How I Saved Money in Order to Viciously Pay Down Debt

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The following is a contribution from Tony at We Only Do This Once. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, please see our guidelines and contact us.


I have never been a frugal person until a year-and-a-half ago when I found myself $120,000 in debt, I knew it was time to cut back on everything. While there is more I can cut out of my life, I’m pretty proud of where I am right now.  I mean, I owned a Porsche a year ago!


Twelve Ways I Save Money All Year Round

#1 – I cut my own hair. I bought a $20 buzzer, and it will last at least a year or two. I used to get a haircut every month, at a cost of $30 (including tip, not including gas money to get there and valuable time spent there). So I save the cost of about 12 haircuts a year. Annual savings: $360.

#2 – Basic Cable TV. We watch DVDs, or read.  I should cut out cable completely…I really should. I cut out $60/month from our bill. Annual savings: $720.

#3 – Budgeted our groceries.  We cut out hundreds of dollars from our monthly grocery bill by menu planning and budgeting.  My wife and I both eat like rabbits, so our monthly bill for a family of four is $800, down from about $1200.  Annual savings: $4800.

#4 – We don’t go to the movies. Last year we went out and spent $60 on a crappy movie. Never again!  We have Netflix streaming now for $7/month. Annual Savings: $630.

#5 – Wine at Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have a TJ’s I am really sorry! I drink a decent amount of wine (not quitting, people), and each bottle is about $10. TJs sells a case of 12 bottles for $40.  Annual Savings: $1200.

#6 – We barely go out anywhere. Call us boring, but not really. We hang with good friends at our home instead. Annual savings: easily $1000.

#7 – We don’t shop. We avoid the mall like the plague. We really hate it. Annual savings: easily $2,000.

#8 – I go home for lunch most days. My colleagues eat out every day, at a cost of $10-20 per lunch. I eat for less than $5. Annual savings: $1,800.

#9 – No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I used to subscribe to 1-2 magazines and have the paper delivered. Now I read the Internet. Annual savings: $360.

#10 – We don’t buy new clothes. If we do, it’s off to the thrift store. Annual savings: at least $800.

#11 – No big vacations. When I am out of debt and my savings accounts are nice and healthy, we may go again. Others I know take at least one trip per year. Annual savings: $1,500.

#12 – No more expensive coffee. I used to go to Starbucks every day. At a cost of about $2-$4 per drink. Now I make my own coffee. Annual savings: about $1,000.

There are more little ways that I’ve learned to save, like turning off lights, buying used, cooking at home, and driving way less.

Estimated total savings: $16,000 that I put to debt payoff instead!

The numbers above may not apply to you. Keep in mind that I live in the Northeast where prices are high. However you look at it, I have done a complete 180 with my spending. I do not miss anything that I listed above, and I can sleep better knowing I am almost debt-free!


What things have you cut back on in order to help pay down debt or simply save more money?


Editor’s note: Kudos to Tony for the strides he has made in order to help him pay off debt. There are two things that can be taken away from this: getting out of debt IS possible and some simple changes can add up to savings that can help you knock down that debt or save more. I do some, not all, of these things as general practice in order to save money so it can be used on other things.


Photo courtesy of: Sanja Gjenero

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    I do 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 on your list. Doing all that helps me reach my goal of saving at least 50% of my income.

    I refuse to cut my own hair. The reality is that I’m not very artsy and will probably screw it up. Better to just spend money at the barber.

    I’m currently trying to keep my alcohol consumption down. Both to cut out useless calories and to save money.

  • I do a handful of these myself as well. When I see a preview for a new movie that looks interesting, I save it to my Netflix queue so I don’t forget about it.

    My sister used to cut my hair for me, but now I go to a barber. It never occurred to me to factor in cost of the drive in my analysis to the overall price. I thought I was doing good at $20 per month, but it is far away and when you add in travel, that price jumps.

    • If you factor in cost of driving for every one of our expenses, it is a whole new ballgame, isn’t it? Interesting stuff!

