd happy buzz”

DD3 fainted during her high school band practice two and a half weeks ago, and in the fall, she suffered a concussion. No band for a while, no sports. I thought that would do it. But her symptoms were a bit worse a week later. The doctor at our clinic recommended a trip to the Children’s Hospital for a proper assessment, and she advised us to go through Emergency since it would otherwise take too long to get an appointment.

There’s no telling how long a wait is going to be in a hospital emergency room, and as I was getting ready to go the next morning, I caught an odd buzz of happy anticipation in my head. Fainting. Concussion. Symptoms worse. Long wait at hospital. What was there to be happy about? I focused in on that vague buzz, and this is what it said: You’ll probably have to wait so long that you’ll have to buy lunch for you and DD3. Maybe even a snack after that.

New wake-up moment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about “waking up” to my bad habit of spending discretionary money on take-out food. Often, as I noted, it’s connected with an admirable burst of generosity – wanting to treat a friend or family member for one reason or another. In this case too, there was an element of “admirable”. Poor DD3. What a drag for her! She’ll like a little lunch and snack as a treat. Really? Was I only thinking about DD3?

A new wake-up moment. I generally can’t justify spending on take-out food for myself. I’m trying to be frugal after all. So a sneaky little strategy has developed in my subconscious to allow me to satisfy my addiction: I treat others to little meals or snacks (notice it’s always “little” – because that makes it OK), and since I’m there, I order for myself too. I’m trying to be frugal, but I don’t want to stifle all of my noble generous impulses, right? Ha! Busted.

The makings of an uber-frugalite

So I decided that DD3 and I would have a very big breakfast before driving to the hospital. Fruit, eggs, toast, beans, meat . . . That would fill us up. But who was I kidding? We would get hungry within a few hours again, and this was likely going to be a whole-day event. I packed nuts and cheese and  fruit and veggies and crackers and energy bars. “I can make chicken wraps,” DD3 suggested. There! Even my daughter was catching on to this frugal approach. I love good ripple effects!

Feeling mighty clever, I furthermore planned not to use the hospital parking lot. Instead I would find free parking in the residential streets nearby. “We’re going to walk a bit, so dress warmly,” I advised DD3. It’s been incredibly cold around here lately, and that day, we were at -24 C (-11 F) with a slight wind chill to boot. Food in hand, parking plan in place, decked out in full winter gear, I decided that I had officially become an uber-frugalite.

Love and money vs. Love and time

The day actually passed quite pleasantly. There were line-ups and waiting rooms, but DD3 and I don’t often have long periods of relaxed time together, and we enjoyed each other’s company. We also enjoyed the food in our bag, eating it all up as the hours ticked by. “Any exercise will make her feel worse,” the doctor told us when we finally got to see her. “Keep her home from school for the rest of the month, and she shouldn’t walk to school when she does go back.” Yikes! Perhaps we should have used the hospital parking lot after all. I confessed my frugal parking and subsequent long walk with DD3. “No harm done,” the doctor said. She provided us with a note for the school and contact information for a follow-up appointment, and we were free to leave.

We walked back to the car extra slowly, and had just enough time to make it to DD3’s school before it closed for the day. Her schedule was revamped – no more band, no more music class, extra help slotted in for math – and her forthcoming time away from classes was accommodated with e-mails to teachers and plans to do limited school work from home. As we closed off the day with our drive home, I wanted to take DD3 to Tim Hortons. But I caught the impulse just in time.

That evening, after eating supper, DH, DD3, and I played a few rounds of Uno – not too taxing a game of cards for someone in her concussed state. There was a relief in knowing how to move forward with her healing, and both DH and I were inclined to spoil her just then. And we did. With time instead of money. That’s not always easy to do, and it’s no wonder that so many of us end up gushing our love on friends and family with purchased treats of one kind or another. But on that day, we managed well. I was awake to my bad habits and my subconscious mind games, so I was able to steer clear of the love = spending trap at a time of powerful baiting.

DD3 is doing very well now, and she’s actually looking forward to going back to school next week.

Have you ever “woken up” to bad habits or your own subconscious mind games? Do you ever fall into the “love = spending” trap? Your comments are welcome.

 Thank you to Tonya at Budget and the Beach for giving me the opportunity to write for her site in a guest post this week.


