Monopoly and Debt Repayment

  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter
  • DH = Dear Husband

DD3 vs. me

One of the byproducts of our more frugal lifestyle is that we stay in and do things like play board games more often. I tried to teach DD3, when we first ramped up the frequency of our Monopoly games, to DO something with her money. She would pass Go, collect $200 . . . and then just let that money sit there. She wouldn’t buy every property she landed on as I did. “You’ve got to buy more properties,” I explained, “to increase your chances of getting a full set so that you can put up houses and hotels. That’s how you win.” And when she finally did secure a full property set, she wouldn’t get houses as soon as she could afford them. I’d think to myself, She’s got all of those properties and all of that money, but it’s not doing her any good. For my part, I would max out in my house-buying, keeping just enough money aside in case I landed on one of DD3’s more dangerous properties. DD3, on the other hand, would take forever to spend $300 from her $2,000 stash for one house per space. Why not buy two? Why not three? You’ve got the money! I found it frustrating, but I kept my mouth shut. She would just have to learn the hard way.

My “bad luck”

Inevitably, things would go wrong. For me. The stash of cash I kept “just in case” would drain quickly in one unfortunate round:

  • A Chance card: “Pay poor tax of $15”.
  • The Luxury Tax space: $75.
  • A Community Chest card: “Pay hospital $100.”
  • The Go To Jail space (no $200 for passing Go this time). $50 to get out of jail.
  • Then – Arrgh! A landing  on DD3’s property with the house on it.

My cash already drained, I’d have to mortgage one of my properties. The beginning of the end for me. Just bad luck, I thought the first few times. But when bad luck keeps revisiting, you have to take a closer look. Maybe there was something to be learned from DD3’s stubborn insistence upon saving – her painfully measured way of spending. And maybe I needed to take a closer look at my own game. Why such a compulsion to spend as much as possible and to save as little as possible?

A close look at losing in real time

With a new awareness of DD3’s superior Monopoly wisdom, I played with her again a couple of times this past week. Same results! Only this time, I was conscious of each disastrous step in real time. Here are a couple of snapshots of my thinking:

  • Ugh! I didn’t buy a green property last time around, and here I am landing on one again. I’d have two now if I’d bought the first time. If I land on a green again next round, I’ll kick myself for not having taken advantage of this opportunity.
  • DD3 has 3 houses on each of her orange properties – and over $2,000 in cash. I have the advantage of owning more properties, but I only have $400. Still, I’d better buy some houses because I have to benefit from my property advantage.

In the end, I had to mortgage two of those green properties I felt compelled to buy. And when DD3 had hotels on her orange properties, I landed on one – cash strapped. Those houses I’d bought did nothing for me. It was game over.

Connections to my real money management?

I can see two connections between my modus operandi in Monopoly and my real life personal finances:

  1. My discretionary account is always bone dry by the end of each month. While DH manages to save a little from his discretionary allowance (exactly the same as mine) – to the point where he can go away for a week-end of snowboarding – I consistently spend it all, often cheating and borrowing from the next month before it arrives.
  2. My disagreement with DH last week stemmed from my greater desire to get rid of our money (in a positive way – by paying off debt) than to save it. I referred to our savings as “sucking my momentum”.

Soul searching

Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote an excellent post this past week about her former fear of spending. “Saving money isn’t the worst default position …” she noted. “The problem is that I was saving from a place of fear, not a place of strength.” If I try to identify the “place” from which I have rid myself of money throughout my whole life – clearly including the present – I would have to say it has been a place of panic. It’s even evident in my thoughts and advice on Monopoly.

  • “You’ve got to buy more . . . That’s how you win.”
  • I would max out in my house-buying …
  • … I’ll kick myself for not having taken advantage of this opportunity.
  • … I’d better buy some houses because I have to benefit from my property advantage.

These are not thoughts and words of calm confidence; there’s a tense compulsion to them. A fear that time and chance are going to pass me by. A dread that the future will provide no opportunity. Maybe I’ve got the youngest-of-5 syndrome? Make a mad dash to the counter to get a cookie before they’re all gone. I’ve got to mellow out. I’ve got to have more faith. More confidence that no mad dash is necessary – that there’s a cookie on the counter with my name on it, and it’s not going anywhere until I get there.

