The Debt-Free Spending Plan: An Amazingly Simple Way to Take Control of Your Finances Once and for All


“JoAnneh Nagler has written an extraordinary book for extraordinarily challenging times. The Debt-Free Spending Plan will give you direct access to realizing a life in which you can truly experience peace, freedom, and sufficiency in your relationship with money. This is the right message at the right time — clear, practical, real, inspiring, and liberating!”

Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money; Founder and President of The Soul of Money Institute

“If you look at your ...

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“JoAnneh Nagler has written an extraordinary book for extraordinarily challenging times. The Debt-Free Spending Plan will give you direct access to realizing a life in which you can truly experience peace, freedom, and sufficiency in your relationship with money. This is the right message at the right time — clear, practical, real, inspiring, and liberating!”

Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money; Founder and President of The Soul of Money Institute

“If you look at your financial situation and find yourself confused, scared, and clueless as to what you should do, this book is for you. If dealing with numbers and creating a budget just isn’t your thing, this book is for you. If you want a simple plan to get debt-free and take control, this book is for you! Got it? This book is for you!”

Larry Winget, five time New York Times/Wall Street Journal bestselling author, including You’re Broke Because You Want to Be

The bills keep coming. Every month seems to hit you with unexpected expenses. You’re in debt and it feels like there’s no way out.

If it seems like every time you come close to getting a handle on your finances, you just sink deeper into the quicksand, you’re not alone. The Debt-Free Spending Plan—personally devised by someone who’s been through it herself and gotten out—was created for those who hate math, rarely balance their checkbooks, and need help now. The plan keeps things simple. It doesn’t matter whether you make $14,000 per year or $14 million per year, this practical, straightforward system shows you how to:

Put together an easy-to-manage bill-paying plan, and allocate money as it comes in

• Realistically downsize your expenses without feeling deprived

• Improve your relationships and family life by living within your means

• Pay back your debts, and—believe it or not—begin to save

The Debt-Free Spending Plan reveals how you can comfortably work with the money you have, and learn to live debt-free. Requiring no special skills, no deep psychological soul-searching, or complicated computer programs, this book provides you with a step-by-step plan that takes five minutes a day and will have you back on your feet within the first 30 days of using it.

Filled with straightforward daily spending strategies, real-life examples, and effortless expense-tracking tools, this is the easy-to-follow system you need in order to get out of debt and start living.

JOANNEH NAGLER is a former fundraiser and grantwriter who, spiraling in debt herself, was unable to find a simple, workable solution. She developed her own system—a five-minute-a-day approach that really works. She now coaches individuals and couples, using The Debt-Free Spending Plan to help them revolutionize their relationship with money. She lives in Burlingame, California.

You can reach JoAnneh through her website at

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Drawing on personal experience with debt, Nagler offers practical strategies for people who find their debts troubling or overwhelming, but who continue to buy on credit. Her “foolproof tools” are designed for those trying to take control of their money and lives, without donning a hair shirt of penurious sacrifice. Commonsensical rules such as drawing up lists of monthly bills and daily needs yield to surprises such as: “Don’t skip the Entertainment category in your Daily Needs list.” Nagler persuasively hammers home the larger objective of these exercises: “What do we love? That’s where our extra cash should be going.” The first step to financial independence is the simple principle of not spending money we don’t have. Total spending must be constrained, but the elements must also be in proportion and money must be allocated for flat tires, doctor visits, and other inevitable setbacks. Those concerned with tackling debt in the immediate present would do well to work toward Nagler’s goals. Agent: Herb Schaffner, Schaffner Media Partners. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

""...clearly written for anyone who has ever said: “It’s impossible for me to save or invest. I can’t even pay my bills.” -- The New York Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814432433
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 10/10/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 528,539
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

JOANNEH NAGLER was once mired in debt. Unable to find a simple, work able solution in existing literature, she developed her own system—a five-minute-a-day approach that really works. She now coaches individuals and couples, using The Debt-Free Spending Plan to help them revolutionize their relationship with money.

