Today we share the story of how Aja McClanahan and her husband paid off over $100k in debt and built a new life for their family.
How did you acquire $110,000 in debt? What did that debt consist of?
We had about $110K of debt and it was a combination of student loans, credit card debt, car loans and miscellaneous revolving credit delinquencies.
What did it feel like to have that much debt?
It was actually painful and embarrassing. Whenever we’d be invited somewhere or a birthday came up, we had to be very cheap or decline altogether because we didn’t have the money. We were on one income early in our marriage due to the birth of my daughter. I knew that we could not live paycheck-to-paycheck much longer, as we were one unexpected expense away from major financial disaster. It was stressful and made me prone to anxiety!
How long did it take you to pay it all off?
We weren’t as “gazelle intense” as we should have been and had a slow start. We got serious around 2009, slow-poked a little after the birth of our second child then accelerated our debt repayment starting in 2012 and finished up in 2013. Life happened in this process, but we kept going.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
I started listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast and eventually got his book, the Total Money Makeover. Once we had that, we had a solid plan and could get started with confidence. I continued to listen to the podcast to keep me motivated. Our income greatly increased during our debt repayment time and we needed constant direction and inspiration to actually put the extra income toward debt. It was tempting to increase our lifestyle along with income, but staying plugged into the podcast was a huge help in keeping us on track.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
They weren’t so much challenges as they were life events. The birth of my second child slowed down income and the debt snowball a bit. Then, we had the chance to move into a home with no mortgage. We knew that it would be great for cash flow to not have rent or a house note, so we took our cash and paid for renovations. That was another thing that cut into our debt snowball. But it worked out in the end for us. It was a great opportunity and still serves us well today.
During the process of paying down your debt, you mentioned that you got a “free” house. How did that come about?
Around 2007 or 2008 we decided we would not get a mortgage. In 2009 we got a call from a relative who had inherited a home in “the hood.” They were not keen on moving to the hood, so they asked us if we would like the house. At the time, we said no. But later decided to take it since it was in line with our original intention to not a mortgage for a home. Fortunately, we had the cash to renovate and were able to move in a home without a note! It was a game changer for us.
How did this affect your marriage?
It was a great morale booster. It showed us that we were able to work together and accomplish something as a team. I don’t know that we ever had a such a genuine, concerted mutual effort like this in our marriage. It worked so well that we’ve now made a new goal to retire before 40, so the teamwork to reach that goal continues!
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
My husband is a letter carrier for the post office and I actually had a few odd jobs and side hustle gigs before I settled into database consulting in the middle of our journey to debt freedom. I still do that today.
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
The sense of relief and accomplishment was amazing. We even went to Vegas to celebrate (using cash of course.) It also felt great being an inspiration for so many people who looked up to us once we finished paying off our debt. We still continue to tell our story and “mass mentor” people via my blog, YouTube channel and podcast (coming soon.)
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
Get a plan (we used the one in Total Money Makeover). For a long time we wanted to be debt free and talked about it like a dream that could never come true unless we found a big check in the mail or won the lottery. Debt freedom usually comes when you are consciously working towards it, not waiting for it to drop out of the sky. That starts with a plan. Once you get the plan, stick with it and don’t give up. There will be mistakes and ups and downs, but the key is to keep going.
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.