no spend February | how we got out of debt

by | Feb 2, 2021 | a slice of life | 59 comments

While we’re focusing on money this month, specifically not spending beyond the bills and necessities, I thought I would post a couple of times about finances.  I’m not a financial expert by any means, but we have completely transformed the way we spend, save, and view debt over the past 10 years and I thought I would share the story of how we got out of debt as an encouragement to those who might be currently under the weight of student loans, credit card debt, car payments, or any sort of financial obligation that is paying for past purchases instead of current and future ones.

First of all, let me say that none of this is said in judgment of anyone who has debt.  It’s very easy to get into and almost expected in society today.  As soon as I was old enough, I had a credit card and started the cycle of accumulating debt.  Jeff and I started our marriage with several thousands of dollars of credit card debt and I couldn’t even tell you what we had spent that money on.  I started my business because we had payment on a student loan come due and we could barely afford to make the minimum payments.  I am very familiar with debt and the stress of knowing it’s hanging out there.

Once my business started bringing in more income, we threw every dollar we could at the student loan.  We were on a mission and that’s part of why I was so motivated to sell anything anyone would buy, including the dining set straight of my dining room.  (Several times!)

(There’s the first dining room set I sold and my old blog watermark!)

Sometimes it was in large chunks and other times it was small amounts that we added to the regular monthly payment.  It took about two years, but we finally paid it off.  Writing that last check was glorious and freeing!  It was so awesome that we celebrated by financing a brand new truck.  We incurred almost the same amount of debt that we had just paid off and it made me sick to my stomach.  But, that’s how we always bought cars and I couldn’t even imagine saving up for one.

(This was my very first antique show as a vendor.)

In addition to financing the truck, we also kept putting monthly expenses and purchases on a credit card convincing ourselves we “paid it off each month.”  In actuality, we paid some of it off each month but there was a balance remaining that kept growing slowly until there was a regular carryover balance of a few thousand dollars.  I remember feeling so frustrated with it all.  What was wrong with us??  Why did we work so hard to pay off the student loan and then continue to put ourselves into debt?  Some people have debt through no fault of their own (like medical bills or a spouse who leaves you with debt, etc.), but we were choosing it.  We knew we needed to make some big changes if we ever wanted to work towards any financial goals for the future.  We had to be intentional with our money.

So, we read the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and we started following the baby steps laid out in the book.  (As an aside, I don’t love everything about Dave Ramsey, but I do love this plan.  It’s accessible and I can attest to its effectiveness.)  It starts with saving $1,000 for an emergency fund and then starting to roll the debt snowball – paying off the smallest debts first and living on “rice & beans” until all of your debt (except for your mortgage) is paid off.

It hurt, but we sold my new van and Jeff’s new truck.  I drove a van with over 200,000 miles on it and we paid cash from the sale of the new cars to buy a used Ford Focus for Jeff.  And then, we cut up the credit card, paid off the balance, and started living on a fixed budget.  The budget was the hardest piece and the last one to fall into place because my income isn’t consistent.  How do you set a budget when you’re not sure how much money you’ll make?

We started using the budgeting program YNAB and created a budget based on the lowest average of what I make in a month plus Jeff’s salary.  Any money that came in beyond what we budgeted would go into various savings accounts for a three-month emergency fund, a car, for a year of tuition for the boys’ private school so we could pay for the full year upfront, for vacations, and, of course, for retirement.  It didn’t happen overnight, but we slowly saw our accounts grow and got used to saving up money to pay for anything, but specifically larger purchases.

It felt so amazing when we paid cash for a new-to-us used van to replace my old one.  It was incredible to pay an entire year of private school tuition in one check.   It’s so nice to not feel anxious about money but to know we’ve saved for unforeseen emergencies and upcoming expenses.  (We start saving for Christmas in September, so it’s not a burden in December!)  And the most rewarding thing is being able to give regularly and generously.

We’re not perfect.  There are times we blow our budget in a specific category (food is always a big culprit) and we have to move money around to make the budget work that month.  We sometimes feel impatient when we have to “ask the budget” if we can buy something and the answer is no.  We could be more aggressive at paying off our mortgage.  I could buy fewer art supplies (and cleaning supplies, apparently!)  But we’re a work in progress and still learning and growing in all areas, including managing money.

