Defense is a Game Changer

We have been to many different sporting events – baseball, soccer, hockey, football – you name it!  One sport that doesn’t immediately come to mind is roller derby, and before this past weekend, that was one sporting event we had never experienced.

Pete’s niece moved to Texas about five years ago and shortly after her move she joined a roller derby team. This past weekend we finally got to see her play in a bout! If you are not familiar with the sport, roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams skating around a flat track in a counter-clockwise motion. There are five players from each team on the track at a time, with each team having one Jammer, one Pivot and three Blockers. The Jammer’s job is to get through the pack as many times as possible to score points. The Pivot acts as a blocker and communicates to the other Blockers about who is coming from behind and where to move. The Blockers’ job is to prevent the opposing team’s Jammer to get through the pack, or conversely, to make space for their Jammer to get through and score points. There are many rules and penalties, and if this sounds confusing, it is! But when you actually watch a roller derby bout it all starts to make sense.

Not only was this the first bout in which we saw Pete’s niece play, but it was the first bout in which she played with a new team. She did great! Especially since she usually plays Pivot or Blocker and she had to step outside her comfort zone and play Jammer for part of the bout. It got me thinking about something Pete and I often tell people when they ask us how we were able to pay off over $332,000 in debt.  The best answer is Pete played offense and I played defense.  It sounds a little corny, but it’s the truth. I remember feeling at times that his role in our team was more important than mine – he was the Jammer. He was making more money, not just at his regular job, but in all of the various side jobs he was doing to help us pay off our bills. He was scoring all the points. I vividly remember one afternoon when I told him about how I saved $45 at the grocery store using coupons – he said something I never expected (and at the time didn’t completely understand). He said I played great defense.

In one of Pete’s favorite books, The Millionaire Next Door, by  Thomas Stanley and William Danko, the authors profiled actual millionaires and performed an extensive and detailed analysis to define today’s typical millionaire.  They determined most millionaires live a frugal lifestyle, living well below their means. They do not accumulate wealth only by “playing good offense” (earning a lot), but by also “playing good defense” (developing frugal habits and living simply). In other words, playing defense is just as important to your financial game plan as playing offense.  While Pete was doing his part by increasing our family’s income, my seemingly insignificant contributions – clipping coupons, planning home-cooked meals based on what was on sale at the grocery store and looking for the best deal when we did have to buy something – were just as important to our end result. All of these little things were instrumental in our ability to pay off our debt and change our financial future.

Playing defense isn’t difficult, it just requires  a little bit of thought and planning. Here are just a few of ways you can play defense:

Coupons: paper coupons, digital coupons, store coupons – however you can get ‘em! One of my favorite grocery stores has weekly buy one get one (bogo) deals, offers digital coupons and also offers store coupons which you can stack on top of manufacturer (paper or digital) coupons.  This store also frequently offers a gas card promotion where you get $10 off a $50 gas card of your choice if you buy $50 worth of groceries.  I make a point to stock up on certain items when they are on sale (think toothpaste, shampoo, paper goods, laundry detergent) so we don’t run out and end up having to buy these items at full price.

Cash back apps and websites:  A great supplement to couponing is the iBotta app. This is similar to digital couponing in which you have to scroll through and select your offers ahead of time; however, after you purchase the items, you take a photo of your store receipt to redeem your offers and you receive cash back. I also use Ebates when shopping online, especially during the holidays. There are often discount codes available, on top of the cash back offer for each store. They also offer in-store cash back for some stores.

Cooking:  When we were paying off debt, we rarely went out to eat and almost always packed a lunch to bring to work/school.  I planned our meals and snacks around what was on sale at the grocery store. There are SO MANY recipe websites, you will never have a shortage of ideas. If you are looking for easy, inexpensive and delicious recipes, I recommend BudgetBytes. If you want to find recipes using ingredients you already have on hand (or bought on sale), you can check out SuperCook. This site enables you to select the ingredients you have and it will return recipe results using those ingredients.

Again, these are just a few of the ways in which we reduced expenses. Expenses can be reduced in other areas, too – cutting cable, switching cell phone plans/providers, shopping for competitive insurance or health care rates, driving less and walking or riding a bike – just about any way you can think to reduce your expenses will benefit your financial game plan.

I might even argue that playing good defense is slightly more important than playing good offense. While you can reach your financial goals faster by playing good offense, playing good defense changes you. It has a longer lasting effect and impact on your future than your earnings alone.  Changing your spending habits enables you to simplify your life and identify what is truly important to you.  I had mentioned in an earlier post that the act of consistently making a budget and sticking with it over time helped me to realize there was very little I actually needed to be happy. Although it was initially uncomfortable for me to step outside my comfort zone, I eventually found myself choosing to live with less! I realized I didn’t miss many of the things I had thought I needed. I had simply bought into the lie that we need all of this STUFF to live our best lives – this message is fed to us relentlessly by retail media.  It wasn’t until I tried living without some of that stuff that I came to the realization that most of that stuff didn’t actually make my life any better or easier. If anything, in some ways it complicated my life unnecessarily and ultimately distracted me from the things that really matter.

One final note in favor of playing good defense is that it has a two-fold effect with regard to early retirement. Reducing your expenses (spending) increases the amount of money you can save each month AND in turn permanently decreases the amount you will need to live on each month. Mr. Money Mustache describes the Shockingly Simple Math behind this far more eloquently than I can – you check out his blog post about it here.