The company where Hubby was employed as Data Processing Manager was bought by a competitor. He was in his mid-50s. Two years went by before he finally landed a job. But it paid less than half his previous salary and with no benefits.

Meanwhile, we sold our home, cashed out our 401(k), depleted our savings and accrued some debt.


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Photo credit: Unsplash


And then the news: “You’ve got cancer. And you’re probably going to die of it.”

Unfortunately, financial situations can oftentimes dictate how fully one can live. I’m referring to the stress of being in debt. The worry of the husband for his wife after he dies.

Hubby and I find a balance. Yes, we needed to be wise and frugal with our finances, and we needed to live while he still had life.

There are entire books and courses on getting one’s finances in order, but I offer our experience here as 6 ways that helped lead us toward having more fun:

1. Work at becoming debt free. Our main financial goal was to become debt free once again. With Hubby now working, we concentrated on paying extra toward any monthly requirements. We determined in advance to put any unexpected cash toward debt reduction. Hubby negotiated with credit card companies for a lower interest rate, which allowed for a quicker pay-off. Becoming debt-free didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. And we were incredibly glad we made this a priority.

2. Draft a budget. We set up a spreadsheet and logged every expense. From the accumulative numbers we built a reasonable budget, cutting back where we could—i.e., Christmas gifts for grandkids only and no unnecessary expenses, such as cable TV. The only line item that was a splurge was one Hubby insisted on building into the budget. Chai tea. “It’s the one thing I can afford to buy you,” he said. Two days a week — a tall Chai.


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I kinda like my new name – Marley


3. Reconsider your vehicles. We had a nice, almost-paid-off pick-up truck that we traded in for a used vehicle to eliminate monthly payments. I’ll be honest here; every decision we made was accompanied by some amount of self-pity. And frustration. The pick-up truck, for example. If we could have held on just a few months longer, we’d own a dependable vehicle free and clear. Instead, we ended up with a less-than-dependable vehicle. Later, though, when gas prices started rising, we were glad we didn’t own that nice pick-up truck.

4. Consider downsizing. Since we had sold our home and were renting by this time, it was easy to make the decision to downsize into an 800-sq. ft. duplex. Not wanting to pay storage costs, we gave away thirty-something years of accumulative furnishings. A smaller place, lower utility payments, lower monthly rent. (Also less square footage to vacuum, fewer things to dust.)

5. Contribute toward retirement, even when it seems too little too late. Hubby and I discussed contributing toward a 401(k) again. It seemed so hopeless at the time. What would this pitiful contribution produce? But we set a small amount aside with each of my paychecks. After one year of employment, the hospital contributed matching funds up to six per cent of my salary. Basically free money. And so we raised our contribution to six per cent. When I took an early retirement nearly eight years later, this small investment had become a not-insignificant amount.

6. Don’t raise your standard of living. Yet. After clearing off all debt, we didn’t raise our standard of living. Instead, we stayed on budget and lived off one income as much as possible. We stashed away the other income for adventures across the country wherever we had speaking engagements. Touring through New England, driving across Alligator Alley, visiting the Grand Canyon, hiking in the Rockies and the Tetons.


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Most of what we did was commonsense for our particular situation. If you’re serious about getting your finances in order, there are several books available. One is by Dave Ramsey entitled The Total Money Makeover, a #1 bestseller in budgeting and money management.

(On the front cover is a photo of the author cutting up a credit card. While cutting up credit cards is sound advice for many, Hubby and I had a history of managing credit cards well. After we paid off debt, we got an airline credit card in order to accrue airline miles since our kids and grands lived a continent away. We charged everything—including groceries—and paid the card off each month, making sure that what we charged was within budget. As a result, we’ve enjoyed several *free* flights between Oregon and Jersey.)

I am here to report that becoming debt free and living smaller and simpler is so worth it. Especially if that most loved person in your life has a terminal illness and you want to squeeze in as much quality, stress-free, memory-making living as possible.

What about you? Do you have debt-free tips to share? Do you wish you could be debt free? What are you going to do about it?

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