If you’re carrying debt, I just want to offer some hope that it is possible to turn things around.  I’ve not only seen it in our own lives, but in others who have gone through Financial Peace University classes at our church.  I have seen people pay off massive amounts of debt with an average income.  Debt can be overwhelming, but it’s not insurmountable in most cases.  Find a reliable plan whether it’s the Total Money Makeover, Financial Peace University, or something else.  Ask for help and council if you’re not sure how to start.  Put some accountability in place if you need it.  It’s hard, but so worth it once you get to the other side.

If you’re doing a no-spend February with me, it could be a perfect time to start.

Does anyone have great financial plans, resources, or tools to share?  Any other success stories to offer as encouragement?



  1. Toni

    Making an extra payment each year on your mortgage or car payment is a great way to pay it down quickly as long as there are no penalties for doing so.

    • Denette

      Good suggestion, but make sure you designate the extra payment to go towards the principal if you do this.

  2. Meredith

    When I met my hubby, I was 20, living paycheck to paycheck and was disappointed i hadn’t qualified for a credit card. I had a car loan and expected I would never not owe payments on anything I needed.

    My husband was raised on saving and paying cash for what you want and need.

    We have lived together for nearly 20 years and are mortgage free, without car payments and a healthy savings plan… it just takes discipline and perseverance!

    Two things we do consistently… we watch our bank account all the time, and once the bills are paid, we move whatever is left into our savings. We can access it if we need it, but we like to see that balance grow more than we like money in our chequing account. Sometimes it’s $100 and sometimes it’s $1000… Christmas and birthday seasons, sometimes we don’t move anything. But if there is money there to move, we save it.

    Something else we do is help our kids save from the get go. Hubby’s family gives cash for birthdays, so when they were too young to know better, we just banked all of it. Now that my older 2 are aware and love shopping… theybare active in deciding how much gets saved and how much they want to keep. But the rule of thumb is that at least 50% goes into the bank. They then consider what they may want to purchase (middle one wanted a guitar last year, so she kept more than usual), and usually put more than half of it away. My youngest is only 5 so his all still goes straight to the bank! But my older 2 are familiar with and very comfortable saving, and even though they are only 10 and 12, they already have enough for either their first car, their first trip around Europe, most of their university tuition, or even a portion of a down payment on a house.

    I adopted my husband’s attitude towards money, and what a difference its made. We’ve had our lean years like you said, but to be comfortable and stable now has been so worth any sacrafices we made up to this point!

  3. Meredith

    Oh! And the biggest help to paying off our mortgage – weekly payments vs. bi-weekly or monthly payments. It cuts WAY down on the interest you pay and puts more the principal amount, faster. Once you turn that corner, it starts to decrease rapidly. We also maxed out our monthly payment amount… we did a lump payment a couple of times as well!

  4. Susan

    My work van burned up in a fluke fire while I stood on the side of the road, helpless. It was paid for, so a huge loss. We had to get a new vehicle and it was $18k. I sat in the loan office, Feb 2020 and told my partner “we are paying this off by December 2020. She looked at me like I was nuts. We have a combined income of under 40k. I am happy to report, I made the last payment Dec 22, 2020. We used Corona virus relief money, tax returns, insurance payoff for the lost van (which was only 5k) and every bit of extra money i earned to pay it off. The biggest reason for our success was me setting a crazy high goal and being singularly focused on reaching it. You can achieve what you decide to achieve. At the time I made that crazy statement, it was Feb, we were not yet in lock down, I had no idea where the 18k was going to come from. Its amazing what the power of deciding can do.

    • Marian Parsons

      Wow! Good for you! I bet that felt amazing to write that last check to pay off the van.

      • Susan

        Yes. Still can’t believe it. We also used Dave Ramsey’s steps a few years ago, which meant that the unexpected disaster didn’t ruin us. We had no other debt besides the mortgage, so I could afford to put every extra dollar into paying off the car loan. If we had NOT done the steps before, this financial setback would have sunk us. It took several years to pay off student loans, medical and credit card debt but now we live debt free and save cash for upcoming purchases. Its incredibly freeing and possible, even with a low income like mine

  5. Kari

    When we got married many years ago, we both had some credit card debt and my husband had a car payment, but it was all manageable UNTIL we wanted to buy our first house. At one point, my husband earned a bonus at work that just about totaled all our outstanding debt. We chucked that money at our debt before we could tempt ourselves with anything more fun. From that moment on we’ve been debt free, other than our mortgage. The fantastic feeling of realizing you are debt free never goes away, especially when unexpected things happen. We no longer had to panic if we had to replace a tire, or repair the A/C system. We weren’t living large, but we could breathe, and that was worth every sacrifice.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I agree that it feels so good to know you can handle emergencies. I used to sob when we had to replace a tire or get auto work done because it was such a crisis. It’s tough to live that way!

