The Power of Customization in Your Debt Payoff Plan

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Pay off Debt

One of the reasons we homeschool our children is because it allows us to tailor their curriculum to their individual learning styles, interests and educational needs. But a homeschooling lesson I learned this week taught me that not only does this type of customization work well in the classroom, it’s helpful for reaching financial goals such as working to pay off debt too.

We’re All Different


Our four kids have four very different learning styles. One of those kids was especially difficult for me to teach, until, that is, I learned how to customize her curriculum and lessons to her particular learning style. For years, I worked to teach her in the same style I did the other kids, and it was never easy. She’d resist, I’d coerce, yell, beg, bribe and use trickery all in the name of getting her to simply sit down and do her schoolwork. Now, mind you, this particular child isn’t rebellious or disobedient, at least any more than other kids are.  🙂  But as I searched my mind for ideas to get her to get progressing, I had a flashback to her potty-training days.

Here too, she fought me every step of the way. I used all of the above tactics and more, working to get the kid out of diapers, but again, she resisted every step of the way. It wasn’t until I let her alone about it that she chose, on her own, to get it done. And it’s been that way with every single thing she’s done since then: If I harass her or interfere too much in training her, she’ll resist. If, on the other hand, I give her the instructions and let her be, she’ll not only get it done, she’ll likely excel far beyond what I expected of her. She’s the kind of kid that needs to do it in her own time and her own way, and when she’s left to figure it out on her own, she succeeds far beyond what our expectations of her are.

Case in point: One day on a mom/daughter bike ride, she asked me how to ride without holding on to the handlebars. I knew that she didn’t want specific instruction or training from me, but rather the basic verbal rules of the task. I told them to her and let her alone. By the end of the week, the kid was driving up and down our long, curved, inclined gravel driveway, turning around, and coming back up again, all the while not touching her handlebars once. Although, as a mother, this gave me a bit of a panic, I knew that she had practiced fervently enough that she knew what she was doing, so instead of trying to interfere and teach her the “safe” or the “right” way of riding without handlebars, I sat back and enjoyed the picturesque moment of my daughter’s stellar accomplishment.

And you know what? This same theory applies when working to pay off debt and/or making a plan for financial independence. There are all sorts of methods and teachings in the personal finance world when it comes to reaching financial independence and learning to pay off debt.

There’s the snowball method, the avalanche method, the snowflake method, and a host of other plans and theories that were designed to help people pay off debt and achieve financial independence. Some people will tell you to save 10% of your income, some say 20%.  All of these plans and tactics are great and allow for success in a journey toward financial freedom.

What’s Best for You When it Comes to Debt Payoff?


The plans are all great, in theory, but they may not be right for you or your particular situation. This is where customization is so very powerful as you plan your own journey to becoming debt-free.

Take our situation, for example. When we first started our debt payoff road in January of this year, our basic monthly bills added up to roughly $1,000 a month MORE than our base income. Suffice it to say that a basic budget was NOT going to work for us.

So what did we do? We customized a plan to fit our particular situation. We cut our expenses down to bare-bones minimum, made a budget as best we could, paid what we absolutely had to, and what we could afford to pay, and then the rest waited until we found a way to bring in some more income to cover the shortfall. We were winging it, largely.

Not much of a plan, you might say, but it worked for us, and it’s still working for us. Due to increased income we are not as short as we were at the beginning of the year, and we are better able to manage a real budget now. We are even putting away 1% of our income into a savings account/emergency fund. Although 1% may not be nearly enough for some financial gurus, our situation deems that we pay some stuff off before we put a larger amount into savings.

Given the specifics of our situation, we had to customize our budget and our debt payoff plan to meet our particular payment responsibilities and living expenses. And given that we started 2013 in the hole each month, the fact that we are now putting away a faithful 1% of our income into savings is a pretty darn big accomplishment, wouldn’t you say?

If, on the other hand, we’d tried to start off making a budget with 10% going into savings as some experts suggest, and so on and so forth, we would’ve never been able to pay our monthly bills on time, thus accruing late fees and ending up in even more financial trouble than we began with. If we’d stuck to the gurus and their plans, we’d feel like utter failures and our debt payoff plan likely would’ve failed.

The power of customization – customizing our budget and our plan to fit our specific situation instead of someone else’s – saved us from bankruptcy and got us moving, albeit slowly, on a road that will eventually lead to financial independence.

So remember as you contemplate your own road to financial independence to use the power of customization to get you succeeding on your path in the way that best suits your individual situation. Yes, use the gurus and their plans to educate yourself, to guide you, and to have goals to reach for, but customize your plan to get there based on what works best for you.


In what way have you customized your plan for debt freedom or financial independence that’s different from the norm?


Photo courtesy of: StockMonkeys

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.


  • Clarisse @MakeMoney Your Way says:

    Great point Laurie we are not the same, we’re all different. Me and my sister really have a different attitude, she is a materialistic while I’m not and she loves to go out with her friends but I rather stay at home.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Interesting, isn’t it, Clarisse? I am always amazed how kids who grew up in the same family have different thoughts, interests and values. This is where the power of customization is huge. You will make choices, financial and otherwise, based on your interests and goals, but obviously, your sister will make different choices, as she seems to have different goals. Interesting stuff.

