Budget Series: Debt Discouragement

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Our Get out of Debt Plan:  Intro 

Confession: I am not out of debt. But we do have a plan, and I want to share with you how you can get your own plan. I want to inspire you that if you have even $50/month (and you probably do!), you can start the process. Every story is different, and this is ours. If you’re willing, I would love for you to take this journey with me! I’m going to walk you through our steps of financial planning and progress, and I hope you’ll share yours as well.

Update: We are {technically} out of debt…read the story here.

When you have a mortgage (or other large debt), seeing the end of it can start to look like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—something you spend your whole life chasing after, but never find. When I first started thinking about living on a budget and paying down debt, I researched a lot online.  I stumbled across Dave Ramsey’s site in the midst of this research, where I read stories of doctors, lawyers, and families with two fat incomes.  People who were making an average of $100,000+ each year.  I read stories of people who inherited $20,000 unexpectedly from long lost relatives, people who had received a new car as a gift, or in some cases even free housing.  I read of people who had $35,000 items sitting in their basement just waiting to be sold for extra cash.

They had large resources and many areas in which they could easily cut back. 

We didn’t have any of that.  We already had a bare bones budget.  On his site with all those high-income debt free stories, Dave Ramsey says that becoming debt free is for everyone and not just the rich, so I sent an email through his site with our numbers, hoping he could refer me to a lower-income family who had done it, or give us some tips I might be missing.  I never received a reply.

We were stuck, and each new success story left me feeling more disheartened.  I could easily see how people making $100,000+ per year could dial back spending and get out of debt.  But what about us?  My husband’s salary is around $36,000/year before taxes, much less than all the other stories we were reading.  Despite seeing the repeated message that “anyone can get out of debt,”  I continued to only see stories of people with double our income. 

Despite being discouraged, I continued with our frugal budget, and maintained an emergency savings account of around $1000 (funded mostly by tax refund money each year).  I thought that was the best we could do and celebrated the fact that we now made our meager budget stretch enough for necessities.  This continued for about 3-4 years, but I lost hope of getting out of debt, because we were already living with every dollar accounted for. Throughout this time, finances became a source of constant tension in our family.  My husband comes from a family that loves credit cards and never had to pinch pennies.  He’s never really had to consider his purchases, so getting used to a frugal lifestyle on a budget was an adjustment for him.

However, when it came down to it, numbers don’t lie.  Our bills ate up most of our paycheck and we were left with precious little to live on after that.  There was (and is) no wiggle room. We got a breakthrough one night when I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, and pondering our budget.  After crunching some numbers in my head, I realized that with SMALL, affordable changes in our budget, we could be debt-free (including our mortgage!), in about 6-7 years!  That is what I’m going to share with you in this series, how small affordable changes can make a big difference in debt reduction. So, for anyone who ever wished for a story of how a lower income family can get out of debt, I’m excited to share our journey with you!


Other topics in this series:
~Debt Discouragement

~Why Debt-free? (What the Bible says about debt)

~Our Original Tight Budget

~Frugal Living (The Grocery Budget)
-Poor is in the attitude, not the bank account.
~Frugal Living (Saving on other expenses)
-Is Frugality Worth It?
~Create Your Own Budget
~Why We don’t use coupons
-Our Snowball Plan (to be debt free in 7 years)
-How we “Found” an extra $190 in our budget 
 -When Life Throws a Curve Ball (& How we “found” an extra $440 in our budget) (A big move, adding rent to our other bills!)
-Debt Reduction Update (Feb 2013)
Not the way we intended, but we are debt free.
-Debt Free Journey: The Broken Chair

(Disclaimer:  I am NOT a financial advisor.  I am just a mom with a family living on a single income and I want to encourage others that it is possible to live on a tight budget and still have your needs met and be content…and get out of debt!  I really hope that our personal budget information will help someone.)


  1. Michelle says

    Can’t wait to see how it turns out! My family is a one-income family as well because of health reasons and we struggle to make ends meet.

    • says

      We are too and it is one income that is part time. We had to move in with his mother to make ends meet. I am a full time student and work part time (looking for full time but it is just not there) adding student loan debt has hard as I can go but this is our future that I am building. I don’t see our lifestyle changing until I have paid off my student load debt and part of my daughters.