Coming out … of the Financial Closet

 Kay is coming out.

I’m really pleased to feature Kay’s story this week. She writes at Life Style Voices, and her style is so quirky and disarming,  it just makes me happy. This post marks a brave move on Kay’s part. She’s opening up about her story of debt and financial distress for the first time. I’m incredibly honoured to host Kay’s exit from the closet. 

Felicitations Fellow Frugal Followers!

This post is a promise fulfilled.

Months ago I commented in one of Prudence’s posts.  Her post was titled:

Fruclassity Commandment #6: Financial Equality in Marriage Partnership

And it was FABULOUS, as always.  In it she included a disagreement she was having with her husband “DH” about expenditures for her mother’s 90th birthday celebrations. Did the event represent “want” spending or “need” spending? You’ll have to go back and read it so that the following comments make some sense, but here they are, copied and pasted for your viewing pleasure:

November 15, 2014 at 9:43 am

Grandma celebration? I’d have to say that’s a “need”. My mom’s 87. They won’t be around forever. If they were closer to 70, maybe we could give this one to DH. As far as money goes, I haven’t shared much about Jay and my financial adventures, mostly out of fear of being driven out of the blogosphere. I may in the future, but only after I’m assured that no one has a stash of tar and feathers. We did everything wrong. Then we’d think we learned. Then we’d do everything wrong again. We seem to be on a pretty even keel right now, but we have a tendency to throw the deck of cards up in the air and have to pick them all up again. Unfortunately, 1 or 2 will end up under the couch and we don’t notice until the next time we play (all figuratively speaking, of course). Love this series, Prudence! It’s really thought provoking.


November 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Thank you, Kay. I actually said to DH as we were discussing the 90th birthday disagreement this morning, “Kay from Lifestyle Voices agrees with me. She says . . . ” In the end, we agreed that all expenses from Saturday (present, food for party, decorations) will come from our shared accounts, and only the brunch from today (Sunday) would come from our respective discretionary accounts. I’m happy with that compromise : )
I’m interested in what you have to say about your history with money management. My prediction is that by blogging about it, you’ll keep your awareness so high that you won’t be as likely to slip this time around. Looking forward to following your progress.

So anyway, in a subsequent email Ms. Prudence asked if I would like to guest post about our journey.  I told her I wasn’t ready yet, but when I was, I would tell my story here, on her wonderful blog.

Well, here goes!  (Still watching for those tar buckets and sneaky chicken feather bags.)

When I first started checking out blogs, I was looking for frugal advice.  I can’t remember what the initial search was for, but I believe I was looking for extreme ways to save money.  I love extreme stuff.  I think it’s fun to see how far people can challenge themselves and if I can pick up even one new trick from it, I’m a happy camper indeed.

Then I got hooked on PF (personal finance) blogs.  It all started with Sam’s site,  Loved it!  He’s very socially conscious and he had great frugal tips.

Slowly I began commenting.  I’d never done that before and got hooked.  Then I started checking out other PF blogs, and eventually started my own, After a few months, I decided to change the name.  I felt like I really didn’t have enough to say financially, so I changed the name to so that I could spend more time on minimalism and other lifestyle subjects, such as, eventually, vandwelling, all while still enjoying the frugal stuff.

I discovered along the way that a LOT of PF blogs were about debt reduction and wealth building.  Serious stuff.  Intense stuff.  I was totally out of my element.  And here’s why.

Jay and I have no debt.  No debt whatsoever.  Especially now.  We recently sold our home, moved to Florida, and we’re now renting a home.  We don’t have a car note, no loans, no credit cards, nope, no debt at all.

But it’s not through the intense means so many PF bloggers employ.

You see, back in ’89, we went bankrupt.  Jay was in business for himself and had gotten screwed over by an unscrupulous heating company that he was subcontracting to.  We ended up over $30,000 in business debt.  I know that doesn’t sound like much to a lot of people, especially ones with student loan debt, but to us, it was insurmountable.  We had a 4 year old, I was having health problems that were causing a lot of debt, and we were advised by an attorney that bankruptcy was our only option.  We had no clue.  We weren’t happy about it, but we took his advice.  We gave up our home and moved into an apartment in the city.  My health improved after about a year and we were back on track financially.  Kind of.  We were living paycheck to paycheck, but paid everything with cash for the next 7 years.

