Frugal Move: No More Gym Membership

For me, having a gym membership meant I got to wear boxing gloves.

  • DH = dear husband
  • GF = good friend

“As a person in pursuit of frugality on my mission to kill all personal debt, I have a confession to make: I’m keeping my gym membership.” So I wrote at Fruclassity two years ago. “Not even for the gym that I can use at a discount through my work. I’m going to the more expensive one that DH goes to. The one that specializes in karate instruction for kids and first rate cardio kickboxing and bags & drills classes for adults.” I then went on to give 7 reasons why gym membership represented value-based spending for me.

Well, I’ve dropped my gym membership, and I’m left to answer to my 2015 self – the one with those 7 reasons.

Gloves on vs. gloves off

2015 Reason #1 – “Let’s start with the obvious one: I get to wear boxing gloves! Unlike DH, I am no black belt, but I have discovered a love for karate moves – however imperfect my execution of them. In my experience, there is no stress release like it.”

2017 Answer – My purpose in working out is to maintain a strong level of physical fitness. I don’t need to wear boxing gloves to do that.  I can go for a jog or a cycle or a hike – all with bare hands. Each one of these activities pumps up endorphins and decreases stress.

External vs. inner motivation

2015 Reason #2 “I slack off when I try to do physical fitness on my own … Even this past winter, I thought, ‘Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ll be able to motivate myself to work out 3-5 times a week on my own.’ Wrong again!”

2017 AnswerIn the past couple of years, I have become aware of a general and long-term deficit in my self-discipline. As I’ve worked on it, there have been positive ripple effects in my spending, eating, de-cluttering, and physical exercise. Since stopping my gym membership 3 weeks ago, I have been doing 4 or 5 workouts per week – actually a better rate than I achieved before. That inner motivation is no longer missing.

Scheduled vs. non-scheduled workouts

2015 Reason #3 – “I am more likely to work out if there are limited, scheduled class times. For over a year, I went to a gym … with multiple locations and a schedule that offers many options … It became easy to make excuses. ‘I can go to the next class,’ I’d think … With the more limited schedule of my current gym, I don’t have the option of making excuses. ‘Cardio kickboxing starts at 7:00! Time to go!'”

2017 Answer –  I like the freedom of being able to work out when it’s convenient. I have cycled in the morning, hiked in the afternoon, lifted weights in the evening, and run at night. And I appreciate the fact that my workouts now take less time. When I did classes, I would:

  • drive to the gym (15 min)
  • take the class (1 hour)
  • do some weights (20 min)
  • drive home (15 min)
  • shower (10 min)

That’s a grand total of 2 hours for every workout. Now, since no extra driving is involved, my workouts (especially for running) often come in under an hour. As for “excuses” – I haven’t had to make any.

“Excellent” vs. “adequate”

2015 Reason #4 – “I recognize and value the level of excellence I find at my gym … The instructors who teach our classes are National and World champions in karate, and the workouts they give are fantastic.”

2017 Answer – I recognize and value the meals produced by great chefs at fine restaurants – and the talent of actors, musicians, and comedians on stage – and the artistic gifting of painters and jewelers … But I almost never spend on these things. I’m in debt-reduction mode. In the same way, I don’t need to spend on excellence in fitness classes. Again, I’m in debt-reduction mode. My own workouts, while not “excellent”, are adequate. And “adequate” is just fine.

Supporting small business vs. DIY

2015 Reason #5 – “I’m happy to support gym staff in their area of expertise … I value independence, but I value interdependence even more. The staff at my gym are far better than I am at motivating me to become fit. I don’t mind relying upon them. And I’m glad that they can earn a living by fostering good health.”

2017 AnswerNow, while I’m still making my way towards debt-freedom, is not the time to play the role of benefactor. Not yet. Now is the time to DIY in as many areas of my life as possible. And I’m finding DIY fitness is now possible for me.

Overall fitness achieved via instructors vs. self

2015 Reason #6 – “I get overall physical fitness at my gym. Any one hour class involves flexibility, cardio and strength; it works out upper body, lower body, and core.”

2017 Answer – I’m getting all of the above on my own.

Together time with DH vs. separate workouts

2015 Reason #7 – “DH and I usually go to the gym together. Last week, on our way to a workout, DH said to me, ‘This is my favourite part of the evening – driving to the gym with you.’ Pretty sweet, don’t you think? Like many working couples, DH and I don’t have tons of time to spend together, but our shared trips to the gym have a bonding effect.”

2017 Answer – OK, I don’t have an answer to this one. In fact, I do notice that on many days, I hardly see DH. If I exercise right after work and he goes to the gym at 7:00, it means we spend almost no time together. Hmmm … DH and I will have to be intentional about making up for this change.

BONUS! Closed door → opened window

Two weeks ago I told a friend of mine (I’ll call her GF for “good friend”) that I had dropped my gym membership. “I’ve run, cycled, or hiked almost every day,” I told her, “but I haven’t done weights. I want to get that going – maybe at work …”

“You’ve dropped your gym membership?” GF asked, clearly getting an idea. She told me that she hadn’t been going to her gym at all, but that she didn’t want to stop her membership. “At my gym,” she told me, “each member is allowed to bring a guest any time.” GF said that she thought she would actually go to her gym if I went with her. “Would you like to come as my guest? For free?” she asked. Of course I did!

We started this past week, and our plan is to meet regularly at her gym – which is on my way home from work – every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I have access to weights for free, and she has built in the motivation she needs to make her workouts happen. Right after completing my draft of this post last night, I opened up an email message from GF. “Just want to thank you for helping me get to the gym.  I feel very good about it, and it is sweet to be there together.  Thank you my friend.” Win-win!