    • I tried this once, I asked my fiance’s best friend to cut my hair and that will probably be the last time I don’t go to a stylist. I have a very low maintenance hair cut that requires no products, however her friend cut everything completely lopsided so I looked like a dolt for a week until I caved and paid someone to do it anyway.

  • pauline says:

    Impressive and sometimes radical changes Tony. I think it is neat that you have time to go home for lunch, when I had a job and a lunch hour I used to put a load of laundry or do a small chore too so the evenings were all mine. People who don’t have time to go home still can bring leftovers at work.

  • Excellent work, Tony! I love the way you’ve looked at every aspect of your spending and reassessed how changes could be made. Congrats on the good success!

  • “#9 – No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I used to subscribe to 1-2 magazines and have the paper delivered. Now I read the Internet. Annual savings: $360”

    Holy cow what newspaper/magazine cost you $360 a year?

  • Planning out your meals and budgeting your groceries will make a huge impact. It’s so easy to spend on impulse food buys if you don’t have a plan. I also cut my own hair, considering I would need a haircut every 3 weeks those savings add up quick. I do have a few subscriptions but I get them for pretty cheap and turn off the auto renew so I can deal with that. Keep up the good work towards getting out of debt. That’s some amazing work. It’s surprising how when you cut that stuff how that you don’t really even miss it any more.

  • Brian says:

    I wish we had Trader Joes in Canada. If it weren’t for live sports, I would seriously consider canceling cable too. The grocery budget is a big one for us – we do only $200 for the two of us. Lots of home cooking!

    • Brian….200?!?!? How in the world!! Send me a weekly menu!! Even better…guest post!

      • Catherine says:

        We’re a family of three and eat for about 400/month. I think it depends where you live too…having said this, your food prices in the US are substantially cheaper, we could probably buy what we do now for at least 100 cheaper if shopping in the US. 2L of milk for us cost almost $3.50!

  • cj says:

    Excellent tips and we do all of them but one. We go for coffee each day, but not Starbucks, much cheaper place – $1.89 with unlimited refills. How about no cable TV? That’s really inexpensive!

  • Jose says:

    We practice many of these, the haircut is the easiest (look at my pic). It takes a few minutes with a wahl clipper! the one thing we can’t seem to cut is the Starbucks. We make coffee at home, lots of it. But we still need our SB fix!

  • I think you said it all there at the end. You don’t miss any of these things. We get into our habits that cost us money and just keep doing them over and over. Honestly, small changes can save huge amounts, especially going to the park instead of the stores when you’re bored. Often the cheaper options are better because they give us exercise or cause us to use our minds more creatively. At the mall, I just spend money and get crappy Chinese food!

  • Patrick says:

    Holy Crap, Tony. I just realized I do all of this — the big ones for me are cutting my own hair (was $40/month down to $0), lunch (I developed a system to get me to about $1/day for lunch and breakfast), and driving (I drive a 2003 Honda hybrid that I nurse 49 mpg out of).

    Another big cost avoidance that I’ve discovered is small trades with some of my equally cheap (or, I mean uhhh… frugal) shipmates. For example: I have a small flock o’ chickens, and I trade eggs for homebrew (sorry ATF). I also have a large garden and am sponsored by my more urban buddies in a sort of micro CSA. We also do a community beef buy every couple of months or so from a couple in West Virginia who raises grass fed cattle. Because we buy bulk and throw it in my huge freezer, we get a really nice discount.

    Oh man, there’s tons of ways to stretch a dollar until it screams. But, Tony is the man! Thanks for keeping it real and honest, brother.


  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    Ahhh…the two buck chuck! I love TJ’s wine!! I also feel sorry for the people that don’t have one near them—have you ever eaten the mushroom turnovers and/or the lemongrass chicken stix?? Holy crap are they addicting (and cheap!) 🙂

  • Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    I do several of the same things, like cut my own hair, brown bag my lunch, only buy things on sale, don’t have cable. When you make these things part of your routine, you don’t even miss the higher priced alternatives.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I love Trader Joe’s! It’s like the mother ship, honestly 🙂 And they have great prices on a lot of things including the two-buck chuck!