Looking ahead

We’re coming to a point in our “Total Money Makeover” (Dave Ramsey style), when savings will play just as great a role as paying off the mortgage – the last debt standing. There will be a hefty emergency fund to save. There will be greater investments towards our retirement. There will be short-term savings for cars, furnace, air-conditioning. All this in the face of soon-to-be greater expenses. (More on that later.) We will have to be measured in all aspects of our finances, and there will be no room for my panic.

Awareness is the first step to any positive outcome, and so I’m hopeful that I can get a handle on my money-ridding compulsion. I used to spend it all chaotically. In the last 3 years, I’ve thrown it against debt, hand over fist. I have to learn how to just hold it. Save it. Watch it grow. A few lessons from DD3, a few more games of Monopoly – it might just do the trick.

Does fear play a role in your management of finances? A fear of spending and a compulsion to save? A panic to spend and an aversion to saving? What’s your strategy in Monopoly? Your comments are welcome.




3rd Anniversary of Debt Reduction: $123,000 Down

Authenticity in blog-writing

From day one of writing this blog, I said I wanted it to be authentic. I wanted to give a genuine picture of what it looks like to get out of debt. Much of the debt-reduction advice and testimonial out there has a  “Rah-rah!” tone to it, and I’m all for it. Sometimes, I’m leading the cheer. But not today. It’s our third anniversary of debt-reduction, and our numbers show great progress, so what’s my problem?

My disagreement with DH re. accidental TFSA

I feel rather petty admitting to it, but I really wanted to have Debt #3, our business debt, paid off by the end of May. Why? So that we could reach a hugely significant milestone on this anniversary date, and I could write for my title of today’s post, “3rd Anniversary of Debt Reduction: Debt #3 ELIMINATED!” It could have been, but DH and I are in a disagreement, and he is winning. Debt #3 today sits at $5,500, down from an original $80,800. Way down. But still there.

In April 2012, just a month before we started our journey out of debt, we opened up a tax-free savings account (TFSA), and began depositing $101 per month into it. We were floundering at the time, knowing that our finances were in a mess, knowing that we needed to reduce debt and save, but having no strategy. Once we read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, we had our starting strategy:

  • Have a small emergency fund on hand ($1,000) and take part in any employer matching program that might be offered through your work for retirement savings.
  • Otherwise, focus exclusively on debt-reduction, starting with the smallest debt, until you are debt-free except for the mortgage.
  • Save a big emergency fund.

Psychological vs. logical debtors

If the penalties aren’t too severe, advises Ramsey, put any savings you have against your debt. In my mind, that includes an accidental TFSA that has, over the last three years, quietly grown to just about $4,000. We could today cash in, find another $1,500, and Tah-Dah! But here is where our fundamental personality differences come into conflict:

  • I am a psychological debtor. Ramsey’s assertion that debt-reduction is more about psychology than it is about logic goes double for me. It’s why he advises paying off the smallest debt first. Logically, it makes more sense to focus upon the debt with the highest interest rate, but the encouragement that comes with being able to say, “I did it! It’s all gone!” is worth its weight in gold in terms of the motivation it gives debtors to keep forging ahead. For psychological debtors, encouragement and motivation are everything. Without them, we give up. For me, there would be HUGE encouragement and motivation in being able to say today – on our 3rd anniversary – that we had finally paid off our $80,800 beast of a business debt. It would mean WAY more to me than having a random (in my eyes) TFSA just sitting there on the sidelines sucking momentum.
  • DH is a logical debtor. It seems counter-intuitive that logic and debt should co-exist, but it’s a common enough phenomenon. Spin the numbers convincingly and make clever use of financial jargon, and many people come to a logical acceptance of debt as normal and benign – never mind sky-rocketing levels of household debt, financial stress, and bankruptcy. For us, it’s fortunate that our smallest debts happened to have the highest interest rates. No argument there. But for this situation, DH logically notes that in the long term, it makes no difference whether we pay off Debt #3 today or in two months from now. A careful man prone to worry, he also logically notes that we have significant expenses coming up, and that a cushion of savings will be a healthy thing to have.

I know that in the long-term, it doesn’t matter if Debt #3 gets killed off in July. The point is, I also feel frustrated by what I perceive as DH’s indifference to what motivates me towards our mutual goal. And I know that we have significant expenses coming up. I just don’t think it would be imprudent to pay off Debt #3 now and then refocus for what’s ahead. I like the neatness of finishing off this phase. I don’t like the sloppy indefinite sense I get with what DH is going for.