Do you DIY your physical fitness? Or do you have a gym membership that represents value-based spending for you? Your comments are welcome.


Report August 2017: No-Judgment Expense-Tracking

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD2 = dear second daughter
  • DD3 = dear third daughter

Report for August 2017

For our total debt, here’s a reminder of where we started in June of 2012:

  • Consumer Debt – $21,400
  • Business Debt – $80,800
  • Mortgage Debt – $155,000
  • Total Debt – $257,200
  • Emergency Fund – Non-existent
  • Investments – Not happening (except for my automatic pension contributions through work)

As of August 2017, our numbers were:

  • Consumer Debt – $0
  • Business Debt – $0
  • Mortgage Debt – $69,000
  • Total Debt – $69,000
  • Emergency Fund – Full (to see us through 3-6 months without income)
  • Investments – regularly investing 15% gross income (including my automatic pension contributions through work)

My Discretionary Debt

I confessed two weeks ago that despite the great progress DH and I are making together, my own discretionary account has been in the red for the past year. As I wrote, “It’s the place where all of my old bad, chaotic, thoughtless patterns with money continue to reside.”

The number one piece of advice that I received was to track my discretionary spending faithfully. It’s exactly the advice I would have given – that I have given – to anyone struggling with debt. It’s what DH and I have been doing with our joint accounts for 5 years now. I have committed to tracking my discretionary spending many times, but I have always fallen off when I don’t want to face how out of control it’s become.

For the past two weeks, I’ve tracked faithfully. And it’s been a spendy two weeks! Ugh! I wanted to start off my fearless inventory with a really impressive account, but that’s not going to happen. Let me just say that there are times of the year when discretionary spending is high, and this is one of them – Back To School.  All 3 of our children will be heading to (post-secondary) class next week, and as a teacher, I headed back last week. Emotions happen at the end of every August. So does emotional spending.

Fearless tracking

Here’s how I’ve spent over the past two weeks. No numbers for now. Not that fearless yet. I had to push through a definite “this is out of control!” desire to stop tracking to make this account complete.

  • treated DD2 to lunch after we’d visited my mom in her seniors residence
  • treated DH to supper after he’d fixed my mom’s DVD player
  • dutch date with DH including lunch and museum (and about 50 km / 31 miles cycling)
  • supper with 3 childhood friends
  • flowers for the mom of one of these friends (whose health has become fragile)
  • lunch my first day back to work
  • treated DD3 to lunch when she came into work with me and helped me move furniture
  • treated DD3 and DH to pizza from a small authentic pizza place … because it just smelled so good when I walked past it (end-of-August emotions, people!)
  • hosted a Korean-dumpling making party with about 8 colleagues (I didn’t lead the charge – another teacher did. Hard work! So delicious.)

Looking ahead to September …

The good news is that for the first half of August, I spent next to nothing. These last 2 weeks therefore didn’t bring me deeper into debt. They did, however, bring me to within a dollar of zero – perhaps indicative of that old drive to max out. But for now, I don’t want to analyze things too much. My only commitment at this point to track with honesty. I’m dealing with a stubborn, stubborn issue here, and while I do want to get the better of it, the path of fierce willpower and resolve has failed me too many times. I’m taking the approach of awareness with no-judgment – one step at a time. And tracking is the first step.

“You’ve got to look at the month ahead,” DH coached me as September approached. “Think about what expenses there will be, and set aside money for those things first.” DD2’s birthday is in September. I’ll be hosting a wedding shower for one niece and buying her a gift. I’ll be buying a baby shower gift for another niece. “And remember,” DH cautioned, “we can take September’s discretionary money at the beginning of the month, but we won’t be able to give ourselves October’s allowance until you get your first pay – which will be almost mid-month. Plan for that.”

As I mentioned in my confessional two weeks ago, my personal debt was $1,669. After I took September’s allowance of $600, I paid $200 towards that line of credit, and it now sits at $1,479. (I am of course, paying some interest.) That leaves me with $400 for 6 weeks. Can I do it? Certainly not with the kind of lunch & treat frenzy of the past two weeks. But as I said, the past two “Back To School” weeks weren’t typical. Time to buckle up. I can’t promise victory, but I can promise honesty. Stay tuned!

I welcome your advice and insight (and even analysis). Feel free to offer it. Are there times of the year when you know you spend more?  



Money Blueprint: Awareness = Power to Change It

Our ’99 Dodge Caravan. In two years, we hope to cross the finish line to debt-freedom with it.

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

J. Money’s post on T. Harv Eker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

Last week, J. Money from Budgets Are $exy wrote about T. Harv Eker’s book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. In his post, Jay emphasizes the importance of the “money blueprint” which each one of us acquires in childhood. According to Eker, the messages about money, spoken or unspoken, that we absorb in our growing years determine the way we will manage our finances as adults. For most of us, our money blueprint is a subconscious force.

“If your subconscious ‘financial blueprint’ is not ‘set’ for success,” writes Jay, “nothing you learn, nothing you know, and nothing you do will make much of a difference.”

The only thing that will make a difference is to become aware of your money blueprint – to take it out of subconsciousness and into consciousness. Only then will you be in a position to challenge it. And change it.