  6. jenw

    Our financial story was very similar to yours. We made good money but never seemed to have any and we couldn’t really tell you where it went! And we were slowly accumulating several thousand in credit card debt. Budgeting to us meant ensuring the bills were paid on time. But beyond paying the bills (retirement was already coming out of our paychecks directly) we didn’t really spend any time thinking about what to do with our money…we just spent it. Somewhere along the way we also discovered YNAB and the idea of proactively deciding what you wanted to spend your money was truly revolutionary to us! We followed the YNAB guidelines (and they’re super simple) and paid off our debt, excepting the mortgage and began saving for things we wanted to purchase. Nothing in the world ever felt so good as that first vacation that we had ALREADY PAID FOR.

  7. Marian Parsons

    Yes! We had that same issue before we used a budget. The sad thing is that, at one point, we were both working full time and making great money and we didn’t pay any on our student loan and we didn’t save at all. We just spent it without any purpose or intention. I’m glad we’re doing it now, but I wish we caught on sooner!

  8. Kate

    We are paying off debt slowly, but our two biggest stumbling blocks have been college tuition and self-employment taxes. Our older children received good financial aid, but we still have to pay some tuition. We accumulated some debt from that, but it’s manageable. How do you deal with self-employment taxes? We try to set money aside for that when the bill is due in April, but it still sets us back every year. We are currently using our stimulus checks to pay taxes. Do you think you could live debt free if you didn’t bring in an income also? My husband is the primary earner with me doing occasional graphic arts and editing work. I am so busy, I can’t imagine doing more outside work and the house not falling apart.

    • Marian Parsons

      Kate, If you don’t already work with an account, you might want to consider hiring one. My accountant help me set up my business as an LLC, so I don’t pay self-employment taxes (I pay taxes as a business and through my payroll as an employee.) They also help me make estimated quarterly payments so that I don’t have any surprises when tax season comes! I do not like those!

      And yes, I think it’s possible to be debt-free on one income. In fact, we regularly reassess our budget to make sure we could live off of one income (either Jeff’s or mine) if we needed to. We would have to drop a lot of extras, but we could pay all of our necessary bills for housing, food, utilities, insurance, etc. if something happened that required us to live off of one income.

      No matter how much money you make, it’s all about spending less than you make. Sometimes, additional income is required to make that happen, but not always.

  9. Cheri

    In our 40 years of marriage we have never carried over a credit card payment. Have only purchased 2 new vehicles (and several beaters). We pay cash for cars. We are totally debt free including our home and have a generous savings account. Retirement is on the horizon and it all feels so good to be in control of our finances and give generously.

  10. Alda Ellis

    I am so thrilled to hear your voice on paying off debt. If I left this world tomorrow, I would not owe anyone a dime and it is such a freeing feeling. We use a credit card that gives cash back. I pay it off EVERY Wednesday and have never carried over a dime or paid a yearly fee. I use the cash back for Christmas and birthday presents. Some credit cards give back more than others …so be aware ! Beside the good feeling, it is a Biblical directive and that makes me feel good too. I have shared this with both my sons and they are on board with it too. Blessed!

  11. Jaime

    My parents have a small farm with some fruit trees. When my son and nephews were little…around 5, my dad told the boys he would pay them $5.00 for every bucket full of fruit they picked up off the ground. For a 5 year old to fill a bucket up with fruit from the ground was hard work and not the funnest thing. But, they did it and filled up a bucket or two. So, one day, my son and I were in the store and he was looking at toys and he wanted to know how much a specific you was. I told him $10, two buckets”. My son looked at the toy and you could see him thinking about how hard it was to fill a bucket and the value of the toy, it was over priced.
    Welll, another little boy came up and was looking at the same toy and my son said, “that is worth 2 buckets”….the kid looked at him so funny! My son ended up not purchasing the toy because he could relate the hard unpleasant work to the overpriced value of the toy and chose not to buy it. Thank goodness for Grandpa!

