How I Re-Learned to Live Within My Means

Aged 32, I finally had to face the $30,000 debt that I had accumulated during my active addiction. As a single woman, without employment, I had my work cut out for me. It has taken just over four years, but I am now debt free and will share my tips of how I re-learned how to live within my means.

In my addiction, I didn't consider the consequences of ignoring unpaid bills and mounting debt. I lived to drink and used any means to enable me to do that. As my addiction progressed, I took more risks and my financial situation became increasingly precarious. I pawned my belongings and took pay day loans (with extortionate interest rates). I never had any money.

I had never known the full value of money; it was just a means of interaction with the world. I certainly didn't appreciate the importance of frugality or saving up for a rainy day. I didn't know that I would live that long! I ate basically so that I could drink more—so I guess I had some concept of budgeting. But it all quickly went out of the window when I got drunk, which was every day. I was never able to live within my means, and would often run out of money a week after pay day.

When I got into recovery, I faced the stark reality of my situation: I was in over $30,000 debt with no job and no concept of how to get on my feet. But I did. With support, I got a job, I faced each creditor, got a full picture of my debt and worked out a payment plan. Slowly but surely, I paid off each debt and learned to live debt free.

Today, I live within my means. It isn't easy, but it is totally do-able. I have even relocated from the UK to the US on a budget. Here is how I live within my means:

I budget. I have a spreadsheet that details my monthly commitments, my budget for food, and my spending money. I break the food and spending money into a weekly amount so that I know what I must work with.

I shop in budget stores. Trader Joe's is a life-saver. I shop around, too. It often means traveling to two shops, but the savings are worth it.

I bicycle everywhere. This saves the cost of transit or running a car.

I buy second-hand. Having recently relocated, I needed furniture. I went to Goodwill and other donation-based shops and purchased everything second hand. I asked a friend to help pick up the items, to save on the delivery charge. Anything I couldn't buy second-hand, I got from Amazon or Ikea. Amazon Prime has a 30-day free trial, which provides free postage (be sure to cancel this before the 30 days to avoid the $99 annual charge).

I cook all my own meals. Everything is made at home and from scratch. I don't buy anything pre-prepared. I bulk prepare food for meals during the week ahead and freeze extra portions—perfect for when I want take-out. Eating out is a treat. That said, when I want to have a meal out, I look out for offers on local community Facebook pages and websites. They often share the top 10 inexpensive eateries and certain days are cheaper, or maybe have buy-one-get-one-free offers.

I buy some items direct. Coffee is an excellent example of something that can be purchased in bulk, stored easily, and will last a long time. Contact a supplier directly to negotiate a direct and bulk-buy discount.

I use loyalty cards. When I have business meetings or need to work out of a coffee shop, I'll do that where I can earn a little something with my frequent purchases.

I trade services. If I want to work with another small business, I see if there is anything I can trade for their service. For example, I can mention them on my website, or make them a batch of my energy balls as a trade for the design of business cards, or technical website expertise.

I look out for outreach services. For example, Mercy Corps North West runs an entrepreneur program which has a scholarship fund. I applied and got 50% off the cost of the small business course which will help me establish my business, and get legally set up.

Having to think about money all of the time isn't easy, but it is worth it. I gained a huge amount of self-respect digging my own way out of debt and living smartly. My life today is full of possibility because of the smart decisions I make.