Serendipity: we knew our money blueprints

DH and I have been working our way out of the red for just over 5 years. In June of 2012, we began our journey out of a total debt of $257,000 – consumer, business, and mortgage debts included. As it happened, DH was reading The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind just at that time, and as  we prepared to eliminate our debt following Dave Ramsey’s strategy, he got me to read Eker’s chapter about the money blueprint concept. I’m so grateful for that coincidence! It meant that we were armed with an awareness that we wouldn’t otherwise have had when we started our trek to debt-freedom.

DH’s money blueprint – and mine

This is what I wrote in my second post ever – at the end of May 2012, one week before we officially started our journey out of debt: “DH recognized that for his father, money was always a problem – something to worry about … DH considered his own financial behaviour … and realized that … when things were good, he made spending decisions that brought us back to anxiety.  So for DH, homeostasis, when it came to money matters, was a state of worry requiring control.  That was familiar.  That’s what he subconsciously gravitated towards.”

As for my own money blueprint: “My parents were excellent managers of money … But the topic of money was politely side-stepped in my family.  It was discussed in vague terms if at all.  To me, it was only clear that there was a pot of money somewhere.  I saw that money came from the man … I learned, in my teens and early twenties, that there was money if I made enough of a fuss. As a young woman, I was a disaster financially.  All the good role-modelling of my parents was subverted … In rebellion against what I had considered austerity, I enjoyed material purchases that I couldn’t afford, yet I was repelled by the base details of managing finances … That’s what the future man would attend to.”

We did NOT have the formula for successful finances in marriage: “Carelessly in debt, I married a man who was always worried about money and anxiously wanting to control it. Mind you, he was in debt too. Eeeek!”

My old blueprint: contained (but stubborn!)

DH and I share accounts for the most part, and in partnership with him, I have mastered my chaotic-spendy-spoiled-child money blueprint. We’re on the same page with our bills, our budgets, our debt payments, our savings, and our investments. But as I wrote last week, in my discretionary account, I’m still battling the ghosts of my past. My discretionary account is the one that I don’t share with DH, and “It’s the place where all of my old bad, chaotic, thoughtless patterns with money continue to reside. I would really like to evict them all.”

(And I WILL evict them all! A big thanks to everyone who offered suggestions last week. I am keeping a fearless inventory of my discretionary expenditures, and I will report on my progress at the beginning of every month – starting next week with September.)

DH’s old blueprint: held in check

A year ago, for our remaining debt (mortgage), we passed the $100,000 milestone. Going from a 6-figure debt to a 5-figure debt was a big deal for us! We sort of floated on an adrenaline rush for a time, high on the vision of the finish line – actually in sight!

It was on that high that DH pulled up in our driveway at the end of August last year – in a new Dodge Journey. He bounded into the house full of happy energy. “Come on!” he said to me and to DD2, “Join me for a test drive.”

DD2 got a kick out of climbing into the shiny new vehicle. I felt dread. Comfortable seats, slick dashboard, smooth ride, delicious new car smell … But none of it had any power over me. All I could think of was DH’s old blueprint: “When things were good, he made spending decisions that brought us back to anxiety.” Things were good. Perhaps for DH, uncomfortably good. Splurging on this new car would empty our emergency fund and put us back to a state of worry – his point of homeostasis. “It’s just a test drive!” DH insisted.

But is wasn’t just a test drive. Our old ’99 Dodge Caravan was acting up. We wondered if we were getting to the point where it made more sense to replace it than to fix it up. My vote was to make our old van last as long as possible – and to get a used car 8-10 years-old when the time came. DH was clearly playing with the idea of replacing our van as a next step – with new.

Close call

“That was a close call,” DH said this week about that test drive. I asked him, “If I had been for the new Dodge Journey, do you think you would have been convinced to buy it?” DH nodded his head.

When our van acted up again this summer, we went through the same “Is it time?” questioning. But unlike last year, DH looked at used vehicles. A Dodge Caravan 2009 was what would have replaced our old ’99 – but it didn’t. DH had the starter replaced, and our old van works like a charm. A new gas tank and new brakes are in the near future. DH and I now both want to cross the finish line into debt-freedom driving our ’99 Dodge Caravan.

Want to get the better of your money blueprint? Do some digging to get it out of your subconscious, and face it head on!

Have you faced down a negative money blueprint with success? Did you enter adulthood with a good money blueprint? Your comments are welcome.


Dealing With My Financial Achilles’ Heel: Metaphor of Pipe, Valve, and Filter

Poor Achilles – shot in the one vulnerable part of his whole body.

DH = Dear husband

Great progress overall

If you’ve been following our journey out of debt for any amount of time, you have read several posts about my dismal performance with discretionary money. Overall, DH and I are making great progress towards debt-freedom. In 5 years, we have paid off nearly 3/4 of our total debt. We’ve also saved an emergency fund to see us through 3-6 months without income, and we’ve started to invest significantly. Dave Ramsey says it takes the average household 7 years to become completely debt-free (including mortgage-free) following his strategy, and we’re on solid track to be that household in 2 years.

A+, right? Yes … until you look at my discretionary account … where I’ve been in debt for over a year.

Financial Achilles’ heel: My discretionary account

DH and I decided to give each other a significant “allowance” as part of our effort to get our financial act together. Most of our household spending, for both needs and wants, comes from our joint accounts – groceries, gas, utilities, car repairs, property taxes, vacations … But for some of our spending, for both needs and wants, we each use our discretionary accounts – clothing, shampoo, meals out, gym memberships, gifts … The amount of our allowance? $600 per month.