  • Great job! I do a lot of those things too. TJ wine is good enough for every day drinking. I only drink about a bottle a month though so it’s not a big expense anyway.

  • Leslie says:

    Obviously Trader Joe’s selling wine varies by state due to inconsistent alcohol laws…

    • Even by town! I have a TJs a mile away from my home, but I need to drive farther because they don’t carry wine (??). Add in the gas and the wine is a little more, but I buy quite a few cases at a time…

  • We ditched cable as well and now have Netflix streaming for $7.99 per month. I cannot believe that I ever paid $90 per month for satellite tv!!

  • Erin says:

    A case of wine for $40? Holy hell! We are total winos, so we need to look into that. Do you have any favorites you would recommend?

    • TJs has only a few types they carry. Charles Shaw is their brand. The Cabernet is better than the Shiraz and Merlot, in my opinion. The Chardonnay is fine. They carry a huge selection of other wines (Cuban, Italian, etc.) for VERY decent prices, sometimes as low at 3-4 bucks a bottle. RUN, don’t walk there!

  • Good for you for making all of those changes!! Just like you, up until a year ago I was never a frugal person either. But we finally realized that our debt was way too high and needed to be dealt with. We now follow a monthly budget. Things in our city are very expensive too, so it took a lot of work to adjust to spending less. We rarely go shopping except for groceries. We haven’t done a nice vacation in about 4 years, we sold our house and save $750 a month by renting a quite similar home, we rarely go to restaurants and we only spend about $50 a month on gas.

    One thing we wouldn’t do is cut our own hair 🙂

  • Tony, Congrats on the huge changes you and your family took! Those were some major milestones you achieved. Some of them I can even incorporate into my own life.

  • I am with Tony on these steps. I have done many of them and still practice most of them. These exact savings methods are what got me out of my $50,000 of credit card debt, so nice work Tony. We know it can be done, but how much do you want to sacrifice?

  • Congratulation on taking big steps (with little impact to your enjoyment of life) to eradicate your debt. Sometimes the littlest things can make the biggest difference. When I talk to people about reducing their debt (I’m a financial advisor) most have that normal initial fear of deprivation. The reality is there is so much excessive waste in most people’s lives that when they cut out the unnecessary stuff, they realize it wasn’t as painful as they thought. Often it’s very liberating to spend your money on what you want and not keeping up with the Joneses (who are these people anyway?). Big fan of TJ’s and meal planning. Great job and love your enthusiasm!

  • When I first got married and we were flat broke, my wife cut my hair. But unless you have a buzz cut, hair cuts aren’t as easy as they look. Now I get the $12 haircut from CostCutters every couple months.

  • Savvy Scot says:

    Love this post – right to the point 🙂 – Saving money by not going to movies is a big one for us too!

  • Mr. 1500 says:

    #1 and #6 strike a chord with me. Regarding #1, I’ve found that Wahl shavers are the best. I used to go through a shaver every year. My Wahl is over 5 years old and still going strong. Regarding #6, this is what life is all about; relationships and connecting with others. These are my fondest memories.

  • Melinda Gonzalez says:

    I love Trader Joes! We finally got one here in Houston this year, and I am addicted. So much cheaper than WholePaycheck!

  • Do or Debt says:

    I do most of these things. No coffee, no cable, no tv, no magazines. I get a haircut about once a year and I plan on going to a beauty school. Sometimes I am bad at eating out for lunch, but have gotten better. I LOVE 2 buck chuck….for me, these things definitely help but are a necessity right now. I need to focus on making more to really pay off my debt!

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    We really should cut out our cable. We actually had the opportunity to yesterday. Our bill increased by $10 and it was the last straw. The lady talked me into saving $30 per month, but looking back I should’ve just cancelled it.
    Couponing and matching up with sales alone has saved us $3,000 per year off our grocery bill.

  • Well done! I started drinking the TJ “2 buck chuck” when I was in college and have graduated slightly to the $10 varieties. Bf knows more about wine then I do and buys nice bottles for special occasions. But for everyday drinking we’re happy saving money on the cheaper bottles.

