I have zero debt. Am I weird?

I’m always in awe of people who have all the toys. These people have the latest iPod, the newest big screen TV, and that Wii thing. These people really love their stuff, and freely talk about stuff-gathering with me at work. It’s kinda funny how these same people also have lines of credit, maxed-out credit cards, and no money left after pay day.

I must be weird. I don’t have lines of credit, maxed-out credit cards, and most of my paycheck goes directly into savings. I do have nice things though. I purchased new furniture this year, I participate in an expensive sport, and I have a stunning diamond ring.

credit card debt

So why am I worth six-figures while others shuffle debt?

Do I have a lucrative job? Nope. I make an average salary for my age group, according to the November 2007 issue of MoneySense Magazine.

Did I win the lottery or inherit buckets of money? Nope. I’ve never played the lottery, and my family is alive and well. Although I have been promised a pretty set of china tea cups from my grandmother.

Did I play the stock market and strike it rich on a flashy investment? Nope. I’ve invested small portions of money slowly over time. I invest in index funds and ETFs. I’m pretty boring about investing, actually.

Do I own a house, condo, or other real estate? Nope. I am a renter and have been renting for well over a decade.

So, how did I get to be worth six-figures and still afford some nice stuff? It’s pretty simple really, here’s how:

1. Rent:

I am a proud renter. I don’t pay condo fees, mortgage interest, or maintenance. I save the money that would otherwise go towards mortgage interest and invest it. My rent is 1K a month. In the past six years real estate has gone bonkers in terms of pricing. Renting has been the better dealio after running my the Rent Vs. Own numbers in my city of residence. With so many people up to their eyeballs in mortgage debt, I feel pretty good with having growing (and diversified) investments.

2. Live below your means:

Everyone always says to live below your means…but I don’t think people really get it. Living below your means requires one to spend far less than what they earn.

3. Track the moolah:

I figure if you’re going to live below your means, you’ve really got to know what your means entail. You’ve got to track the money flow. I use Quicken, and I track every penny. Yes, EVERY PENNY.

4. Don’t buy it today:

Most people have a hard time delaying gratification. They want the latest and greatest “thing” now, today, pronto! By delaying gratification and not buying the hot new toy today, I save lots of money by buying used or discounted items tomorrow. It’s amazing how prices of gadgets and stuff drop after a few months on the market.

5. Buy used:

I tend to buy lots of used stuff. My dining room furniture was purchased used from craigslist.com. I’ve also purchased used sporting equipment from kijiji.ca. My sister also bought baby goods and maternity clothing used from these sites. Buying used saves A LOT of moolah! Do yourself a huge financial favour by browsing Buy and Sell lists before hitting the shops.

6. Don’t buy crap:

The best way to avoid debt is to stop buying crap. Most of the stuff out there is crap. Crap doesn’t hold it’s value. Crap takes up space. Crap is stuff you use a few times and put it aside in favor of the next crappy purchase. Crap is bought to perhaps help feel emotionally better one day, fill a short-term desire, or as an unplanned splurge. Crap costs you money. Avoid crap.

7. Move the moolah:

This is really simple. Every time I get paid, I move a portion of my moolah to a savings or investment account. I move my moolah every pay, without fail. Some people call this “automatic savings”. I just call it common sense. I figure, why I am working so many hours if I have nothing to show for it at the end of the week! Moving my moolah every pay is the significant reason why I am finally sound.

8. Get rich (and skinny) by brown bagging lunch:

I bring my lunch to work everyday. I figure the average lunch costs about $10. Doing the math, $10 X 5 day = $50 bucks. Doing more math, this is $200 bucks a month! The yearly total is: $2,400 for just lunch! OUCH. Besides, eating out can be pretty unhealthy. I find that bringing my lunch everyday not only saves me big bucks, but I can control the healthfulness of the food I eat. So yes, I get rich and skinny at the same time.

9. Make dinner at home:

This is really a continuation of item #8. I tend to plan my dinners weekly every Sunday and prepare LOTS of leftovers. I then use the leftovers for my weekly dinners and some lunches. I save HUGE money, lots of time, and stay skinny!

10. Bike to work:

I don’t own a car. I haven’t owned a car in over 12 years. Biking to work everyday makes me wealthy and skinny at the same time. It’s kinda funny how all the free and inexpensive forms of transportation can make you slim and rich. If you live in a city with good transportation it’s pretty easy to ditch your car and take transit, or better yet, ride your bike!