      • Crystal says

        Tracy, praying for God’s wisdom and guidance; and peace in your situation. God bless you and your family! What are you studying?

  2. says

    I’m quite sure you will come out of this much wiser, stronger and be able to help and encourage others as a result.

    “For the Lord God is a sun and shield:
    the Lord will give grace and glory:
    no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.
    O Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the man that trusts in Thee.”
    Psalm 84:11-12


  3. says

    Right now I work from home to allow me the benefit of being home with my children but to also contribute to the monthly expenses.
    So looking forward to following your journey and getting ideas on how to reduce our debt!

    • Crystal says

      Awesome, Kerri! That’s great that you can contribute to finances while staying home! I do a bit of freelance writing, but it’s very sporadic.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for doing this!!!!

    I too have wondered how a low income family can ever be debt free. While we do not have a mortgage, we do have a sizeable student loan debt. I’ve listened to Dave Ramsey and thought the same thing: his advice is for families with triple our income. We feed our family of four on around 100 a week. I am wondering how we could even lower that lol!
    Can’t wait to read the rest of the series!


    • Crystal says

      Marcia, I am very excited to share the rest of the story, and excited for you and others who will be making the journey along with me :)

    • bonnie says

      I am a single parent with one young adult with a learning disability, i can do it for 100.oo a month, But we both are on a pension and pinch pennies as well, Love checking out discount produce like bananas for a big bag for 99 cents, for lunches and banana
      bread as well

  5. says

    Great post! I feel strongly that getting out of debt is possible for even those of us with the smallest incomes. There’s always ways to save, always places to trim. Excited to hear how your family does it. Good luck to you.

  6. says

    Boy is this relevant stuff, Crystal. I think Americans are starting to really think through our debt problems after all the problems of these last few years. And getting out of debt is so important in being a good steward of God’s resources. Thanks for sharing such a needed series on your blog. And thanks for linking up to B&BB. May God richly bless you this week! Gail

  7. says

    Thank you so much for being willing to share your journey! I have had the same experience as you when trying to apply a total money makeover approach to our life-you can’t cut back when there is nowhere to cut! So excited to see where this takes you and am hopeful (again) that we might just be able to get ahead for once!

  8. says

    I am excited to read your story! I’ll be subscribing so I don’t miss it.
    Like you, we have been on a limited income since our oldest was born. Our numbers are a smidgeon higher but not much (under 50k most of the past 10 years). We HAVE become debt free and are working on the emergency fund and it is very HARD to stay motivated. One recent change we’ve made is to Dream Big and it’s really helping us to be motivated to continue to live frugally AND to find ways of increasing our income. Those big dreams were what I shared for Frugal Friday.

  9. Maggie says

    I just subscribed. Can’t wait to see how we can use some of your tips for our family. We are family of four on a 21000 before taxes.

  10. Miranda says

    I’ll be subscribing too and can’t wait to hear your story. Our family is very familiar with DR and have listened to his podcast, but it is very discouraging to hear the incomes of all the debt-free people and our is 1/2 to 1/3 of theirs.

  11. says

    Looking forward to this! I too am frustrated by seeing all these wonderful “get out of debt” plans where everybody involved has cable to cancel, has fancy phones, etc. We cancelled all that long ago and still have very little to spare. Still, what we do have spare we are investing wisely, and like you look to be out of debt in about 6-7yrs.

  12. says

    I’m looking forward to this series! I actually just did the same topic on my blog last month! Nonetheless, I’m always up for learning new tips and tricks from others. I agree that though Dave Ramsey has great advice, it is geared more towards those with larger salaries. I know all the tools, but yet can’t seem to get beyond paycheck to paycheck living. When income is on the lower end, it’s a challenge to find that extra to really put towards debt because every dollar is already obligated elsewhere. I hate that Ramsey’s company never replied back to you. Perhaps it was for the best as now you can share that rare but highly needed story of getting out of debt on a lower income. Thanks! :)

  13. Roxie says

    Where there is the will to be debt free, there is a way to be debt free. It might take longer on a smaller budget but there is a good chance too that the amount of debt is smaller than someone who is a two income/large income person will have.
    Have you checked out the livingonadime web site? Their story is very much like yours. They have one income, the wife has an illness, there are 3 kids…they live debt free…very good site.
    I look forward to reading your series.

