Getting out of debt was one of the most challenging, rewarding, exhausting, and exhilarating processes we have done.
We had a goal and we worked really, really hard to get to it.
I spoke about it briefly in this post, and how it enabled me to stay home with our new baby.
I want to start by saying that this is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for someone who thinks they want to go through the motions. It’s not for a married couple who isn’t on the same page.
Starting this process and quitting will land you in possibly worse shape than you’re in now.
But starting this process and succeeding will change your life forever!
Back in 2015, we were married less than 2 years and staring down the barrel at over $100,000 in debt ($107,612 to be exact).
We had medical bills, money owed to the IRS, owed on a mattress, credit cards, student loans, and a vehicle loan.
As Dave Ramsey would say: we didn’t meet a debt we didn’t like. That’s code for we had ‘em all.
Over 30% of our monthly income was getting poured into principal and interest, making minimum payments. That’s not even including our mortgage.
I felt extra defeated because I brought the majority of the debt into our marriage with my student loans. How could I expect my brand new husband to help me pay off my huge amount of student loans?
It never caused money fights, but watching our money fly out the window every month did put a strain on things.
How much debt we had
Here was the breakdown:
- Medical debt: $388.20
- Mattress Firm: $1,568.12
- IRS debt: $2,247.00
- Credit card debt: $4.746.44
- Car: $36,000
- Student loans: $61,342.74
Total debt: $107,612.50
That’s a mortgage for some people. If only the interest rates on our debt were as small as mortgage loan interest rates!
And the worst part was all of the student loan debt was mine. It was such an awful feeling to drag my husband down with me to pay those off.
Everything else was debt acquired after we got married.
When things got scary
We were broke and money was flying everywhere. We lost control of where our money was going, and we were living paycheck to paycheck because of it.
It was utter chaos.
We started seeing multiple overdraft fees and held our breath when we swiped our debit card. We had tons of money fights, mostly because we were both on edge about our finances.
Everything felt uneasy.
This is when we really sat down and wanted to figure out the root of the problem.
Constant bickering, wondering if we had the money to do what we wanted, and a huge chunk of our money immediately going to debt payoff every month was not what we wanted our life to look like.
How we looked for solutions
I was fed up living like that. Worried about paying our bills, if things were going to line up right each week. I wanted a plan. We needed some structure, and I had no clue where to start.
We were scared to ask around, because it felt embarrassing that we were a married couple that didn’t have a hold on our finances (hello, that’s so common!).
So I scoured the internet, looking for a plan that we could follow.
But there were so many “solutions” out there! How would we know which would work for us, and which would be a waste of our time?
I dug a little deeper. I wanted to find other people’s debt payoff stories to see how they did it.
And I started seeing the same pattern. The same few plans I found online that ended up working for others.
And we decided to choose between those debt payoff plans, based on the debt we had and what felt most comfortable.
We had a plan!
Our solution to paying off our debt
We decided that Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball plan was the right plan for us.
In a nutshell, the debt snowball plan has you listing out all of our debts. Then, you order them from smallest debt (only looking at principal balance; ignoring interest rates) to largest debt.
Once you have all of your debts laid out, you make minimum payments on everything but the smallest debt. You throw all of your extra money at that smallest debt until it’s paid off. Once it’s paid off, you throw everything you threw at that smallest debt at the next smallest, all the way to the biggest debt.
We knew we needed a few small victories at the beginning to prove that it worked for us, and for us to start gaining momentum.
So we paid off our smallest debt of $388.20.
Those small victories turned out to be EXACTLY what we needed!
Sure, we could have easily paid off that small debt without a plan, and pretty quickly.
But that’s not the point!
The point is to pair that victory alongside a plan. To see that it works and continue with the plan for all of your debt.
You see, it’s easy to pay off those smaller debts quickly. But if you don’t follow through with the plan (using all of that cash to throw at the next debt), you’ll fail.
Sticking with whatever plan you choose allows you to sort of turn your mind off to what the process looks and feels like. Because it doesn’t always feel good, like when you have to really cut your lifestyle down to get ahead.
The last thing you want to have to worry about is what the next step should be. It should already be figured out for you.
Figure out your “why” before you start
There are going to be times during the process that you’ll want to give up. That happened to us multiple times.
We would ask ourselves why the heck we were doing this. Or want to splurge a little on a restaurant or new clothes. Or say yes when our friends asked us out for drinks.
Those moments will absolutely happen during your journey.
And when they do, you’ll have to have your “why” ready.