    • vikki jo

      My kids grandparents used to pay them for doing work on their ranch. When they wanted something I felt was too expensive I would tell them I would pay a set amount but they would have to earn the rest. They are all adults now, but all but one of my six really manage their money very well. I think too many children don’t understand the worth of money. Your sons do and that is so valuable.

    • Jody

      I am a nurse and work hourly not on salary. I had no idea how physically difficult and mentally challenging it was to be a nurse until I became one! I look at each thing I wish to purchase and figure out how many hours I had to work to earn the money for the item. I seldom spend money indiscriminately now!

  12. Michele M.

    This was a very good blog post, Marian. Thank you.

  13. vikki jo

    When I married my husband 18 years ago we were basically debt free. I did owe on my mortgage but sold the house soon after. I made enough from the sale of my house to pay 1/2 on the house we bought together. We were able to pay that off after 15 years. We have basically stayed debt free with the exception of our house and an occasional car. Usually we just drive our old paid off cars until we find a good deal on a good used car. I actually prefer used cars since I am so allergic to new cars. The smell gives me a horrific headache! 😜 One nice thing right now is as I am decluttering I am selling things. The money is going towards the new tile that is getting installed this month. I love saving for things like that, it feels so good to save for something and when you get it it’s yours. Although I messed up and already broke my no spend February, bought a valentine for a friend.

    • Marian Parsons

      I agree with you on the used car smell! I prefer used cars, too. I can get nice upgrades on an older car that someone rarely drove and took good care of! They are so much cheaper, too.

  14. Terry

    When we first got married (48 years ago) we were very poor students with minimal income. We both however came from cash only families. We would cash our meager paychecks and divide the money between little baskets and jars around the house, each with its label (entertainment, food etc). We often stole from one pot to spend on another (being young entertainment often won out over food). Once we even bought an antique kitchen stove (we still use) with almost all the cash except a tiny amount for food and the rent. Didn’t drive for a month having used the gas money. Those early lessons have carried us our whole lives. Thanks for the opportunity to travel down memory lane.

    • Marian Parsons

      I love that story! My parents didn’t go into debt for things, but I just never paid attention to that. I did save a lot of the money I made working in high school, so I had to pay for books and tuition on college (until I got a scholarship), but I convinced myself that credit cards were okay and I could handle it. It creeps up on you quickly, though!

  15. Kathy

    I once applied for a car loan at the local bank in the town where I worked as chief executive of a unit of local government. When the loan officer reviewed my application he commented on the fact that I had no co-signer on my loan. It made me so angry that I asked if he wanted my daddy to come in and sign for me. A week later, my loan was approved. Unbeknownst to me, my younger brother had applied for a car loan the same day, no one expected him to have a cosigner. He was approved in 24 hours. I vowed to never have another car loan and I never have.

    • Marian Parsons

      Wow! Do you think it was because you were a woman? So interesting.

      • Carswell

        Oh, it was definitely because she was a woman.

        I had a similar experience in my late 20s (I’m older than you obviously) but the bank officer suggested I needed my father to cosign a loan so I could purchase a car. My first boyfriend had a car loan when he was 18 – no cosigner.

        I never had a credit card back in those days either because they were much harder to get and even harder for single working women.

  16. Diane

    Thank u got the post. I’m also using February as a no spend month. That was planned before I had received my EOY STMT from a credit card. I got my end of the year report this am from a credit card that I only use for Oh. My. Goodness.!!! Amazon owns me. Granted, last year was an exceptional and sad, shelter in place year due to the pandemic. But still?!?!. The amt incl Xmas, Bdays, needed supplies such as printer ink. Even subtracting the stimulus check, Xmas, Bdays and supplies, the amt overwhelms me. I still paid all my bills, late a few times to make ends meet. All I can say, at this moment, there is a lot of self examination and self reflection and self recriminations going on inside my head.

    • Marian Parsons

      Thanks for sharing, Diane! I really do get it and need this no=spend month to focus on contentment and the things I have instead of looking for the next fun book or art supply to purchase.