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Read an Excerpt

The Debt-Free Spending Plan

An Amazingly Simple Way to Take Control of Your Finances Once and for All


Copyright © 2013 JoAnneh Nagler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-3243-3

Chapter One

The Heart of Our Debting Issues

IN THE PAST two decades, a plethora of books on personal finance have hit our best-seller lists. Almost all of them tell us to get out of debt, to live on a budget, and to invest. They deliberate the reasons why debt is a "bad investment"—that is, we pay much more for products and services because of interest and inflation—but these books almost never tell us how, specifically, to get out of debt and how to stop going into debt. They tell us that having a budget is a necessity, but they don't tell us how to create and live by one—a realistic daily one. Some straight-talking authors give readers monthly bottom lines and even delineate spending categories, but nobody—I mean nobody!—gives a practical, daily strategy to help us stop our compulsiveness and live within our means.

Most finance books tell us to make investments. And that's all very nice and neat for those of us who believe we are responsible financially or who are motivated by money math. But for those of us who are already in debt or are in spending trouble, this kind of advice is disastrous.

Invest? Who are you kidding? We can barely make our rent and credit card bills each month. We owe the IRS two years of back taxes. Retirement? We shrink at the very word. Pay ourselves first? In what dream world? Budget? Come on! We can't bring ourselves to write down on paper what we already think we know—that we don't have enough to live on and we're carelessly overspending anyway.

So those of us who need financial coaching the most tune out, turn off, and close these books for good, almost as soon as we open them. And if we're in the cycle of debt—entitlement, addictive overspending, guilt, and regret—these financial admonitions most often make us feel more of what we already feel: that our finances are always a disaster, so it's best to put our heads in the sand and grind through this money experience as blindly as possible.

The Debt-Free Spending Plan Is Not a Budget

The Debt-Free Spending Plan is not a traditional budget. It's not a shortage-inducing tool. It's a simple plan to show you, first, how you are currently spending your money, and then—more importantly—asks you how you want to spend what you have.

This book asks you to write some things down. It asks you to use your calculator. It asks you to be realistic about paying your bills—like rent, mortgage, and health insurance—first. And then it helps you create a daily living expense plan that includes all of your needs, and even some of your wants. It helps you nail down the octopus arms of your unaddressed debts (Chapter 6), and begin paying them back, even if it's just $5 a month. It helps you address your living expenses first, so you can learn to live on your income without deprivation, without living for your creditors.

In doing these few simple tasks, you'll begin to get clarity. And with clarity comes more money. I've coached many people, helping them create their personal Debt-Free Spending Plans, and each has had some small or large "money miracle" as a result. It's almost as if life were saying, "Okay, Jo, you're taking good care of the money you've got now, so we're going to give you some more. We trust you to use it well." Do the Debt-Free Spending Plan and see for yourself. More responsibility with your money breeds a greater capacity to handle more of it.

The Debt-Free Spending Plan may require that you visit the bank a few more times in the first few months. It will require that you set aside time at the end of each month to add and subtract some numbers. And for the price of a little time and some jotted-down numbers, you'll begin to get free.

The promise of the Debt-Free Spending Plan is very simple: You'll get free of money stress, and you'll live more richly and more fully. You'll make choices about how you want to live and how you want to spend. You'll have a plan to address each of your debts. You'll relax. And, probably the biggest payoff I've seen in myself and my coaching clients is, you will no longer fight about money in your relationships.

You'll have a Spending Plan to address your Bills (monthly payments), your Daily Needs (groceries, cleaners, medical co-pays), your wants (entertainment, vacations, fun money)—and will actually have some reserves. Yes, you'll start saving, even if it's just $10 a month, for things you like, things you enjoy, things you want. And you'll do all of that in the first thirty days of using the Debt-Free Spending Plan.

Even if this sounds impossible to you—if your finances are in such a disastrous state that you can't imagine being at peace with your money—the Debt-Free Spending Plan will still work for you. The Spending Plan doesn't care if you're afraid, rebellious, skeptical, or angry. If you do the plan, it will work. Every time.

