Sunday, December 3, 2023

On the Threshold of Debt

LOC: Farmer just home from work, about to do odd jobs to earn money to help pay off debt, 1942.

The current economy has put a massive strain on many household budgets. Those who live on a small income are struggling to buy groceries, pay their electric bill, and have necessary transportation.  We have noticed the rising cost of food and utilities. We have also noticed a shortage of affordable used cars.  This can have a negative impact on low income families.

For all of my married years, we have been able to buy old cars for a few thousand dollars. We would pay cash using tax refunds, or money that had been saved over a long period of time.  We expected to pay for repairs and make these cars last for a few years and then repeat the process.  In this way, we have never had a car payment.  We wanted to avoid going into debt. We did not feel like it was a safe thing to do. With the current shortage of affordable cars, this system is no longer working for us.

When facing the possibility of necessary debt, there is a sense of anxiety or fear.  I am realizing that while it is normal to have a mortgage on one's home, it may also be necessary to take out a loan to buy a car.  This is something I have never had to deal with.  It is the debt that troubles me. When the budget is already as low as possible, and paying for necessities is already a struggle, it seems frightening to go into debt to buy a vehicle. 

However, I am finding courage thinking about old farm families who worked incredibly hard to pay off their debts as fast as they could.  There is a method to getting rid of debt.  In the 1800's book, "Stepping Heavenward," by  Elizabeth Prentiss, there is a struggle with money for a period of time for the newly married "Katy."  Her husband had taken on the responsibility of paying off his elderly father's debts. This left the purse nearly empty and kept the house funds very low.  The family went without. They had to not only make their own clothes, but spend a great deal of time each day mending and repairing what they already had. The kitchen table was not always bountiful.  There was more labor without much to show for it. But eventually the debt was repaid and this brought great relief to the household.  They could finally afford necessary items again and there was a sense of peace about their finances.

As for our ongoing car troubles, I have lived without a car for long periods of time. During those times, I was able to carpool with others for grocery trips and errands.  It was a hardship, but we got by until there was enough money to buy a dependable vehicle.  My circumstances have changed and this is no longer possible.  We need a good car for essential medical trips.  We have to go to a hospital in the next state for ongoing treatment.  This situation alone makes it necessary for us to have a decent car.  Because of this, we are making inquiries with banks and such to see what options we have for a loan.  We need the payments to be as low as possible so we can somehow manage each month through good times and bad until we get the debt paid off.

I am thinking of all the little ways I can cut down on the bills so we can pay for a loan.  I will share some of the things I am doing to free up some money each month, in hopes that it might help someone else who is in similar circumstances:

1.  To save on beverages such as juices and such - I am drinking mostly ice water each day.

2. I stopped buying my favorite (peppermint) tea. I will use up what I already have and then switch to ice water. 

3. I have grapefruit every day with my breakfast. This is cut in half and then I eat one fourth each day. In this way, one grapefruit lasts me for four days. 

4. Since groceries are one of the biggest expenses in our home, we are choosing very plain food that doesn't cost very much. We are eating food that is nutritious but not what is considered a luxury.  We are also very careful with portions and make the food last. 

4. I am saving money on stamps by paying most of my bills by phone. 

5. I keep things unplugged as much as possible. For example: when we use the toaster oven, we always unplug it after use. (Every little thing we can do to reduce the electric bill will help save money.)  

6. We use nightlights in some of the rooms of this house.  I also make my breakfast, before the sun is up, with only the nightlight on in the kitchen. I find it is charming as it saves money on electricity.

7.  I read a lot of books for entertainment. I have a large collection of books so this doesn't cost anything. 

8. We stay home most of the time.  We keep busy here on our property with projects and spending time with our family, so there is little need to go anywhere other than for normal errands or church. This saves money on gas and also avoids the temptation to spend money while out and about.

9. I will mention one more thing. It is something that seems normal to me, but it might not to others.  We never eat out (unless we are away on a trip.)  This is not hard for us because we live in a rural area and the options are limited. But even if we did have a lot of restaurants around us, we simply cannot afford to eat out. We have lived this way for many years and are used to it.  Food from home costs very little and will save an enormous amount of money over time.

When it comes to facing the possibility of going into debt, it is important to realize the difference between consumer, materialistic debt (which used to be considered frivolous and dangerous) and necessary debt (for basic transportation and housing.)   Then make the effort at tightening expenses, living on less, and focusing on saving money and paying off the debt as soon as possible.  

Please also realize that one must not live on borrowed money. If we are struggling to buy food or pay for heat, we should reach out to food pantries, churches, and fuel assistance for help. If we don't have the cash to pay for these things, then we should seek help.

These are hard times we are enduring! But it is nothing new.  Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers also lived through hard times. Let us find joy and happiness in living a simple life, remembering that the Lord will guide us in good times and bad. He will walk with us through all of our lives. We are blessed. We are rich in peace and faith.  We will do our best to manage the income we have been provided with, and trust the Lord will take care of the rest.


Mrs. White

From the Archives

God's precious care of our lives (Includes a story about Mrs. Charles Spurgeon) - All of God's Children Have Shoes.

Peaceful old time Living - Quiet Duties of Home.  

Beautiful Summer days at home (and living on a "Walton's Budget") - Old Time Homemaking.