I can already see the eyes rolling. “$600 per month is a LOT!” Yes, it is. It’s enough to do all of the above comfortably. It’s more than enough for DH, who is able to take snow-boarding trips and even invest from his discretionary account. And it’s enough for me, but I haven’t succeeded in managing it well. It’s the place where all of my old bad, chaotic, thoughtless patterns with money continue to reside. I would really like to evict them all.

Water pipe

Imagine a pipe through which water from a big tank flows. For this metaphor, the pipe is a person’s cash flow – let’s say mine – and the tank is my account. The water itself represents my purchase desires. The tank gets replenished on schedule every month.

  • tank = account
  • pipe = cash flow
  • water = purchase desires

Unimpeded, all water from the tank goes through the pipe and flows out the end point. In the same way, with no restrictions, all purchase desires that enter  my consciousness result in cash flowing out to buy, buy buy.

When the tank is emptied, water stops flowing through the pipe – unless there is a reserve tank which will have to be replenished eventually along with the regular one. In the same way, when my account is “drained”, the cash flow stops – unless I use credit as a “reserve tank.”


If a valve is applied to the water pipe, it can stop the flow, and prevent the tank from emptying. The problem is that some water is actually needed. In the same way, I could impose a “NO SPENDING MONTH” and prevent my account from going to (or below) zero. The problem is that my discretionary money covers some needs, so some cash flow has to happen. If I run out of dental floss, I have to buy it. Tricky.

As a solution, the valve can be set to allow only a certain amount of water through, so that the tank won’t empty before it’s replenished. For my account, I can take out only a certain amount for cash flow so that it won’t empty out before the next month’s allowance. So take out $300 for instance, and leave $300 in the account.

The problem with that water valve is that it was set to wide-open for so long, it won’t stay in place at any other setting. It keeps slipping out of place and going back to the fully-open mode. Try forcing it to stay in place, and it strains so that water actually leaks out. The “valve” on its own doesn’t work for me either. It keeps slipping back to my auto-pilot of maxing out. Besides, I know that other $300 is in that account – and I know that the “reserve tank” of credit is there too. My willpower can work against open cash flow – but its effectiveness is limited. One strain – a tough day at work or a bad night’s sleep – and there’s a money leak.


Unlike  a valve, a water filter isn’t simply “set” at a certain level. The filter is constantly adjusting, monitoring every drop of water that flows through the pipe. If a bit of dirt comes along, the filter takes it out of the stream. If some pesticide makes its way into the pipe, the filter removes the harmful chemical. In the same way, I can monitor the purchase desires that enter my consciousness, maintaining a constant awareness of them, and adjusting. Yes, that purse would make a great birthday present, but it’s too expensive. I’ll ask someone if they’d like to chip in with me. Hungry again?! Grab and handful of bean crisps from the bag in your desk before leaving work, and head straight home without even looking at a Tim Horton’s. Bring a snack as well as a lunch tomorrow.

The yoga factor

My youngest daughter has been trying yoga classes for the past few weeks. “They’re so kind!” she says of the instructors. “They’ll just come up and gently adjust my arm or tell me to lean more to the right. There’s no judgment.” I tried a yoga class earlier this week, and the same philosophy was evident. “There is no judgment,” the instructor said – a very reassuring thing for me as a non-yogi. The more practiced people in the class had greater flexibility and balance than I could manage. But sometimes as I focused and adjusted, and gained an awareness of which muscle groups I needed to activate, I could maintain a pose.

How will it all apply?

I’m going to apply this same non-judgment to my efforts at “filtering” with my discretionary fund. It’s at $1,669.32 in the red. I’ve tried the willpower method involved in setting limits – the “valve” approach – without success. Now I’ll temper it with the constant “filter” of focus, awareness, adjustments – and hopefully strike that elusive balance in the black with my discretionary account.

Do you have any insight on changing this kind of stubborn negative pattern? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of flickr

Elder Indebtedness on the Rise: Seniors of the Future, Be Proactive NOW

“Carrying Debt to the Grave? The Increasing Indebtedness of the Elderly”

Look what came to town last week: an international conference about debt among people aged 65+. What motivated the conference?

  • In Canada in 2012, 42.5% of seniors (aged 65 and over) still had debt.
  • This rate of senior indebtedness marked an increase of 55% since 1999.
  • The problem of debt among seniors crosses international borders.
  • People in different countries have been dealing with the issue, but there has been little international discussion about it.
  • Experts from Canada, the US, Portugal, and the Netherlands came together to share ideas.

What is causing indebtedness among seniors?

  • Gendered senior debt: Female seniors often don’t have a good pension. Many 65+ women who are single, divorced, or widowed are trying to get by on government benefits that don’t cover expenses.
  • Big mortgage: Many seniors are carrying a mortgage debt into their “golden years.”
  • Divorce: A recent Ohio state study indicates that divorce decreases personal wealth by 77% on average. Divorce is increasing among older people, leading many to resort to debt to make ends meet.
  • Illness: Health problems are often a double-edged sword for seniors. They can’t earn an income due to their illness, and this leaves them less able to meet the health care expenses related to their illness.
  • Taking on debt to help family members: Increasingly, seniors are supporting their adult children.
  • Elder abuse: Financial abuse of elders often involves bullying or manipulation by adult children. Many seniors who suffer from elder abuse cannot bring themselves to report it.

Avoid financial vulnerability in your senior years

Personal debt is going up overall, and more so among seniors than other age groups. The trend that saw a 55% increase in elder-debt from 1999 to 2012 continues. If you are “going with the flow” in your money management, there is a good chance you’re headed for golden years of financial vulnerability.