I have a feeling I will be adding to this list over time. I have many tricks for saving money and keeping healthy. What are your tips?

fox

Your two cents:

  1. Thomas January 28th, 2008

    Renting is a big one! The situation where I live makes it much better to rent as well. You miss out on the intangible feeling of owning your own home but then, for me, it’s much less stress having a portfolio of liquid assets rather than a giant mortgage liability.

    Entertainment saving tips: rent DVDs instead of going out to a movie; use an antenna (if possible where you live) instead of cable–we get crystal clear digital channels from the U.S. (some of them HD) and all the major Canadian networks (albeit very blurry analogue quality); use the public library instead of buying books (if possible where you live); if you do go out for dinner, try not to order alcohol… or order less…

  2. Beth January 28th, 2008

    Lean and toned, not skinny!
    I’d like to add:
    *contribute to RRSPs.
    *take advantage of any company matching programs that your place of employment may have
    *grow your own veggies/herbs/fruit — whatever your space allows for, and shop farmer’s markets for produce, not only do you get fresher, local produce and support the local farming industry, it’s cheaper than anywhere else.
    *drink tap water. the amount that people spend on bottled water, juices, sodas, coffees and other beverages is ridiculous. bottled water costs more than gasoline and nearly everywhere in Canada has more than adequate tap water.
    *if your bank is not giving you free banking, fire them. there are plenty of institutions who will give you free banking *and* high interest. 10 dollars a month in fees may be the average, but it’s certainly not acceptable.

  3. Sue February 5th, 2008

    Great post. I really like the advice on buying crap.

  4. fox February 5th, 2008

    Thank you for your kind words Sue. I think I need to write a full post just on crap. I feel there’s more to say on the subject.

  5. S February 25th, 2008

    I have zero debt, 1,000,000 in equity. Never inherited a penny, smoked for 15 years drank 1500 dollars a month ate out every breakfast, lunch and dinner. I earned 5K a month on average.

    How did I do it? I’m 29 years old. Heheh.. Maybe I should write a book.

  6. kentuckyliz February 27th, 2008

    Debt doesn’t really have a lot to do with net worth. On meager then average earnings, I was worth six figures even with five figures of debt taken into account. My debt is down to four figures and close to extinction.

    The secret: start disciplined automatic investing YOUNG (I started at 22) and go all in on equities.

    EMILY. Early money is like yeast: it makes the dough rise.

    So while I was stupid with debt, it didn’t stop me from prospering anyway. LOL Even doing things half right works.

    (I’ve gotten smart about debt, simple living, avoiding crap in recent years. Which just accelerates my net worth growth and wealthbuilding.)

  7. fox February 27th, 2008

    Hi kentuckyliz: Congrats to getting your debt close to extinction. πŸ™‚ I haven’t heard of “EMILY” before, but it makes PERFECT sense. It’s so true about investing and saving when young.

    Why is youth always wasted on the young? πŸ˜‰

  8. rob February 28th, 2008

    I agree with all you said especially the crap buying! I will argue your number 1.

    ” I don’t pay condo fees, mortgage interest, or maintenance” – You are not directly paying those bills but you actually are paying someone else’s condo fees, mortgage insurance, and interest through your rent payment. Not only that you are paying a bit more most likely to get the landlord a positive cashflow on your unit.

    I own a rental and believe me that my renter pays all the bills associated with it and then some.

  9. moneygardener March 5th, 2008

    I absolutely love #7. It seems simple but I don’t think a lot of people do this habitually. I basically do the exact same thing…”Move the Moolah”!

  10. Chickadee March 8th, 2008

    Your list is very good. We live on a relatively small income, and are debt-free. Most people I know earn a lot more, and live lavishly on credit. Each side thinks the other is weird. People might think, because we live simply and frugally, that we are poor, but they would be wrong!

    Here are my tips:
    – Buy high-quality items and maintain them well, so that they last as long as possible
    – Learn Do-It-Yourself skills; you save a lot, and the government can’t tax the work you do for yourself (as it would when you hire a service, such as painting).
    – Barter labor or materials with others, instead of buying
    – Drink tap water most of the time. Flavored water is a ‘want’, not a need.

    I really like your item, “Don’t buy Crap”. Probably because I hate crap, too. I noticed that our little house seems much larger, now that I have decluttered it. Even used crap can become a problem! Less really is more, in every way.