  17. Cecelia Brandt

    Marian, one of the best columns you have written. It is hard to put ourselves out there and tell of our hardships and it is wonderful to read how you learned to overcome them. So helpful to people to know it can be done.
    I am an old woman now and learned the hard way but I did learn!! LOL
    Thank you,

  18. Kim

    Two major financial tips to offer here:

    1. When someone has multiple debts/loans, you should focus on paying off ONE AT AT TIME, and paying the minimum payments on all the others. Then you tackle the next one, etc. But how to figure out which debt to pay first? You do a simple calculation for all of your debts and take it from there. The calculation is to figure out the Cash Flow Index for each loan.

    Cash Flow Index = Total Outstanding Loan Balance divided by the Minimum Monthly Payment Required

    Each one of your debts will have a number that results between 0 and 300.

    If the number is between 0 and 50, that is an inefficient loan, and should be paid first.
    If the number is between 50 and 100, that is the range that should be paid second.
    If the number is between 100 and 300, you have an efficient loan, and these can be paid last.

    You will see that just because something has the highest interest rate, or the highest monthly payment due, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should pay it off first, because it might be an efficient loan (as most mortgages are).

    By paying off the inefficient or least efficient loans first, you make great traction in freeing up your monthly budget money.

    2. If possible, have your mortgage set up as a Home Equity Line of Credit. This allows you to pay off your mortgage as much as you want or as little as you need (you are required to pay the monthly interest earned as the minimum) per month. This will also likely be a very efficient loan, so you can focus on other debts first. When you get any windfall, you can plunk it right onto the HELOC and no penalties. Traditional mortgages do NOT work this way. As well, you can keep it at a variable rate of interest, which I can attest to has ALWAYS been lower than the locked-in rates for the 20 years that we had mortgages and saved us TENS of thousands of dollars in interest. This type of mortgage also is superb for those who have variable incomes. As well, when you are done with the mortgage, you are left with a gigantic credit line that can be used as needed for a new roof, whatever. You essentially become your own loan bank. I am SO VERY THANKFUL for the intrepid mortgage specialist who introduced us to this 20 years ago and I wish that more people knew about this setup! It wouldn’t be applicable to a first-time home buyer though in most situations, because you don’t have any home equity yet.

    Anyway, those are two very helpful setups for getting rid of debt faster, and knowing which to tackle first.

    • Marian Parsons

      Great information! We made sure there were no penalties for paying off our mortgage early!

    • Kellie

      Yes, right now interest rates are low. When I bought my first house the interest rate was 10.5%! I have always had fixed rate mortgages for that reason rather than adjustable, even if it had a cap. With interest rates hovering around 2% right now, it is a good idea to lock in that low rate for as long as you need it.

  19. Stacey Arps

    It’s hard and scary to commit to a budget but it’s harder and scarier to live with too much debt.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes! I’ve heard the phrase “chose your hard” and it certainly applies to budgeting. I have found, though, that as I’ve gotten used to a budget, it gives us more freedom. We save a little for various accounts and end up with so much money saved! It really does feel like we make more than we do.

  20. Suzy Arsenault

    Love this post and I feel the pain. From a person who has started the baby steps many times. I just started quilting again and fell in love with many new fabric lines and items I need cause I am now on social media and it seems I need what there talking about. I just finished paying my student loans went bavk to school after having children. So now the plan is to pay more on mortgage, up saving, create a vacation fund and help our kids pay on some of their student loans. My husband and I went for a walk and I told him I was happy to be quilting again, but I have spent so much. So I promised to not buy anything for the redt of January. It was the 28th… I agreed to move that to February. So with that said. Can you wait to add the new paintings for March. I Can’t not spend and look at your beautiful paintings. I am not strong enough. Thanks for sharing.

    • Marian Parsons

      First of all, yes, I am not selling any new paintings in February. The next sale will be in March. 🙂 I’m also going to be mindful of what I post about, so I’m not sharing things that might tempt those who are doing the no-spend February with me. And yes, I get the desire to buy more supplies and have things to share on social media and the blog. I used to sell in a retail space, so I could have a steady stream of new stuff that I photographed, shared, and sold. That’s not the case now, so I need to make sure I don’t slip into that pattern! There is plenty to share without buying anything new.

  21. Isobel

    My Gran used to say, “there is a difference between wants and needs” I apply this to everything I purchase.

