How This Family Paid Off $21,000 in Debt in Only 14 Months

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Here is today’s debt success story from Michelle and Jefferson McDowell.

How did you acquire $21,000 in debt? What did that debt consist of?

For years we were living a little bit beyond paycheck to paycheck, making up the difference with credit cards.

Every year we would run up a little bit of debt, and then manage to pay it off with tax returns and a bonuses from my job. When my company abruptly cancelled their bonus program one year, we found ourselves in a heap of trouble.

On top of that, we had some medical complications with the birth of our third child, which really pushed us over the top. A year later, our debt had climbed past $20,000, consisting of a combination of credit cards and medical bills.

What did it feel like to have that much debt?

It was quite scary. I don’t think that we had ever taken our debt all that seriously up until that point. We had told ourselves that “everyone carries debt” and that it wasn’t something that we needed to be concerned about. But in reality, we were dangerously close to not being able to make our mortgage payment.

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

Once we committed to changing course, we were able to pay our debt off in fourteen months. It was a trying process without a doubt, but my wife and I were able to get a financial education out of the process. I am confident we will never end up in that situation again.

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

At the beginning, we ready everything that we could find about debt, wealth, and family finance. This includes books by Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki, Jean Chatzky, and many more.  My wife and I also blogged about the process of paying off debt on our website, See Debt Run. The interactions, support, and knowledge that we were able to get from the financial blogging community was an invaluable resource.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

No doubt. We didn’t really have a budget prior to starting our debt payoff journey, and we had to learn how to live within the numbers. We didn’t take any family vacations, put off all but the most essential home repairs, and dedicated most of our free time to making additional cash. The hardest part of the whole process was having to tell our kids repeatedly that we couldn’t do things because we didn’t have any money.

How did this affect your marriage?

I think that we came out much stronger as a result of going through this together. We had taken money for granted prior to this point, and things definitely changed as a result.

Today, we have realistic and frank discussions about what we can and cannot afford on a regular basis. Since my wife Michelle and I were blogging together, we also were able to go through the process of building something together (the website) at the same time, which was a blast, and helped ease the boredom of a long period of austerity.

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

At the time (and still today) I was an IT professional. For the most part, my salary covered our living expenses while we were paying off debt, and my wife and I both hustled for side income to pay down the debt.

How did it feel once you paid it all off?

It felt amazing. It felt like we had control over how we spent our paychecks, instead of just handing them over to the banks. Instead of building wealth for those billionaire corporations, we can now use our income to build wealth for ourselves. We celebrated our debt payoff by taking our kids on a great family vacation last summer.

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

It will seem difficult at first, but you CAN achieve debt freedom. As your debts start to zero out one by one, you will find that you have more and more income to apply towards your total debt. Expect that there will be difficulties and setbacks going in, but don’t let them take you off course. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything!

If you want to connect with Jefferson and Michelle, check out their site at

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.


4 responses to “How This Family Paid Off $21,000 in Debt in Only 14 Months”

  1. The Wallet Doctor says:

    What a great success story! It just goes to show with a bit of dedication and teamwork, a family truly can get rid of that pesky debt! I’m wondering if the family developed alternatives for the kids when they wanted to do something but were limited due to budget?

  2. Kassandra says:

    I loved that they said they grew stronger as a couple and are in sync with their goals and endeavours. Paying off debt is hard and most don’t want to make the effort and implement the changes needed to become debt free. So, kudos to them on actually getting it done and fast!

  3. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I love to see relationships grow stronger in challenges rather than being strained. I’m a big fan of these two and their site, See Debt Run!

  4. Kerrie Peacock says:

    It’s amazing what people can do with their debt when they make a plan and stick to it!

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