50 lessons we've learned about money and life

50 things we’ve learned about money (and life)

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You guys!! This is our fiftieth blog post. 50!!! Just under a year ago, we made our final payment on our debts. That was when we started sharing our journey, the why, and the how that got us to that moment. And what essentially brought us here! To celebrate, this week, we are featuring 50 money lessons we have learned in the past few years.

PLUS! We are doing our first giveaway!!! Enter your email below, and you will be entered to win $50. Cash. You can use said cash to pay off a bit of debt, or treat yourself! Please share this post to spread the money love around! You can find the Terms and Conditions here.

**This contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered. Our winner has been contacted and we look forward to announcing soon!

1. Use a budget. 

Lesson number one – the budget! This was life-changing for us. Being intentional with our money means knowing what is coming in and what is going out. WE decide where our money goes – and it generally goes towards our goals, rather than being wasted on take-out or junk we don’t need! Interested in getting started? You can learn more about budgets here: 

How to start a budget that will change your life

2. Plan for the unexpected.

The number of years I floundered through life without any sort of emergency fund – it’s no wonder my credit card balances were so huge! Make sure you have an emergency fund that you can turn to when the computer in your truck dies (me), or the furnace quits working on a -25 degree week (also me). You can’t plan for everything life will throw at you, but you CAN be prepared! 

In case of emergency – Why you need an emergency fund

3. Sometimes the cheaper grocery store brands are even better. 

I know that there are people who are name-brand everything all the time. I’m not that girl, and especially not at the grocery store! You can save some big bucks by switching to the generic brands, and sometimes you might be surprised that they are even better than the original! (Looking at you, Walmart brand white Mac & Cheese!)

4. It is okay to say no to plans and stay home On Friday night.

Meeting for a drink, or dinner, or heading to a movie. All fun. But wow – it’s expensive to be social in this modern world we live in. It is absolutely okay to cut back on going out and stay home on a Friday night. (Or any night!) Curl up and watch a movie, play a board game, read a book – do all three. A quieter life costs less and is very therapeutic for the soul!

5. Every dollar counts – sell all the things! 

When you are working to slay your debt, don’t think that $5 here and $2 there doesn’t matter. It all adds up, and it is all a step in the right direction. Do a scan through your home and purge all the things you don’t use/need/want anymore. Spend an afternoon posting them online (I use VarageSale), and then when you sell all the things, keep the money in a jar. Don’t spend it on coffee or Christmas shopping – put it in the bank and then put it directly towards a goal like paying off debt, building your Emergency Fund, or saving for a holiday! 

6. You can make extra cash online.

Can you become a millionaire doing surveys and using cashback apps? Nope, probably not. But you sure can save yourself a few hundred dollars, which I think makes it worth it. I use Checkout 51 for my groceries, Rakuten & Swagbucks for my online shopping, and Leo Surveys, and I have made a few hundred dollars over the years. Check them all out now! 

Make more money this month

7. Ask for cheaper rates.

Do you know what the worst thing that will happen if you call your utility providers to ask for a cheaper rate is? They’ll say no, and you’ll move on with your life. BUT – they might say yes! The deals that utility and tech companies offer are always changing. Make sure you are getting the best price on things like your cellphones, cable, and internet while you are at it! 

How to spend less and save more

8. Learn how to fix your car yourself.

Yah, this is not an easy money solution. But, if someone you know is mechanically handy and can teach you a thing or two about vehicle maintenance, you’ll save BIG money on car-related expenses. Dan and my dad take on every new car repair challenge with excitement – they use YouTube and order parts online, and together they save us a lot of repair and maintenance costs. Plus, my dad has gotten to pass on a lot of his car knowledge, which I think makes him pretty happy! 

9. Meal plan.

First, sit down and think about what meals you are going to eat this week. Then write it down. This is called a meal plan, and it will save you time, energy, and money! WIN!

10 ways to save money on your groceries

10. Grocery shop with a list.

Use your plan (see above!) to create a grocery list – what food do you need to buy to make that plan come to life. Then go to the grocery store with your list and stick to it! The savings in doing this are huge – plus, it cuts back on the junk that I like to add to the cart when I’m not shopping mindfully. 

