It wasn’t long ago that we were drowning in debt. If you are anything like we are, you probably went to college and you probably have some sort of vehicle loan if not a house loan on top of that.
How did you acquire $50,000 in debt? What did that debt consist of?
When my wife and I got married in 2014, we had about $50,000 of debt from student loans, cars, and miscellaneous medical expenses.
While we are not here to tell you that any of those things are bad, we are here to share with you why we decided to break up with our debt and how that has impacted our life in extremely positive ways.
It all began when my wife and I returned from our honeymoon as newlyweds. Once we got back, we did the normal things: unpacked our gifts, sent thank you letters to all our friends and family, and resumed life as normal.
The only difference is that now we were officially adults, at least that’s what it seemed like to us. In our minds, a part of being an adult is to take money seriously and plan for your long-term goals.
The kicker was that when we started to think about our finances as a newly married couple, we got really stressed! So… we avoided money conversations altogether.
What did it feel like to have that much debt?
In many ways, debt reminds me of a bad relationship. You always seem to be unsure how you got in the mess in the first place end up wanting to get out of the relationship, but it’s unclear how exactly you should do it.
The crazy thing is, so many people are in bad relationships with debt. The average household has $16,748 of just credit card debt alone and the average household has a total of $134,64 worth of debt, including mortgage loans.
But… Avoiding your finances does not make them any better.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
We knew that we didn’t want to continue pretending that our financial situation wasn’t good. We decided that we wanted to make a plan to get out of debt.
We knew we had to get our financial situation under control so we headed to the whiteboard and created our “Get Out Of Debt Plan”. Our plan consisted of the following steps:
STEP 1: WRITE IT ALL DOWN
We listed all our assets and liabilities. In short, everything that we owned and everything that we owed. To understand what we needed to pay off we needed to know what we were bringing in and what was going out.
STEP 2: MAKE BIGGER PAYMENTS
We focused on making as large of payments on the highest interest rate loan as possible, which for us was my wife’s car. It also happened to be the smallest loan we had so it made sense to pay that off first. We made $2,000 payments each month towards that loan until it was fully paid off. This gave us momentum to stay motivated because we saw progress quickly and it also eliminated the highest interest rate loan, which saved us money over the long run.
STEP 3: SAVE MORE
We tried to find ways to save on our largest reoccurring monthly expenses. Things like: rent, insurance, phone plans, and eating out. We found a new insurance provider, got our cell phone bill paid by our employers, and decided we would allocate $300 per pay period for spending money. Additionally, we swapped our high-speed internet for a cheaper plan, cut Netflix, Hulu, Audible, and other subscriptions.
By following these simple steps, we made big progress towards our debt.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
Even though we had already paid her car off in 3 months, we wanted to make progress faster. One of our largest reoccurring payments was still to our landlord. So we began thinking creatively.
One night while we were enjoying dinner, a life-shaping discussion came up.
I said to my wife, “Why don’t we downsize and live in a camper to focus on paying off our loans?”
We both laughed and smiled nervously at each other while I briefly did the math on the back of a napkin…. “Nine months and we could be debt free,” I said.
We sat quietly smiling for no reason and she said, “Let’s do it!”
Our debt free plan and adventure just got a little more exciting. I started by searching on craigslist night and day for a camper that was within our budget. I had to educate myself on campers because even though I had been camping in them as a kid growing up, I knew nothing about what type of camper we needed.
After tons of research and talking to a lot of weird people on Craigslist, we had our future home. We had to drive a couple hours outside of Oklahoma City where we lived at the time to pick it up. We found a 1999 TrailManor for just under $4,000, which was a steal.
It was a big decision because we basically liquidated our savings at the time to make it happen.
Once we got the camper home, we knew we wanted to do some work to it so we worked late nights and weekends to fix it up. Here is the before picture:
We remodeled it just enough to call it home. Here is the after picture below:
One week later we had moved out of our apartment, sold a ton of our belongings, and put the rest in a storage unit. It was exciting! We finally had a plan to crush our debt AND FAST!
What was it like living in a camper to pay off debt?
At first, the experience was a little bit like camping. Since we both like camping, we loved living in the camper! This is what we call the “honeymoon” phase. Like any honeymoon phases, it did not last.
The honeymoon phase was quickly followed by learning how to explain to people why we were living in a camper. We never quite mastered this conversation although everyone we told said that what we were doing was awesome and they wished they thought of that early in their marriage.
While hearing positive affirmations from friends, family, and random people on the internet is cool, it’s merits don’t go far enough to remove all the frustrations associated with living in a 100 camper.
Within four months of starting our new adventure, we were in the “why the heck are we doing this” stage. We knew why we were doing it but it was the little things like lighting the pilot light for our hot water heater in the rain, running out of hot water and taking cold showers in the middle of the winter, and emptying our black water tank on a weekly basis that reminded us of the challenges of living in a camper.
These things and many more, presented obstacles in our path to become financially free from debt. It taught us a valuable lesson though:
Life will always present reasons why you should not do what you know you should do. Don’t let those reasons hold you back.
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
While these things were tough… the rewards have been awesome!
Living in a camper for us was one of the most amazing journey’s that we have been on together! It’s one of those stories that we will forever look back upon and smile because of how crazy it was and how much we accomplished.
That’s how big goals in life are. You always look back and say, “I’m glad I did that.”
The biggest reward for us is that today, we are debt free! This means we can do more of what we love. Traveling, visiting family across country, and saving for retirement can happen guilt and worry free now. Whereas before? Like I said, we avoided those conversations because of the stress they brought.
On a related note, because we are now out of debt – we’re going on a dream vacation to Banff, Canada this summer – completely paid for with guilt free cash!
The single best thing that’s happened since we paid off our debt is that money has now become FUN to talk about!
It now represents freedom of what we can do instead of representing all the things we can’t do.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
Don’t let life tell you that you shouldn’t do something when you know you really should. Getting out of debt isn’t easy but we hope you would explore ways that you can rapidly pay off your debt.
The crazy thing about our story is that while it is cool (bias recognized), it’s not all that hard to do. Since writing about our story and getting plugged into the personal finance blogging world, we’ve found that there are a ton of people that have taken extreme steps to destroy their debt. These stories are a huge inspiration and I encourage you seek them out.
Whatever you decide to do, make your plan and stick to it. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Much like our story, you will encounter challenges that make you ask yourself, “why am I doing this?”
Just remember that you will always come up with reasons why you shouldn’t do something awesome but the best stories are when you do it anyway!
Zack is an entrepreneur, freelance writer, and personal finance blogger at FreeUp. His blog is focused on personal finance and entrepreneurship. You can follow him on Twitter & Facebook or grab his Free 8+ Page Get Out of Debt Guide.