What This Book Will Do for You

The Debt-Free Spending Plan is not a book to teach you how to invest. It's not a book that will tell you the ins and outs of credit lines or credit ratings. It's not a book that's meant to educate you about the overall American financial situation or world financial picture. It's not a book to help convince you of the spirituality of money, or how to attract it—though by living debt-free you will automatically do just that.

Similarly, the Debt-Free Spending Plan is not a pie-in-the-sky, "put your spiritual needs first" approach to money. It's not a plan that asks you to "visualize your way into prosperity." It addresses, first, what feels most realistic to you. Rent. Food. Living expenses. When I was $90,000 in debt, facing bankruptcy, and my business was falling apart, the last thing I wanted to hear was an admonition to put my "spiritual" and "educational" needs first. I needed to figure out how to live! I needed to figure out how to pay for my housing, my health care, my utilities, and to deal with the creditors at my back.

I'm not a believer in advocating that risky-for-debtors proposition "Do what you love and the money will follow." While the premise is sound enough for people who have good money skills—do something that's meaningful to you, get paid for it, live within your means, and build on that—for debtors this advice can be disastrous. That's because we debtors will twist this encouraging adage to mean we should spend money we don't have to do what we love—and then God, or the Universe, or the Great Magical Money Machine in the sky will relieve us of our financial burden (our debt) because we went into debt for something we love. We use this admonition to gamble, running up our credit lines. I've done it and I know dozens more people who've done it, too, with disastrous results.

So the Debt-Free Spending Plan will not ask you to engage in magical thinking and unfounded financial risks in the name of "spiritual prosperity." It is not a spiritual principle to incur debt in order to do what you love. The Debt-Free Spending Plan will teach you to take steady steps in building your dreams, and to fully fund your personal, familial, entrepreneurial, and artistic ventures as you undertake them.

That's a hard pill to swallow for those of us who are used to using debt to fund our ventures. We want a payoff now, and we want it to occur simply because we took the risk of trying something we believe in. But using credit this way is risking our solvency, and it's just another justification for incurring debt—this time with a spiritual spin. Don't fall for it. There's another way, and it's infinitely more peaceful.

Most personal finance books give some detailed version of one or all of the above topics—useful, in my opinion, in the hands of someone who's not debting. But for those of us who are running up debt (or who are living in cycles of it), the first order of business is to learn how to live solvent. That means living with the money we have, each and every month. It means learning how to live in the black, month after month, until this way of earning and spending becomes an ingrained part of our very being.

How Did I Get into This Mess?

Answering the question "How did I get into debt trouble?" is murky terrain for most of us. First, we're often in more trouble with money than we like to admit. We may already know that we have a tendency to overspend or be vague about our finances, and we probably don't have a realistic grasp on what it costs us to live or the total amounts we owe. That's all normal stuff when we begin learning to live debt-free.

But the heart of our issues—the real trouble, if we're honest about it—is that we keep running up debt even after we know we're in over our heads. We're still using credit cards to live even after we've glimpsed the impending financial disasters ahead. We don't like to take responsibility for the messy (or even disastrous) state of our finances, and we have a trunk full of reasons that debting has been necessary. We feel compelled to debt even though we know it is causing us harm. And even when we pay off all of our cards and begin debting again with the best of intentions—that is, a promise to pay off all of our cards each month—we end up back in terrible, escalating debt. So how did we get into these nasty debt habits in the first place? We're going to take a look at that right now.


I used to joke in the 1980s—when my debt troubles began—that if I had it, I spent it, and if I didn't, I spent it anyway. When I was 20 years old, ATM cards were just appearing and only a few businesses took credit cards (you couldn't buy groceries with credit cards), but there were certainly enough credit options for people to begin getting into debt. And I did.

Now we can buy anything on credit! We can even run up cash advances and pay our mortgages with a card! In other words, those of us from age 20 to 50 are the first generations in our history who have had ready access to credit since we reached adulthood. With that development came the resulting freedom to extend our income beyond its reasonable reach, and that has radically impacted the way we buy.