  22. judith

    Thank you for this amazingly honest post, Marian. I think it helps to see someone we all assume as “successful,” as an actual human being. That is one of the reasons I like your blog anyway, but you reinforce that today. I agree with you, Dave Ramsey has wonderful advice; I don’t follow 100% of it, but I like the way he emphasizes budgeting and money management as a psychological issue and not a mathematical one. His first suggestion of creating an emergency fund is vital. Something that helped me, and I didn’t see it in the comments yet, was to keep track of all of my discretionary spending. I started this five years ago and continue to do it. I don’t include things like utilities and taxes, but you can. I have categories for everything I spend money on and even list what those are (hair appointment, gas for the car, homekeeping items, and so forth.) Each category is totaled at the end of the month and all categories added to come to monthly expenses. At first, I guessed how much I would need for each category every month, and now I don’t have to, because I can see what I have spent money on and budget accordingly. It becomes clear very quickly where money could be saved. The most important thing is to just get started and find a system that works for you. I believe that many readers will find your story and advice encouraging.

  23. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm

    My parents raised me the first 10% went toward the church/charity, the second 10% went into savings and the bills. Dave, my late husband, taught me about stocks, how to buy, sell, about compound interest and DRIP (Dividend Re-Investment Plans) and investing is how I earn my living now. Dave also taught me how to get out of debt and live debt free.
    Lisa Y. Jones and her husband paid off $300,000.00 in debt in five years and wrote Financial Seasons, a daily devotional to help others. We’ve never met but I’ve heard her tell her story and it’s inspirational!

  24. Rachel

    Good blog post. I attribute my financial ‘peace’ to systematic savings. I began this habit in my mid-twenties. It seemed unnatural to save while making payments on two student loans, but as someone mentioned in a prior comment, I evaluated the interest rates. My first systematic savings tool was a 401-k, followed by a credit union savings, account, a stock purchase plan thru our electric power utility and an IRA. As my salary increased, over the years, I saved the money, instead of upgrading my lifestyle. I wish personal finance was taught in high school.

    • Debra

      I also believe that personal finance should be taught in high school. Things like balancing a checkbook, saving, making a budget, etc. and also playing Monopoly for real ( and winning!). Also, if you have a real spending addiction, get help! Emotional overspending is similar to emotional overeating and must be dealt with. I pin things on Pinterest and this and reading takes my mind off bothersome issues. But I just love all Marian’s projects more than anyone else. I am an artist and my supplies are expensive. I am not making any money on cleaning house for people, nor selling art work, because of Covid-19. That was my spending- on- extras money. I am on just Social Security. My total income is less than $1,000 a month and I still have a house payment and bills, but I have made it for 35 years on a little bit of nothing, as a single mom. You CAN do it!

  25. Gloria

    In our marriage we have a spender and a saver. It made life interesting. The one piece of advice my father in law gave us when we were in our fifties was to make sure you don’t owe anything when you retire. Wise advice. We can now live very comfortably on social security. I was a stay at home mom so my husband provided for our family so that isn’t much. We really wish that we had done a few things differently but maybe someone can learn from our mistakes. Make a plan and get out of debt. Thank you Miss Mustard Seed

  26. mimi

    I’m joining you for a no spend month!!
    I need to throw any extra money toward paying for taxes & then paying down debt.
    Thank you for this post!

  27. Eileen

    I am debt free, but have been setting up a budget for 2021 that I call MAP, Money Allocation Plan. I finally found a program that I like from The Budget Girl on YouTube. I’m excited to find something that is an active plan
    .rather than waiting until the end of the month to see how you are going. By the way, I bought one of your dining room sets. Still beautiful.

  28. Jo

    My mother-in-law has been our saving grace, she lived a very happy debit free simple life. She gifted us wonderful words of wisdom….”Live honestly within your means. If you can’t afford something do not be the least bit ashamed to say you can’t afford it, say it proudly”.

    The first and last place we visit every day is our computer account balances. Every penny we spend is entered into our computer ledger. At first this ledger was to help us at tax time but over the years it has helped us to see where our money was going and most importantly, visiting this site twice a day helps us to stay on track together. This has kept our conversation of spending on our independent interest on a understanding, caring, and giving level. I am participating in the “February Organization” challenge and I am sadly finding many items that I could have skipped purchasing and giving my husband the opportunity to make a purchase towards his interest. Thank you Marion for the opportunity to have this healthy, healing, back on track, conversion, we are all even better for it.