    • Crystal says

      Paige, I hope so as well! I have no miracle cure for finances, but with dedication and sacrifice, I believe it’s possible to stretch a small budget. Saying a prayer for you, now. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Blessings to you!

  14. says

    We are also on this debt free journey with a wee little income. It’s hard not to worry about how to make ends meet, much less how to get out of debt. But I’m learning to take our money one paycheck at a time, pray for wisdom and keep plugging along. Looking forward to reading your journey. :)

    • Crystal says

      Yes, Cheryl, that’s all we can do and I believe God will provide the finances and wisdom if we follow His guidance. Blessings to you and your family!

  15. says

    I just found you today. It sounds like you are are real person in the same position we are. I will be following you and seeing how I can get a fresh perspective and try again.

  16. Jennifer says

    I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. I need this series. We are a 1 income household. We are at that level where we make just enough to not qualify for any assistance programs (which I’m not sure I would apply for, but would be nice to know it was available if we were in need). And we live rent “free” in a mobile home we are paying my inlaws for by giving them a small amount of cash each month and then covering their internet, cable and trash collection for them. Which means we can’t cut internet or cable to lower our monthly bills. And I am diabetic & pregnant with our 2nd child, so that means we can’t cut our grocery budget by going meatless or eating a lot of rice and beans. So I am in the market for some good frugal ideas that are not the “normal” ones.

  17. says

    Hi – we are also a lower income family and paying down debt. We are a few years into it and finally have breathing room – you can read up on our journey as I post every Friday morning on what I did that week to pay off our debt and save for a home bigger than a 2-bedroom for our family of 6 :D Blessings to you and your family.

    • Crystal says

      Thanks, Carrie! I will definitely check it out…for some encouragement :) We are just now starting our journey and already life is throwing us some curveballs, but we’ll get there :)

  18. says

    I just want to say thank you and I'm with you. We are a family of six and as I was pinteresting my butt off so I could get inspired to make my new years resolution happen I came to a quick realization that every get out of debt site was for people who make four times what we do and my favorite part is they want me to buy a book or buy a computer program. Lol what part of out of debt are they not getting? I'm pretty sure me charging another 49.95 is a bad idea lol. So thank you for posting this….. I found it right before I was about to give up :)

  19. says

    Love your blog ! You might also look up a daily tv show (in the south its on at 8am) Its called Till Debt Do Us Part. Gail Vax Oxlade has several books out too. And they are reasonable in cost. Love Dave Ramsey but her books are alot easier to read and understand on some topics.

  20. Teisha Coyour says

    We are a one income family that makes about 34,000 before taxes. Most of our money goes to medical bills. I have to go in periodically to get Thyroid levels checked, we around right outside the line to be helped by medical in our state, and our medical is HSA=we pay pratically out of pocket. Debt-free seems so out of reach. We have tried dave ramsey and are gradually getting out of debt slowly but only with help from family. (unexpected check for christmas presents) old car when ours breaks down etc.

    • Crystal Brothers says

      Teisha, I can understand that. But keep plugging away and you’ll be able to see the numbers going down. And, rest in the knowledge that you are at least moving in the RIGHT direction. Any move in the right direction is progress. Saying a prayer for you right now, I know that must be harder with medical expenses.

  21. Anonymous says

    I’m excited to find your blog! I’ve been searching and searching and found what you found…. How can I possibly get out of debt when my expenses already exceed my income? I’m just going further into debt!

  22. says

    Seems like everyone who calls into the DR show has a household income somewhere between 80-150K. Granted – that's household – and includes a lot of dual incomes. Very few calls from families with a stay at home mom, 2-3 kids, and a husband/father making an average 30-50K.

    The few times people do call in with that situation, DR is aghast and tells them they have an "income crisis" and that they need to find ways to boost income – usually by taking on a pizza delivery job 4-6 nights per week for a few years. He told a lawyer (a prosecutor) the other day that he had an income crisis when the prosecutor mentioned that he earned only 80K per year! I can tell you – as an attorney in the "private sector" – that 80K is a very decent attorney salary, and almost unusual in the "public sector." DR told him to just go find a 160K job in the private sector to solve the debt problems!