Ours was that we saw how much money we were paying toward interest on these debts. It was a HUGE chunk! That money was just gone; it didn’t go toward principal or anything that could help us.
We also didn’t want our money flying out the window toward debt each month. We wanted to be able to actually do what we wanted (and have the money to do it). Like trips, or things, or gifts.
Finally, we wanted the option for one of us to stay home with our kids, whenever we decided that would be. There was literally no way that could happen with the amount of debt we had.
So we had our “why” in our back pocket, for the inevitable rainy day. Because those rainy days came a lot.
What we cut and what our life looked like
In the beginning, it felt wonderful. We paid off a couple of our debts, we were gaining traction.
It’s when the debts got bigger and took longer to pay off that we started to struggle.
So what did we do?
We looked for areas to cut more, so we could throw more money at these big debts!
We cooked at home when we really wanted to go out. And we got rid of cable. Canceled fun subscriptions. Stopped going out for drinks with friends (had to find free alternatives!).
We pinched every penny we could during that time.
It was hard.
We were so accustomed to doing what we wanted, when we wanted (that is, until the money ran out). This new lifestyle of cutting back to nothing and having no money for those fun things was difficult.
In those moments, we had to remember why we were doing this.
It wasn’t for torture; it was to achieve financial freedom. To stop paying insane interest rates and watching that money fly away. To put hundreds, if not thousands of dollars back in our pockets every month.
That’s why it’s so important to have your “why” laid out before you start. It really comes in handy for those moments when you’re feeling weak!
OF COURSE WE HAD SETBACKS! You’d be crazy to think even one setback isn’t possible.
There were times when we both had really hard days at work and had to pick up fast food for dinner instead of cooking.
Or, and I’m embarrassed to say it, the time we went on a cruise.
I know, I know, that’s pretty huge. We had paid for our cruise for my 30th birthday before we started our debt free journey, but still had to pay for whatever we wanted to drink and do while on the cruise.
We decided to stick to the trip because we paid for the cruise already, but it was definitely a setback.
All of this to say: there will be things that set you back on your progress.
Could be that an emergency pops up, or that you were like us and had some (albeit dumb) setbacks.
The important part is getting back up and continuing on to pay off your debt.
When we were finally debt-free!
Finally, on May 12, 2017, WE WERE DEBT FREE!
After 2 years, 2 months, and 11 days, we paid off our debt of $107,612.50.
We celebrated with some wine, and I was able to finally get my hair cut and colored the way I wanted.
This next part is something I don’t talk about on the blog. But it’s worth noting, because I do believe it was part of God’s timing. Plus, being debt free allowed us to cash flow everything below, instead of putting it all on a credit card to pay later.
A few days after we became debt free, my sister-in-law called and told us that my mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer.
My world crashed around me.
But I tell you this because, if we had not become debt free, we would not have been able to do everything we did for her along her cancer journey.
The month after we found out, we bought one way tickets out to Florida, rented a mini van, and moved my mom out to Houston to our home, where she was able to get treatment at one of the best cancer research hospitals in the nation.
We also moved into a different house, one that was closer to my work so I could get home quickly, and was closer to her doctor.
It was a huge relief that we didn’t have to worry about our huge debt payments during that time.
- A budget is absolutely necessary to succeed
- If you’re married, it’s imperative to be on the same page
- If you want to get this paid off quickly, you’ll have to make cuts
- Keep your “why” at the forefront
- A debt payoff tracker was essential for us
Was it worth it?
It wasn’t just worth it because we cut a giant beast out of our life. Although that was a huge perk!
It was worth it because the sinking feeling every month we had to pay on those debts was gone.
It was worth it because it got my husband and myself on the same page about money and had us working on that goal together. And it made our marriage stronger.
And it was worth it because our money was ours again.
Were we perfect the whole time?
But the important thing was that we always got back on track. Back on the same page as a couple. And back to working on that goal together.
Think you have what it takes to become debt-free?
That’s a trick question. Everyone has what it takes!
You have an income, tons of available tools online, and you have your reason why.
The only missing piece is actually doing it.
It’s not an overnight process, and it will require diligence and patience (things I struggled with).
One thing that was incredibly helpful to us was having a visual. So, we put up a piece of paper on the fridge with a meter showing how much has been paid and how much was left of each debt.
If you need a debt payoff tracker, get your free copy below!
It helped so much to be able to see where we were, and to be able to mark off how much was paid every paycheck. We could see and feel that we were making progress!
Whether your income is $20,000 or $200,000, you have what it takes to pay off this debt. Get after it!