    We live in an inexpensive yet beautiful rural area, where it is generally cheaper to own a house than to rent. It’s our choice to live here. Our property includes over 100 acres of woodland with a creek running through it, and a modest house which will be about 900 sq. ft. when the renovation is complete. For us, living in a natural area is priceless; we would not trade it for a mansion. There is no public transportation here, so we drive well-maintained old cars (one is 1989!). Property taxes and living costs are relatively low here. Our heating cost is less than $50/year, (gas/oil for the chainsaw, cutting our own wood).

  11. fox March 8th, 2008

    Chickadee: You make an excellent point about buying high quality items which last when maintained. I too do this. Shelling out a bit more up front for a NEEDED item really pays dividends when it lasts for years. Ohh, and bottled or flavored water is also crap, for sure. I only drink tap. Tap water is also far better for the environment considering all the production and recycling needed for plastic bottles. Where you live sounds like a dream scape. You lucky birdie you. I too live in a wooded area off the beaten path. I used to be a city dweller, but have given it all up for rural living. You sound like a kindred spirit.

  12. last-minute-stef July 19th, 2008

    A friend of mine told me “… it’s not about how much you make but how much you SAVE.” An obvious truth I never want to forget.

    Great Post!

  13. S November 10th, 2008

    It is really easy.

    Make sure at all times Assets > Liabilities.

    Then use 100% of the extra money to purchase more Assets.
    And Assets are very strictly defined by this maxim.
    Something that brings you money on a regular basis.

    If it costs you something, or less then what it brings you it is a liability.

  14. Betsy Bargain March 2nd, 2009

    I agree with you that avoiding debt is the key to thriving financially. The only debt I have is a mortgage on a rental property. I view it as an investment. It just breaks even now, but someday it will pay my bills.

  15. dlm May 26th, 2009

    You’re absolutely right about renting being better than buying. We bought in the last couple years after renting forever because we thought it was then or never. Can’t wait for the market to improve to sell and break even. Renting is much less expensive and doesn’t leave you stuck. Condos are horrible dealing with trying to get agreement on budgets etc. There is no recourse (other than the provincial supreme court in two years) if you disagree. At least if you hate your job you get away from it at night. We have the wrong personality for communal living. And a house we bought had screaming screaming kids move in next door. Took us a year to sell away from that.

  16. It's lonely at the TOP. November 12th, 2009

    Yes, it’s lonely at the TOP… Only about 1% of Americans live the way you describe.

    My wife and I live in a small 1 bedroom apartment.

    EVERYONE keeps telling us to buy a house or get a 2/3 bedroom apartment… YEA RIGHT..

    We pay $750 for a LUXURY apartment with washer+dryer, Cable, High speed WiFi, water, pest control, ZERO: Taxes, Insurance, Maintenance. Etc. etc.

    It would be STUPID for us to purchase a house when we can live the way we do for only $750 per month.

    Together my wife and I earn about $75,000 per year so you can imagine the $$$$ we accumulate with no kids.

    I see us retiring in another 5 years and traveling the WORLD.

    Screw those who cannot see the reality of DEBT.

    We are 100% DEBT FREE at 37 years old.

  17. Kerry November 12th, 2009

    @It’s lonely at the TOP — You rock. Sock that moolah away and stay lonely without the debt. I’ll be lonely with you. πŸ˜‰

  18. Martin777 November 15th, 2009

    Owning a House is a lot like Gambling, the Longer you play the game the more likely you are to loose money!! The longer you live in your house the more likely you are to need a major repair that is going to cost you a LOT of money. Once you make that first repair, your “invested” so if anything else breaks, well you’ll just have to fix that as well because you’ve already lost XXX Dollars on the last repair… It’s a never ending cycle of Fixing, Spending, Borrowing more money and trying to stay ahead of the fact that your house is falling apart. Your only hope is to sell it NOW before something else needs to be fixed but if you want to sell it, it has to PASS A HOME INSPECTION so you better spend a little more to get it PERFECT if you want to sell it… Yea, it would be cheaper to just stay where you are than move.. The cycle continues.

