You might say my story is a little different from others espousing the principles of debt-free living. There’s no bankruptcy involved; no digging out from under mountains of debt. Beneath the surface, however, were years of perpetual struggle just making ends meet, long periods of scraping by. During this time my wife and I raised three great kids, went to school, got better jobs and basically lived normal lives… including the constant tension of just getting along.

Lisa and I never had much of a saving’s plan. And, entering our 15th year of marriage, were still living from paycheck to paycheck. Then one day, everything changed. I had a job that required travel, and on a monthly basis would receive a reimbursement check. My usual habit was to deposit it into our checking account, where it would typically get absorbed and spent along with our bi-monthly pay. Then one month, I forgot to submit my travel voucher and was informed I’d have to turn it in with the following months. We were pleasantly surprised, when at the end the month, we discovered we’d survived without the added stipend. More importantly, we’d accomplished the task without adding additional debt.

I decided to try an experiment by not depositing the following month’s check. Once again, we were able to live without having the additional allotment. It seemed if the money didn’t get deposited in the checkbook, we didn’t spend it. In the months which followed, I continued to cash the travel checks. And, instead of depositing the cash, I placed it in an envelope. Over the course of several months, we slowly grew a family emergency fund…our first in fifteen years.