Pro Tip: We use the Google Keep app for our ongoing grocery list. We share the list so that we can both add to it, and we both check things off when we buy groceries. And we can add Peanut Butter or Salt when things run out through the week, so nothing gets forgotten! 

11. You can have fun doing free things.

Fun in life doesn’t have to be expensive. For example – packing a snack and heading to the park for an afternoon of sunny reading or taking a winter walk and enjoying the crisp air – both free! Take up geocaching, or bike riding in the summer, build jigsaw puzzles and read more in the winter. A quick google search will lead you to free festivals and events in your community.

12. Be happy with what you have.

It is as simple as this: when you are happy with what you have, you will have more than you need. 

13. Needs are different than wants.

A need is something you have to have for survival. A want is something you would like have, for comfort or joy.

For example – I need to pay my mortgage, my utilities and put gas in my car. I want a new pair of jeans. Even if I don’t like the cut/colour/style/fit of my old jeans, or I’d really like to add a new pair to my collection – this is a want. 

I need to provide food for my family. I want to go out for dinner after a long day at work. 

Be mindful of the difference. 

14. Look at your bank account every day.

You cannot sail a ship without looking at where you are going and course-correcting along the way. Think of your finances like a beautiful sailboat – it needs your attention and direction. That is to say, check-in on your bank account every day, don’t just guess at where you are in your spending, or how much money is left. 

The ONE thing you should do every day

15. Paying off debt is possible.

Your mindset is everything. Don’t get lost in the self-talk that you’ll never get out of debt, that you owe too much, or that it’s too hard. You CAN do it, and it is actually easier than you think. 

The absolute best way to get out of debt

16. Pay off the smallest debt first.

If you are staring down a mountain of debt, you probably feel overwhelmed. I know I did. Take one small step and work on paying off the smallest debt first. This small win is how you build momentum to get started! 

9 things you should do before you pay off your debt

17. You don’t need a new car/vacation/renovation just because your friend/neighbour/sister gets one.

A wise friend once said to me, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and those words ring in my ears often. Quit trying to keep up with everyone on social media. Don’t spend money to impress the people in your life. Focus on your own journey, and you’ll be amazed at the places you can go! 

Quit keeping up – how to stay focused in an age of comparison

18. It is okay to talk about money and debt – shame-free.

Somewhere along the way, society decided that we shouldn’t be able to talk about money. For example – Don’t talk about how much you make, it’s rude. Don’t talk about your debt, it’s embarrassing. This taboo creates a culture of quiet struggle and I am not here for it. If you have questions or worries or celebrations – come share them in our Facebook group! We love to talk about budgets and debt and all things finance and intentional living!

Join us on Facebook!

19. You are not alone in your debt or your fear.

We suffered in debt for over a decade. And we did it mostly privately because our society has created a stigma around talking about money. But when you speak openly about your successes and your failures, then other people will know they are not alone in their journey. Believe me when I say someone else is laying in bed tonight thinking about how they will pay their bills this month. And someone else you know is wishing that they could get out from under the debt. And yet another person is wondering how they’ll pay for the trip to the Carribean this spring, and deciding that they’ll put it on the credit cards. You are NOT alone in your struggle. 

How to change the way you think about money

20. Making excuses is easy. But we do hard things.

My favourite thing to say this past year is “we do hard things”. I need that reminder that just because the road gets rocky, does not mean we give up. When I want to quit running because my legs are burning after 7km and there are still three to go; when I want to quit grad school because I’m exhausted; when I just want to curl up in bed for a week: I don’t. Because we do hard things. “I’m tired” is an excuse. “It’s hard” is an excuse. “I tried, but it didn’t happen yet” – also an excuse. Quit the excuses and take on this mantra instead: WE DO HARD THINGS!