This is not our parents' doing. This is not something our teachers neglected to teach us. We did this. This is our part. Our generations invented this system, thought it was incredibly peachy, and we promoted it until the cows came home. Who is "everywhere you are"? Your credit card company. What is "priceless"? Whatever your credit card can buy.

So what have we done with the illustrious spending freedom that's been bestowed upon us? This is what we've done: We've created a country full of people of all ages with financial disasters on their hands, with more money pressure than is reasonable for any one human being to handle.


Our misuse of credit freedom reminds me of the disaster in class scheduling that my high school implemented in 1974. I was a freshman, and our progressive superintendent decided to institute what was called "modular scheduling"—an open class-scheduling program in which students had huge blocks of free time to schedule as they wished.

We were to use—at our own leisure—"learning labs," "resource centers," and the library. All we had to do was make a list at the beginning of the day of where we were supposed to be at each hour. And—this was the kicker—we had entire mornings, whole afternoons, and sometimes whole days completely free of assigned classes to attend. You can guess what happened. A huge number of teenagers started spending entire days smoking pot in the woods behind the school. Having no structure was okay for a handful of kids who had amazing self-discipline and well-developed skills, but for a lot of my high school peers, it was a debacle that tanked rather quickly.

The same has been true, in my opinion, for our generation regarding credit. Structure-less and free to run up as much debt as we can qualify for, we've done just that. We're the high-schoolers smoking behind the school. Without any limits, we've failed to hold ourselves accountable. Having no structure has not been good for us. In fact, it's been a disaster. We're clueless about how much we spend, how much we need, what we can afford, and how to spend wisely. We're not accountable to ourselves or our creditors, and we have no idea how to live in peace with our money.

We need structure. Not stringency, but structure. We need a structure that's strong, yet flexible enough for real-life money concerns, for the actual items that come up in a week or a month of spending. And we need enough flexibility in our structure for the real-life financial glitches that come from just being human.


Probably one of the hardest things to admit to ourselves is that we're debtors. What's a "debtor"? A debtor is someone who uses unsecured debt to fund living expenses, purchases, needs, wants, and even "emergencies." What's "unsecured debt"? Credit cards, lines of credit, department store cards, borrowing from friends or family—in short, any purchase, borrowing, or loan that indebts us to another person or institution, with interest or without, in which we owe money that we do not currently have.

A "secured debt," by contrast, is a house or a car—an item that, if given back to the financial institution that offered the loan, would erase the debt. (That's a theoretical definition. These days, even a house or a car may not be considered a secured debt. Houses purchased on interest-only loans before the market dropped are no longer "secured" because the house is worth less than the amount owed.) Debtors who refinance and live on their equity are essentially debting against their "secured" loan. Giving back a car may or may not erase the debt, depending on the bank's or dealer's default policies. Financed refrigerators, furniture, TVs, computer equipment, and household appliances all qualify as unsecured debt.

So—are we debtors? Do we use credit cards? Do we use department store cards? Do we borrow from parents, siblings, or friends? Then we're debtors. Do we use credit lines or credit agencies? We're debtors. Do we spend any money that we currently do not have? We're debting! It doesn't matter what it's for. Is it for a new business? For art? A spiritual quest? "Emergencies"? We're still debtors. Debt doesn't care about the reasons; all debt cares about is one thing: Do you owe? Owing is the cause of our financial stress. We owe more than we have, more than we earn, more than we can possibly, reasonably pay back on our current income and still meet our daily needs.

So say it out loud: "I'm a debtor." Then write it down. Try it in front of the mirror. Have the courage to look yourself in the eye and say, "I'm a debtor. I'm in debt." If you don't know how you're going to pay your debt back, say that, too. "I don't know how I'm going to pay back the money I owe."

Saying it out loud may sound daunting, but admitting this is the first step in moving toward a solution. If you have no debt now, but you've had to crawl out of debt at least twice in your life, say it: "I'm a debt cycler. I go in and out of debt." If you're not in debt but you don't know where your money goes or you regularly overspend, then say that out loud. It doesn't matter what the level of your financial distress is. The Debt-Free Spending Plan can help.