What can you do now to avoid it?

  • Women, don’t count on the prince. You are not going to be rescued from your finances via romantic love. Decide now that you will be your own hero. Whether you are married or not, whether you are perusing a career or are a stay-at-home mom, ensure that your future will be provided for (not just your husband’s).
  • Retiring with a mortgage? Think again. Crunch the numbers. Will your decreased retirement income allow you to carry this debt? Will your retirement lifestyle be compromised by it? Instead of bringing your mortgage with you into the future, consider renting – or downsizing to a house or condo that you can pay for outright.
  • Take care of your marriage. Nurture your relationship, and confront the issues that trouble you. Do not keep the peace. Do not grin and bear it – not even “for the kids.” One of the best gifts you can give to your marriage is to confront your spouse honestly. Will it be messy? Probably. But not as messy as the divorce that will explode later if you don’t. Do not assume that if you’ve made it this far, your’e home-free. People split up at all ages, and the financial impact for most is devastating. Nurture your marriage with both love and honesty. Learn to assert, listen, confront, and compromise. It’s ongoing. That’s what “happily ever after” is made of.
  • Face your mortality. I know people who assume that they will be able to earn an income until their dying day. “I love my work,” they say. “It isn’t even like work for me. It’s more like play. I don’t want to retire.” While it’s wonderful to find work you love, it’s terribly naive to count on being able to continue it through your senior years. There are examples of people who work right through their 60s, 70s, and even into their 80s, but there are far more examples of people who have to stop working in their senior years because of declining health.
  • Save for retirement. See above. Also, don’t count on the government looking after you. Government benefits are a great bonus, but they are not enough to cover all expenses through the senior years. Besides, they are not guaranteed. As governments deal with increasing national debts, they are stepping back from spending on social support. Adopt the mindset that you will finance your senior years.
  • Let your young children experience the consequences of their actions. When we step in to protect our children from the consequences of their actions – at least those they can withstand without harm – we rob them of the chance to develop strength and responsibility. They miss out on opportunities to gain resilience, to work towards their own solutions. They lose confidence. Allow their mistakes to help them grow up.
  • Let your adult children experience the consequences of their actions. One factor involved in the financial vulnerability of seniors is the debt many take on to help their adult children. Learn to love and support your adult children without bailing them out. Stand behind them as they face what life and their own actions throw at them. Don’t stand in front of them to shield them from it. And don’t weaken your finances in the mistaken belief that you’ll strengthen theirs. If you do, chances are they’ll be back for more the next time crisis visits. (Of course, there are circumstances when helping adult children financially is the best thing to do.)
  • Do not “save face.” Report anyone who is committing elder abuse. There is an oppressive compulsion to save face in so many families. The “shame” of family troubles – whether in the form of addiction, abuse, mental health, or broken relationships – is magnified as it is kept secret. If you know of elder abuse – financial or otherwise – brave the awkwardness and report it. Don’t “protect” the family secret.

Government policy vs. personal policy

I hope that the international conference on senior indebtedness last week was successful. I hope that the experts who participated will return to their respective countries with effective strategies to address the troubling trend. But I have more hope in the outcome that would result if the elders of the future – and that includes all of us under the age of 65 – committed themselves to personal policies against the grain of that trend.

What do you think? Is it the job of governments or of individuals to foster financial health for seniors? Both? What do you think should be done to address the growing trend of elder indebtedness and financial vulnerability?

*Image courtesy of Pixabay

Back to Prudence Debtfree (& Mourning Fruclassity)

I don’t usually write about my blog. I use my blog to write about the journey out of debt that my husband and I have trekked for the last 5 years. But every once in awhile, a shift happens for the blog itself, and I think it’s a good idea to explain it.

When I started writing as Prudence Debtfree in June 2012, I had three motivations:

  1. I love to write.
  2. I believed that writing about our debt-reduction would keep me accountable.
  3. I knew that debt-stress, although not talked about by anyone, was something many people faced, so I believed it was significant to share our experiences in overcoming it.

For the first couple of months, I wrote once per week essentially as a diary. I was completely unaware of the personal finance community. A radio interview with CBC Ottawa Morning in October of 2012 (no longer accessible) meant more readers, the occasional comment, and my growing awareness that there were other people writing about debt and finances in general.

Feeling pressured to monetize the blog

As I started to read and comment on other bloggers’ posts, I learned that some people were actually making money off of their blogs. I remember once reading this about blog-writing, “It doesn’t make sense if you’re not making cents.” I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but a seed was planted, and I allowed myself to feel a pressure to monetize.

As part of an effort to grow (and eventually monetize), in 2014 I started to include guest posts once per week. I learned that I loved to interview people! And I came to realize that everyone has a financial story to tell. The subjects of my guest posts were very often people I happened to know – colleagues from work in particular. A great side-benefit of this effort was that the people in my life started to open up to me more and more about their finances – and they continue to do so. One colleague sent me a message after the New Year saying, “… we paid off $10K of debt this year, so thank you for making that socially acceptable to talk about.” Yes!

Running up against my limited bandwidth

I couldn’t keep up with the twice-weekly posting schedule. I was burning out from it.

I’m no superwoman, and as I pursued the goal to monetize, I ran into three significant roadblocks:

  1. I work as a high school teacher and I have a family. Writing once per week was what I could manage happily. When I tried to do more – more writing, more learning about monetizing – I became stressed out.
  2. My tech-phobia and lack of business sense stressed me out even more.
  3. One of the ways bloggers monetize is through advertising, but since I’m writing about debt-reduction, there’s a conflict. There are very few products that I would feel right about advertising. (The Visa Debit card and books on debt-reduction are two things I would gladly advertise, but I don’t have a big enough audience to do that.)