  29. lauraj300

    When my husband and I were in our 20’s and had 2 small children one week we had $5 to spend for the week! Well we dug ourselves out of that mess and became super savers. We vowed we would never let that happen again. I took over paying the bills and had my husband’s check split 4 ways, into account for mortgage, account to pay all of our insurance bills, 401k and then the rest went for monthly expenses. This really helped us stay on track and not worry about having enough to pay the bills. Of course we had our ups and downs and another child (surprise)! When my husband got a better job we put the max in our 401 K and never spent any of his bonuses. All went to savings. We are now retired and living very comfortably. We have influenced our children and they are now savers to the best of their ability. It can be hard at times but if you put your mind to it and are determined you can dig yourself out of debt! We are living proof!😊

  30. Babs

    Such timely advice! Your honesty is like a breath of fresh air. Your peace of mind is worth more than cheap knock off products peddled on line. A friend mentioned to me yesterday that she has lots of money in her “fun” account due to the lockdowns. Her “fun” account is where she gets her pocket money for things like movies, lunches with friends, etc. She was amazed at how it has accumulated since she wasn’t going anywhere for almost a year…a little ray of sunshine during our dark winter.

  31. Margot

    What awesome advice! We started out much the same way (36 years ago!). We paid off our school loans and, later, our mortgages by paying extra when we could, we wrote down charge card purchases in our checkbook register so the money was there to pay them off in full every month. We borrowed money to purchase our first new car but continued to set that money aside every month (we were use to doing without that amount already) so that when we purchased the next car we paid cash and have done so for every car since then. Money for vacations, furniture, etc is in the bank before it is spent. And we always kept 6 months of expenses set aside for emergencies. We lived more frugally than we needed to but still did tons of stuff as a family – vacations, sporting events, movies but also picnics, parks and game nights and movie nights at home. I’d like to think our example is what enabled our kids, both under 30-yo, to purchase their own homes already.
    My husband retired 18 months ago at the age of 60 and so far retirement has been a breeze because of the practices we started when we were young.

  32. Mary

    Years ago I started putting my “raise” into the TSA Retirement program each time I got one. I’d learned to live on what I had so the rest could go toward that and not be missed. It worked! I was able to semiretire early….

  33. Teresa

    I watched a video of your husband Jeff give a talk about debt at your former church when he was associate pastor. I really admired him for being so candid and truthful about his past debt and the mistakes he had made when younger. Its not easy sharing confidential information and sometimes painful details of your own debt mistakes. I really wish more church pastors and leaders would talk to their congregations more about debt in relation to the teachings of the Bible. I know my husband and I made some dumb mistakes concerning debt in our young years.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, I’m so glad you saw it and it was an encouragement to you. Yes, I think most people have made bad choices with money and some point and talking about it can take away some of the shame associated with it. It’s so important to let people know we’re all a work in progress in so many ways.

  34. Connie Elliott Caldwell

    I just turned 60 in January, and while that sounds so old to me, I assure you I don’t feel old! My point though is that most of my life I have lived under the shadow (and guilt) of debt. It took my husband and I years of agonizing and painfully wrong decisions we made before we finally agreed (and that was key) to get out of debt for good! Like you, we “stumbled” across Dave Ramsey and began by creating a FREE budget on line. That in itself has been the key to our success. We began paying off one thing at a time (snowball effect) and I have to say it works! This past year we were able to sell our already paid off home, purchase a new home and pay cash for it, and we have just finished our second major remodel project where we also were able to pay cash.

    In the beginning, we started by putting up sticky notes all over our house that said, “Can it wait?” We had gotten into an instant gratification lifestyle and we knew we needed to get things under control. Those three words helped us curve our appetite for gratification and we actually found ourselves to be MORE gratified when we waited and could pay cash for things!

    The first step is simply…..Wanting to be out of debt. The freedom that brings is tremendous! You got this!

  35. Ann

    I have no dramatic success story. What debt I’ve taken on has always been paid off early, and now I avoid all debt save a mortgage, which will be paid off early, too. I think the biggest tool for financial success is a zero based budget. It lets me set aside money in discrete categories for all our expenses, savings goals, and wants. Like you, I use YNAB and absolutely love it. So, hello fellow YNABer!

  36. Kris

    Thank you for your willingness to be candid and vulnerable. So many good ideas you have here. I follow a blog that some may find helpful and encouraging. It’s called and in it Kristen talks about all sorts of things involving managing on smaller incomes and using your money wisely. She especially emphasizes contentment with where you are financially, which I suspect is the root of the problem for many who find themselves in debt. I have found it helpful for keeping me on track with my spending and I thought I’d share that resource.