THEN, we started getting credit card solicitations.

We had been living so tightly for those 7 years, but we didn’t want to get into trouble again.  However, slowly but surely, we applied for a card, and got it!

For the next 9 years, we used credit cards and made minimum payments.  We didn’t know any better.  We thought we’d learned from the bankruptcy, but apparently not.  So in 2004, after never missing a payment, credit card companies started doubling and sometimes tripling minimum payments on cards, even though people weren’t late.  We were caught up in the crunch.  We had barely been able to make the minimum payments as they were.  We were totally unable to make doubles and triples.  Jay was once again working for himself, but the work had dried up big time.  It was like the world had collectively closed its wallets and started making impossible demands.  We went to the local credit counseling service (over $30,00 in debt once again) and after carefully going over our situation he recommended, yep, you guessed it, that we go bankrupt again.  That was totally unexpected, but at this point we were so far behind and the companies wouldn’t work with us at all.  They just wanted payments in full.  There’s a joke for you.  Let’s see, I can’t afford to pay you AND the other companies the minimum payments, but I’ll come up with the $7,000 I owe you by Friday.

Yeah, that’s how it went.

There is so much stigma attached to bankruptcy.  No one wants to talk about it.  Especially with people who are working their a$$es off trying to get out of debt.  I can only say that in 2005, we went through our second bankruptcy because we just had no clue how not to.  After reading these wonderful PF blogs over the past year, I can see how we could have done it differently both times.  But hindsight is 20/20 for sure.

Having said that, I always want to say to people who are in WAY over their heads, that if you HAVE to go bankrupt, it isn’t as horrible as it sounds.  Yes, it does take 7 – 10 years to get credit again, but the stress that is lifted off you may be worth it.  I can tell you this, we will never (please God) have credit cards or loans ever again and we learned how to SAVE money and stop living paycheck to paycheck.  We have paid cash for the past 10 years and we have a totally blank credit report.  It looks like we’re aliens that just landed on this planet, but not only have we learned our lessons from those experiences, we’ve learned even more from the PF blogs and the brave souls who are digging their way out of extreme debt.

My only advice, if I’m even qualified to give any, is to do what you need to do.  When companies or celebrities go bankrupt (think Donald Trump), no one bats an eye. But let Uncle Charlie do it, and it’s a scandal!  Don’t let other people’s judgments keep you from doing what you need to do.  It’s your life, and you and your family’s happiness and peace of mind are all that’s important.  No one knows all of the intricacies of your situation but you.  The guy in the house, cubicle, or car next to you has no say in your finances.

Unless, of course, you owe him money …

Have you ever “come out of the closet”? It’s a scary move! But no “tar and feathers” allowed here. Your comments are welcome.



Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake Up!

DH = Dear Husband   

DD1 = Dear 1rst Daughter   DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter  DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

I committed to only one resolution this year: Keep weekly grocery bill under $150. So far, so good! There was another resolution that I thought about taking on: Build up savings from discretionary fund. But I didn’t.

Our discretionary allowances

Before DH and I began our journey out of debt, we got into the habit of putting aside a monthly discretionary allowance for each of us. Our money was out of control, and we were taking first steps to get a grip on it. The motive behind these discretionary allowances was to put a defined limit on how much we spent on two types of expenditures:

1. Things that we did need to buy, but that had a broad price-range – like shampoo and clothing.

2, Things that we didn’t need to buy, but that we wanted – like gifts, gym memberships, and restaurant meals.

We set our amount at $600 per month each. “That’s a lot!” Most people say. And it is. But believe me, we were actually reining in our spending by setting that amount.

DH’s track record compared with mine

DH and I have had such different track records with our respective discretionary funds. He always carries a balance forward from one month to the next. He has never stressed about how he’ll manage to purchase what he needs, and he has had no trouble budgeting for the wants of his choice. More impressively, he has been able to save up for big treats – like a couple of snow-boarding week-end get-aways. And when I failed to save up (after a whole year) for a trip out west to visit DD1, DH blew me away by giving me the money needed for my plane ticket out of HIS savings.