So there you have it. It’s the marriage thing and not being on the same page. That’s why I’m not feeling too peppy right now. Nevertheless, here are our numbers:

Start of June 2012:  Total Debt = $257,400
Debt #1 New Car Debt – $8,600
Debt #2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $12,800
Debt #3 Business Debt – $80,800
Debt #4 Mortgage – $155,000
End of May 2015:  Total Debt = $134,400
Debt #1 New Car Debt – $0
Debt #2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $0
Debt #3 Business Debt – $5,500
Debt #4 Mortgage – $128,900
A total of $123,000 in debt paid off in 3 years.

Looking back and looking ahead

I have just read the post that I wrote almost exactly 3 years ago when we were at the starting line. “Now it’s June, and DH and I are taking the proverbial first step on our journey out of debt,” I wrote. “Psyched by a vision of debt freedom, we feel a happy adrenaline – a hope-filled, united, optimistic energy.” I think that “united” is the key word we’re missing now. Hopefully, our awareness of this fact will lead us to find it again.

The most encouraging thing I get out of that 3-year-old post is what it reveals about our very optimistic expectations:  “In preparing our June budget, DH and I found that we didn’t have a lot of fat to trim.  That makes sense as we had to take many cuts off our living expenses when DH lost his first career …  The most significant change we’ve brought about with our budget is to follow Ramsey’s advice about paying off the smallest debt first – with intensity … With the aim of intensifying our repayment of Debt #1, we’re going to stop paying off the business debt and we’re going to stop topping up our mortgage payments.  These two changes mean that we will pay $2,300 off of Debt #1 in a regular month.” Apart from mortgage payments, we had ambitious hopes of a regular debt repayment rate of $2,300 per month. In fact, after three years of widely varying monthly repayments, we have averaged $2,700. We’ve exceeded our ridiculously high expectations by $400 per month, which over three years adds up to $14,400.

So for better or for worse, we’re on the right track. And as I look at the challenges ahead, whether income-related, expense-related, or relationship-related, I can only be encouraged. And, psychological debtor that I am, that’s exactly what I need.

Do you think that psychological or logical factors play a greater role in your personal finances? Your comments are welcome. (And it’s OK if you agree with DH : )






Debt-Stress & Rebel Teen (Part 2)

Still strong-willed … with a different focus.

Last Thursday, I posted an article that I wrote 3 years ago – but which I couldn’t post at the time – about the struggles my husband and I were having asserting financial boundaries for our second daughter. Today, I’m writing about how things have developed in the time since then. Without further ado, here is Part Two of DD2’s story.


DD2 = Dear second daughter
DH = Dear husband
Holding the line with our strong-willed teen
     “I absolutely love the idea of doing a joint savings account to help your daughter avoid student loan debt …” said Choncé in a comment after last week’s post. Three years ago, as I had written, DD2 was about to start university, and to help her avoid student debt, DH and I decided we would need to share an account with her – in order to oversee savings.
     Well, that plan did not pan out. Neither did any proactive suggestion that we made. With a roll of the eye and an irritated sigh, DD2 would say, “I know!” or “Quit telling me what to do!” All we could do was to maintain our boundaries and give the warning, “We will not bail you out if you cross the line.”
     “I know!”
Brick-wall, Jellyfish, and Backbone parenting styles

(Click to continue reading …)

Debt-Stress & Rebel Teen

I say the bride doll started it all.

It can be very difficult to give your children financial wisdom if you don’t start from the get-go. I need to set the scene a bit here. I wrote this post almost three years ago. It’s about my 2nd daughter who was at that time a 17-year old with a big sense of entitlement. My husband and I were just starting the painful process of asserting strong, unified boundaries to put to an end what had been an extremely difficult time. As a relatively new blogger, I made the big mistake of posting this article before seeking my daughter’s consent. She read it and was upset – understandably. I rewrote it so that it was a more general piece. But I kept the original. And this week, she gave me permission to post it.

There will be two parts to this story. Today, you’ll read about “Before”. Next Thursday, you’ll read about “After”. Do you have teens who are challenging you beyond your limits? Take heart. You’re not alone. Don’t give up on your child or yourself. 

Click to continue reading . . . 


The “What Now?” Of Financial Goals

FFCF and I (with kittens) back in the day.

DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

FFCF = Financially Free Childhood Friend

DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

Arranging a “thank you” dinner

“When you are next in [the city] let us know. We’d like to host you for a ‘Thank you’ dinner for your support of [DD2]. Maybe you and your mom could come over? And my mom too?” I sent the e-mail message to a childhood friend of mine – financially independent for over 10 years now (I’ll call her FFCF for Financially Free Childhood Friend). She had given generous financial support to DD2, who is training for her sport at an intensive level, and I wanted to show our appreciation.

“I would love to come for dinner,” she responded. “And I will ask my Mom to join.  I will be in [the city] probably the third week of April and I will touch base with you then.” The third week of April came and went with no visit. FFCF had sprained her knee (on a boat in Florida as it turns out – hazards of financial freedom), and we’d have to have our dinner at a later date.

“Hey [Prudence], I’m in [the city] now.  Any chance you’re free tomorrow evening?” The message showed up Friday. “Mom and I would like to pop over with some Indian food dishes.  Shall we pick up your Mom and bring her with us?  Let me know if you’re free my dear.” What happened to the idea of my preparing a supper to thank her? Hmmm . . . Could I really let her do this?

Ripple effect of hosting without cooking

I could imagine her thought process. She was giving me late notice, and as she told me later, “I didn’t want you to have the stress of cooking a meal for us after your week at work.” Relative to me, she lives a life of more leisure, and she would feel a lack of balance in my scrambling to get things ready. A generous person who is happy to give, she knew her support for DD2 had been appreciated, and the point now was to make the visit happen when it was possible.

I accepted FFCF’s offer – which had the ripple effect of allowing Saturday to be quite lovely. It wasn’t a lazy day; it just didn’t involve any rush. My day included gardening, a heart-to-heart chat with DD3, a great work-out at the gym with DH, some housework, some grocery shopping, and some blogging. It was a productive day, but not a stressed one. I didn’t feel, as is too often the case, that I had more items on my to-do list than time to do them. Supper itself was delicious, and cleaning up afterwards was nothing. It was great to do some catching up, to reminisce, and to see our moms looking so happy to be there with us and each other.

The “What now?” of financial goals

“What do you think you’ll do when you retire?” FFCF asked at one point. It’s a question I’ve been giving some thought to these past couple of days. Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote a post entitled “Is Frugality Sustainable Without A Goal?” last week, and it made me think it was time for me to clarify my vision of debt freedom and financial freedom. So far, my goal has been a negative: not to have debt. But what is it that I DO want to have? Not so clear.

When FFCF asked her question, I just said what came to mind. “I’ll sleep in,” I started, “and I won’t rush . . . I’ll take the dog for walks, go for work-outs, socialize more, do some traveling . . .” Then I looked at her. “I’ll pretty well do what you’re doing now.” There’s not a real WOW! factor to my vision of financial freedom, but I think it’s just lovely. I’ll play the piano again. I’ll read more. I’ll get into different kinds of cooking. I’ll write and teach in some capacity. I’ll support good causes and  young athletes. And when I drop in on friends or family, I’ll bring Indian food.

 Does your vision of financial freedom involve a WOW! factor? Do you find that frugality is tough to sustain? Your comment are welcome : )



Debt-Reduction on Hold: Time to Batten Down the Hatches

Kipling didn’t write his poem “If” for debtors, but he could have.

DH = Dear Husband

Lesson #1: No “auto pilot” in $ management

One of the big lessons I’ve learned so far in our journey out of debt is that you can’t go into auto-pilot with your money management. I was talking about this yesterday with MT, a math teacher at my high school who is trying to get out of debt too. The financial variations that happen from month to month are highly irritating to people like us. Our long-established modus operendi has been auto-pilot – cruising along with no intentional focus on money logistics – and we’re still drawn to it. There’s a relentless consciousness that’s required. People long-accustomed to going with the flow, taking it as it comes, because “it will all come out in the wash” find this constant need to be on top of things wearing. Eventually, I’m hoping it will become second nature. But it hasn’t yet.

People like MT and his wife have a regular income to work with. DH and I don’t. His home business varies a lot, with the fall and early winter months being the highest, and the spring months being the lowest. Even within those trends, there are unexpected twists. Last November, for instance, was surprisingly low. And March was surprisingly high. At the end of March, DH and I were so happy to put down a big payment against our business debt. It brought the beast, which had sat at $80,800 in December of 2012, down to 4-figures – to $9,500.

