Getting Out of Debt With A Small Income

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Getting out of debt with a small income

I have been through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University TWICE now, so either I am a slow learner, or something of an expert. I took the class once when I was a single mom on a hairstylist’s income, and recently went through it again with my husband. Something that strikes me is how few of our classmates followed the program, and how many went right back to their old habits. While, there are a lot of reasons and excuses, one that I heard over and over again was, “I don’t make enough money to follow this plan.”

While debt, and finances in general, can seem overwhelming when you have a small income, I believe it is all the more imperative that you get on the plan and get yourself out of debt. If you can’t afford to get out of debt, how can you afford to make all those payments? I did it as a single mom receiving no child support on a hairstylist’s income, and you can too. 

Get Real About Your Spending

Write down every single penny you spend for a month. Even a week. Be honest. I promise it will shock you. 

Just because someone earns a small income, doesn’t mean they don’t work hard. In fact, often they work harder than many others in more comfortable financial positions because one bad paycheck can be the difference between comfortable and homeless. When you work that hard and under that level of stress, you can start to feel entitled. I work hard, I deserve to eat out once in a while. I got a bigger paycheck this time, so I can afford to go to this concert. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but as long as you are in debt, you don’t “deserve” to do anything but keep a roof over your head and food in your stomach.

Without fail, the people I have heard complain that they are too poor to follow Dave Ramsey’s program are the ones living more extravagantly than I am. When I was single, and even still now, I allow myself $20 a month of spending money to do whatever I want with. If I want a new iPhone, that’s a lot of months of saving $20. If I want to go to a movie, I think carefully because that is over half of my money for the month.  I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.” Being a faithful steward of your money now will bring you incredible blessings later. 

Once my sister (a Dave Ramsey nazi, and my accountability partner when I was single) asked me, “Would you rather order a pizza now, or buy a house in a couple of years?” I often still ask myself that question when I am tempted to blow my budget. 

Children do what feels good. Adults make a plan and stick to it. – Dave Ramsey

Get Your Grocery Budget Under Control

Food is the number one area I struggle with in budgeting. Should I buy organic? I worked all day and I am tired, there is nothing wrong with picking up a pizza, right?

I recently read the book The First Steps To Wealth by Dani Johnson, and she talks about getting out of debt like your life depends on it. She says that when you are in debt you should spend no more than $25 per person per week on food. When I first read that, I immediately dismissed it. There is no way that someone can eat a balanced diet on $25 a week. She also recommended eating everything in your pantry before you go grocery shopping again.

Shortly after I read the book a life-situation happened that forced me to go into budget survival mode. Not only did I immediately cut our grocery budget down to $25 per person, we ate everything in our pantry before we went shopping. A funny thing happened – it actually worked. Being able to cut our grocery budget down so drastically opened up a ton of wiggle room in my budget, and I was able to get serious about paying off debt. Even if it sounds extreme, I can’t encourage you enough to just try the $25 a week principle. It was a game-changer for me!

Get A Second Job

If you are a single mom, you are probably already overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities in your life. But if you are in debt and having trouble getting out, you have two clear choices. Cut your spending, or increase your income. A lot of people think they have cut their expenses to bare bones, but in reality, they are still spending on “luxuries.” Do you have a smart phone? Internet at home? If you are in debt, these things are luxuries! When I was single I kept my iPhone, because I do earn some income online, but I got rid of my wifi at home. You should already know that you have no business having cable TV, but even Netflix is a luxury if your budget is so tight you can’t pay off debt.


Sell Stuff

One of the biggest reasons I was able to get out of debt quickly on a small income is because I took the adage to sell so much the kids thought they were next seriously. I sold my designer bags, clothes, electronics – anything and everything! Right now I am so close to being back out of debt I can taste it. I am selling my iMac, my iPad, and a few other electronics that are nice to own, but a luxury to someone who is in debt. Even though those things are nice to have, they become a weight around your neck when you have debt to get rid of. I will be able to replace anything I miss once I am out of debt, but something I have discovered is that I miss less and less material possessions as I start to step into financial freedom. 

The season of paying off debt isn’t SUPPOSED to be comfortable. Miss having an iPhone? Good! Get that debt paid off so you can have one again! This is only a short season, and the less comfortable it is, the more fire you will have in your belly to get that debt paid off.

Have you gone too extremes to find financial freedom?


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Hi! I'm Melissa!

Melissa is a former hairstylist of 20 years who has a passion for living a simply creative life. She loves inspiring others to pick up a planner and get their lives organized, to clean out a closet and minimize their clutter, and to clean up their physical and mental space to lead their most fulfilled life. She is a wife, mom, and crazy dog lady who constantly rewatches The Office.



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