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Your Debt

If your financial goal this year is to get out of debt, you’ll first need to figure out what your debt is. We knew we were ready to face the music when we felt the weight of our debt. We knew it was probably going to be a lot, but soon found out that it was a lot plus another $10,000.

If you’re ready to rid the burden and weight that is debt, follow these simple steps to help you identify your debt and then we can start looking at ways to attack it.

calculate debt


How to Determine How Much you Owe 

Make a List of Everyone You Owe: Gather up your statements and print off a copy of your credit report. Listed on your credit report will be all companies that you have credit with and how much you owe as of the last time it was reported (this may not be updated every month, so it’s always good to check the latest balance on the statements or online).

It is a good idea to check it on an annual basis anyway to make sure that the information is up to date and there aren’t any errors or possible fraud. You can obtain a free credit report here .

credit report credit score

Find out Everything You Can About Your Debts: You’ll want to find out the following about each of your debts:

  • The total amount owed
  • The minimum payment for each of your debts
  • The interest rate
  • When each payment due (monthly, quarterly, annually)
  • If it is an installment loan, the date when that debt is scheduled to be paid off.


Assess Your Situation:  Although this may seem scary, remember that this is just the starting point and it’s only going to get better from here.

  • First, add up the total amount of debt you owe. This may number may seem scary and overwhelming, but remember it won’t be that number for long because we were going to be knocking it down.

buried under a pile of debt

  • Next, take the amount of all of your minimum payments and add them up. This the minimum amount of money that you owe on your debt every month. Again, this can be overwhelming depending on the amount of debt that you have, but those payments will seem more manageable once you start eliminating those bills.


The other thing I realized about myself when I added up all of the debt was the amount of money spent to keep up with the Jones’. None of our debt was the result of a medical or financial crisis. It was all just stuff, items purchased to impress. After reading this blog post though, I was happy to know I wasn’t alone.

Now that we have faced the music, let’s look at some different plans of attack and figure out which one will work for you. 

Your Turn! 

  • What would having no more debt payments mean to you?

Determining What You Actually Spend

In 2015, when my husband and I decided that enough was enough and we were ready to take control of our finances, one of our first steps was to determine what we were actually spending. I knew this was going to be scary. We had been spending more than we were earning and because of it, our debt had been increasing.”

What we didn’t know was where that money was going and how much we were actually spending. So it was time to do what I refer to as a “Spending Analysis”.

money leaving hand


I gathered up 6 months worth of bank, credit card, and line of credit statements, a few different colors of highlighters, a calculator, and a tall glass of wine and got to work.

How to do a Spending Analysis

  1. Pick Your Color: I first had to determine which highlighter color would represent a different category of my spending. For example, yellow was any food related purchases including dining out, groceries, and those quick trips to the store for a snack or coffee. Blue was designated for fuel purchases. Pink was clothing and kid related expenses (since most of the clothes purchased were for our growing girls), and green was for any miscellaneous purchases (a.k.a. Target, where you are never able to leave with just one thing).

highlight budget


  1.  Start Coloring: I carefully went through each statement, highlighting the purchases and debit transactions according to the categories that I had selected initially. As you go through, you may find that there are more categories than you anticipated in which case you add another highlighter or two.
  1. Time to Start Adding It Up: Once my statements were categorized, it was time to begin adding up all of the expenses. For this I would total up all of my food costs (yellow) and divide by that number by 6 (since I was looking at 6 months worth of statements) to determine what my monthly average was. I repeated this for all of my spending categories.

calculate expenses


  1. Letting Reality Sink In: When I sat back and stared at the numbers, I quickly realized where the leaks were. We were spending nearly $1000 a month on food for a family of four which seemed higher than it needed to be. More surprising (although not really if I was honest with myself), was the amount that was being spent at Target (darn you Target Dollar Spot!).

Determining where our money was going helped me to see just how much was being wasted by spending $10 here or $20 there. Although they those smaller purchases don’t feel like much at the time, when you add it all up and see in fact how much money is slipping through your fingers, it is an eye-opening experience.

money slipping through fingers


This whole process allowed me to see that we really needed to look for ways to cut our spending and consumption.

