How we became DEBT FREE in less than 2 years
celebrating ONE YEAR Debt Free! This is Our story.
Every debt journey is messy. . .
With faith, trust, honesty and a whole lot of accountability you can find freedom too even through the most challenging times.
‘Stop LOOKING like you’re winning with your money and actually start winning”- Candice Marie.
I LOVE this quote! How many have you heard the quote “30 thousand dollar millionaire?” It’s easy to be envious of what you ‘see’ other’s have in their lives, but I highly doubt you’d be envious if you saw their bank accounts.
This was the most difficult post I’ve ever written because it’s a huge niche in itself! It took me hours to put this together and cut it down and it’s still so long! There are thousands of books, blogs, podcasts, etc. written on the subject. I’ve included some resources at the very bottom so you can do more research on your own. We’re only scratching the surface here and this is just ONE opinion when many others are valid too. Please keep that in mind while you read this all the way through-our ways may not be your ways!
Before you read any further you have a choice to make:
Are you curious about getting out of debt or seriously committed? Just like an exercise program it wont work if you don’t follow your program (aka your budget/Plan).
My cousins and I were the first generation in our family to graduate from university. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have the opportunity and the drive to work towards what I ‘thought’ I wanted back then. A high-power career in the corporate world, steady benefits, a glamorous 401K and ‘regular’ hours. So I did the corporate money-hungry thing I thought I had to do…graduated, went straight to work at the highest paying job I could find, started hoarding my money, bought a new car (worst idea ever), and began paying down my student loans aggressively. I later learned I was terrified of being broke and let my money control ME instead of making it grow with investments. But, I surrounded myself with good role models and friends that encouraged me to always have stability. Career choices: a topic for a different day. Anyway…without stability, I’ll be 100% honest, I’m not sure I would have gotten out of debt as quickly. Use it to your benefit when you have it. Life changed for us this year. More on that later.
$56,000 of debt included student loans, my car, credit cards (+ saving for a wedding)
So where do you even start?! For us, starting with Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (linked at bottom) was a no brainier. We both liked his books and were committed to this journey as soon as we got married. We knew what we wanted in the future and it could take several years to get there.
I paid off as much of my student loans/car as possible before I turned 27 and during that time, also saved as much as possible for our wedding (for roughly 21 months). I didn’t want to add an entire wedding to the debt pile so I personally decided to pay the very minimum student loans and also reduced my 401K contribution during this time period. That allowed me to put a lot toward the wedding fund. As soon as we got married the FIRST thing we paid off was our wedding in a few short months, then finished off my car and then eventually the student loans. It was all very methodical using Dave Ramsey’s method for the most part. And I’m proud to say we prepared ahead of time and wiped all of that out in 17 months! Down below, I share our personal approach on HOW we stayed committed this whole time.
But FIRST we have to set our budget! I know what you’re thinking, being on a budget or paying of debt means ‘DON’T SPEND, DON’T SPEND’, but it actually gives you the freedom and empowerment to spend!
HOW to create your Budget:
Step 1) Determine your categories: Create your budget.
Step 2) Stick to your budget.
Step 3) Evaluate your budget.
Step 4) Pay off debt with budget ‘opportunities’ leftovers, extra jobs, sell things.
Step 5) Keep evaluating your budget EVERY month, it will always change.
We LOVE the Mint App and we also use Excel. We use Excel to forecast our YEAR and Mint to track each spending category each week/month. Mint is our favorite because they have so many tools and it’s FREE. If anyone is interested in a downloadable spreadsheet, please comment below or email me and I will provide you with our Excel spreadsheet for FREE.
We go over our monthly spending at the end of EVERY month and then set our new budget at the beginning of EVERY single MONTH. Things like trips home or bachelorette parties don’t happen each month so we add accordingly.
Budgets give you OPPORTUNITIES to save where you previously thought you had none!!
