That’s One Expensive Happy Meal

3.8.12Many friends and colleagues of mine have taken interest in my journey towards debt freedom lately.  When I decided to get out of debt once and for all about 16 months ago, they wished me luck, but nothing more than that.  Now that I have been pretty consistent for a year and a half, people are taking notice.  I have got many calls, texts, and emails asking me for my secrets on how to go about ditching debt.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, there is no silver bullet, but there is a good way to start the process–start small.

Considering we are approaching a new year, here are some of the best ways to start small with overhauling your financial life and achieving piece of mind:

The best way to change your financial life, bar none, is to cut back on eating out a bit – if you eat out 5 times a week, for example, try doing it only 2-3 times and save the difference. That’s the best way to start saving money.  Every friend of mine who has asked me for advice on getting out of debt eats out at least 3-4 times a week!  I used to spend around $300 a month eating out, and that was in addition to my family grocery bill.  That’s my retirement; my kid’s college fund; even the ability to follow my passions in work or not!  I haven’t cut eating out out completely (and I recommend not cutting out anything completely to start; it just doesn’t last), but I budget only $40 a month for eating out now.  I really need to pick when to spend that money!  I recommend waiting to the end of each month and really treat yourself; eating out should be a special occasion, not the norm.

Look for other things that are easy to change first: entertainment, non-essential purchases (magazines, shoes, clothes, gadgets, you know the stuff I’m talking about), subscriptions, etc. Change only a few at a time (I am being a little hypocritical here, since I ditched all of this stuff in one fail swoop–I tend to be OCD). Slowly start to cut things out, and you’ll get used to this new way of life a little at a time. In 6 months you will have a new lifestyle, and I promise you will have barely felt it!

Some other small changes you might consider:

Cable TV. I am about to cut out cable for good.  I discovered Apple TV and other ways to watch things online for free.  Cut out other online website subscriptions you pay for. All the little services you use add up pretty quickly, so go ahead and audit your subscriptions!

Eating out. The best way to do this is to learn to cook at home more.  Some great cookbooks to buy for the new cook:

Entertainment. There are many free and cheap ways to have fun.  You don’t need me to list them all here, but rest assured that going out to the movies, drinking, and other entertainment really adds up to a ton of money.  Add up the amount of money you spent this year in entertainment; are you honestly better off for having had those experiences?

Driving. Consider driving less to save gas (and maintenance) costs.  I can’t wait to buy a bike in March and save money on car expenses.

Online shopping. Cutting out my Amazon purchases has been tough.  I love buying books, so I have not cut this out, but I do have a “cap” on what I spend each month on Amazon, and I put it in my budget.  Remember, we are not cutting out all that makes us happy in our life, we are just curbing it.

Mall shopping. Malls officially disgust me now.  As I wrote in my last post, happiness does not come in a box from the mall.  Are you a mall rat?  Think of something you can replace “retail therapy” with.

Coffee. Read about “The Latte Effect” here.  Enough said.


Over time, you’ll have saved thousands of dollars if you slowly cut out each of these expenses.  Try focusing on one of these things each month, and I guarantee that 1 year from now your financial life will be forever changed.  Happy Holidays!

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