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your spending weaknesses?
  • What areas of your spending could you cut back on?


Setting Financial Goals and Knowing the Why

It’s a new year and almost half of all Americans use this as an opportunity to start fresh. Approximately 42% of  those Americans who made New Year’s Resolutions made a money related resolution, yet less than 10% of us will be able to say at the end of the year that we actually felt successful in achieving our goals.

money goals


When my husband and I first decided to get on a budget and pay off our debt we were facing close to $59,000 in consumer debt that consisted of 4 credit cards, 2 lines of credit, and a car loan. Our why? We were sick of feeling as if we were living paycheck to paycheck.

We were tired of seeing our hard earned money go right back out the door in payments. We were sick of juggling minimum payments and living with a feeling of financial stress.

That’s when we found our “why”, we realized this wasn’t the life we wanted and the money was holding us back.

Understanding your Why:

Maybe your why is also to pay off debt. Perhaps you would like to save up and pay cash for a vacation. Are you looking at creating a budget to feel more in control of your finances? Regardless of your reason, it’s important to understand why and keep the end goal and the feeling that will come from achieving your piggy bank and calculatorgoal in mind.

In order to achieve success with your financial goals, you also need to know your why. If you are just going to create a budget or set a goal to ma
ke better financial decisions because it seems like the adult thing to do, sticking with a budget is going to be pretty difficult.

Getting on a budget is going to mean making some sacrifices and changing the way you approach your finances. It’s important to have a deep understanding of why you are willing to make a change to the way you are currently handling your money.

Once you know your why, how can you make sure you don’t lose sight of it?  What are those 10% of people probably doing to ensure their success? They are creating explicitly stated S.M.A.R.T goals and they have a deep understanding of why they are trying to attain that goal in the first place.

Setting a S.M.A.R.T. Goal:

A S.M.A.R.T. goal takes a general goal,makes it more specific, and increases your chances of successfully achieving it.

For example, a general goal might be “I’m going to pay off my credit cards”. An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal is “I’m going to pay off $16,000 in credit card debt by December 31st, 2017 by making monthly payments of $1,334.00 per month.” Notice the diffe
rence? The first is a great goal to have, but is lacking in specifics. The S.M.A.R.T. goal is much more specific and includes an action plan.SMART Goal

So What Makes a S.M.A.R.T. Goal? 

  • S = Specific (What are your trying to accomplish?)
  • M = Measurable (Can you track your progress?)
  • A = Attainable (Have you planned your steps wisely to ensure success?)
  • R = Realistic (Is this a goal that you are motivated to achieve?)
  • T = Timely (Have you set a date that you would like to achieve the goal by?)

Be sure to check out Ryan’s post about how visualizing his goals helps to keep him motivated.

Your Turn!

  • What is your budgeting why?

My Tiny House Saved Me From Financial Disaster


I’ve been back and forth on writing this post for a long time, 5 months in fact.  Baked into this story is a fair bit of embarrassment. But in the end, I know that many people out there have been put in similarly compromising positions and this might be helpful.

This is the story of the worst financial disaster of my life.  The story starts with me working with an accountant for the first time in my life.  I’ve always done my own taxes, but things have gotten very complicated now with owning multiple businesses, a small army of contractors, etc.  I earn very little from this website – it’s my other ventures that bring in most of my income.

Tragedy Strikes:

I had submitted everything to my accountant way ahead of time and he had informed me that my taxes for the year would be around $3,000.  Not great, but as a self-employed person you usually get pretty slammed with taxes.  From there, I made a lot of decisions about spending, planning and budgeting for the next year.  I was feeling really good.

Then I got the bad news in a phone call….   “Ryan I’m so sorry, we made a mistake with your taxes, you don’t owe $3,000, you actually owe, $30,000 in taxes.  We made a decimal mistake.”

I was at a total loss for words.  I was sick to my stomach. I felt hopeless.

