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?





Join the Conversation


  1. I don’t know if this relates, but it reminded me of something. This morning we were shopping for things that we’ve been putting off for a while. A new fan (I broke the one I use at night for noise suppression ~ think Jay’s snoring), 2 doormats, and 2 folding chairs. We are seriously still living very minimally, but it really would be nice to start furnishing this place. So anyway, before we got to the checkout Jay says “boy, you really feel like spending money this morning, huh?” No, I really wasn’t wanting to do that. I really didn’t want to do that. We’re trying to spend as little as possible until we start making money again. I ended up abandoning the cart. But you know what? Just like that post I did about vandwelling and how Jay is pretty opposed to “pooping in a bucket”, for lack of a better term, and says he would rather make more money so that we’ll have a nice RV and pay for nice campgrounds with hookups, I’m wondering if not spending the money this morning was foolhardy. Perhaps spending so much time engaged in other people’s money fears rubs off on us. Perhaps we’re letting the spirit of fear have place where the spirit of faith belongs. They cannot coexist. So to retroactively make a long story short, I’m cheering on your renovation plans. I have total faith that you can pay off your debt AND be happy making your home exactly the way you guys want it. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kay. (Where did your cartoon face go? This is the old gravatar, right?) It doesn’t sound to me like the purchases you were making were very exorbitant. If they fit in with your budget, no problem – buy them. If they don’t, no problem – wait. I’m going to make a guess here, and tell me if I’m wrong: You don’t budget. Is that right? Budgeting was SO unnatural for me at first. Knowing exactly how much we earned, how much we had for needs, how much we had to pay off, how much we had for wants . . . It went against the grain and felt like mental drudgery. Pulling my head out of the financial sands strained my muscles, and grains of sand scratched my eyes as the glare of the light blinded me. It was not pleasant. But here’s the thing: It was what I needed to gain clarity. No more guessing whether or not we could afford things. We knew. I would say that even a minimalist needs a budget. There’s a fear that comes with confusion and uncertainty. If that is the fear that you’re experiencing, a budget is something I can’t recommend enough. If I’m dead wrong about all of this, please just ignore me!

      1. noooooooo, we have a budget. We’ve always had a budget. We may have gone over at times, but I don’t think that’s unusual. No, right now the deal is that there is NO income. We are literally living off the proceeds of the house sale, but have a a number in mind where if we’re not making enough money in some “side hustle by that point,, regular employment will be sought. We have that RV to buy and that RV lifestyle in the future to think of, after all. 🙂

        1. OK, so I WAS dead wrong! Hopefully my advice on budgeting will benefit somebody else : ) I understand now why you were questioning even the purchase of those very practical and not terribly expensive items. I wish you all the very best as you make your way through this chapter of your journey, Kay. (And sorry for getting all of that other stuff so wrong!)

          1. No need for apologies, Ruth, not ever! I know I can come across a bit vague at times. Okay, often. Sometimes I think I’ve said something, but then realize I left out important details. I probably should do a post on what and how we’re doing what we’re doing. For instance, those are definitely small purchases, but I’m in a quandary about how much I want to do things like furnish the house. I’m enjoying this feeling of freedom that comes with extreme minimalism, but then again, I do like “pretty and comfy” too.. I also like Jay not working. I’d like to extend that as long as possible. I know he’ll get back into HVAC again by default, and down here in this heat won’t be much nicer than up there in that cold. So I’m trying to squeak every last shaving out of each dime. Your advice is EXTREMELY sound and I always listen and appreciate everyone’s input. Especially a debt blasting warrior like yourself! 🙂

  2. I think this is all sounding very natural and normal 🙂 I’ve started fantasizing about a car I like better than the perfectly good one I have now, and even a house (which is crazy talk; I don’t even have a job past June 2016, and don’t know what city I’ll be living in!) Not to mention clothing…. I don’t know, I think it’s really hard to turn that laser focus from debt to saving immediately. Most people getting out of debt (me included) have probably gone through a significant period of putting stuff off, and it gets dammed up.

    1. It IS like my desire for new furniture has been “dammed up”, and it didn’t take much to release that dam. So here is the challenge moving forward: Not subconsciously damming up desires while at the same time not giving in to them with chaotic spending – which is what I used to do. I’d like to learn to be frugal and value-based in my spending without damming up desires of which I’m “depriving” myself. Tricky! Looking at your situation, I’d say hold on to that old car! And allow yourself to think of a house. Maybe you’ll end up in a very affordable city some day. Clothing? Hmmm . . . Can you budget a small monthly amount to give yourself the freedom of measured indulgence on occasion?

      1. Yeah, now that my job situation is sorted out for the next 15 months or so, it’s time to start thinking slightly, slightly longer term. I know I need to buy clothes this summer, so I’m going to budget for that — I’ve gone too long without a wardrobe refresh. I AM going to hang onto the car for at least the next two years, barring catastrophe of course. But I’m also going to start a car-savings account soon. 🙂

        1. The car savings account is a great plan. And I’m already excited for you about the planned wardrobe refresh : )

  3. This is such an interesting point you make Prudence!

    For me, I think that when I do finally save up enough to feel comfortable with making a bigger purchase, it gives me an even greater sense of an emotional high with the anticipation that has built up over the time that I’ve been saving. I think that knowing I’m putting in my due diligence to carefully think out a purchase and making spending more responsibility as a result makes me feel really good.

