A Life Without Debt: Engineering a Debt Free Life

Many people want to be out of debt. They talk about it and they may even take steps toward the goal. They may make up their minds that they will never have debt (again) and that may become their mantra. They may have the best can-do attitude out there. Yet they may still fail. Why? Because their life is not debt-proofed.

Think about this: When you have a baby you go through the house covering electric sockets, moving items to higher shelves, and locking down toxic chemicals. You baby proof the house so that the kid cannot find his way into trouble. When you go on a diet, you diet proof the house by removing all the bad foods from the pantry and tossing all those temping take out menus. You give yourself a chance to succeed by removing the bad elements from easy reach. It’s no different when you want to live a debt free life. You have to engineer your life in such a way that you prevent trouble and give yourself the best chance to succeed.

What does this mean? You have to identify the areas that are likely to trip up your efforts to become/remain debt free and then either remove them from your life or distance yourself far enough away from them that they become less of a problem. For example, maybe you have a problem with credit cards. You know that if you have one, you’re going to rack it up and not be able to pay it off. The solution is to cancel your cards and stay on a cash-only basis. Remove the temptation from your wallet. Here are some more examples:

The Spendy Friends or Family: If your friends/family members are big spenders it can be hard to remain debt free in the face of pressure to fit in through spending. It may be hard to do, but you need to distance yourself from these people and find new people to hang out with. You don’t have to cut them out of your life entirely, but you do need to create some distance. You can try being honest and saying, “I just can’t spend that much. What else can we do?” but sometimes even that won’t work. You may just have to limit your interactions to a level that your wallet can handle.

Watching too much TV: Many people get an urge to buy when they watch TV. Not surprising when you factor in the ads, the product placements, and the fabulous lives lived by the characters. And, of course, the shopping channels are a whole ‘nother level of spending hell. If you know TV makes you spend, cancel the cable or just chuck the TV altogether.

Recreational shopping: Some people can go to the mall and be perfectly content to window shop. Other people have to spend. If you can’t visit stores without spending, then you need to limit the time you spend in the stores. Make lists and stick to them. Only head to the store when you really need something. Find other fun hobbies to take up your free time.

Your neighbors/neighborhood: Where you live tends to dictate how you spend. Live in a pricey, upscale neighborhood full of luxury cars, pools, and professionally decorated homes, and you’ll probably try to keep up. If your neighborhood is endangering your finances, move to a nice neighborhood populated with moderately priced houses, decent but not extravagant cars, and people who live below their means. You’ll fit in without spending a fortune.

Health/Safety: Sad to say, a lot of debt is made up of medical bills. You can’t prevent every illness or injury that may come your way, but you can do a lot of things to give yourself a decent chance at remaining healthy. Stop smoking and don’t drink to excess. Lose weight and exercise. Eat healthy foods. Get regular checkups and vaccinations. Take care of your teeth. Don’t take unnecessary risks like climbing on an icy roof. Drive safely and buckle up. If you can stay healthy you can avoid a lot of debt.

Eating out to excess: If you always eat out, you may need to learn to cook, or at least keep some easy to prepare meals on hand. Maybe the “cook ahead” method will work for you where you do all your cooking on one day of the week, freeze the results and just reheat throughout the week. If you eat out because you never have time to cook, rethink your schedule so you can fit it in. There’s nothing wrong with eating out sometimes, but it can be a budget killer if you do it most days of the week. Figure out ways to engineer your life so eating out isn’t necessary.

Everyone is different and will have a different set of debt triggers and problems. Identify what’s troublesome for you and work to engineer your life in such a way that the temptation and danger is removed, or at least reduced. You can have the best intentions to be debt free but if your environment is working against you, you’re going to have a more difficult time reaching your goals.

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6 Responses to A Life Without Debt: Engineering a Debt Free Life

  1. Nicole says:

    These are all very good tips. I have a boss that is spendy and everyday he asks if I want to grab lunch with him. And everyday, I reply that I brought from home. He’s relentless. I recently paid off the car and now he looks up used range rovers for me. lol This is my boss – someone I should be modeling my behavior after!!! Craziness.

  2. Sandy L says:

    The health/safety one is the scariest to me. Was it you that wrote a post on taking out extra insurance? (Life, disability, etc)

    I am not as worried about things I can control (like wanting to keep up with the neighbors), but things I can’t control like a chronic illness or massive recession.

  3. Jason Lim says:

    Totally agreed with the provided tips. Especially those keep changing his/her vehicle always when the new model is launched. It makes people keep having debt with bank.

    Nowadays, online shopping is quite happening, it could be another factor that make people splurging too.

  4. Isabelle says:

    Luckily we in the UK don’t have the health cost problems.

    I know the NHS has had a lot of bad press in the USA, but Christmas Eve my 91 year old mother-in-law was taken into hospital from her doctor’s, by ambulance. She was tested, x-rayed, scanned, heart stabilised and operated on within three days – now well on the way to recovery. She will go to a special hospital for two weeks to recover before being sent home. Cost – zilch!

    However, I agree with keeping yourself healthy – life is then much nicer. My mother-in-law is a case in point. She has always eaten well and kept herself busy in mind and body.

  5. Sueellen says:

    In each of your points….You are so right!!!
    I am a prime example. I have many big spender family members who I am very close to. I moved two states away from them due to a job offer.
    I stopped watching television and gave my television away. I stopped recreational shopping. I learned to cook. I moved to a moderate apartment in a working class neighborhood. In implementing these tips as well as being super frugal…I was able to apply $30,000 to debt in only twelve months and no I did not sell anything or win the lottery and I earn a average salary.

  6. Jenn says:

    I’m in high tech and started working from home almost a year ago and it’s been a great cost saver. I anticipated the savings on gas, but when you add savings on coffee, lunches and wear and tear on work clothes it really adds up. We live in the woods 15 minutes out of town, so I can’t accidentally wind up in a mall which really reduces the opportunity to impulse shop. Most weeks I only go shopping on Saturday when DH and I head out for our weekly coffee, groceries and errands “date”. Not romantic for sure, but we actually look forward to it as it’s normally the only non-kid time we set aside each week. We get up early Saturday, plan the meals for the week (based on the sales at our store) and head out. I know it’s odd but we find it better quality time than a date night, since you really can’t talk during a movie or in a noisy restaurant. Other than the cost of the coffees, we don’t spend anything we wouldn’t have spent anyway.

    I think the key to getting spending under control is to figure out what your priorities are, not just copying what the Jones’s priorities are. We choose to buy used vehicles with cash and drive them into the ground, we haven’t had cable in 20yrs, and in general unless something wears out or breaks we don’t replace it. Shopping for us isn’t a recreational activity – there’s always a list and a purpose when we go to a store. We don’t feel deprived in anyway, because having new vehicles and the latest “stuff” isn’t important to us. Instead we take great vacations and save like mad so we can retire early. Those are our priorities so doing without the other stuff is really pretty painless. I couldn’t buy a $200 pair of shoes without seeing it as a missed night in a fabulous hotel in Venice. It’s all about knowing what you value and not spending mindlessly on whatever your friends or colleagues do.
    I don’t understand spending a fortune on the latest electronics, but if it’s important to someone and they’ve planned their budget to accomodate it, then great. Those same people thought we were nuts taking the kids to Europe for a month.

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