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We're debt free.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are debt free.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are debt free.

We paid off $37,000 in medical, credit card, and student loan debt in 2 years, 7 months. We also paid off our $70,000 mortgage with the break-even sale of our house. We started out making $79,000 as a family of five in 2014 and ended making $90,000 as a family of six in 2016.
As of right now, we have zero debt -- no car payments, mortgage, medical debt or student loans.

What got you started on your debt-free journey?

M: Tony finished up college later than I did because he served as a missionary in South America from 2004-2006. We got married soon after and babies started arriving a year later. He was both attending school and working. I worked freelance jobs here and there so I could stay home with the kids. We used student loans to help supplement our income.
We had two children when Tony graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2011. We realized in a hurry that we were going to struggle with his student loan payments. We were not good money managers as it was. We frequently received overdraft notifications on our checking account. We had racked up about $6,000 on our credit card. We had also made the unwise decision in 2008 to purchase a house that became a money pit.
Chris Harding said it best...
We knew something had to change. We had heard of Dave Ramsey and started listening to his show.
Then things turned. Tony got a better job in August 2014, and that helped us begin our debt snowball. He also decided to get a job delivering pizzas in addition to his two other jobs (one part-time, one full-time) to build momentum. We read the book The Total Money Makeover and a couple from church gifted us the home-study version of Financial Peace University.

What were some of the major challenges you faced during this process?

M: We struggled with believing we could do it. After that, we experienced financial crisis over and over again. Our cars would need major repairs. We would need to pay for maternity care and delivery. Our health insurance would go up. We would owe on our taxes. We would need plumbing repairs or a new appliance. Save up the $1,000. Spend the $1,000. One step forward. Two steps back.
At one point, we decided our neighborhood had become too unsafe, and we needed to move into a rental in a better location. We ended up breaking even on the sale, but it was a stressful time that took us away from our moneymaking efforts.
We often felt like we would never make it to the finish. It was also hard always telling our kids “no” when they asked for something. We were open with them about our goal to become debt-free, so they understood if we had to say “no” to something because we were getting out of debt.
Making sacrifices was a challenge and we were not always as “intense” as we could have been about cutting things out of our budget. We decided to keep spending money on some non-essential budget items:
  • We paid for our daughters to go to preschool
  • We would treat ourselves to Chick-fil-a and other restaurants every once in awhile
  • We still bought Christmas/birthday gifts for friends and family.
  • We struggled with decisions to take vacations with our extended family and on a couple of occasions decided to go since our parents were paying for large chunks of each vacation.
  • On a day-to-day basis, I struggled with staying within a budget.
That last one about staying in the budget is a personality issue for me. I don’t like being told what to do! (Read: STUBBORN!) But I had to learn. A budget was not something meant to restrict me but to give me freedom and peace of mind. It’s something I’m still working on.
T: I have to agree with the added expenses being a pain. Just when we would hit our $1,000 in the bank, a car would break down, or the house would break down or a kid would break down or be born. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that, although we weren’t going into debt for emergencies (or children) anymore, we still weren't paying off debt.

What was the most difficult part of getting out of debt?

M: For me it was learning to not care what other people thought. I felt embarrassed that my college-educated husband was a delivery driver for a major pizza chain. We drove (and still drive) really crappy cars. That made me feel self-conscious, especially when everyone else I knew was driving something much nicer. We live in a neighborhood that is full of late-model Subaru station wagons and Honda minivans. I had to remind myself that it was temporary, and that most people out there driving newer cars were leasing or had gotten an auto loan. It was humbling.
T: For me it was not having control over the money. Meredith is the spender of the family. We disagree frequently on how to hold ourselves accountable for our performance against a budget. Only spending a tiny fraction of every month’s budget makes me feel like I have less of a say. I feel like it has been humbling to both of us to step back and operate as a team.

What is the secret to getting out of debt?

M: Not giving up. We would have our setbacks and moments of self-pity. Then, we would encourage each other and keep going. Also, being willing to work hard. At one point Tony was working three jobs and I was working two. You have to earn more than you spend each month. And having our $1,000 starter emergency fund saved us in many situations and kept us from going back into debt.
T: I would sum it up like this:
  1. Wanting to.
  2. A budget.
  3. Being sick and tired of being sick and tired.
If you do not operate on a budget with all diligence, your money will walk away from you. And I agree about the willingness to work hard. I didn’t get a lot of sleep over the last few years.

What did you learn from this process?

M:
  1. I learned a lot about contentment. If you aren’t happy with what you have, you aren’t going to be any happier with more stuff or more money.
  2. I am a steward for God’s money and resources. It’s not really my money; it’s all His, and I want to use it well to serve my family and others.
  3. It’s so important to make a budget and tell your money where to go. If you don’t have a plan for your money before the month begins, you are probably going to fail. I remember at first being afraid to create a budget because I didn’t want to know that I was spending more than I made. I just wanted to keep doing whatever I wanted to do. But that wasn’t good for our family, our marriage, or our financial future.
  4. Peace about money creates more peace within our marriage. We had A LOT of conflicts because of money, and while we still do disagree about money on occasion, I credit this process with helping us communicate better, get on the same page, and make it to 10 years of marriage.
  5. We have an fantastic support system. When we were open with people about getting out of debt, they were happy to rally around us and support us. We received lots of free babysitting, anonymous gifts of money, hand-me-down clothes and furniture, and chances to do odd jobs and increase our income. We had a lot of people cheering us on, and that made it easier.
  6. My husband is amazing! He worked three jobs, including delivering pizzas, working late into the night and often getting up in early in the morning. He sacrificed his pride, fun social activities and time with our family because he had a view of the bigger picture. And now he rides his bike 8 miles to work so that we can save up to buy another car. I am grateful for his willingness to sacrifice and his hard work.
  7. IT’S WORTH IT!
T: We really are stewards of God’s money. He wants to use us as instruments of good in the world. That takes money. If we follow His guidance, we’ll have enough and to spare.

What’s next?

We are going to continue following the baby steps. Next up is saving to buy a second vehicle (our other car was totaled last month), and then saving up 3-6 months of expenses as an emergency fund. We then hope to save up for a 20% down payment on a house and restart our 401(k) contributions.

What advice would you give to someone who is in debt and wants to get out of it?

  1. Face the music! Make a list of all your debts. Also, make a budget and see where your money is going. For us, this was intimidating but necessary.
  2. Work with your spouse (if you have one). Create a vision of where you want to be 5, 10, 20, and 30 years down the road. Map out your financial goals accordingly.
    Where there is no vision, the people perish:
    but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Prov. 29:18)
  3. Be willing to sacrifice. Get another job. Get a better job. Drive a crappy car. Say no to anniversary trips and new clothes and nice furniture and other things that your friends have that you can’t afford. Be weird.
    Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter,
    and as a bird from the hand of the fowler. (Prov. 6:5)
  4. Don’t give up. If you fall off the wagon, get back on again. Keep going, even if it feels like you’ll never make it. You will make it.

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