  • Good for you Tony. The hardest part is making the change and sticking to it. I’ve talked to so many people that are knee deep in debt but not willing to cut or downsize cable, cell phones etc. There’s an excuse for everything. If someone truky wants out of consumer debt they will do whatever it takes, you’ve proven that. Keep up the great work mate. Mr.CBB

  • Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom says:

    Great job Tony! We’re currently coaching a coworker to change her money habits to get out of debt. Although she’s very hesitant to change her lifestyle. She’s given up eating out, and that’s a good start for her. It all starts with a single step. Although taking big leaps like you gets you there sooner.

    • The single step is the way to go, Mandy! Build up confidence after hyper-focusing on one or two goals and then “spread the wealth”. I completely agree!

    • Mr. 1500 says:

      I’d really like to know good strategies for helping others. I try all the time, but my efforts are usually futile. People don’t like change.

      • John says:

        That’s just it Mr. 1500, you hit the nail on the head. Many people do not want to change and can be resistant to it. I tend to ask them if they realize the true cost of their decisions, hoping to get the to see that the decisions they make today impact what they can do tomorrow, next week, next year, etc.

  • Awesome life adjustments! We do a lot of these, too. We do take vacations, but they’re not lavish. We go places we can drive, mostly stay with friends and family, and find ways to have fun without going broke. We need that change of scenery every once in a while.

    And when we HAVE to go to a theater, we use gofobo. It’s amazing.

  • Great ways to save all around. We have a Trader Joes near us and absolutely love their wine!

  • So we do a lot on your list with the exception of wine at Trader Joes! We’ve been meaning to go there for their super cheap wine for some time but wind up getting the “cheap” 9.99 bottles which should only cost 5.99… yeesh! Problem is, we have to take quite a long subway ride just to get there and laziness always gets the best of us 😉

  • Alan says:

    I cut my own hair as well to help save money. I just recently spent $10 to purchase new blades for my clippers which I estimate lasting for 2 years. I figure that saves us around $250/year. I used to only pay $18 per cut. I will have to get my wife to look into the TJ for their cases of wine. We rarely go to the movies or buy new clothes. I am in my masters program so I use TV to relax since I am engrossed in textbooks but do have a friendly call with Comcast each year to get them to lower the price they charge. Right now for the same service I have had for several years I am getting about $70 off for complaining and threatening to leave or lower my service. One thing we do not closely budget is our grocery bills. If you can lower them that much maybe it is time to really look into it. Thanks for the article, good read.

    • John says:

      Thanks for your comment Alan! I cut my own hair as well and have done so for years and it does save a good bit of money over time. It sounds like you’re doing great, I would encourage you to look closer at your grocery budget…it’s amazing at how much you can save over time.

  • Lenora says:

    I spend only $150 per month on groceries for two people. We are both vegan so I don’t buy any animal products at all. I buy grains (rice, quinoa, millet, oats), dried beans, peas, lentils, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and some pasta. I buy the 2-4-1 items at the more expensive stores and stock pile them. I buy produce from the farmers market and Aldi’s Supermarket. An example of Aldi’s prices are: five pounds of red potatoes .99cents, three pounds onions .99 cents, two pounds carrots .69 cents. I also buy some produce from Costco (six heads of romaine for $4). I make lots of soup, stew, salads and wraps/burritos. I also sprout seeds myself at home since they have a very high nutrition level. We drink water and homemade hot and iced tea. We live in Orlando, Florida.

  • Aja says:

    Great job Tony! I am also paying off debt since July of this year.

    I have paid off 3 credit cards and a finance company.
    I have 4 more to pay off credit cards.
    My goal is to pay of my student loan of $27,000.00 within 5 years.

    I do just about everything you have mentioned expect drive. I do not own a car. I find bringing my lunch saves lots of money. I do not go out as much as I used to, I still do date nights with my beau.
    I have stopped going to the malls and shopping for clothes.

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