HOW TO BUDGET: Give yourself permission to spend in EVERY category
A good place to start is taking inventory of all things you ALREADY spend on. Once you upload your accounts to Mint, it will categorize everything for you! You can also create your own categories on the website, and make it very specific. We also keep these in a spreadsheet before making our trackable budget via the Mint App (You Need A Budget) is a really great app too. *In the spreadsheet, we have our budget in one column and we fill in ‘actual amount spent’ for each category in another column. Some months we don’t spend anything in a category. This helped us put EXTRA cash towards debt and then savings. Mint does that too but we find it doesn’t include everything we necessarily like the spreadsheet is.
Here are just a few of our categories or ‘budget items’ I spoke of at the beginning of this post. Every dollar of our expected income is accounted for. There are even things like ‘car wash’ in our budget.
-social budget (friends)
-flights home to visit family
-her food (we keep track of how much we each spending eating out)
-her shopping (even when things are tough, we set a small budget, even $35 gives you empowerment to spend!)
-girls/guys trips (when possible)
-gifts (all gifting is accounted for)
Take the time to track your spending because it takes 1-3 months (especially during/after the holiday season) to learn where your best opportunities to save are.
EXCEPTIONS: You can always set a budget for one month and change it the next (do you really need to shop every month? probably not). Some months we have birthday gifts and others not, etc.
OPPORTUNITIES TO SAVE
Spent $600 alone on eating and going out last month? A great opportunity to SAVE! $300 on clothes each month? Cha-Ching! That’s $300 that could go towards debt or savings.
Find things you can really live without and CUT THEM OUT!
Here are just a few ideas for you
-Subscriptions: cable, Netlix, Hulu, Amazon Prime (maybe choose one), fitness apps, music apps, photography apps, manicure/pedicures
-Coffee- This will save you $$$$$$! Make it at home people.
-Fitness Studios- While I lived in Dallas I didn’t have a gym membership for 3 years. Yup, worked out at home using Beachbody Programs, Tone it Up videos, and went to free events (HELLO Fitness Ambassadors-calendar here!). I also became a fitness instructor (workin’ towards that next career, a free membership was also a bonus). Most of you know I’ve been a member at Orange Theory for a few years throughout the last 5 years. But we actually decided to cancel our memberships for about 15 months. That’s a LOT to add to the debt snowball or emergency fund/savings/car fund.
But what if I have a hobby? Choose ONE. How? Keep REading.
I totally get this. Fitness is MY HOBBY. My ONE thing. Some of you may LOVE cooking and food is your life. For others it’s travel. You get the point. For me, fitness is non-negotiable because feeling fit mentally and physically allows me to be productive and successful. It also helps me impact the success of others. That means I do not follow a specialized meal-plan (guys I’ve never followed a Tone it Up Meal Plan day by day in 5 years and the Nutrition Plan still works for me). I don’t buy special ingredients. I don’t get to visit all my friends all over the country every year like I would LOVE to. You may choose one hobby one year and another the next, as long as you stay committed to your plan, you will succeed.
Stepping away from temptation
My friend @balancedles posted this quote today. I LOL’ld so hard it’s true!
“Y’all can stunt for Social Media if you want. My life isn’t together,
I’m on a budget, and I’m always freaking tired’.
Breaking Up w Social Media
I have taken INTENTIONAL breaks from social media while we were paying of debt, to avoid temptation of online shopping, or simply coveting other people’s lives or possessions (we’re all guilty of it). Personally, I just had to take a break to focus on OUR life and our goals in front of us. This is one of the most helpful things I have done along the way. Sometimes a month at a time, sometimes more.
Saying NO to social events and Trips
This one sucks, but if you’re really serious about paying down debt, this is almost a must. We have even had to skip out on some bachelorette and bachelor parties because traveling + expenses was not in the cards for us. We are NOT willing to put these things on credit cards when we simply don’t have the cash on-hand. We’ve even had to cut back on seeing my family up north for some time and that has been really heartbreaking for us. But it’s not forever, it’s just a season. They completely understand and are willing to come visit us.
Providing Alternatives to going out
We love game nights, BYOB restaurants, and having friends over or heading to another home or apartment to hang with friends. Get your friends on board!
Personal Approach: How do I stay committed?
PARTNERSHIP and teamwork!