I eventually calmed down and started to think.  This was a problem, a problem that had a solution.  It was a budget that needed to tighten the belt in a way that I had never done before.  So I broke out my computer and started a spreadsheet that allowed me to fully understand what I owed and when.

Identifying two important facts:

1. I needed to come up with a lot of cash, which I now had a real world number for.

2. I also understood that timing was going to be a huge factor.

The name of the game for me was to earn more income while I timed very precisely spending to meet all my commitments.  Certain bills weren’t due for several months and my taxes weren’t due for about two months because I had done them so early.  Each time I paid a bill I had to quickly ramp my account back up in a perfect way so that I could be on point for the next bill.  This meant that there were times I’d be close to zero, but it would be part of the plan.

The ripple effect… of Death

The real chaos came from the fact that I had some other big bills coming up and having to pay $30k in taxes all of sudden was creating a ripple effect that left unchecked, would spell disaster.  A lot of my planning deals with working with cash flow. I don’t get a steady paycheck since I’m self employed.  This means I earn money and have to make it last until the next time I get paid.  Timing is so critical and a shock to the system of this magnitude was devastating, despite me having a solid emergency fund.

The main considerations to my budgeting:

  1. Understand my expenses down to the dollar.
  2. Understand my income, but operate under the worst case scenario
  3. Develop a strategy to increase income, assumed most would fail
  4. Remove costs that weren’t critical, go as lean as possible
  5. Stick to my budget no matter what

The big thing here was understand expenses and income, but operate in the worst case scenario when it came to my income projections.  For expenses, I used my real fixed costs and projected variable costs with 6 months past data.

I then needed to come with a strategy to earn more income fast.  What this meant was I needed to get two big projects I had been casually working on out the door, I had to hustle a second income from somewhere and I had to make this happen quick.  This lead me to my first lesson:

Lesson Number One:

I’ve learned that sometimes it comes down to income, not expenditures.  This is a particularly tough pill to swallow at times because when we talk about budgeting, debt and savings its often a discussion of what we can cut out.  The truth is we can cut out all the fluff, go very lean and still not have enough; that is what happened here for me.  What this means is that we need to work on the other side of the equation: income.  I realized that was the case with me, cutting lattes would get me nowhere.  I need to earn more to make this equation work.

How I Boosted My Income:

As I mentioned, I was able to get two projects out the door, but I didn’t stop there.  I operated under the assumption that most of my efforts would fail.  With that mindset, I knew I needed to move on a lot of ways to earn income to find a success.  So from there I looked at my skills and sent some emails to connections offering my services.  I was able to land a business coaching gig and a marketing strategy coaching session.  I did a few other things, but you get the idea.

Lesson Number Two:

One thing I realized at this point was I’m pretty good at a lot of marketable skills .  This brings us to the second lesson: be valuable.  Whatever this means for you is the correct answer as long as you can do some thing and people are actually willing to pay you for it.  For me I realized I have experience in building businesses and marketing.  I can do these things and the outcome of that activity is I can earn other people money.  Hence, I’m valuable in my own way.  Think about how you are valuable, because everyone is. The trick is identifying that talent and who you’ll sell it to.

How My Tiny House Saved Me:

Through out all of this it struck me how different this time in my life would have been if I been in a traditional housing option, namely renting.  Right now the average rent in my city is around $1000 a month with utilities.  What compounds this fact is that if I had been renting, I would have not be able to pay off my student loans earlier… so in addition to rent and utilities, I’d also have to content with a $250 student loan payment.  This all would add up to me needing to come up with additional $5,000 on top of the $30,000!

Beyond money considerations living in a tiny house meant one thing that was extremely comforting: I would always have a place to live.  That comfort of knowing that let me take a deep breath and know I was going to be okay.  To top it off, my utilities are $15 a month with my tiny house and push comes to shove, I could work any job part-time and make it if I had to.

Lesson Number Three:

Tiny Houses buy you security, peace of mind and a place to lay your head.  More importantly, it let me say “I’ll be fine” and move from trying to survive to finding a solution.

Once I realized that I would always have a place to stay, I could focus on executing my plan.  The plan gave me confidence, it let me put aside the knot in my stomach and get down to the work at hand.