E is for excuses to let go of

21. Make your coffee at home.

There was a short time in my life where I was getting drive-thru coffee almost every day. I quit the daily fix when I joined weight watchers, but I was even more grateful for the broken habit when I took a hard look at our finances. WOW, those delicious drinks add up fast. Be mindful of how often you are stopping on the way to work; try taking a to-go cup from home instead! 

22. Make your lunch at home too!

Lunches are my nemesis, so I GET the draw to pop out for lunch every day. But you can save a lot of pennies by shopping for delicious (and healthy!) food and prepping your lunch at home. If it’s a part of your work culture, try cutting back to once a week to start! Make that lunch out a treat rather than a daily habit. 

23. Celebrate your successes. 

If you are digging out of a mountain of debt, it can seem daunting, scary, even impossible. One way to stay motivated and on track is to plan for celebrations. For instance, when you pay off your first debt, treat yourself to one of those coffees I told you to give up! Or a new nail polish. Whatever your reward-currency is. We set a reward for our half-way mark – concert tickets to see our favourite band – and we agreed that if we hadn’t paid off half our debt, we would sell the tickets. THAT was motivating! Successes deserve celebrations to keep you moving forward.

Money Lesson - Celebrate small successes!
Daniel & I at the Rise Against show, celebrating the halfway mark of our
debt-free journey!

24. Grocery shop once a week.

I’m sure we are all looking for ways to save a few minutes from our days. Stopping to pick up a few things here and there on the way home from work each day is time-consuming and expensive. My goal after work is to get home to my family as quickly as I can, so I try to avoid extra stops. You save money by meal planning and grocery shopping once a week. 

25. Plan ahead for birthdays and holiday celebrations.

These events are certainly not surprises each year. Make sure you are saving money each month for the extra expenses of birthdays and holidays! 

Everything you need to know about sinking funds

26. Paying cash feels 1000% better than paying interest.

When you save up the money and pay cash to purchase something that you want, it’s one of the sweetest feelings in the world. We haven’t paid a penny of interest in the past year on anything we have purchased – and we’ve had no guilt around our shopping either! 

27. Gratitude goes a long way.

Look around you and find three things that you are grateful for. When we practice gratitude, we shift our mindset from one of wanting more to one of having enough. And when you want less, you spend less. 

28. Find an accountability partner.

If you are married or in relationship, this can be your partner. If you are single, though, it is tricky to transform any aspect of your life without someone to talk through the struggles and high five the successes. Reach out to a friend or relative, someone you feel comfortable sharing your progress with or join our private facebook group. We’ll keep you motivated, and we welcome questions and sharing! 

Join us on Facebook!

29. Plan for joy.

Never, ever, do I want to encourage a life of deprivation. My goal is balance – you can read more about my thoughts on that HERE. You have to plan for joy in your life – just make it intentional.

During our debt payoff year, we continued to do escape rooms with our friends, and go on brewery tours on the weekends. Because those are the things that bring us joy. We even cash-flowed a family trip to Hawaii (a gift that had already been given before we realized that we needed to shape up our finances in a big way!).

The point is – we had things to look forward to, so we weren’t tempted to reach for a credit card to pay for experiences we hadn’t planned for. 

Budgeting doesn’t mean living without joy. It means living with intention. We saved money for this amazing Hawaiian holiday, didn’t go into debt to make it happen, and enjoyed every sun-soaked, joy-filled moment!

30. Prioritize your goals.

What is most important to you? During 2018 my number one goal was getting out of debt. Everything we did was through that lens. We did make some sacrifices, and we were intentional in our actions, aligning everything towards our goals. 

Ask yourself – what is most important right now? 

31. It is okay to ask for help.

For years I wanted to achieve the goal of being debt-free. And for years I couldn’t do it, because I didn’t know how. If you don’t know where to start, I’ve been there. If you are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, I’ve been there too. It is okay to ask for help at any stage of your journey.

32. Take advantage of your health benefits.

Obviously, I don’t know your situation. But IF you have benefits, make sure you understand what they cover. Joy (from #29 above) can be a massage that is paid for by your company. Or your health spending might support ski-passes or new bikes. Figure out what you can use your benefits for and then take advantage of that! 

