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Joyce's boys sitting on grass

How did you acquire $14,500 in debt?

I acquired my debt by simply over spending and not having control over my finances. I would justify my spending as rewards for my hard work. I would over spend on my only child (at the time) out of guilt. I would eat out almost every day. I bought a car because I wanted a nice car and I “deserved it” but it came with payments of $400 a month. My debt consisted of a $9,800 car loan and $4,700 in credit card debt. By 2010 I was living paycheck to paycheck and my debt continued to grow.

What did it feel like to have that much debt?

Having the stress that I was in a job I no longer loved, plus, being pregnant with my second child and having a high risk pregnancy was tough on me. Not knowing what would happen financially as the medical bills started to come drove me to the edge of myself. When I was barely 8 months pregnant, I was placed on bed rest. I was lucky because I was getting paid for my medical leave (12 weeks) but I didn’t know what was going to happen or if I was going to be able to come back to work if my health continued to deteriorate. Not only was I not working, I was living paycheck to paycheck and I had no emergency fund to help me pay the upcoming medical bills. I was on bed rest and in and out of the hospital for the weeks that followed. The stress was too much for me personally because I felt like I was not in control.

How long did it take you to pay it all off?

To pay my debt it took me about 4 years. I could have paid my debt off sooner, but decided to start saving money and grow our emergency fund. It took me about 8 months to pay off my credit card debt. I simply stopped using the credit cards and followed the Dave Ramsey Debt Snowball plan. My fiance’ and I also decided to save money while killing the debt, this strategy helped us along the way. We paid for my daughter’s braces in cash. We fixed our vehicles in cash. Having an emergency fund made the rest of our journey to become debt free less stressful. When I became pregnant with our third child we were more prepared and decided to start saving more money since my last pregnancy was high risk and I was out of work. The third pregnancy was beautiful since I didn’t have to worry about our finances. The strategy to grow our savings, and kill our debt, was working for us.

What resources did you use to help you through this process?

While I was on my maternity leave with my second child, I decided I’ve had enough of living like this. I searched the internet and read a book The Total Money Make Over by Dave Ramsey. I never heard of him in my life, but the book set the pace for my fiancé and I. It is because of that book we are now debt free. I read personal finance blogs during our journey and continue reading them where real people write about real struggles. It gives me motivation and I learn so much from their experience. Even with the things I know now, I continue to read financial blogs to keep me motivated.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

We faced many challenges along our way. You see, to us, this journey was not about killing our debt but about changing the way we live and view money. We come from families that view and judge others by their possessions. We come from families that are in debt because they want to live above their means. Our biggest critics were our families when they noticed the big life change we had. Gone were the vehicles, expensive hairstyles, nails and pedicures. Gone was the expensive clothing and going out to eat. After 2 years of this, we are now considered the “cool people” and are asked for money advice now from those who criticized our way of life before. Although, our biggest challenge in this journey was us. Yes, us. We caused this financial mess ourselves. During this journey it hit us that we were the reason we overspending because we were living our life according to approval of others. This journey changed the way we view money and life. It helped us grow as people.

How did this affect your marriage?

We will be married in 4 weeks and this debt journey brought us closer together. We both know what we want from life. We believed that we were going to be able to become debt free. We both believed in our goals of me becoming a stay at home mom and becoming debt free. Through ups and downs, during this journey, we stuck together. We learned to communicate.

What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?

I was a retail manager for a famous retailer and the sole provider for my family at the time.

How did it feel once you paid it all off?

When I paid the my car loan in full and I knew that I was not going to pay $425 (I was paying a few bucks extra each month) I cried with joy. We did a high five and promised each other that we will never EVER have car payments again. You think of FREEDOM!

What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?

This is what I always tell anyone that asks:  It’s not about just paying your debt it’s about changing the way you live your life. It’s about accepting what’s most important and sticking to it. The road is hard and comes with struggles, but if you stick to it the reward is amazing. Surround yourself with people who are going through this journey or have completed this journey. Stay motivated and DON’T QUIT!

To learn more about Joyce, how she achieved her dream of debt freedom, and to get stellar money saving coupons, you can find her at My Stay At Home Adventures.

Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.