Lesson Number Four:

With a budget in place, I found that I could move past fear and act with confidence.  Simple things like grocery shopping became empowering experiences because I could buy the food I needed AND it was a positive reinforcement because I knew the money was there for me, that it was part of the plan.

The Results

After all the worry and hard work, it came time to start paying the bills.  I think the daunting thing about the entire process was that I knew the entire plan was going to take 4 months to execute.  This essentially meant that I was holding my proverbial breath for that entire time.  Even though I had a place to live and a budget to rely on, I found it very difficult to keep pushing.

Part of this journey was trying to keep myself above water emotionally.  I knew I was on the edge of slipping into depression, teetering there in a very precarious way.  I felt a knot in my stomach, knowing that the stress wouldn’t end for months at which I’d either make it out bare;y or crash horrifically.  I carried this with me and it weighed heavily on me.

As I moved through the critical execution phase of my plan, I had to trust the plan.  ‘In the budget I trust.’  At one point, the plan called for me to have a whopping $256 in my account for a period of 48 hours; after which a payment would hit and I’d ramp up for the next bill.  The whole thing hinged on me hitting things perfectly, paying bills and crushing income strategy to face the next big bill.

In the end, I was able to earn enough and then some.  Along the way I got hit with some unexpected bills and needed to up my game, to keep pushing and never stop.  At the end of this I have started to rebuild my rainy day fund, which I hope to expand to $30,000 with enough time.

I’m also cognizant that even though I paid those bills, it’s a double edge sword, I now have to pay taxes on the money that I earned to pay them.  A lot of this can be offset with business write offs, but not all.

Your Turn!

  • What tips have you learned from your own tough times?
  • How has budgeting saved you?

The Next Housing Crunch May Be Here Sooner Than We Thought

One of the big questions when it came to tiny houses was “is this just a fad because of the recession of 2008?”   Now that we are out of the slump and down the road to recovery we are able to see that it is certainly not a passing trend.  If it was because of the recession, we’d see a slump in metrics, but in the past year the traffic on The Tiny Life has doubled, houses are being built at an ever increasing rate, and media attention has been strong.

One thing in the back of my mind during the whole recession is will we learn our lesson?  While there lies much blame with banks, lenders and Wall Street, the collective population also played their part.  In the end, I don’t think Americans in general have learned much, their actions tell a story that isn’t much different from life leading up to 2008.  I think if you’re reading this blog, you’ve woken up from the “American Dream” to find a nightmare; you get that we need to make changes and by living tiny, you’re taking significant steps to that end.

In the past few months I’ve been following a large number of stories pointing to another recession coming sooner than we expected.  The most recent I saw was this article.  Places like Forbes, Bloomberg, and other big names have spelt out why they think we’ll see a downturn soon.  Estimates range from end of 2015 to early 2017.  Reasons are varied, but all seem to point to the same thing: recession.

Now I’m not going to claim that there will be a recession sometime soon, obviously at some point there will be another, but I think the message is still the same: we know there will be ups and downs in life, how can we best setup our lives to make the journey smoother and less likely to get ourselves into a bad situation?

Hope for the bestPrepare for the worst

With wages stagnating, costs rising, wage gaps ever increasing, wealth concentrating into a scant few bank accounts and our economy being based on an ever increasing capital despite living on a finite planet, something has got to give.   We see these forces in play and know that they aren’t sustainable, we know they will catch up to us at some point.

So far in this life of mine I’ve discovered a few truths:

  1. Building in resiliency in your life will help you today, but also in bad times
  2. Peace of mind is something that is invaluable
  3. The more control we have over our life, our money, our decisions, and our time the better

So what can we do to prepare for a potential slump? 

1. Get into your tiny house

2. Get out of debt

3. Consider your employment, how stable would it be in a downturn and what can you do now to build your network

4. Can you make the jump to solar, partial food production, or other self sustaining practices

5. Can you put away more money for the rainy day we know is coming


Your Turn!

  • What are you doing to prepare for the next slump?
  • How are you becoming more resilient or self sufficient?
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