33. Go to the library.

We have saved $10,906.57 by using our local public library since 2016. What an amazing gift. If you are a reader, but you aren’t obsessed with filling every crack and cranny of your bookshelves, embrace the library. Our son has a blast in the kid’s section, doing puppet shows and playing with the toys they have. We borrow stacks of children’s books for him, books for ourselves, I get books to use in my classroom and my research for university, and the boys get video games. All. For. Free!!! 

34. Generosity comes first.

At first, when I was setting up my budget at the very beginning of my journey, I didn’t understand why Dave Ramsey said to give first. We do not belong to a church, so we don’t tithe. And I had high ambitions to donate to our favourite charities each month, but I could never afford it.

I couldn’t afford it because I wasn’t making it a priority. 

When I set up a monthly donation to be automatically withdrawn each month, though, I found that I can afford it. Giving is one of the greatest gifts of my life, and it is the very first line on my budget. 

35. Work with a mortgage broker.

This is something I am still learning about – we are in the process of renewing our mortgage for the first time ever. What I have learned, though, is that there are people who know all the ins and outs of mortgages, and those people do not live in my house.

We worked with a fantastic broker – she made the steps clear for us, and she got us a great rate…far better than we could have gotten walking into the bank and trying to do this ourselves. Make sure you work with someone who you feel good about, who answers your questions, and communicates clearly. 

If you are in the Calgary area – you can reach out to Stacey Scott at Mortgage Architects. She was amazingly helpful, and I felt like I made a friend before we even met in real life!

If you live elsewhere, ask around to find a recommendation for someone great in your area! 

36. Buy used – clothes, books, toys, cars.

It took me a while, but I have embraced thrift store shopping. Hello, this leather jacket??

It’s Guess, real leather, $30, perfect fit. Win, win, win, win!

We do not need everything to be brand new – embrace shopping used. Varage Sale is a great place to find used toys and clothes for the kiddos. (It’s a great place to sell the ones they no longer use, too!) Or, you can hit up your local thrift stores to snag a sweet deal!

And cars – whoooo! I’ve never owned a brand-new car. And to be honest, I don’t even have the desire to. Buying used saves you thousands of dollars. New doesn’t mean old, or damaged, or ugly. It just means you are saving some money. And who doesn’t want to save money!?

37. Carpool.

My drive to work is about 30 minutes. And once a week, I carpool with a friend. Not only do we save on gas by only taking one of our cars, but we also have the BEST chats on our drives! If you can, try to carpool at least once a week. The more you do it, the more you can save on gas and parking! 

38. Fitness can be free (or at least cheap). 

For years I paid for a gym membership that I did not use. I know I’m not alone in this one. But fitness doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get at-home subscriptions for less than the gym membership, or grab some weights and a mat and hop on YouTube for free videos. Take up running outside, practice Yoga with Adriene (my fave!), or do a combination of all of the above. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective! 

39. Never consolidate your debts.

Debt consolidation seems like the answer to all your problems. Take all of your debts, lump them into one, your monthly payment goes down, and you can breathe again! 

Except – you didn’t change any of your habits. 

So what generally winds up happening is that you have a consolidated loan, and then you rack up debt on your credit cards again. So before long, you are in deeper debt, and it will take you longer to get out of it. Ouch.

If you need to get out of debt, I encourage you to avoid consolidation and follow these steps instead:

Tips for getting out of debt as fast as you can

Thanks to Cathy on Facebook for this great tip!

40. Don’t wish for it, work for it. 

Read it again: Don’t wish for it, work for it.

For years we would say to each other, “we need to pay off the credit card,” and “imagine if we didn’t have all this money going to debt each month?” Meanwhile, the bills kept rolling in. Wishing didn’t get us anywhere. We had to make a commitment to DO IT and then work hard to get it done. Thanks to our Reach community member Debi for this excellent quote and reminder!

41. This too shall pass.

There will be seasons that seem harder than others. Times when it seems like every time you turn around there is another bill or another emergency expense. When you want to give up and just use the damn credit cards and go to a tropical island. I’ve been there. And good news – it passes!

