In 2007, Lisa Thompson and her husband, Fred, adopted their two daughters (then ages 9 and 12) from the Ukraine. During that time, they spent a lot of money. The adoption itself was costly, but they also spent more than they’d budgeted for on clothing, food and other items for the girls.
“We hadn’t learned to live within our means, and our debt quickly spiraled out of control,” says Lisa. Before she knew it, they were more than $80,000 in debt. “I was in complete denial about how bad things were,” she admits.
The Turning Point
After a particularly expensive Christmas -- the Thompsons found themselves buying gifts they couldn’t afford to pay for -- Fred bought Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and started reading. The book inspired them to get their finances under control.
Lisa and Fred started meeting once a week to review their budget, paying attention to spending patterns. “I took a hard look at what we were spending money on and realized that we were spending over $1,000 a month on groceries and toiletries,” Lisa says. “I’m pretty competitive by nature, so when I read that people were able to spend only $40 a week on groceries, I figured I could do that -- or maybe even do better.”
Couponing and Meal Planning
Lisa’s initial goal was to spend $140 a month on toiletries and groceries, which she achieved by researching coupon blogs online (some of her favorites include MoneySavingMom.com and PennywiseCook.com) and “couponing like crazy.” Before too long, she even started her own website, SimplifiedSaving.com (“to keep myself accountable”).
Lisa spends about an hour a week cutting coupons, planning her family’s meals for the week and grocery shopping. She finds that she is most successful when she plans ahead -- whether that means meal planning or coupon planning -- and then sticks to her goals. “When I fall off the planning wagon, my finances and sanity suffer,” she says.
However, she credits her success not only to diligent couponing, but also to her money-saving lifestyle. She routinely seeks out thrift stores, auctions and garage sales for bargains, making sure to ask, “Is this the best you can do?” before every purchase. And while she loves a good deal, she doesn’t buy anything she doesn’t really need. “I used to always buy things and come home and say ‘Look how much I saved,’” she says. “The reality is that every time I bought something I didn’t have money for, I didn’t save at all. If you see a brown pair of shoes for 75% off, but you only wear black, then you don’t need those shoes.”
“Someone once told me. ‘The best way to save a dollar is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket,’” Lisa says. “In other words... quit spending your money! While it's not the most enjoyable advice, it really does work.”
When asked what advice she’d give someone just starting to save, Lisa recommends setting up an emergency fund as a first step. “Your life will run so much more smoothly if you have $1,000 in the bank,” she says. “Our emergency fund has saved us countless times.”
Today, the Thompsons are completely debt-free. Without the burden of debt, they’ve had the freedom to do more and even give back. Last year, the family welcomed a girl from Afghanistan to live with them for four months while she waited to be granted asylum. And in December, they received custody of 6-year-old twins whom they are in the process of adopting. Lisa’s smart shopping and saving techniques have truly changed her life. “All these things wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t gotten our spending under control,” she says.
“It’s hard to make big changes in your life. There are going to be setbacks and dismal failures along the way. Learn from them and move on.”