Hey, friends! Today we share the debt payoff story of Mark and Lauren Greutman. Mark and Lauren now spend their time helping other people dump their debt so that they can start living a value-based life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Lauren and I have been married for 13 years and have 4 kids. We were brought up in very different backgrounds when it comes to money. And when we were first married, we rarely talked about money, which ended up getting us into a heap of debt. We climbed out and are now debt free, and teach others to do the same… to avoid the mistakes we made and to learn how to find financial freedom together.
How much debt did you start out with?
We had a total of $13,000 in student loans when we were first married, and that was it. That number would soon rise substantially.
When was the turning point when you realized you were in over your head?
Shortly after we got married we made the biggest financial mistake of our lives: buying a 3,200 sq ft brand new house with 0% down.
As a young married couple, we rushed head first into our idea of the American Dream: a two income household, one beautiful baby with another one on the way, and life with all the bells and whistles money can buy. We both became successful in our careers early on and so it became easy to justify our new found luxuries. We wore expensive outfits and drove an Audi and Cadillac. Our 3200 square foot custom built home was complete with all new furnishings. Lauren hired a nanny and an assistant to keep up with the demands of her work schedule. But in going after this American dream, our expenses grew way out of proportion to our income and we stepped further away from the things that really mattered to us – our values – like marriage and family.
We started to feel completely out of control. Lauren sat on our bed one day and found print outs of all of our credit card statements and totaled them up. Including our student debt, we were over $40,000 in debt and running a monthly $1,000 deficit in our monthly budget. We were 26 years old and unable to make the minimum payments on our credit cards, let alone pay for our living expenses. I was numb. Lauren was crying. We were both embarrassed and scared. We wondered if we’d make it.
We had to find ways to overcome our financial hardships. Quickly. Choices that would result in immediate financial (and marital) help. Lauren worked to learn first-hand money saving tips and she became a frugal living expert through couponing, which enabled her to stay home and spend more time with our children. I put my professional actuary skills to use and developed really simple and efficient tools to make budgeting palatable and to help us reach our financial goals more easily. We began defining where we wanted our money to take us and started making our spending a reflection of our values. If we didn’t value it, we weren’t going to spend money on it.
At first, we weren’t able to pay any debt off early. Lauren had to go out and get a waitressing job just to make ends meet. But when we were able to sell our giant house via short sale and downsize to an 800 sq ft town home, we were finally able to really attack the debt. I started the process by selling my beloved drum set and using that money for an emergency fund. Then we just got crazy – only spending $50 a week on groceries through couponing, selling tons of stuff, and throwing every extra dollar at debt, paying off smallest balances first.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
We used coupons, I carpooled to work, and we went on a strict cash budget. This really helped us to stick to our monthly budget.
What were the biggest roadblocks/setbacks you faced to paying it all off?
One of the biggest roadblocks was still fighting that desire to “keep up with the Jones’”. While in our 800 sq ft townhouse, the back of our neighborhood was much nicer and had some big, beautiful houses. When Lauren would take walks back there and talk to neighbors, she still wished for our nice big house, and felt like a failure that we had hit rock bottom. Being natural spenders, we would fall back to our old ways every once in a while and have to re-group the next month.
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
I (Mark) was an actuary, and Lauren was a stay-at-home mom turned blogger.
How long did it take you to pay it off?
How did your life change once you paid it all off?
While it was certainly a great feeling to have it all paid off, our lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much. The bigger life change was the moment I sold my drum set – when we got that determination to change our financial futures. We are still on that journey and live as frugally as we can and are able to save a lot for retirement and give financially to others in need.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
It’s 90% mental, 10% practical action. Once you have determined in your mind to live differently, that you are completely fed up with being broke and in debt, then you can accomplish anything – no matter how much money you make or don’t make. Don’t feel that you are stuck with the income you get from your jobs. There are many avenues of making money these days that you can do from home. And you can put all of that extra income towards attacking debt.
Don’t be afraid to “fall off the wagon” and make mistakes (we certainly weren’t perfect). Your journey towards becoming debt-free will have bumps along the way. Dust yourself off and get back in the game. If we can do it, anyone can.
To learn more about Mark and Lauren and their journey to debt free, you can find them at www.markandlaureng.com where they help others achieve debt freedom or at www.iamthatlady.com, where Lauren shares her frugal living tips.
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.
Refinance Your Student Loans or Credit Card Debt
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