How did you acquire $22,000 in debt? What did that debt consist of?
When my husband and I got married in 2011, we were $22,000 in debt. It was left over from Dontae’s student loans with some of it being credit card debt. I had debt in the past (car loans, student loans, credit card), but at this point it was paid off.
What did it feel like to have that much debt?
It was certainly a burden. Before we met, some of the debt had gone into collection. It was just this dark cloud looming over our heads.
How long did it take you to pay it all off?
It took us 22 months to pay off all our debt.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
What got the ball rolling was Financial Peace University. It’s a 9-week class that teaches you the 7 baby steps to financial freedom. It was like a light bulb for us.
We didn’t have a clear plan until we were engaged and took Financial Peace University. That gave us the road map to navigate our way out of debt, start budgeting monthly and carve out a healthy savings plan. We seriously had no idea the impact that first step would have on our lives.
A second tool we used was a zero-based budget. Basically, you subtract every monthly expense from your income until you reach zero. Seriously, just doing a budget felt like we gave ourselves a raise. Even now, if we ever get off track and skip doing a monthly budget, inevitably we spend more.
A third tool was paying in cash for things like groceries, restaurants, clothing, gifts, toiletries – and yes, a little spending money. When the cash ran out, we had to say “no” to our “wants”. Saying “no” stunk. But as a result, we saw great progress.
Also, we downgraded our smart phones to “dumb” phones, as we called them. We told ourselves that was a luxury we could live without while getting out of debt. We felt like fish out of water sometimes, but it was only temporary.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
Just before celebrating our 1-year anniversary, we found out we were expecting our first child. We felt so excited, but that turned up the heat on our deadline. So we started living off one income and putting everything I earned toward debt. That took some getting used to.
Another challenge we faced was whether or not to buy a house. We were renting an apartment at a decent rate, but when I got pregnant we thought, “Oh no, our child won’t thrive if she doesn’t have a house!” Even our families urged us to buy.
Buying a house is a wonderful investment. But in our situation, it spelled disaster. We were in debt, driving old cars with zero money for a down payment, let alone furniture and fix ups. So we stayed put.
How did this affect your marriage?
It brought us closer together. Sure we were newlyweds, but this was foundational. As a wife and as a former banker, I can’t tell you how much it meant to have my husband come to Financial Peace University with me. He and I have a plan we agreed on years ago, so when one of us deviates from the plan, it’s a neutral territory. We do mess up. We do disappoint each other. But we really don’t have fights over money.
We live on one income today, while I stay home with our two children, largely because of the habits we developed while getting out of debt. We laugh and say we’re broke but we’re not poor. We don’t have a huge income, but we’re learning how to be content with what we have.
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
At that time, Dontae was just starting out as a sales engineer for a musical equipment company. I was employed as a customer service representative at a community bank. Combined, we were bringing in $48,000 annually.
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
For the first time in almost two years, we were able to hold onto all our money. We had been sending around $1000 each month to creditors. Now we poured that into savings. It felt great. In two short months, we had enough money to pay for our baby’s hospital delivery bill – in cash!
One of our proudest moments was bringing our daughter home from the hospital into a debt-free home. We hadn’t done it perfectly, but we reached our goal. For me, everything we sacrificed was worth it for that one moment.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
Start now. Get $1000 into a savings account and use it ONLY for emergencies – instead of credit cards. Do it fast. Have a garage sale. Babysit. Sell your plasma. When you start putting your creative time and energy toward budgeting, making extra money and paying off debt – instead of how to get the most points on your credit card – you have more money at the end of the month. I’m speaking from experience!
Also, consider taking Financial Peace University. We were so inspired by it when we were engaged that we took it again after getting married. Now I coordinate FPU classes at my church. In 2014, I graduated from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Coach Master Series and am now a financial coach at my church. This whole journey still impacts me every day. I write about frugal living on my personal finance blog. If raising your family while living on less resonates with you, I invite you to connect with me. Broke millennials can smash big goals too. We’re living proof!
To learn more about Laura and Dontae’s journey to fun and frugal money management, you can find Laura blogging at www.piggybankdreams.com
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.