  • Catherine says:

    Couldn’t agree more. This is a big reason why I love personal finance, because it’s personal. I feel like how/what we’re doing is a bit unorthodox too but like you guys, it works for us.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Catherine, exactly! You have to devise a plan that works for your situation and your lifestyle. It’s the quickest way to success!

  • kelly @stayingonbudget says:

    So true! Every budget is different and so is everybody. The key is finding something that works and gets you to your goals!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Right on the mark, Kelly! What works for somebody else may not work for you at all, and vice versa. This could easily lead to failure as opposed to success.

  • Matt Becker says:

    This is spot on Laurie. Stepping aside from the financial part of this, I really love what you talk about with your daughter. As a parent, we have ideas in our heads about what’s “normal” and it can be really easy to judge our kids by that idea instead of understanding who they are as individuals. It’s also incredibly tempting to want to be really hands-on when the truth is that sometimes letting them be is really the best approach. Your daughter sounds like a really awesome person, and she’s lucky that she has you who’s willing to be the best parent FOR HER.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Funny, I’m writing a book about that right now, Matt! With 4 kids, and homeschooling too, we’re together A LOT, and things work much better if I allow the kids to be who they are, yet still guide them with discipline and love. There really has to be that balance if kids are going to thrive and reach their fullest potential. It’s a ton of work, but worth every minute of it as we watch them flourish into the people they’re supposed to be.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I’ve become a bit more conservative recently so I only pay down the minimum on our student loans while trying to build a bigger emergency fund. I know some people like Dave Ramsey suggest only a $1k emergency fund while paying down debt, but I can’t help but think it’s better to have a larger one in case you hit hard times.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      We’re feeling led to do the same thing right now, DC. We’re paying a teeny bit extra on the debts, and socking whatever we can into savings. Not sure why or how long this will last, but I figure we can always take that huge chunk of savings and apply it toward debt later on.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    You really do have to do what works for you…and that’s what I also love abut personal finance. There are plenty of roads to success.

  • Travis @debtchronicles says:

    We’re taking a little different route than most people in the PF blogosphere by enrolling in a debt management plan through a debt relief provider. Debt relief providers get a bad wrap because there’s a lot of companies out there that are scams and will take advantage of people in a very compromising situation. BUT there are good ones out there and it’s really worked out well for us.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Great point, Travis! As you pointed out, not all Debt relief providers are bad. And if you find a great one, they really can help your journey to debt free move faster.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I customize by using percentages to budget. I can’t set aside fixed amounts with an income that’s inconsistent. I also understand that in tough times I need to adjust my percentages accordingly. Living expenses sometimes cost more than 60% of what I’m bringing in and I’ve learned to accept that rather than rigidly sticking to a hard and fast “rule”.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Stefanie, we’re working toward the same type of plan, ironically. I love the percentage idea. It’s successful yet flexible.

  • Anthony @ Thrifty Dad says:

    Ha! This one made me smile. Sounds like my little one. Little Miss Independent πŸ™‚ I agree, everyone learns differently and copes with situations differently and ultimately you have to do what works best for you.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Ain’t it the truth, Anthony? Gotta love those “independent” types – they sure do keep us on our toes. πŸ™‚ “do what works best for you” – that’s the ticket, isn’t it?

  • romona@monasez says:

    I agree there’s really no cookie cutter budget plan. Everyone should tailor their plan according t their needs. What works for your buddy may not work for you.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Exactly, Romona! “Tailor” is a good word to use. It defines the individuality of each person’s plan of action well.

  • Dee @ Color Me Frug says:

    I couldn’t agree more! You really have to customize your financial situation to your needs. And at least for us, our financial goals change sometimes- now that we are planning to adopt a child we are more concerned about building up our emergency fund so that’s the new goal. Previously we were working on getting rid of the credit card debt (which is now gone except for a couple small balances that are at 0%) It just depends on where you are at in life.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yours is a great example of why customization is so important, Dee. Plans and goals often change, and the plan that worked for somebody last year may not apply this year, just as in your case. Best of luck with the adoption!

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    This is so true and a point that many either forget or don’t understand. When I give out advice on how I paid off my debt, people aren’t sure about it because it wasn’t going with the normal. I saved while paying off debt with my allocation method. It worked for me and allowed me to have some money after my debt was paid off. It won’t work for everyone and that is OK with me.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Grayson, you’re another great example of this. I think of your choice to get an auto loan instead of reduce your savings balance; some may not agree, but you guys know it’s the best choice for you right now, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    I love your story about your daughter. Your a good Mom, Laurie. πŸ™‚ And yes, we need to customizer debt payoff plans, financial goals, etc to our personal needs. As much as we may sometimes wish there was a perfect formula that guaranteed success and worked for everyone – it doesn’t exist. It’s good to find out what others have done/did so you can learn from them but then take those learnings and put them to work for you. You’re doing it and you’re seeing success. And I think it’s fantastic that you are able to put 1% away into an emergency fund. Great proof of how far you’ve come and great peace of mind too.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, some days. The other day they were walking around saying “Crabby mom in the house” in their best gangsta voices. πŸ™‚ Funny when you say “How far you’ve come”. It doesn’t seem like it, Shannon, but you’re right – we have come far! Next year will be even better. Thanks for the encouragement, my friend. πŸ™‚