The most important part of your Debt-Free journey is going to be your PARTNERSHIP and teamwork! If you’re doing it together, you need to be on the same page that way you can encourage each other when will-power doesn’t show up that day. If you’re going at it alone, I highly encourage you to find a friend or family member who will support you and hold you accountable-even better find a friend to participate with you!!! When one of you loses will-power, the other is there to pick you right back up.
Meal-Prepping/Eat at Home
K.I.S.S-Keep it simple stupid! For those 18 months we spent on our journey I cooked super-simple-and honestly still do! No fancy ingredients that cost $$$, no experimenting with food or baking. Keeping eating out to a MINIMUM and we had a budget for that. If we got out of control, we had a budget meeting (two type-A engineers together looks quite nerdy!) to reveal how much we spent on eating out (GASP) and we reeled it in again the next month! We tried our best to have our budget meeting every week over coffee.
Use the job you hate to get into a position of POWER
I can honestly tell you that both my husband and I were not satisfied with our jobs/careers when we made the decision to pursue this journey. And we were both in our late 20s/early 30s.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, you CAN get out debt and its WORTH the sacrifices.
If I can give you ANY advice on becoming debt free-use your 20s for your gain!!! Personally I knew that I was going through an identity struggle in my career and I’ve shared on the blog how personality tests helped me understand what I would really THRIVE at. We had to make a choice: sacrifice for a year or two trying to make things work FOR us or against us? So we made use of the amazing salaries we had at the time and also put our energy into becoming learned and serving employees. Don’t have an ‘amazing’ salary? (that means something different to everyone)….start a side business or 2nd job. My lovely readers- Being a Beachbody coach helped me pay off so much debt! I worked on both these things during these years! Used my career to help me pay off debt, and invested time into side-hustles and passions to gain experience that would launch me forward in a few years. I have NO regrets with that path.
YOUR TIMELINE IS YOURS
Let me reiterate-YOUR choices of where you decide to live and what path you take. There are no rules! You get to decide what works for you or your family. No one is telling you that you have to get this thing done in any timeframe but you’re own! If you don’t have the means to put a lot toward your debt snowball each month, don’t fret. It may take longer, but sticking to your budget will be worth it! Check out the resources at the end to get started.
Cut back on big vacations for a year or two
This is a decision you have to make for you as a family or you, yourself. Travel is the more glamorous choice these days. If that’s important to you, go adventuring! Just be realistic about your goals 5 to 10 years from now. If you want to have money for investments or starting your own company, plan for that. If you’re good just keeping yourself an emergency fund for when you return from those trips, great!
I remember in my early 20s I took trips A LOT. I mean, traveling to see friends after college is so much fun and I don’t regret it, but it added up and mostly to CC debt! Yuck!
DO MAKE TIME AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR
Even if it’s just a weekend, I highly encourage you to make every effort to spend quality time with you family/kids, or friends or spouse. How about making your trip driving distance, a nice AirBnB and grill out? Those are memories your family will never forget and will give you a break to recharge (you deserve it!)
Do NOT forego at least a partial emergency fund
Total Money Makeover teaches some practices that we did not follow every step of the way. Allow yourself some flexibility (within reason). Dave recommends keeping $1000 in your savings while using all your leftovers toward your ‘debt-snowball’: the amount that keeps growing each month that you’ve paid off another debt. (Ex: paying off my car meant +$327 towards other debts each month). His approach is to start saving that emergency fund after you’ve paid your debts off. Do I prefer to have $5-10,000 depending on what’s going on in life? YES….but we had a lot of faith that this was going to work, and it did.
I never really felt comfortable with this-hello control freak. For a very long period of time, we enjoyed the DINK life! (Dual income no kids) so we decided to spend many months with only $1000 in savings. IT WAS SO HARD. I’m emphasizing that because it sucked, and I HATED not having that cushion. I’m a realist and I knew life could and would change in an instant. I wanted that 6 month emergency fund. After we paid ALL our debt off, we started allocating towards our emergency fund.
Say you’re already debt free, or you have something to save for, and are choosing not to use all your leftovers to put towards your debt snowball. Remember there are two philosophies: 1) Use all leftovers to pay off debt 2) Split leftovers towards debt/savings.