    Cost of owning a house:

    1. Mortgage Interest on the loan.
    2. Property Taxes
    3. Property Insurance
    4. Full Utility bills for a large house with many rooms.
    5. Maintenance cost including ALL repairs on AC, Pluming, electrical, ROOF, Foundation, etc.
    6. Any necessary Updates to keep the house current.
    7. ALL Appliance replacement and Repair cost
    8. Real Estate Fees and Closing Cost when selling.
    9. Moving Cost

    I’m so glad I RENT…;)

  19. RaspberrySwirl November 15th, 2009

    I too live simply, rent, avoid debt and save fanatically. Now that I’m 30, I’m noticing that others tend to think less of apartment dwellers in general (there are some very bad apartment communities in my area). Even though I live in a “luxury” complex, I’m still seen as somehow deficient for not having a house. I’ve had coworkers nag me for hours about how homes are so affordable here, and that a mortgage would be less than my rent is now, but they don’t understand that I like the convenience renting brings. If I want to cut ties and move to europe, I could, whereas all of their money and time is tied up with keeping up their homes, repairs and renovations and protecting their property values. I also feel a lot safer up in my third floor loft with gates and security than I would in some of the neighborhoods here.

  20. How to win the Rent Vs Own argument November 20th, 2009

    When you rent you will inevitably encounter those who feel they should convince you that making payments a house is better than paying rent. Here is how I win these arguments.

    1. When you rent you don’t pay: Mortgage Interest, Insurance, Property Taxes, Repair Cost, or Excess Bills such as a higher power bill due to so many rooms in the house Or the fact that Cable and Internet are often available for FREE when you rent along with water/sewer, pest control. etc. There are many reasons why RENTING means LESS $$$ out of your pocket over a 1 year period.

    But when you sell you get ALL that money back and some!! This statement is ONLY true if you keep the house for 10+ years and even then if you add in ALL the cost associated with living in the house and keeping it maintained this is a FALSE statement. You’ll be lucky if you break even when you sell.

    But Houses always go up on value… True, but the longer you keep a house the more you have to spend on Maintenance Cost to keep the house in good condition.

    But Rent always Increases and when you own a house your payments stay the same…. PROPERTY TAXES increase over time just like rent, along with Insurance Rates and Maintenance Cost increases as well the longer you own the house. Sooner or later you WILL need a new roof, Hot water heater or new driveway. Rent does not ALWAYS go up… I have lived in the same Luxury Condo for 4 years and my rent has NEVER increased.

    But with a Mortgage you get the Income Deduction!!! This is total NONSENSE… You pay $1.00 in interest to save .10 on your taxes.

    This argument is easier now that the Housing Bubble burst in 2008… Many people are now DEEP in debt for a house that is dropping in value like the Titanic.

  21. Rob January 5th, 2013

    Hi I just wanted to add to the rent vs buy thing I think buying is a better bet for some if they are smart with there money like me. I saved most of my money when I was younger mind you I am only 26. bought a house for half of what the bank was going to give me and payed 50% as my down payment I’m only paying 450 month @ 2.89% for 5 years ill have the house payed off in less then 5 years and there goes paying rent for the rest of your life ppl who buy just don’t buy smart hope this help ppl

  22. Ellie February 15th, 2014

    We used to rent, but were swayed into buying by friends and family. It has been a nightmare. If you rent and get bad neighbours, you can hand in notice and move. It has taken over a year to get a buyer for this place! We’ve also paid out a lot more in repairs than expected (and this house isn’t particularly old). My job changed location a year after we bought, and as I was unable to get another job closer to home without a pay cut, I’ve had to add a massive commute to my day. People forget that buying a home ties you into that area. If the area worsens or the house depreciates due to the market, then you still have to keep paying the mortgage that you iniatlly agreed back when the house or neighborhood was worth more.

    Although house prices have gone up recently, we have spent the majority of the profit over the years in other costs. I dread to think what the overall cost would have been if we had to move in a bad housing market. People also forget that when you move, if you are moving into another house and house prices have gone up, then you also end up paying more for the house you move into. So overall, you don’t actually make any money. The sale profit goes towards the other seller’s sale profit, and so on. We won’t get to spend any of the profit we’ve made on other things. I guess we could move abroad to somewhere much cheaper or downsize to a smaller place, but our current house isn’t huge and we want to start a family so will need more room. We also want to stay in this country as our family and friends are here. If we had rented until now and saved the money, then we would still be in exactly the same position. Except a lot less stressed!

    If you can rent then rent. There are a few specific areas where I believe rental costs would be much much higher and therefore not worth it (although the house prices in that area would also be ridiculously high and therefore out of reach of the average person – why landlords there can get away with charging so much on rent). But on the whole, if you are not fussed about having the freedom to renovate, redecorate, knock through walls, etc then renting is definitely the best option.

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