    1. I feel the same way, Christina – almost. I do like the feeling of having put in “my due diligence”, and I do think we’re going about it responsibly. It’s just that I’m WAY more excited by it all than I think I’m supposed to be. Somehow, I think that must be a problem, but maybe it isn’t : )

  4. I think everyone hits a wall. At least it sounds like you’re planning around it.

    I just found a tear in the couch (and our cushions don’t flip over). So there’s potentially stuffing coming out. But ya know what? It’ll last until next year. I hope, anyway, because we got this one on a major sale; we can’t afford to replace it right now.

    1. I have experienced many moments when I’ve felt a sort of reverse pride in our old, worn stuff. For instance, our van is 16 years old, and it has a significant ding in the front – and I hope we’ll be driving it for years to come. I felt the same way about our furniture when we started on our journey out of debt. I guess we’ve passed the breaking point though – because I’m SO glad to have this opportunity to replace it. Here’s wishing your torn couch a long period of resilience!

  5. I’m a little too early in my debt repayment journey to understand exactly what you mean by ‘hitting a wall after 3 years’ but I have a pretty good idea. Sounds like you’ve been sacrificing and being frugal for a while and I can see how it’s certainly paid off. I think the renovations sound like a great idea and it will last several years. And to answer your question, yes I believe you can be financially sensible and get excited about much needed purchases 🙂

    1. I hope you’re right about the renovations lasting “for several years” – both in terms of being durable and of giving me a “fix” that will endure too. I’m glad you believe that I can be both financially sensible and excited about the purchases ahead! Thanks for your comment, Chonce : )

  6. It seems like it is probably just human nature to hit a wall and get sick of doing something after a certain point. I love our frugal lifestyle, but there are definitely times when I just want to go crazy and buy everything in sight. Fortunately, I have the self-restraint not to do that and to carry on as normal.

    1. I think that my challenge here is to shop with a level head. I think I’m feeling something of that old “shopaholic” rush. The plans for renovations aren’t crazy, but my excitement about it all just might be : ) Ideally, we’ll carry out our plans with the self-restraint you mention. Thanks Holly.

  7. I don’t know that it always takes 3 years to hit the wall. I’ve been feeling super burned out lately (like the last 2 weeks) and all I want to do is NOTHING. But unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way and I need to keep working to pay off the debt. Maybe a night or two off is in order to get some R&R.

    1. I know you’ve been super busy lately, so I think you’re right about needing to take a night or two off for some R&R. DH is self-employed, so I recognize that as someone working for yourself, you have very little control over the rate at which you have to get things done. Here’s hoping this is just a crazy-busy blip that will smooth out into normalcy before too long. I look forward to an update. Good luck : )

  8. You can most definitely be financially fit and enjoy buying things. That’s why you earn money, to spend on things you value. I still struggle with feeling guilt about buying some things, but I know we’ll never go back into debt for things so it isn’t a real issue. Congrats on being in a good place and able to use money for things other than debt repayment.

    1. Thank you, Kim : ) I’m trying to decide whether this is a case of me “enjoying” the purchases we’re planning to make – or a case of me “tripping” like a shopaholic. Like you, I’m confident we’ll never go into debt to finance anything. I’d like to be equally confident that I can spend on things I really want with a level head. That’s what I’m aiming for. Thanks again!

  9. We are still finding our balance. Even after paying off our debt, there will be work managing the balance between spending and savings. The good news is when we want something now we just ask ourselves what’s its priority and how long do we need to save for it? Anytime I was having a down moment about our debt or that approaching wall I would always try and think about the end goal. That debt free time, and keep reminding myself I just need to suck it up and get there.

    1. I think you’re right in saying, “The good news is when we want something now we just ask ourselves what’s its priority and how long do we need to save for it?” That is VERY good news. If you were anything like me before, there was no “asking” anything. Wanting meant having – usually with the help of a little more debt. I like the look of that end goal too. Patience can be a tough thing to adopt! Thanks for your comment, Brian.

  10. I totally get where you are coming from, even though it’s not debt, but not a high salary. My clothes have holes and are stretched out, my sheets are a tiny bit torn and faded, etc. There is so much upgrading I want to do but it’s not worth it to me. I’m glad the reno has given you a sense of purpose behind teaching summer school!

    1. I felt “badass” in my frugality when I first noticed the tearing in some of our worn furniture. “Look at me! I don’t care!” But after a while, I did care. I find it hard to identify the line between “worn and comfortable” and “decrepit and beyond repair”, but we’ve definitely passed it. I hope that you won’t have to pass that point, Tonya, and that you’ll feel free to replace as needed in all your frugal wisdom : )

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