Lesson #2: Keep finances measured and buffered

I reported in my post “March Triumph” that as we maxed out on our debt payment to reach this milestone, I asked DH, “’Do you think we should wait to see how April pans out?’ He thought for a whole second. ‘No,’ was the answer.” There’s another lesson I’ve learned: It’s good to maintain a measured, buffered state in your personal finances – even if it seems to fly in the face of admirable efforts like paying off a big chunk of debt. But again, that measured discipline is SO hard. For people who used to be comfortable making extreme purchases and going into extreme debt, it’s easier to make extreme debt repayments when the going is good than it is to be moderate.

Lesson #3: Don’t set your heart on a promising outcome

In our excitement about approaching the end of our business debt, DH and I started to plan renovations to accommodate the greater space he needs for his home business. In my post on the topic a few weeks ago, I wrote “Soon – almost certainly by the end of July – we won’t have a business debt to pay down anymore.” There’s a third lesson I’ve learned: Don’t set your heart on a promising financial outcome. Even more importantly don’t start planning and acting as if it’s definite. There are no guarantees. I tend to be as swayed by hope as I am by disappointment.


In his poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling urges his reader not to be swayed by events: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same . . .” Kipling wrote the poem for his only son John, and the message at the end of it is that “if” he can manage to adopt all of the wisdom imparted, “you’ll be a Man my son!” (With capital M and exclamation mark included.) Well, I will never be a Man, but “if” I can manage to adopt these three lessons so that they become second nature to me, perhaps I will be Financially Wise.    !

So March was a “Triumph” (Kipling liked his capital letters) – but as it turns out, my cautionary question was one we should have paid more attention to. I just looked back at that post again: “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?'” But even as I asked the question, I knew we’d go for the big payment. I was just giving lip service to what I knew was wisdom.

Possible strike action for me

We’ve always looked upon the “variable” part of our income as DH’s, but now, it’s my income that’s rocking the boat. It’s no secret that there are strikes in a growing number of boards of education in our part of the world. And it’s no secret that there is a strong chance that the same will happen locally. I’m not allowed to engage in political banter online, and that’s not what I’m doing. I’m saying there’s a good chance our finances are going to take a hit soon. I’ve know that a strike was a possibility for a while now, but I hoped it would be avoided. There’s still a chance that it will be, but every day unresolved is another day closer to . . . “Disaster”.

On hold

We’re trying to get Zen about it. It’s beyond our control; we just have to do what we can to be prepared. April was a fairly typical slow spring month for DH, so any debt-repayment we would have made would have been small. But we’re not paying off anything. We’re on hold. To lower expenses, we’re thinking of things like super-frugal groceries, less driving, and cutting discretionary funds. May already looks very promising in terms of DH’s business, but that just makes our delayed renovations more frustrating. He could really use the work space now.

“And so hold on when there is nothing in you / Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’” Sometimes, when we do our best, we make great progress in our journey out of debt. At other times, when we do our best, we manage to hold steady. Of course I’d rather make great progress. But patience is huge in this game. So is “Will”. Our challenge for May – and possibly beyond – will be to hold on.

Do you find it hard to stay steady with the ups and downs of personal finance? Your comments are welcome.


Author’s Visit Sparks Insight on Motivation for Debt-Reduction

Sean Michaels speaks to about 130 students in our school library.

Guest author in the school library

In the transition between his presentation and a brief Q & A segment, I spoke out. “You’ve presented your story in a such a humble, laid-back way, yet you’ve won this amazing award. We’re just so proud of you! It’s an honour to have you here speaking with us.” I had never before interrupted a guest author’s talk to say such a thing, but the subsequent burst of applause from staff and students in the library let me know I was expressing what we all felt. Friday morning, an author visited our high school to share with about 130 students the story behind his first published novel.  For students who are budding writers, sculptors, painters, actors, or musicians, it is a real eye-opener to hear a first-hand account about what might be involved in making the art of their passion a part of their lives.

Michaels’ early writing

Sean Michaels (who had to clarify that he was neither the wrestler nor the porn star of the same name) was a local high school student at the turn of the millennium. He loved to write, and as a teenager, he started a website with a few friends called Tang Monkey – about everything from music to ice cream. In an aside Friday, he said he is now embarrassed by what he wrote during his adolescence but that he recognizes in those early posts the 10,000 hours of practice that, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, lead to mastery. After high school, Michaels went away to university, and as he earned his degree, he launched the website Said the Gramaphone, an MP3 blog still going today – that in 2003 was one of the first of its kind. Upon graduation, Michaels knew that he wanted to make writing a central part of his life, but he also knew that he was in no position to make a living off of his writing. End of story? No.