I, on the other hand, got into discretionary debt almost immediately. After months of intentional discipline, I got myself out of the red, but then I repeated the pattern. Again, I got myself above zero, and this time, I took on a determination to save. I set goals for larger wants, as DH had done successfully – like the trip to visit DD1 (and we know what happened there) and help with my blog. After all, if I could set aside money to get out of my discretionary debt, I could set aside money to build up discretionary savings, right? Somehow, the answer so far has been no!

Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake up!

“Fruclassity” is a term that Laurie from The Frugal Farmer and I coined in our recognition that we weren’t full-fledged “badasses” in the (highly commendable) Mr. Money Mustache sense of the word. There’s an edge to the extreme frugality of  badassity that Laurie and I don’t subscribe to – at least not yet. Fruclassity promotes frugality with a touch of class – for the not-so-badass.

Here is Commandment #1 of Fruclassity:

Wake up and be honest with yourself about where you are financially. Don’t try to hide from it. Don’t pretend it’s not there. Recognize your financial state for what it is.

Applying Commandment #1 to my discretionary fail

There are two applications that I need to make here:

First of all, I have to start by actually knowing how much money I have in my discretionary account. For those of you who haven’t lived any part of your lives with your heads in the sand, this will seem ridiculously obvious. Other ostriches will understand though. The cool dark of the sand is comforting. The act of forcing your head out and opening your eyes to harsh light and painful grit – that’s a HUGE step. I have just checked my onine account, and I have $43 left for February. There. I know.

But I can’t just know now. I have to heighten my awareness of where I am financially at any given time instead of being surprised at the end of every month that I haven’t saved anything – again. While I diligently keep every receipt for money spent from our common accounts, I have never done the same for my discretionary expenditures. DH and I track our common accounts pretty effectively, and it’s paying off. I don’t know why I haven’t been doing the same with my own account. Time to start.

Secondly, I have to do a little self-analysis. I have to be honest with myself about what it is that leads me to sabotage my own financial health – my own integrity. I’ve got some insight into this: If I have a big discretionary expense, I cleverly pay it at the beginning of the month when my account is flush. As if that won’t have an impact on the rest of the month! I knew I had blog-related expenses to pay this month (most significantly, to address the whole “technical difficulties” issue I had for eight weeks), and I paid at the beginning of February – a big drain on my flush fund right upfront.

Another insight: When I’m over my head, as I have been for the past while – with work, parenting, household, and even blog (again, recent technical problems) combining to go off the chart together – I spend on food treats. It’s like a stress-release valve. In the past week,

  • I bought Tim Hortons for DD3 after she fainted during her school band practice and got a concussion. Sympathy spending.
  • I bought Tim Hortons for DD2 and her boyfriend when she ran a track event very successfully after having recovered from months of injury. Celebration spending!
  • I bought Tim Hortons for DH for devoting hours to my blog site and fixing a couple of stubborn problems. Gratitude spending. (Let me add here the fact there was plenty of yummy, prepared food in the fridge at home on each of these occasions.)


Evidence in car

Sympathy, celebration, and gratitude are all good things. But why is my knee-jerk impulse to spend money to express them? (And why always on food? At Tim Hortons?) I don’t have an answer, but I know that being honest is a good start. And that being aware of where I am will be the foundation for getting to where I want to be. When you take my clever first-of-the-month-big-expense strategy and add to it my food-treat-release-valve, you can see why I’m down to $43 with half of the month ahead of me!

I didn’t take on the build-up of discretionary savings as a New Year’s resolution because I didn’t believe I would follow through. I’ve certainly given myself plenty of reasons to doubt. But I want to change that. The way I deal with my discretionary money now is probably the way I’ll deal with all of our money once we’re debt-free, and I want to manage it well. My old bad habits are stubborn, and I’m sick of them. I want to get every part of my head out of the sand. Let the light shock my eyes! Let the grit jolt me out of complacency! It is time to wake up!

A big THANK YOU! to J. Money at Budgets Are $exy for mentioning Fruclassity in his post yesterday. 

And thank you, Melanie, from Dear Debt, for posting my break-up letter to Debt this past week.

Does Commandment #1 apply to you? Can you relate to the whole “head-in-sand” thing? Your comments are welcome!



Debt Repayment & Impatience: Time for Big Girl Panties

My toilet training days – camping and on the potty

MT = Math Teacher

DH = Dear Husband

Wise when it comes to other people’s impatience . . .