In July of 2014, I wrote “MMM’s Subculture of ‘Badassity’: Is It For Me?”. The answer to the question was “No.” Much as I admired extreme frugality advocates, I didn’t want to be one myself.  I loved it when I could pull off a badass move, but “… ultimately,” I wrote, “I have to conclude that I’m a mere visitor in the land of Badassity.”

The post proved to be significant because of a comment left by Laurie of The Frugal Farmer:

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

To which I responded:

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

8 months later, in March of 2015, Fruclassity launched. I can’t adequately convey the “dream-come-true” rush I felt when Laurie and I started that site. It meant SO much to me.

  • First of all, it was an honour for me to partner with someone of Laurie’s stature on this new blog site.
  • Secondly, the core values that Laurie and I hashed out before launching were EXACTLY in line with everything I had come to believe about debt-reduction, financial health, individual differences, and the need to create safe spaces for people feeling vulnerable about their finances.
  • Laurie and I often expanded upon each other’s posts. There was good synergy happening.
  • A small but steady readership visited the blog. The comments section was rich with discussion.
  • Thanks to Laurie’s business know-how, it even made a bit of money.

But only a bit. Not enough for someone actually relying upon blog-income to make ends meet and pay off debt. I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with blogging. Laurie’s job is blogging.

This past week, we sold Fruclassity. “Congratulations!” some people commented. For me, it’s not a matter of congratulations. It’s a matter of practicality. And it’s not one that I like.

Back to Prudence Debtfree

So I’m in a bit of a state of mourning right now. Although I am completely convinced that it was the right and even necessary thing to do, it’s still a real loss for me.

While I was writing for Fruclassity, I found I couldn’t keep up a weekly post at Prudence Debtfree. I tried, but that limited bandwidth issue became apparent before too long, and I scaled back to monthly updates here. As of now, I’ll be posting once per week again.

So, the numbers for July:

Quick recap. In June of 2012, we had:

  • $21,400 in consumer debt
  • $80,800 in business debt
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt
  • Emergency fund – non-existant
  • Investments (besides my pension) – not happening

In July of 2017, we were down to:

  • NO consumer debt
  • NO business debt
  • $72,000 in mortgage debt
  • Emergency fund – full
  • Investments (besides my pension) – happening

Looking ahead …

I remember reading this blog advice once:”Nobody likes a negative Nancy.” I don’t mean to sound negative here! I’m just telling it like it is. In many ways, I’m back to where I started – writing once per week about our journey out of debt – on my non-monetized blog.

But it’s not really where I started. We’ve trekked over 2/3 of the way to debt-freedom, and we’re nearing the home stretch. I hope you’ll join me to the finish line.

Your comments are welcome. (In fact, they are particularly welcome this time.)

*Image courtesy of Pexels 

June 2017 Report: Financial Confidence

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD2 = dear 2nd daughter

“A hundred bottles of beer on the wall…”

Do you remember this song? “A hundred bottles of beer on the wall / A hundred bottles of  beer / You take one down and pass it around and there’s 99 bottles of beer on the wall / 99 bottles of beer on the wall / 99 bottles of beer / You take one down and pass it around …” I won’t write out the whole song, but it goes all the way down to 0 bottles of beer on the wall. And by the time you get there, everyone is glad the song is over.

My siblings and I used to sing it in the car during our family’s 1 hour 30 minute drives to the campground each summer. That was way before the time of i-pads for children’s car ride entertainment. It was also before the days of mandatory seat belts in the back seats. So there were the 5 of us, free ranging and either yelling or singing in the back, with our parents in the front. When I, the youngest, started to feel nausea from car sickness, we’d pull over, and I’d sit on Mom’s lap in the front. Dad always had balls of wax to stuff in his ears for those trips.

75 bottles of beer on the wall!

The connection to our journey out of debt? For the last few months, I have found myself breaking into song after our mortgage payment has gone through and our debt has reached its new low. To quickly recap, our starting point in June of 2012 was:

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000
  • TOTAL: $257,000

In the five years since we made it our mission to become completely debt-free, we have eliminated all debts with the exception of the mortgage. We’ve been paying it down aggressively, and in June 2017, our mortgage – our total remaining debt – was $75,000.

And yes, I did sing, “75 bottles of beer on the wall …”

Debt repayment vs. savings/investments: A shift

We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s advice for debt-repayment, as outlined in his book The Total Money Makeover. (And no, I don’t get paid for saying that.) After we had finished paying off the business debt – the last of our non-mortgage debt – we moved on to steps 3 and 4 of his 7-step plan.

  • Step #3: Save an emergency fund to see you through 3-6 months of expenses.
  • Step #4: Invest 15% of your gross income for your retirement.

If I had been left to make the choice, I would not have followed those steps. I was high on debt-payoff. Who even knew that was possible? But it’s true. My old quasi-addictive spending had morphed into quasi-addictive debt-repayment, and I felt frustrated by the slower repayment-pace that savings would entail.

3 old posts about impatience and financial sabotage

I came to recognize that the primary personality flaw behind my initial money mess was impatience. As I have just discovered in a search through old posts, two years ago, I wrote at least 3 that touched upon the role impatience has had on our finances. ” I say it without disrespect,” I wrote in Debt Repayment & Impatience. “There is something childish about a debtor’s impatience.” But “childishness” is a bit harsh. It’s not simple immaturity that is at play when impatience sabotages finances.

