1. A cushy place to live
Jason and I had been renting a house outside of Atlanta (in the metro Atlanta area) for about two years. It was a two-bedroom house and we were paying $750/month for it, which is fantastic, right? But we started renting it post-Recession, so people were still trying to sell their homes and trying to get out of these houses that were under water. So you could very reasonably rent a house in Atlanta at that time for not a lot of money.
Then we moved here to South Alabama where there's nothing — I got a caution light, a cow field and a gas station in my town. And the rent here for a house was through the roof! It didn't make sense. The cost of living down here in South Alabama is next to nothing, so rent really shouldn't be $2,000/month for a two-bedroom house.
The whole point of us taking this job is to be close to our family and so that we could get out of debt and live in a lower cost of living area. It didn't make sense for us to do that if we're going to be paying so much more in rent. So we found the oldest, cheapest house we could find. The rent was $850/month, and it seemed like a nice place until we moved into it. It wasn't unsafe. It was kind of remote and out. It was a safe area in a cute little town.
But the house — there was just a lot of stuff about it that we thought, "That's why the rent is so cheap."
Because it was such an old home, it was very poorly insulated. We live in a very humid area and our house very quickly started to grow green mold everywhere. The mold was on our shoes and books. We would move a piece of furniture and it was just like the wall was covered in mold. It was everywhere. So we had to run this industrial dehumidifier 24 hours a day. Like, the dehumidifiers that they run inside museums to keep old documents from getting destroyed, we had to run that in our house and empty that multiple times a day. We had to put these bags in the closet to absorb moisture, which we had to replace every single week.
The appliances were really old and sometimes they would just randomly not work.
The plumbing would back up for no apparent reason, so the plumber became like this extra person that basically lived in our house. Plumber Troy would come out every few weeks to fix the pipes for us.
We lived there for almost three full years. When I look back now, I don't have horrible memories because that's the house where Ryals took his first steps. It's the house we brought Isaac home to when he was born. It's the house where he learned to walk. We lived a lot of life in three years in that house. So I have nothing but good memories.
2. Our grocery budget
At the very beginning it was a very strict $50/week. At first, it was just for me and Jason. And then we had a newborn. He nursed, so he wasn't contributing to the grocery budget. When he got old enough to eat, we just kind of continued with that $50 budget. When Isaac was born, we still continued with that $50 budget.
When we got to bump it up, it felt like the greatest luxury in the world. We ate a lot of eggs. We ate a lot of butternut squash because that was always on sale at the farmers' market. We just got very, very creative. That was when I really got into couponing. Couponing is not what it used to be. You cannot get those deals like you could back in 2012 and 2013. You could basically print money on your printer: the coupons were so good. They're just not anymore, and it is not worth my time. But it helped us.
3. My hair
Between 2011 and to the end of 2013, I got two haircuts. Now to be fair, I had started off with this really horrible pixie cut. I didn't color it. I didn't do anything to it. Every once in a while, I would splurge and get my eyebrows waxed for $10. I now pay someone to cut it for me (and occasionally color it.)
Date night, entertainment, socialization, eating out — we'll just lump all those in together with entertainment. We didn't do any of it. I know that in March 2012 when Ryals was, I think, four months old, we went to see the first Hunger Games movie. I got a Swagbucks gift card and we went to see the movie. And then we came back and picked our kid up from my mom's house. So it was a very quick, very cheap date that we didn't have to pay for.
We did not go on dates. We did not rent movies. We didn't do anything. If we wanted to rent a movie, we would check it out from the library. We did a lot of date nights at home. I would figure out what ingredients were on sale and I would cook something fancy or something special. And we would watch the movie that we checked out from the library. That was our date night. Or we would use our free Redbox code, and that was our date night. It was fun.
I mean, we had one baby and then we had two babies, so there just wasn't a lot of time to go anywhere. And I don't feel like I missed out, partially because we had just moved. All of our friends and the people we socialized were still in Atlanta, so there wasn't anybody to hang out with. We would also take our baby to the boardwalk, to the pier, which is free. Or we would go to the park and just walk around pushing the stroller. Or just hanging out at home. There wasn't a need to go places, see things, and do things. We just were a little family and we were content with that.
5. I didn't buy anything at all
When I found out I was pregnant with Ryals, we were so excited, like "Yay! Oh, we don't have anything and we don't have money." We didn't have a crib. We didn't have anything. Somebody gave us a used crib that they didn't need anymore. Somebody gave us a changing pad that they didn't need anymore. We asked for a diaper shower that my coworkers threw me. You have any little boy hand-me-downs that you want to give me? Luckily, a friend of mine had a baby boy the year before and my sister had a little boy, so we had lots of hand-me-downs. We didn't have to buy anything. I scraped up enough money to buy a cloth diaper stash. I cloth diapered him so we weren't having to pay for that.
Basically, we didn't buy anything. When I say we didn't buy anything for the first year and a half, we didn't buy anything.
But, at one point, our vacuum cleaner died. It literally exploded. We needed a new vacuum cleaner and I was like, "We're just going to make this work. Does someone have a vacuum we can borrow?" And my mom didn't have carpet in her house anymore, and she had one of those old-school vacuum cleaners that took a bag and was so loud. I took it, and you better believe I vacuumed the carpet in my house with that thing.
So when I say we didn't buy anything, we did not buy anything.
The choices we made to kind of not have a life for two years really paid off because we've gotten to do a lot of amazing things. We've gotten to go on trips, cash flow cars, help people, and we're on track to pay off our house in the next two and a half years. Those short-term sacrifices have a huge impact on our life.
Also know that what I have talked about isn't universal. It is not going to work for everyone and that's okay. You get to live the life you want to live and do the things you want to do with your money. But it's best to be out of debt.