The Debt Free Equestrian: Balancing Your Checkbook, Balancing Your Life

Meagan DeLisle, self-proclaimed queen of budgeting, shares her guidelines for taking the next steps towards a debt-free equestrian life: writing a budget, keeping the checkbook balanced, and yes, planning for retirement.

In this series Meagan DeLisle shares her journey to financial freedom and how she pinched her pennies to become debt-free while owning a horse. Meagan and her husband were able to clear out all of their debts (aside from their home), all while Meagan continued to travel and compete with her horse Joey. It took creative strategy, a lot of dedication, and some nights of ramen noodles, but once that last payment was cleared Meagan knew she wanted to help other equestrians riding on the struggle bus. It isn’t an easy journey, but it is so worth it.

There is no better tool than a budget and thanks to technology there are a vast variety of budgeting tools you can use online and on your phone. Long gone are the days of toying with Excel spreadsheets; now your budget can constantly be at your fingertips which makes making your daily purchases a lot easier to track.

I am a huge fan of the free Every Dollar app developed by Dave Ramsey, but do your research and find the budget tool that helps you the most. The main point here isn’t which tool you use, but making sure you use it each and every day. No matter if you spend a dollar or a hundred dollars, you need to log that money — especially when you are balancing a normal life budget and a horse budget.

What’s in a budget?

Budgets are NOT just for those who are trying to become debt-free. A well balanced budget should be part of everyone’s financial toolkit. The most important part of a budget is that you follow a zero-based budget, which basically means you budget every. last. penny. As Dave Ramsey says, “give every dollar a purpose on paper,” and then stick to it.

For equestrians, setting up a monthly budget can be a bit on the trickier side. We can’t see the future (but boy oh boy wouldn’t that be handy) and we never know when an unexpected bill is going to weasel its way into our lives. When starting your budget, start with your basics:

  • Rent/Mortgage and insurance
  • Utilities (I always do a high average, it is better to budget too much than too little)
  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Miscellaneous house needs
  • Phone/Internet/Cable/Etc
  • Any debts you might have (and budget yourself so that you are paying MORE than the minimum payment. For the best way to pay off debts fast, I highly recommend following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps)

Okay, so now we have OUR basic needs out of the way. As you can imagine, when I was a single woman in college and owned a horse I kept all that good stuff to the bare minimum. I was the ramen noodle queen. I was living off a broke college kid income and gosh darnit — if I had to throw up a cot in my horse’s stall to afford him, I would. Realistically, however, we need to take care of ourselves before our horses because the less we plan for our life, the further into debt you will find yourself one day.

College Meagan may have not had any money to her name, but she always had a smile. Photo by Jennifer Cross

Now you can plan for your horse budget (I giggled as I typed the word plan… as if we have ANY say in when our horse is going to magically go lame, silly human).

  • Board, or utilities if you own your own barn
  • Insurance if you so choose to carry it on your horse
  • Farrier bills
  • Show fees
  • Potential vet bills
  • Spending money for horse-related purchases
  • Supplements

The list could go on and on and on, but I’m conscious of word count here so I will let your imagination flutter off with the rest.

Help: my budget is scary

If your budget scares you, you are probably doing something right. When I first penciled out where every single dollar was going to go the next month I was horrified. *Flashback to poor Meagan: “OMG I can only have $100 a month for horse expenses?!?! But however will I afford an Anky saddle pad on that skimpy budget?”*

News flash, I still don’t own an Anky saddle pad because who in their right mind spends that much on an item that is just pretty? Do I want one? Yes. Do I have other things that are more practical? Yes.

You are going to feel like someone karate chopped you in the gut the first time you do your budget because you are going to realize just how responsible you have to be to make all of this work. But honestly, it becomes so much easier. Now that I am debt free I have the ability to give myself a little raise in certain areas and I refuse to because I have grown accustomed to this level of dedication and I want to save up for horse number two.

I am definitely thinking this handsome man needs a brother or a sister in the near future… but only if all the dollars line out in the budget! Photo by Wayne DeLisle

And guess what? Your budget is probably going to be wrong the first month. Something will happen and throw you off by $5 and that $5 will change your life and the way you look at your bank account. You will cry and you will think that every check is going to bounce and you will say, “Okay, I will just spend $5 less here then,” but that’s not the way the budget works. If you cannot be disciplined and keep from moving things around, this will never be a successful venture.

Give every dollar a home and stick to it. Save more than you spend. Throw all your extra cash at any debts you might have and if you don’t have any then go ahead and yodel across the mountain tops because you are on the track to becoming a wealthy son of a gun.

And you know what they say — to make money in horses you have to start out with money (which is still a lie, who truly makes money on horses?).

Budgeting for the future

Every time I write one of these pieces I hit a point where I think to myself, “well Meagan, here is where you make a lot of people hate you/think you are crazy/stop reading.” We have reached that point. Aside from saving and tossing money at your debts, you need to budget for your future.

And when I say that, I mean don’t be dumb; get yourself in a 401k.

“But, but, but, MEAGAN. I NEED THAT EXTRA $10 A WEEK BECAUSE I LOVE SONIC” (I am looking at you, Poor Meagan).

I won’t go into crazy detail here, but Google retirement calculator and plug in some numbers and see what you can come up with. Let’s do some easy math for fun shall we?

Let’s say we have Suzie Q. Suzie Q after her budget can allocate $200 a month to her retirement (many places will tell you that 6% of your income is a suitable investment; I disagree and stand with Dave Ramsey that putting 15% of your income, once you’re debt free, into your retirement is the best path to success). Suzie Q is 25 years old and has $5000 already saved in her retirement. She plans to retire at 67. Historically the return on investment (ROI) over 30 years for the S&P 500 is roughly 11% (enter where I start losing equestrians as they think about ponies running into fields).

By the time Suzie Q turns 67, she will have $2,315,795 in her retirement.

*Mic drop*

Imagine what you can do with that money upon retirement.

“But, but, but Meagan. I want to live in the NOW. I don’t want that money when I am old. I WANT IT NOW.”


All I have ever wanted in my entire life is to have horses and to drink coffee in the morning off my front porch overlooking my horses grazing in the pasture. Pretty sure based off Suzie Q’s numbers, I could afford that. Pretty sure I could afford two porches off of my house with a hilly, horsey view.

This is a view I could get used to. And one day, with careful planning, it will be a view from my own front yard. Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Saving for your retirement is one of the single most important investments you will ever make. There is no guarantee that Social Security will even still exist when the younger generations reach retirement age and with modern medicine, the lifespan of an average human is much longer. Setting your future self up for success is just as important as setting your current self up for success. Investing in a retirement fund is critical, therefore I set money aside out of each paycheck into a 401K.

And guess what — I still have a horse.

“But, but, but Meagan — you must be rich.”

Nope, I bust my tail at a good-paying job and I make wise choices with my money. I said goodbye to Starbucks and hello to financial freedom — and boy oh boy is it free.

In the next article we will talk about your biggest wealth building tool — your income. For now, just think about it: Imagine what life would be like at 65 with $2,315,795… now imagine if you pushed yourself even harder. I’m thinking you would live a good life.

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