Great. Good job. You've been honest with yourself. That's enough. Now, what are we going to do about it?


Excerpted from The Debt-Free Spending Plan by JOANNEH NAGLER Copyright © 2013 by JoAnneh Nagler. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents





CHAPTER 1 The Heart of Our Debting Issues                     

The Debt-Free Spending Plan Is Not a Budget                   

What This Book Will Do for You                              

How Did I Get into This Mess?                               

So, What Have I Been Spending, Anyway?                      

Stop Debting, One Day at a Time                             

Pick Your Poison: What Going to Stop You?                   

CHAPTER 2 In with Structure, Out with Stringency:

      The Simple Tools of the Debt-Free Spending Plan                

First Things First: Determine Your Income                     

Introducing the Debt-Free Spending Plan                      

Step One: Your Monthly Bills                                

Step Two: Your Daily Needs                                  

Step Three: Add It Up                                      

The One, Hard-and-Fast Rule                                

CHAPTER 3 Make It Work Every Day:

      Your Personal Debt-Free Spending Plan in Action                

A Typical Debt-Free Spending Plan                           

A Quick Emotional Read on the Numbers                      

Do Your Plan Once a Month, Every Month                     

The Magic Little Notebook                                  

Your Personal Tracking Record                               

Your Bill-Paying Plan                                       

What to Do if You’re Behind                                 

How to Catch Up                                          

What to Do if You’re Ahead                                  

“Payday Debting”: Consultants, Home Office Professionals,

      Entrepreneurs, and Artists                                   

Debit Cards versus Cash                                     

Putting It All Together                                      

Begin Today                                               

CHAPTER 4 Deprivation Will Never Get You Debt-Free:

      A Plan for Everything We Need, Want, and Dream of              

Why Have a “Healthy Reserve” Account?                       

You Also Need Short-Term Savings                            

Fun Money and Special Projects Accounts                      

Weddings, Vacations, and Special-Event Debting                

Simple, But Not Always Easy                                 

Learn to Live Well First                                     

CHAPTER 5 To Cut or Not to Cut:

      Taking a Reasonable Look at What You Can and Can’t Afford      

Cutting Means Financial Freedom                            

Making Cuts in Your Daily Needs Categories                    

Making Cuts in Your Monthly Bills Categories                 

Start Simply and Incrementally                              

CHAPTER 6 Nailing Down the Octopus Arms: How to

      Pay Back Your Debts without Gouging Your Living Expenses      

The Value of a Debt-Repayment Plan                         

Easy-Does-It Payback Plans                                 

Credit Ratings and Less Than Minimum Monthly Payments      

How to Talk to Creditors                                 

A Note About “Forgotten” Debts                          

Making Your Peace with the Payback Timeline                 

CHAPTER 7 Our Aphrodisiac Spending Plan: A Loving Approach

      to Approaching the One You Love About Debt Problems          

Lay the Unresolved Issue on the Table                        

A Debt-Free Spending Plan for Two                          

Victoria and Mark’s Spending Plans                           

Nobody Wants to Be Told What to Do                        

The Aphrodisiac Quality of a Debt-Free Spending Plan          

Lawyers, Guns, and Money                                 

Hope, Backed by Action                                    

CHAPTER 8 “Mom, Can I Borrow  ?”:

      How to Stop Asking for Money and Start Paying It Back          

How Much Do You Owe?                                 

You Pay What You Can                                    

How to Make Money Amends                               

Loans, Gifts, and Debt Forgiveness                           

The One-Third Windfall Money Rule                        

CHAPTER 9 Creativity, Not Credit Cards:

      Learning from the Spending Plans of the Newly Debt-Free       

Downsizing Means Things Are Looking Up                    

Five Real-World Examples                                  

Alanna’s Debt-Free Spending Plan                           

Pete’s Debt-Free Spending Plan                             

Michaela’s Debt-Free Spending Plan                          

Jake and Anna’s Debt-Free Spending Plan                     

David and Ellie’s Debt-Free Spending Plan                    

CHAPTER 10 Keeping on Track and Keeping It Real:


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