42. Save for the things you want. 

I have a list of things a mile long that I want to spend money on. For example – a new mattress, home renovations, trips – you name it, I’m dreaming of it. And, if I wanted to, I could snag any of the pre-approved line of credit letters that the banks send me each month, and spend until my heart’s content. BUT – I don’t believe in debt. So I’m saving for the things I want. We set aside money each month to buy Wicked tickets in April when they go on sale. Same with our trip to Disneyland next year. We set aside money each month for these things that we want so that we can pay cash for them. 

43. Emergencies will happen, eventually. 

I made it through my entire debt mountain without having to touch my thousand dollar Emergency Fund. And then I started saving my full-blown EF (3 months of expenses), and WHOO! Look out! Our washing machine died a smokey death. Dan’s car died a smokey death. (A trend?? Yikes, I hope not!) The point is – you might think “yah, that’ll never happen to me!” but eventually it will so make sure you are prepared! 

15 hacks to build your emergency fund fast

44. You can use credit cards responsibly, without having debt. 

Some people will disagree with me, but I still use a credit card. If you want to read more about my thoughts on this, check out C is for Credit Cards. The short version is – it’s all about habit, and if you are in the practice of prepaying your card, never carrying a balance, and only spending what you have budgeted for, credit cards add convenience and benefit to our lives. I do not expect to get rich from my airline points. But I will have enough to pay for a Spring Break sunshine getaway – which is a huge bonus to me! 🙂 

45. Embrace short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.

My love language is quality time. So sending Dan off to work overtime during the thirteen months it took for us to get out of debt was tough. But. That was a short-term sacrifice. He made thousands of extra dollars last year, and that is what allowed us to be debt-free as quickly as we were. And while Dex and I missed him, it was worth it to now be able to enjoy our family time together without the burden of debt weighing us down. 

46. Our kids are watching.

One of the greatest gifts of this whole journey is knowing that my son will grow up with role models and lessons on how to manage his money and how to be intentional with his life. From an early age, he is learning the value of work and how to organize his money. Consequently, I hope that he never experiences the money stress that plagued us for too many years.

47. More does not mean better.

Just because you can buy five boxes of cereal and get one free, does not mean that it is a great deal, especially if you aren’t going to even eat the cereal! (We used to do this to get Airmiles, and seriously, we barely even eat cereal!) Think about what you need before you jump into a sale and make sure you aren’t just spending money for the sake of getting a ‘deal’…the best deal of all is keeping your money in your own pocket!

48. You are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with – choose wisely.

If you spend all of your time with people who buy all the things, live off their credit cards, or make you feel less than because you don’t – question whether or not those are the people you should be spending the most time with. It is far easier to be successful with your goals when you surround yourself with people who share your values and beliefs. 

49. The universe is not out to get you.

I remember how easy it was to get discouraged by setbacks in my journey. Before we understood what we were doing, we would set out to get out of debt, but then something always came up that distracted us from the plan. And blaming the universes for our lack of success was far more comfortable than shouldering that blame myself. But – hear me well – the universe is not out to get you. You get to decide, every single day, what attitude you are going to tackle life’s challenges with. Every struggle is teaching you something, whether you are willing to see it or not.

E is for excuses to let go of

50. Be intentional. With everything. 

Intentional living has become my life’s mission. I’m intentional with how I spend my money. How I spend my time. With the food I choose for my family and which words I use when I speak. These things matter. I am deliberate with all things. When you set your intention, the world doesn’t feel so daunting. 

Wrap Up

Whoo!! That was a lot! If you are still reading – high fives! Make sure you reward yourself by entering into our $50 giveaway – all you have to do is enter your name and email below, and we’ll draw a random winner on December 31, 2019.  Read the Terms and Conditions here.

**This contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered. Our winner has been contacted and we look forward to announcing soon!

Finally, I hope that at least one of these 50 lessons was helpful to you and that you are ready to take on your financial goals with intention! Thank you SO much for being here – we are grateful for every single reader! 

50 lessons about money and life


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