  37. Kim

    Years ago my husband and I took a Crown Financial class at church. We were pleasantly surprised to find out we were already doing a lot of things they recommend. One thing I did to help curb impulse purchases, was to unsubscribe to emails for shopping. I also didn’t bring catalogs into the house, which removed temptation. The other thing I do is when shopping (grocery, etc.) and things are on sale, or coupons are used, I look on the receipt for the amount saved, and put that amount of money away for something fun. And to me, it’s extremely fun to pay for someone’s meal without them knowing, or paying for someone’s groceries :). It feels so good to not have a mortgage (where once we also had a 2nd mortgage!) and to pay cash for a new car. It takes effort & determination, but you’ll get there and it’s SO worth it! Thanks for the opportunity to chime in on a great post.

  38. Georgie Taber

    I started YNAB when you posted about it years ago. It changed my life. I was able to control spending and build wealth. If you hadn’t written that post, I wouldn’t have known about it. I love YNAB. It allows you to create a spending plan that has flexibility yet you can meet any goal you establish. Everyone should use it – it creates freedom. I always wanted to thank you for introducing this software to me.

    • Marian Parsons

      Georgie, That is so awesome to hear! Honestly, YNAB changed our lives, too! I did that post as a sponsored post, but have been a customer ever since. We had gone through the Dave Ramsey plan and made big changes, but we had a very difficult time with the budget portion until we started YNAB. I can’t imagine not using it now!

  39. Laurie

    HI Marian – I’ve followed your blog for a long time and love this post because your story is similar to mine. My husband and I also had money trouble when we were younger. We would always have a balance on our credit card (because we used it for emergencies like car repairs, etc.) and we would pay it off every spring with our tax refund. Then we would start the cycle all over again. We read Dave’s Total Money Makeover about 20 years ago – shortly after buying a new home. We were both working full time and making good money and that book was like giving us a “boost” and energy to tackle our money issues. We worked hard and paid off all of our debt, including our home. We then put money away to pay for our daughter’s weddings (they were very frugal and were happy with simple, outdoor weddings with simple receptions) and have paid cash for everything else since then. A few years ago, a friend was telling me how many airline points she could save using a Southwest Airlines credit card, so I signed up for one. I pay the balance off every month and those points have given us free flights to visit my brother in CA (I’m in MI) and to FL. The difference is I’m older and wiser, so I use it for all my purchases, but I track those and pay off the total balance, whatever it is. (Dave wouldn’t agree with this, but for me it works)
    Unfortunately, my husband and I divorced last year, but I was able to keep my beautiful home while working part time and watch my wonderful grandchildren 2 days per week to help my kids out while they’re working. Being debt free is a wonderful way to live. As Dave says “Live like no one else now so you can live – AND GIVE -like no one else later.” Half the fun of living this way is being able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting me to give to someone in need. It’s definitely more fun to give than to receive.
    Blessings to you…

  40. Lyn

    My husband just told me I was spoiled – why? Because I can buy anything I want or need. How? I always figured out a way to make it happen. Saving is second nature to me – my first big person job I signed up for US EE Bonds to be taken automatically out of my pay. Pretty responsible for an 18 year old girl. I never stopped. We built a new home and paid off the mortgage in 18 years. Paid our childrens’ college without any loans on anyone’s part. It’s a matter of figuring out what’s important. I thought that people would have learned from the recession in 2008 that they needed to prepare for emergencies. During the pandemic it would have made people’s lives so much easier if they had prepared for the next emergency that would come along. Not so – I witnessed about 20 young women standing in line outside a nail manicure salon waiting to get in. I wanted to stop and ask – do you have a fully funded IRA? Chain restaurant parking lots are packed. Why not stay home and prepare healthier meals, and save eating out for special occasions? Ask yourself, do you and your children all need the latest Apple phones? Please learn that you must take care of yourself financially, and that bad things do happen in life. Careful planning allowed us to own a beautiful home, travel the world, own several classic cars, and be financially secure, etc. See what you can eliminate for a while from your life and save that extra cash. It can be done. When you get that emergency fund, and zero credit card debt, invest a small amount on a regular basis for retirement, etc. then go out and purchase that new phone, or get a manicure and enjoy it knowing you worked hard to be able to afford it.



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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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