How Michaels set up his early adult life for writing

Here is the first part of his story that blew me away: Michaels decided to find a job that would cover the bills and that would also, and more importantly, leave him with enough energy at the end of the day to write. So the recent university graduate became a part-time legal secretary.

I don’t know about you, but all sorts of questions come to my mind about that move: What did your parents say? What did your friends think? Did people judge you for taking on part-time work? Did men judge you for working in a position typically held by women? Did you feel pressured to justify your decision? Did you feel uncertain as your friends accepted full-time jobs that paid well and allowed them to buy cars and houses? Did you feel not-quite-grown-up?

For six years, from 2004-2010, Michaels centred his life around his first novel. He worked his part-time job, kept up his blog, took on the occasional paid writing assignment for print publications covering the music scene – and wrote at least 300 words per day for his book. It took four years to complete and edit the novel. One year to find a literary agent and edit some more. And another year of countless rejections before . . .

. . . he put his unpublished manuscript in a drawer. It’s still there.

Here is the second part of his story that blew me away: He started to work on his second novel.

Again, questions: Didn’t you feel frustrated? Didn’t you feel defeated? Didn’t you feel depressed? Didn’t you feel you’d wasted 6 years of your life for nothing? What did your parents think? What did your friends say? Did you feel the need to justify your decision to try again?

For three years, Michaels worked on a story based on the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian scientist who in 1928 invented the theremin – an electronic musical instrument that is played without touch. In 2014, his novel was published. In 2014, Sean Michaels, author of Us Conductors, won the Giller Prize, the highest literary honour in Canada – and at $100,000, the most lucrative literary prize in the English speaking world.

For the love of writing

More than once, Michaels came back to this point: “I had to remind myself why I was doing this. It wasn’t for money, and it wasn’t for fame. I was doing it because I loved to write.” After his first novel went into that drawer, any sense of defeat was overcome. He had loved writing it. After his second novel won the Giller Prize, he consciously steered his head away from the intoxicating swirl of success. He had loved writing it.

I can’t fathom the clear-sightedness and the deep, quiet confidence it must have taken for Michaels to have pursued his passion for writing so persistently. So intentionally. So practically. Many people harbour the dream to incorporate their art into their lives, but few take those nuts-and-bolts steps required to make it a reality. Few can withstand the obstacles and rejections. And even fewer reach the point at which they’re satisfied to do what they love to do – without reference to money or recognition. I’m sure Michaels struggled with the fate of his first novel, and I’m sure he is thrilled with the success of his second novel. But I hope and believe that in the end, he will continue to make writing a part of his life for the simple reason that he still loves it.

What does this have to do with debt-reduction?

Those of us who are working our way out of debt have to be inspired. Our society is set up to normalize debt and glorify spending, so anyone trying to become debt-free faces pressures to capitulate. Besides societal forces, some of us also have to contend with our own sabotaging habits and thought processes. It’s a relentless effort, requiring mundane, detailed strategies that often feel like drudgery and deprivation. The “Why?” has to be pretty enticing. Is it for the love of financial freedom itself? I don’t think it can be. It’s got to be for love of the life that freedom promises. The only question is, do we even know what that looks like?

What would you do if you were financially free to do it?

After work on Friday, I was talking with a friend who said, “I don’t even know what I want, and I feel like I’ve wasted my life.” In her teen years and early twenties, she had felt powerless against the strong scripting she had absorbed from her family. The script was: Get a job after high school and wait until you get married. It struck me as incredibly sad.

Many of us who are fighting down debt are motivated by a negative: We’ve experienced the life-sucking pain of financial distress, and we want to shield ourselves against a recurrence of it. But I don’t think that negative motivation is enough.

Sean Michaels knew as a teenager that he wanted to write, and he set up his life – financially and otherwise – to follow that desire. There was no vagueness, no confusion in his pursuit. I think that many of us who have gone astray financially have done so because of a lack of clarity. A confusion of advice, societal and family scripting, peer pressures . . . And our authentic desires have become lost in a muddle of competing messages. Let’s find them again – and pursue them for simple love. I can’t think of a better motivation.