Anxiety is not something I really understand, but I definitely see it playing out in different areas of my life – including finances. And in the way of vicious cycles, when finances become messed up, anxiety spikes. In a post on Debt-Reduction and Anxiety, I wrote this: “once we started our journey out of debt, I came up against a recurring obstacle that had nothing to do with money: my impatience. Anxiety screams, ‘The problem has to be fixed NOW!’ But it takes the average household 7 years to go through all of Ramsey’s steps to financial health. ‘7 years? Ugh!’ And it’s not a smooth ride. All along the way there are roadblocks, like unexpected expenses, and they test your patience every time. 7 years is a long time for anyone. For a person with anxiety, it’s an eternity.”

Whether it stemmed from immaturity or anxiety, I wanted to get the better of my impatience. In a post on my  resolution to Build up Core (Personal Finance) Strength, I compared healthy finances with planking. “I’ve come to recognize in this journey out of debt how impatient I am. Impatience played a big role in getting us into our debt-ridden state (‘I want it NOW!’), and I don’t want it to sabotage the financial health we’ve been building… I need the core strength … of patience in my approach to our shifted financial goals. Muscles in the human pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen ideally work in harmony. Efforts towards our savings, investments, mortgage payments, and giving can also progress towards an ideal of harmony. No rush. Slow, steady, progress. Balance. Stability. Just breathe . . . and hold a little longer . . . like a plank.”

Leaning more towards savings/investments

In June, DH and I showed evidence of progress in that quest for financial balance. When we started steps #3 and #4 two years ago, I in particular did so grudgingly. I followed the plan though – not because I liked it at that point, but because I trusted it.

As we approached June this year, we knew that we were going to be coming into some extra money. DH and I agreed in the summer of 2015 to fund DD2’s rent, utilities, and groceries for 2 years as she studied downtown and trained for track east of the city. Those 2 years are now over, and that monthly payment needs a new direction.

At first, we decided that we would save it all to make the annual lump-sum payment we’re entitled to make against our mortgage. That would bring our debt-free date to as early as January 2019. But as we continued to discuss things, our priorities shifted. Yesterday, we made it official. We’re investing all of it – surpassing the 15% recommended by Ramsey. This will mean a later debt-free date, but somehow, that’s OK now.

Confidence in personal finances

Here’s my analysis: For the first few years of our journey to debt-freedom, we were motivated by a negative desire – the desire to get away from the financial stress that had made us miserable.  As we paid off debt after debt, that stress was decimated, and we gained an unaccustomed confidence. And now, we are becoming more and more motivated by positive desires – the desires of financial freedom. It’s no longer about what we’re getting away from. It’s what we’re moving towards. And ZERO bottles of beer on the wall is just the beginning.

Are you more motivated by what you want to get away from or by what you want to move towards? Your comments are welcome.

A big “Thank you!” to Femme Frugality and Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers. Both sites featured book reviews for my children’s book, Ella Builds A Wall. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

May 2017 – 5th Anniversary of Debt-Reduction: $180,000 Down!

DH = Dear Husband

Our debt in June 2012

“Now it’s June, and DH and I are taking the proverbial first step on our journey out of debt.” That’s what I wrote almost exactly 5 years ago, and I can now say that it was one of the best steps we’ve ever taken.

Back in June of 2012, our debts looked like this:

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000
  • TOTAL: $257,000

At 53 and 49 years old, DH and I knew that we weren’t in a good place financially, but it wasn’t until we read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover that we realized what we had to do about it. A friend had dropped off the CD version of the book, and I listened to it during my morning and afternoon commutes one day in mid-May 2012. “I allowed myself a vision on that car ride to work … In my mind, I fast-forwarded to the day my husband and I would make our last mortgage payment, and we’d be completely debt-free. It was glorious! I’ve known for years that our debt load has been a burden, but I didn’t realize how life-sucking that burden was until I envisioned it gone.”

And so in June of 2012, after almost 20 years of marriage, DH and I prepared our first monthly budget together. We would stop hoping that things would get better and start making them get better. Debt is something that many of us wander into, but (as Ramsey says) nobody wanders out of it. A plan is needed, as is an attitude of focused intention. We had our plan, and we were intent on using all extra money to focus on one debt at a time, starting with the smallest.

Our Debt in June 2017

Nobody pays off debt in a vacuum. Life continues to happen, and it’s not easy to stay focused on a long-term goal like debt freedom in the midst of it. We have 3 daughters and a large extended family, and I can think of a few times over the last 5 years when urgent family matters have taken over and made debt-reduction seem like the lowest priority possible – and rightly so. But here’s the thing: when you make a habit of things like budgeting, tracking expenses, and really thinking about every purchase, they start to become automatic – even through the times when “focused intention” is not so focused and not so intense.

And in a 5-year period, there are going to be significant financial road blocks too. We’ve had to deal with vet bills, car repairs, appliance breakdowns, slow business months, a dangerously rotting tree, and a new roof to name a few. But not once have we gone back into debt. For the small, unexpected expenses, we maintained our mini-emergency fund of $1,000 right from the start (as per Ramsey’s plan). And for the larger, planned expenses like the roof, we saved. Such an obvious thing to do, right? But we had always used debt for the big purchases, and this was a first for us.

So after 5 years, where do we stand?