For the first half of the year, my monthly take-home income goes down because of automatic deductions for the Canada Pension Plan. It’s a good thing that will serve us well in the future, but nobody looks at that first pay of the year and thinks, Great! I’m paying into my CPP! It’s more like Ugh! 

I was talking with a colleague – a math teacher (MT from a previous post) – who is trying to pay off his debts (“because of you,” he told me), and he expressed real frustration about that lower take-home pay. “I was on a roll,” he said. “I just feel derailed.” I had all kinds of words of wisdom for him: Debt repayment isn’t a steady thing. There are high expense months and windfall months even with a regular income. We need to expect the lower pay and accommodate for it, and then use the extra income in the last half of the year to full advantage.

“Yeah,” he said, looking at the floor. “I know.”

This guy is a bright light in our school. A professional engineer, he left a higher-paying career to work with teens, and we’re all so glad he did. Yet he feels caught off guard by a drop in income that comes every year. Finds himself fighting off that “I give up!” frustration.

. . . but not so wise with my own impatience

I don’t know about you, but I can relate. I say it without disrespect: There is something childish about a debtor’s impatience. Especially when we’re on board, making efforts to do the right thing, we find it SO frustrating when STILL we run into roadblocks that keep us indebted. I had perspective on MT’s discouragement. But I don’t have much on mine.

Great expectations for December

Through December, as DH took in more business than he ever has, I found myself looking forward to writing that post at the end of the month in which I’d announce how much we had paid off the business debt. Maybe it will be $10,000, I thought. Or pretty close. Maybe $8,000 or $9,000. Or more! Maybe $11,000 – our highest repayment in a single month. I set  my sights high, with DH’s gross revenue warranting my hope. But in December, DH was finalizing his corporate taxes for 2014, and he paid up according to what his accountant had advised in the mad panic end-of-year rush. And that left a little over $5,000 to put against the debt.

“What are you complaining about?” you might ask. “I know,” I might answer, looking at the floor. $5,000 is a great amount, and it brought us below the $20,000 mark in our business debt repayment. That beast was at $80,800 when we started our journey out of debt, and look at it now: $18,000. But my expectations – backed up by reason – had been so much higher. Taxes!

High hopes for January

“I overpaid my taxes,” DH told me at the end of December. “My accountant found a way to lower them, but I’d already paid. I’ll get reimbursed.” Ha! Good news! I’d hold off on my post about our December payment. I’d wait until that reimbursement came in and we had a solid January payment to make. I imagined what I’d write at the end of January: “Two Big Slices out of Debt #3” / “We’re down to $13,000!” But that’s not what I’m writing. Despite the tax reimbursement, there are business expenses to cover, including travel next month. And extra household expenses to fund. (More on that later). “I’ll try to put something down. Maybe $500,” DH told me yesterday.


My inner-toddler is kicking. I’m not proud of my impatient frustration. It’s childish. I know the words of wise perspective that I would give to someone like me: You have an irregular income and irregular business expenses. Best not to put too much energy into big expectations. There will be high expense months along with windfall months. Take ownership of what you can control and leave the rest. Besides, you’re doing well in your debt-repayment. Just keep on keeping on.

Yeah, I know.

“It’s time to put on your big girl panties!”

I have a colleague who is starting her teaching career after years of amazing work experience – including acting and scuba diving instruction. She is unfailingly funny, in a straight-faced deadpan kind of way, and I can just hear her voice telling me, “It’s time to put on your big girl panties!” And I will. Aren’t I supposed to be a grown-up?

So with big girl panties on, I hereby give my end-of-January report: In December, thanks to DH’s high business volume over the Christmas rush, we took a big slice out of Debt #3 – $5,000. January has turned out to be a month of both high business and household expenses, so our repayment was much smaller – at $500. Our business debt – $80,800 in December of 2012 – is now down to $17,500. It’s lower than Debt #1 and Debt #2 – our now paid-off consumer debts – combined. We’re on our way.

There. How’s that? Have you ever found yourself in the humbling position of recognizing a childish impatience in yourself? Does your inner-toddler rage on occasion? Do you need to put on your big girl panties / big boy pants?

Comments are welcome. They’re working again!