- To find out more about this blog, or Mrs. White, please visit our About page. -

Learn How To Manage Money on a Small Income, with this helpful book:

- It is an honor to be the bookkeeper for the house! - 

Find detailed instruction and inspiration in budgeting on a small income, along with a method for keeping a handwritten ledger, with lots of thrifty ideas, in Mrs.White's book:

 -An Old Fashioned Budget: Humble Financial Management for the Christian Housewife

 Paperback, 77 pages.


Rebecca Knox said...

I've never gone into debt for a vehicle, either. Our family has always done it the way yours back or save up money to purchase a used vehicle and make it last as long as possible, BUT, with the out-of-state hospital trips, it is essential that you have reliable transportation...especially in winter. I am praying wisdom and direction at every turn and trust that the Lord will lead you to a reliable vehicle at the lowest possible price. God bless you, Mrs. White! Despite all I wish you and yours a blessed and beautiful holiday season and a very Merry Christmas!

Patty B said...

I can certainly understand your concern about getting a reliable vehicle. We are facing the same problem. We have always had used cars, but even used cars these days are expensive. We have some cash saved but it's just not enough right now. The thought of getting a loan and having payments each month is something we don't even want to consider. I will pray that God answers your needs with a good vehicle soon. As for cutting back, a person can only do so much. You still have to maintain a healthy diet. Our biggest expense is electricity. Since we are on a fixed income any rise in electric rates hurts. We also use up what we can, never go out to eat, repair and mend items instead of buying new, and only buy what we absolutely need. We are fortunate to be able to have a large garden and I have filled the pantry and freezer with plenty for winter meals. Let us hope that things will turn around soon. I will pray for you Mrs. White - that things will go well for your medical journeys and that a good reliable car will come into your needs soon!

Suzette in Louisiana said...

Mrs. White,
I am praying for you. We have had some very lean years and I can relate to this post. I really enjoyed a post on like mother like daughter, Five things worse than being in debt. It's from 2009 and still very applicable. I hope it brings you comfort. God bless you! Praying an affordable used car is sent to your doorstep!

Martha Jane Orlando said...

Our society doesn't value what is truly valuable in life; instead it focuses on materialism. There are so many things we can live without if we are honest with ourselves.
Blessings, prayers and God's goodness be yours!

Elizabethd said...

What a very thoughtful and sensible post, Mrs White. I think that all round the world we are hearing of lean times with food prices far too high. Going into debt is the last thing one wants, but I so hope that you will find a reasonable loan arrangement for your vehicle. God bless you.

Lana said...

I am praying for a vehicle for your family that you can afford to buy with cash on hand. Twenty five years ago my neighbor desired to quit her job and stay at home with her children. But she had a company car for her job and had to have a vehicle to be able to stay home. They prayed and some missionaries returning to the field gave them an old Suburban. It was the ugliest thing with rust holes all over but her husband knew how to repair cars and do body work. So she was able to come home and it was just such an amazing thing that God did for her. He can answer for you as well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. White. I follow a blog named She and her husband live as much like generations past as possible and she give lots of advice. Perhaps you would find some ideas from her blog.

Anonymous said...

I have found that it saves me $50 a month to air dry laundry. Haven’t used our dryer in a couple years.

Jo said...

I had a thought while reading your post - next spring, perhaps you can get some peppermint to grow on your property. I think it needs to be in a planter, as it can take over like wildfire. But this would help you to have peppermint tea again.
Maybe a neighbor or church friend will be able to give you a start, so you won't have to spend any money for your mint.
Many prayers for your vehicle search.

Anonymous said...

For many years, we did the same. It wasn't until recently that we purchased a brand new vehicle for my husband. We found that the endless repairs and the unreliability of a used vehicle was very stressful on us and so we begin saving toward a vehicle years ago. Saving was also something new for us. It took a lot of discipline but the reward is that we now have a vehicle now that is dependable. We took our time, and researched well and I have to say that we have never been happier and our vehicle was paid for in very short order. I hope you can find a similar solutions and will eventually be able to have a reliable vehicle for your many needs.🙏

Laura Jeanne said...

I agree with everything you've said here, Mrs. White. I was also thinking as I read, that in the spring time, you can buy a small peppermint plant from a nursery and plant it somewhere on your estate where you don't mind if it will spread and come up year after year, and you will have a bountiful lifetime supply of peppermint tea for the cost of a single box of tea.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I Love your blog and your life advice! I have been following you for years, even when you had to stop posting for health reasons, we kept checking back to see if you had posted. Just a hint, it is very common where I live (Lancaster County PA) to grow peppermint for hot and cold tea. Once planted it grows every year and expands.It is picked, dried and boiled for tea. Thought this may appeal to you as a long term way to have tea every year! You and your family are in our prayers. It seems time grows short for those waiting for the Lord to take us to Heaven and troubles increase the closer He gets! God Bless you for all you do to encourage others even while you are struggling yourself. Sincerely, Jennifer

Debbie said...

Hello Mrs. White,
I know that many don't want to have a car loan, but it's important to have reliable transportation that doesn't break down and require thousands of dollars to repair. Especially when you're relying on it for medical situations. I believe there can be wisdom, even in these situations. I recently needed a different vehicle, so I estimated what my trade in value would be for my current vehicle, then called the bank and asked for a letter of approval for a small amount we could afford. With my vehicle and my letter for that small amount, I was able to negotiate a very good car for a very reasonable amount of debt.
This is a reality in our day and time. Sometimes we don't have time to save for years for the next vehicle. I also believe that some become very prideful over their debt-free status.
God will honor your effort and integrity to pay back your debt.

Merry Christmas and many blessings to you!