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Ditching Debt

Published : June 07, 2015

Juggling money can be tough at any time of the year but you may have found that January was a particularly strenuous time for money management – particularly if you have children at home. If you are still paying off credit cards from the start of the year's expenses and with school holidays just around the corner, following are some valuable hints and tips to ditch that debt.

By Alecia Hancock

Self-confessed Australian Queen of Thrift and author of new book Saving Money is Easy, Cath Armstrong says the New Year is a great time to revaluate your finances and start afresh with new saving and spending habits.

Cath says she discovered how easy it was to become spendthrift the hard way.  She had been a contented wife and mother of two boys, working part-time and renovating her home when disaster struck. “We were a perfectly normal two income family and in the space of three or four days we went from two incomes to no income and a baby on the way,” she says.

Spending came to a halt overnight and Cath says she had to learn to save the hard way.  “We stopped spending,” she says.  “If we absolutely did not need it, we didn’t have it. We walked wherever we could and I learned to cook.”

After discovering others were desperate for advice on how to cut costs, Cath began to share her knowledge eventually launching www.cheapskates.com.au and then bestselling book Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing.  Her latest book, Saving Money is Easy, is a month-to-month guide to ditching debt and building wealth.

Cath says having monthly goals makes it much easier for people who have never saved before or have been unsuccessful in the past.  “It could give them the boost they need to give it another go and be successful at it this time,” she says.

Here are some of Cath’s top suggestions for reducing your spending. 


Cath says the quickest way to save money is to reassess your grocery shopping.  “The biggest waste in Australia is food,” she says.  “The biggest cost for Australian households other than mortgage or rent is food.  So start off by looking at how you are cooking or shopping.”

Immediately cut 10% from your grocery budget, Cath advises.  “After your shop if you find you haven’t missed out on anything, try to trim it by another 10%.  See how it goes.  Some weeks there are lots of things you have to buy such as herbs, shampoo and toothpaste.  Occasionally you will have a big week.”

Rather than congratulating yourself on your saving, Cath says it is important to put that saving to work but physically putting the money away. “Being able to say I saved $38 is great, but pay it off your mortgage, pay it off a debt or put it into a savings account. Get into the habit of physically putting that money away so you don’t spend it.”


Although Cath says she has always cooked for her family it was only after disaster struck that she realised how much money she could save by cooking meals from scratch.

“I could grill a steak and toss a salad, but when it came to bottling or preserving, I knew nothing,” she says.

Cath says she not only started growing her own vegetables, she discovered how remarkably easy it was to make a lot of foods from scratch rather than buying the pre-packaged items she used to rely on.

Lunchbox Ideas & Tips

  • Variety is important in school lunches, but for young children stick to things they can eat quickly – all the want to do is play and a big lunch will be wasted.
  • Sandwiches and wraps pack well, but avoid anything wet or runny like tomato or beetroot.
  • During the hot weather add a half frozen bottle of water or frozen orange or mandarin segments.
  • Crackers and cheese or crackers and vegemite are a healthy, low-cost snack.

Cath says when disaster struck her family, they had never had a budget and no contingency plan for unexpected financial hardship.  Now Cath says her best piece of advice is always to have a spending plan so you can rediscover your money and how you are using it.

“A spending plan is essentially just a budget, although most people hate that word, if they hear the word budget they break out in a sweat,” Cath says with a laugh. “A spending plan is basically working out how you spend your money. In its simplest form it shows what comes in and what goes out.  That’s it in a nutshell.  If what’s going out is more than what’s coming in you’ve got a problem.

To get you started, Cath suggests to track your spending.

“Make a note of every cent you spend over the next four or five weeks,” Cath says.  “It is really easy to spend a lot more than you think as you are eating out more, drinking out more, driving more, buying more magazines, etc,” she says.

“It is about being conscious of where that money is going.  You may find a lot of it is stuff you didn’t want or you didn’t actually need. It is just another piece of clutter.


Cath says being thrifty doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the school holidays with your kids.

“Look for coupons and discount vouchers for anything from mini golf to the zoo, movie theatres and two for one offers for your favourite fast food restaurants – and use them,” Cath says.

“Also set a limit on how much you are going to spend each week.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  The kids need to understand Mum's purse isn’t like Mary Poppins bag, it isn’t limitless.”


Getting your kids ready to return to school can be an expensive exercise, but Cath says there are ways to save.

“Check for second hand school uniforms,” she says.  “Spending $70 for a summer dress they can only wear for a year is ridiculous.  Do the same thing for textbooks, look on websites like www.textbookexchange.com.au. If you look after a book you can then resell it next year and get your money back.”

Cath says kids may want a new school bag and a new lunchbox each year, but it’s not always necessary.  “Instead let junior decorate their old lunchbox with stickers,” she suggests.  “Backpacks will also clean up well, wash them in the washing machine and hang it upside down on a broom to dry.  If the zips still work, the straps work and it is sturdy – you don’t need a new one each year.” 

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