 What would you do if you were financially free to do it? Does the answer to that question motivate you? Your comments are welcome.



A Debtor’s Dilemma: “Enjoying” vs. “Tripping On” Purchases

Is a purchase like the nourishing thirst-quench of OJ? Or the giddy high of sparkling wine?

DH = Dear Husband

Last week, I wrote a post about the fact that, after almost 3 years of debt-reduction – and nearing the point where we’ll be debt-free except for the mortgage – I feel like I’m hitting “the wall”. My strategy to push past it? The renovations that DH and I have been looking forward to doing and that we’ve delayed for the sake of debt-reduction. A sweet reward planned for our soon-to-be-achieved milestone of paying off our massive business debt.

It’s a good strategy. The delayed gratification of those renovations will hopefully give us the break and encouragement needed to psyche up and start all over again on the biggest debt of all: our mortgage. But I’m feeling a nagging self-doubt.

“Enjoying” vs. “tripping on” purchases

In my post last week, I wrote about how great it felt to talk about our planned renovations. “I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture,” I wrote. And about our trips to furniture stores, “there were undeniably several drug-like hits of sheer joy . . . ”  My question was, “Can efforts to become financially wise co-exist with the high that sometimes comes with plans to purchase?”

Kay: ” I have total faith that you can pay off your debt AND be happy making your home exactly the way you guys want it.”

Chonce: “And to answer your question, yes I believe you can be financially sensible and get excited about much needed purchases.”

Kim: “You can most definitely be financially fit and enjoy buying things. That’s why you earn money, to spend on things you value.”

A consensus seemed to emerge, but as I keyed in on Kim’s comment about it being fine to “enjoy buying things,” I identified what it was that was making me doubt. I was more than “enjoying” our plans to renovate and furnish. My use of words like “high” and “drug-like hits” were not light and cutesy. They were bang on.


Most of us tend to think of addictions as being related to substances like drugs or alcohol, but that view only tells part of the story. According to an article from,  Understanding Addiction, “Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that certain pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can also co-opt the brain.” There it is: shopping. Right in with gambling and sex as a possible addiction.

“Shopaholic” is a term that has come to be accepted in the past couple of decades. It is generally associated with rather ditzy women, and it is usually portrayed as funny. A mild, eye-rolling annoyance that has to be tolerated – usually by husbands. If I look around, I see some evidence of the stereotype shopaholic, but I also see male addicts, as well as females who in all other ways seem to have their heads securely attached. And far from being a mild annoyance, it’s a stubborn compulsion that can lead to overwhelming financial and marital stress. “Today we recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior.”

Am I going too far here? After all, it makes sense that I’d be excited about plans to renovate and refurnish – especially with the timing involved. We’ll be marking our approaching freedom from all non-mortgage debt with something special, long desired – and completely practical too. I don’t want to become so “steady” that good fortune doesn’t even register on me. Happiness is a great response to good progress.

But I’m suspicious because I’m aware of something other than simple “happiness”. “The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release . . .” I would have to say that I experienced an old familiar “rush” almost as soon as DH brought up the topic of renovations with me during our Easter week-end drive.

Threat of relapse?

“In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort.” With time and effort, DH and I have been reducing our debt. Thousands of little decisions to cut spending, to take on extra work, to say “no” to things we want to do and buy . . . They’ve added up, and our reward is the significant milestone we’re approaching. “Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught . . . people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence.” We all know someone who has lost a lot of weight and then gained it right back again. Am I going to have the same experience with debt? Working it off diligently, only to dive right back into it as dopamine floods my brain with every long-delayed purchase? Not an encouraging thought.


I think that debtors can learn a lot from alcoholics who have succeeded in maintaining sobriety. Watch out for the triggers. Take it day by day. Adopt the attitude of managing your predisposition rather than curing it.

I’m not convinced that I’m a bona fide shopaholic, but I am pretty sure that our initial renovation talks involved more dopamine release than was healthy. I’m glad we’re not rushing into it right away. We’ll have time to work out the details and to question the wisdom of each decision along the way. It’s still something to look forward to. It’s still a celebration of a really encouraging milestone. And I want to look forward. I want to celebrate. I just want to do it sober.

Do you think shopping really can be an addiction? Do you think there is a difference between happiness and dopamine release? Am I taking my “rush” too seriously? Your comments are welcome.



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