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600 GONE
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800 GONE
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800 GONE
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000 $77,000
  • TOTAL: $77,000

My children’s book

I find a cool symbolism in the fact that my children’s book has come out in the same week as our 5th anniversary of  debt-reduction. You can read the story behind Ella Builds A Wall over at Fruclassity (and if you’re interested, here is a trailer of the book). For now, I’ll just say that my children’s book represents to me the “Why?” behind our efforts towards financial health and freedom. We spent far too many years in a place where freedom was stifled by obligations to creditors. Now we have so much more room to breathe. Compared with the “life-sucking burden” of debt that I first recognized 5 years ago, writing and self-publishing Ella Builds A Wall has truly been a life-giving breath of fresh air.

(If you’d like to purchase a copy, you can go either go here or let me know in the comments, and I’ll email you about it.)

From here?

Looking ahead, I see two more years to the finish line. I hope you’ll check in to see how we’re doing. And even more, if you’re facing a debt-load yourself, I hope you’ll draw hope from our experience.

We were “normal” for far too long, maxing out. Our household debt-to-income ratio rose steadily along with the national average – until it went off the chart with my husband’s job loss, and long-term financial stress set in. We’re in a debt-normalizing era, and so many of us are surprised to find ourselves trapped. And we feel a mortified shame for it. But there really is a way out, and while it’s simple, it’s not easy. It means going against the grain – of society at large, of family dynamics, and of our own individual patterns of thought and behaviour. But it can be done. We’re doing it, and so can you.

Join us for the remainder of our journey, and be encouraged to start your own.

Your comments are welcome.


April 2017 Report: Inspiration from Malala Yousafzai (& A Debt Milestone Reached)

Malala Yousafzai speaking in our high school auditorium.

Malala Yousafzai’s visit to our school

I’m a high school teacher, and on April 12, our school had the most incredible honour. In advance of a special assembly to recognize the importance of girls’ education, we were told that Sophie Grégoire-Tudeau, the wife of our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would be speaking to us, along with two cabinet ministers. We understood that they would be responding to questions and concerns raised by our students about education for girls, and that they would pass these concerns along to Malala Yousafzai, who would be made an honorary Canadian citizen later in the day at Parliament.

The speakers were amazing. Maryam Monsef, Minister of the Status of Women, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development were clearly passionate about their work and vision. There was thunderous applause when they introduced Grégoire-Trudeau, and she connected so warmly and powerfully with our students. It became clear as she spoke, however, that she herself was introducing someone.  “Could it be . . . ?” I wondered, along with everyone else in the auditorium. “I think you know who I’m about to introduce,” Grégoire-Trudeau said after a meaningful pause. “This is a day you will remember.”

When Malala Yousafzai stepped onto the stage to a standing ovation, there were many tears. Some were mine. An outspoken advocate for girls’ education in her native Pakistan, she was targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head on a school bus at age 15 in 2012. Miraculously, Malala survived the attack, and she was catapulted into a position on the world stage, a symbol of the movement for girls’ rights to education.

She carries that mantle with an understated power and gracious humility, and her talk to our students was marvelous. Grégoire-Trudeau was right. It was a day we will all remember.

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Grégoire-Trudeau introduces Malala Yousafzai.             Malala speaks to our students.

The importance of a supportive dad to a daughter

In her talk, Malala honoured her father. She said that on the day that she was born, neighbours came to visit her parents – not to congratulate them on the birth of their girl, but to offer them comfort on the disappointment of having a female child, and hope that the next one would be a boy. Her father, however, valued Malala as much as he eventually did the two sons who were to follow. He included her name on the family tree – the first female name to be written in its 300 year history. He ran the school for girls that Malala attended, and championed her right to an education.

In a TED talk, he said that when people ask him what he did to foster such power in his daughter, his answer is this: “Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.”

Connection to debt?

This is a blog about debt-reduction, and so I’ve got to make an abrupt turn here. How many of us clip our own wings? How many of us clip our wings with the debt we take on? How much of our collective potential is being drained by the obligations of our indebtedness?

Another debt-reduction milestone in April

Our personal journey out of debt can be seen as a patching of those clipped wings, and we hit another significant milestone in this patching work during the month of April. To recap, when we started out in June of 2012, we had:

  • $21,400 in consumer debt
  • $80,800 in business debt
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt
  • For a grand total of $257,000

The road to debt-freedom is a long one, and so it’s important to recognize milestones along the way. By this point, almost 5 years later, we’ve passed many milestones:

And for April 2017? Our mortgage – our only remaining debt – is now less than our business debt originally was. In April, we slipped under  the $80,000 mark to $79,200.

Using my patched wings

And what are we doing with our patched wings? At Fruclassity this week, I wrote about the guitar that my husband bought and the children’s book that I’m self-publishing. Ella Builds a Wall is now being printed, and it will be in my hands soon.If you’re interested, you can see a trailer of the book here. It’s something I didn’t have the freedom to pursue for years and years, and I’m so glad to have this opportunity now.

How about you? Does your debt “clip your wings”? Is it draining your potential to do the things that are important to you? Your comments are welcome.


What Is of Value in The End: My Elderly Mom & Family Photos

14 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild

Sometimes our journey out of debt loses a lot of significance because of big life events. Up until a month ago, my 92-year-old mother lived independently in her own condo, drove her own car, made her own plans, and lived her own full life. But in March, she suffered a steep decline. We were very fortunate to be able to move her into the assisted living facility of her choice within a couple of weeks of our first alarm. March was all about doctor’s appointments and the logistics of getting her settled into her new home. April will be about selling the condo, but that’s less urgent.

Please read the post I wrote about my mom over at Fruclassity.