Newish GRS reader Jennifer is beginning her financial journey, and she shared her strategy so far.

So here I am, mid-30s, buried in an obscene amount of credit card debt, and very little to show for it other than my piles and piles of STUFF. Man, I love me some stuff.

I’ve lived in denial for years… “Yes, I have a lot of credit card debt, but so long as I can pay my bills each month, I’m doing OK. I’ll just worry about paying off the debt later… when I’m making more money.”

Well, later is here, and I’ve finally faced the fact that my debt shackles are the only things keeping me from living the life I want… one where I can afford to take time off work to travel (without going further into debt), or perhaps taking a lower-paying job in a field that I’m truly passionate about, or opening that little cheese shop of my dreams. It’s time to get SERIOUS.

So I’ve done the usual things — consolidated my debt between one interest-free credit card and one low-interest loan, both with aggressive payoff schedules, and automatic payments coming out of my account each month — yadda yadda yadda. I hope to be out of debt in two years.

Now comes the hard part (the fun part?): the lifestyle changes. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of stuff. (I’m not talking “hoarder” levels of stuff, just more stuff than any one person reasonably needs to live a satisfying life). Here’s the thing about having a lot of stuff: you have to find places to put it. And as your collection of stuff grows, that gets harder and harder. And then stuff gets buried in closets and drawers – wherever you can find space. And then it’s out of sight, out of mind. So you forget you have it (or can’t find it), so you buy more stuff! It’s a vicious cycle.

Step 1 – Time to downsize.

I set a goal of reducing my stuff by a third. Now, I didn’t put all my stuff on a scale, so I can’t say for sure that I’ve actually accomplished this, but I did fill my living room with massive piles of stuff that all went the way of Goodwill, consignment, Craigslist, Freecycle, recycling, and trash. The clutter is gone, things are organized, and I can finally see what I’ve really got. (How did I end up with five nail clippers?)

Step 2 – Use the stuff I’ve got!

This is a fantastically easy way to cut back on spending. The downsizing effort led to a lot of “I totally forgot I had this! I can definitely make use of one of these!” type discoveries. I found a 2-quart pitcher buried in a box that probably hasn’t been unpacked in at least three moves. So now, instead of buying juice at $3.29 a pop, I buy a zero-calorie powdered lemonade mix for $2.39 and mix it up at home – 10-plus quarts for less than the price of one. I love collecting cloth napkins of all different prints and colors when I find them on sale… but then I never use them! That’s about to change. The last package of paper napkins I purchased is about to run out, and when it does, I’m switching to cloth napkins. (Added bonus – less waste!)

Step 3 – Consume the consumables.

This could really be a subset of Step 2, but in my case, it deserves to be called out in its own step. Seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve realized that I need to make a conscious effort in this area.

  • Food.

I love buying food. In fact, grocery visits make up the bulk of my compulsive spending. I buy neat ingredients that I think might be fun to use, and then they languish on the shelf… or worse, they go bad before I get around to eating them and they get tossed. I’ve pulled everything out of the dark corners of my pantry and cabinets and set it all on the counter – and it’s going to stay there until it gets consumed. No buying anything outside of the meat-cheese-veggie basics until I get through what I’ve already got.

  • Beauty products.

I’ve probably got six bottles of half-used lotions, and I’m not buying another bottle until they are all gone. I’ve got at least a dozen different hair products that I’ve used once or twice, and more make-up than I’ll ever get around to using… and here’s the kicker – I almost never wear makeup or put product in my hair! Which brings me to Step 4…

Step 4 – Be mindful of what I actually use.

Yes, my hair is often flat and listless, so when I come across some magical new product that’s going to fill my hair with body and bounce, I just have to have it. But then I try it out a few times, give up, and it sits on the shelf collecting dust. I don’t need to spend any more money on hair products. Sure that new lotion smells pretty, or promises to leave my skin looking young and fresh, but I know that I have one lotion that I love, and it’s really all I need. So now, when I’m in the store, considering buying some shiny new object of desire, I ask myself, “Do I need this? No. Will I wear/use/eat this? Probably not. Can I live without it? Most definitely.”

This effort is definitely a work in progress. I’m only about a month in on seriously adopting these lifestyle changes, but so far it’s been a pretty fun challenge! I’m definitely not missing anything, and it’s exciting when I come up with a new small change I can easily make that will save me money in the long run. I look forward to adding more steps.

So, Readers, what are your steps for simple lifestyle changes that save you money?

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