I’m not saying this is the only way to do it, but lots of you will be getting married, need a new car, saving for a house…etc. Our debt journey actually included a plan to pay for our wedding. That was really important to us not to spend a year paying off a wedding.
-Travel Home Fund
A lot of these are ‘saved’ on a monthly basis, no necessarily spent. Ex: Travel Home Fund is saved so when we need to buy plane tickets 3-4 times per year, that cash has already been accumulated over previous months.
A note on choosing cars
I wish I could tell 23-yo me, “Do not buy a new car!” Take $10-15,000 and buy something a few years old,
you will be fine!” Face palm.
Find a reputable private seller who buys and sells cars for a living. Someone who can find you exactly what you’re looking for but a few years older with a few more miles on it. This is still how we choose to buy our cars. Some people may choose to lease, but Dave Ramsey will never ever tell you to do that, and quite frankly, losing $5-700 a month so you can drive the Audi or the Mercedes is really stupid. He also encourages his readers and listeners you absolutely CAN drive a luxury vehicle! Find a used model-I promise you, a good private seller can find what you’re looking for. On leasing: we’ve looked at the numbers numerous times and it just doesn’t seem logical for OUR life. This is my blog and you asked me for how we set a budget, so I’m giving you my unfiltered opinion. LOTS of people lease cars and they can probably afford to do so. It’s a completely valid choice when you have the income to support it. If we had the means, maybe I would consider it! But for us it would be a LOT of extra means lol. Buying NEW car means in 4-6 years it will lose HALF its value. Leasing a car when you really need to get out of debt or have a savings/investment goal (all of us)- is just not the best path you can choose.
Remember those ‘saving opportunities’ in your budget? A car payment is always one of them. So when finding a new car, either sell the one you have a replace it with the exact amount it’s worth OR you can plan ahead and save a few extra thousand dollars to get something a little bit newer. (Read below, we’re actually doing this right now). Do not go $10-15,000 over your price-range and think ‘We’ll just take out a loan and pay it off in a few months’. That could easily take you 5 years.
Now if you’re starting from scratch, start a ‘car fund’. Purchase an older used car that will hold its value with what’s in your budget. Keep saving and sell that car a year or two later. It may take longer to get where you want to be but you won’t be in debt. A reliable car will get you where you need to be but it won’t help you get out of debt-no matter HOW pretty it is.
LIFE CHANGED IN AN INSTANT
Unfortunately we learned about our emergency fund the hard way. Tragedy struck, and THEN we totaled a car. Woo life! Thankfully our health is great and no one was hurt. During this time, we ended up having our mortgage covered, but we had to dip into savings designated towards taxes for the following year (so much to think about I know!) We’re in a situation right now that is less than desirable but we prepared as best we could for various possibilities. On the lost car, we’ll take the money from the total and replace the car with (as close as possible) to the amount from the insurance with a used vehicle from a private dealer. Having come out of the red before, we know the necessary steps to do it again. Make sure your rent or mortgage is covered at a very minimum for 4-6 MONTHS.
Now I know I’ve said we started with Total Money Makeover, but there are SO many great books and financial planners out there that can help you decide what’s best for YOU, your lifestyle, and your family!
There are so many blogs out there but I’m going to recommend one of my college friend’s blog- Candice- Young Yet Wise. Although she is not currently accepting new clients, her blog posts and Facebook videos detail exactly how she pays down an incredible amount of debt including student loans.
Check out her Facebook Page!
Her Ebook- Investing for Beginners
Dave Ramsey: Total Money Makeover
Podcast: Afford Anything by Paula Pant
Find a mentor! We are very blessed to have several close friends and family in our lives who have mentored and guided us into how to save and invest our money and make it work FOR us not against us. There ARE ways to do it! Don’t be afraid to reach out to an older family friend who has great experience with this. They could point you in the right direction or even find the best financial advisor for you.
I hope this post has been helpful to you, in order to see what we decided to do and the steps we took to get there! Please send me any questions and I’ll be happy to answer them.