  • Michelle says:

    Great post! We decided to pay off our debt after we saved $5000. And then we decided that our motivation would be best harnessed if we focused less on the interest rate. We are paying off the highest credit card debt first and then working our way down. Our student loans will come second. I actually really like our way.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s because you planned it in a way that’s best for you guys – that’s the ticket, Michelle, and great job on doing it your way, because others likely would’ve said you shouldn’t do it that way. You’ll probably see much better and sooner success that way, though. πŸ™‚

  • anna says:

    I couldn’t agree more about customization, Laurie! Some methods might work for someone, but sometimes it takes a few points in a variety of methods. It’s just a matter of finding some mechanisms that work for you!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Exactly, Anna! It’s that plan that’s custom-tailored to your individual situation and goals that’s going to work best, ever time.

  • Simon @ Modest Money says:

    Hhhhmmm, the snowflake method – I should get a primer on that one!
    We are all certainly unique, our lives, our temperaments, our beliefs, our financial situations etc. No cookie cutter trick or method can fit everyone. You can listen to advice, read how others are doing it but at the end of the day – you are the one making the choice on how to go about your debt journey. You oughta chose one you will be comfortable and happy with. One you can be consistent with for it can at times be a dreary journey.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, I read that first on the Wealthy Turtle, I think, where you just throw extra bits of money at your debt when you can. It’s what we’re doing right now, and even though it’s small amounts, we really are seeing the paydown accelerate faster. LOL, you’re right about the dreary journey – that it can be. πŸ™‚

  • Mo' Money Mo' Houses says:

    I agree that everyone learns definitely; so why shouldn’t they apply that to the rest of their life when tackling other situations. I love making lists so I found that separating my finances that way led to a plan I could follow when tackling my (now paid-off) student loans.

  • Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I am sort of like DC now and saving more and paying minimums on my debt (minimum student loan payments exceed $700 a month for husband and I, lol) but with the interest I’m paying each year, I’m tempted to try a less conservative route. Like you say, there’s no magic way and we each must find what works.

    By the way, your daughter sounds like a closet-genius. Hope she succeeds beyond expectations. πŸ™‚

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Tara. πŸ™‚ I know what you mean about the interest – it’s so frustrating, isn’t it?? We’re hoping to get ours down substantially too – it’s such a waste!

  • Bryce @ Save and Conquer says:

    I really liked your intro about your daughter needing to learn on her own. It is also great that your family has moved from living in the red to being able to save. All budgets need to be built based upon what works.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Bryce. Yeah, she really does learn better that way. Yes, being able to save now is a big accomplishment from where we were at the beginning of the year. I have to try and keep that in mind more, instead of focusing on how much debt we’ve got left to pay.

  • Micro says:

    Good point. Everyone is going to have individual circumstances that need to be taken into account when it comes to debt. I know some who would balk at me putting money into savings while I still have existing debt. However, the accounts have rules regarding contribution limits and I can’t go back and make up the years I missed. That’s why I’ve chosen to balance saving and debt payments so I can take advantage of both.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Excellent point, Micro! You’re planning for both your present and your future with a plan like that. Sounds like a smart move to me.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    Once you change your mindset on debt, that is the hardest part. It doesn’t really how you do it, as long as you make forward progress, you’ll get there. Great lesson from the kids. I am always amazed at how much we learn from them.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I totally agree, Kim,. Yeah, there are big lessons to be learned from little ones, aren’t there? πŸ™‚

  • Kathy says:

    My only comment about your daughter is that someday she will have to adhere to a timetable or deadline. Term papers in college or a project at work come to mind. But you are so right about children in the same family each being different. My family and my husband’s family are prime examples od that!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Kathy, I appreciate your thoughts. Yes, we do work hard to find a balance there. She knows that although sometimes she can have the freedom to do things her own way, there are other things that are cut and dry “the way it is”, and that she needs to accept that for what it is and work out her learning style within those boundaries.

  • Chad@thstockmarketandi says:

    I learned to budget through looking at what I was spending and in what places. When I had the awareness I made a plan based off my spending habits and began to ratchet down some of the spending across the board. The snapshot of my spending helped me realize what was important to me and as a result began to prioritize better when to spend on some of the “other” categories.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      This is very similar to what we do, Chad, and it works super well for us too. By having that “snapshot” of what we’re spending, we can quickly and easily identified wasted funds. Thanks for sharing this great tip!

  • jonnypean says:

    This is so true Laurie and that is precisely why it is known as ‘personal’ finance. I strictly think that every problem has got a nature of its own and therefore the solution, too, has to be unique. I personally prefer to follow the strategy of paying off the debt with highest interest rate first, whenever it comes to paying off the credit card debts.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I agree! We are paying off the highest interest stuff first too – I figure the sooner we can save more money, the better. πŸ™‚

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