    When these people ask him about permanently boosting incomes (maybe in hopes of becoming like the majority of callers in the 80-150K range), he kind of sidesteps the issue, telling them to go sell pizza for now etc, and that income boosting advice is not the purpose of the show.

    Fact of the matter is – most people in the average 30-50K range with a stay at home mom and a few kids will need to double their income (1) get out of debt and (2) create security for their families so that they can avoid debt in the future. That's a lot harder than being frugal – which is important – because it involves other decision makers over whom you have no control (employers if you want a job; and customers/clients if you are self employed)

  23. says

    I am so glad I read this. I Listen to Ramsey everyday and found myself getting discouraged bc I realized the incomes these people had were huge in comparison to mine and my husbands. I also realized I have never been bad with money…I know how to make it during lean times but the real issue was an income problem. If your both working and barely making it it can be hard. I had to turn off Ramsey for a few days and pray. God showed me I was comparing my circumstances to someone who made 3 times What our incomes were and I could make small changes to help my family. It is so comforting to know we are not the only ones. My spouse and I hardly have much debt which I am grateful for but st times its still a stretch to make our bills.

  24. says

    Very nice post regarding debt recovery encouragement. I have some debt repayment tips through you can also close your debt fast.
    Don no increase your debt
    Use only 1 card for purchasing
    Make a budget plan and use your money according to budget plan
    Do some extra work to support your debt repayment process
    and never give up

  25. says

    This is encouraging to me. (I’ve read the whole series.)
    Like you, I’ve noticed that so much financial advice on the internet is written for people who make a lot more and are living a much more expensive lifestyle than I am. Many of the suggested ways to cut costs simply don’t apply, because I’m already not spending in those ways.

    My salary is very close to your husband’s salary. I currently live alone, and my salary has been adequate for that with no difficulty. But I am looking forward to going from a one-person (and no-car) household to a two-person one-income (and one-car) household, and have been a bit concerned about whether my income will be adequate for that. I think it will (and have gotten serious about budgeting and cost reduction to make sure it will) but I’ve still been a bit concerned.

    So it’s reassuring to see how you’ve been able to support not merely two people and a car, but four people and a car on that sort of income. And helpful to see, through your various budgets, how you made it work. It also provides some ideas for where I can likely cut costs further. (Mostly groceries. I’ve already reduced my grocery spending a lot, and am currently at about $140/month for one person, but can probably cut it down even further.) Thank you for sharing, despite potential social inappropriateness.

    • Crystal Brothers says

      Thanks for sharing, Estel! It sounds like you’re doing the best thing–being intentional about your spending, and preparing for additional expenses in advance. I’m glad our story could encourage you.

  26. Gen says

    I just want to say I’ve read the stories, and each one is unique in its own way, but now let me share another real life story. I am disabled and live on a fix income of just a little over $8700 a year, after paying necessities (rent, credit cards, cable cell phone & a wellness plan for my dog) I literally have about $10 left over. now let me explain that the reason I have credit cards (4), is because that helps the rest of the month. In the state I reside in I only qualify for $16 in food stamps. I have no savings, no vehicle, so I am a living witness that you can survive but it is a struggle. I was working, get this for one day 9 hrs. for $20, and was using public transportation to get there on time, the place is approximately 15 miles away. Unfortunately I got sick, and wasn’t able to return, that was a blessing in disguise to me. So to summarize you have to be a very strong determine individual in order to go on through life especially when you are hit with several hard throws.

    • Crystal Brothers says

      Thank you for sharing your story, Gen. I am so sorry to hear about the financial hardships you have endured. It does sound like you have been through a lot.

  27. Neysha says

    You guys are not alone we are a family of soon to be 12 we make under $30,000 a year. I also have a son who is FT in a wheelchair and have alot of medical expenses. But we just paid off 1 vehicle with taxes and we are doubling on our other vehicle. Planning on having a yard sale also to apply to the vehicle. We have tried to sell them with no luck. We also moved our mortgage payments to bi weekly this will give us another payment per year. Just thought I would share in case someone could use that info.

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