Tips on Getting (And Staying) Debt Free

Some of you may have seen on Facebook yesterday, but Bryan and I are officially Debt Free! Just in time for me to quit my job and us to have a baby!

WEEEEEE’RE DEEEEEEEBT FREEEEEEEE!

Sorry, Just had to get that out of my system.

I feel better now.

This is us mailing in our last payment!

This is us mailing in our last payment!

It’s been a long, bumpy road for us to pay everything off, but it has been so worth it. I want to give a quick snapshot of our journey, and then some tips on how everyone can have a smoother process to experiencing this freedom.

Bryan and I got engaged in 2011. I had a small car payment, but had always been pretty responsible with money. I also had never had much of it to be responsible with. I waited tables through college, so I always had cash on me, and therefore had a cash budgeting system in place. Something I was not great with was saving. I saved for small things in the near future: shoes, trips, etc, but never did any long-term saving.

Bryan, on the other hand, was already very successful and had seemingly plenty of money. He also had a lot of debt. He owned/owed on 2 cars and a motorcycle, and owed for multiple credit cards and store credits.

shortly after getting engaged, we decided to sell my car and one of his and get a ridiculously expensive, albeit used Land Rover and therefore combined our finances before we tied the knot since I would be living at home my senior year and not paying rent and utilities. I don’t recommend this for every couple AT ALL. It is not for everyone and arguably wasn’t for us. Here are the reasons I am glad we did it, though:

1. It forced us to confront our personal money problems and prepare early for being a team when it comes to finances.

2. Since we paid for most of our wedding ourselves, it enabled us to use almost all of my paycheck to 100% cash-flow our wedding and honeymoon. That’s right, we owed exactly nothing when it was all said and done.

3. It forced us to live out the usually bumpy first year of marriage during the year we were engaged, making our first year of marriage pretty enjoyable. Again, This would absolutely not work for everyone, and it took a lot of loyalty, willpower, and seeing the big picture to make it work for us.

4. Finally, If it weren’t for this decision, I don’t know that we would have taken our initial Financial Peace University class at our church. We were at our wits end, and something had to give. Bryan wanted to go, but since I was the more stubborn one about money, he prayed about it and trusted that God would convict me to make the decision to go to the class, which I THANKFULLY did. (My husband is kind of a superhero. There is no way I would have been that patient and trusting.)

Now, because of some bad decisions that had been made on both of our parts, and mostly because of bad decisions made by Bryan before we met, we were in debt about $90,000.00 (My gracious parents made the decision a long time ago that they wanted to pay for their kids to go to college, even it meant paying out loans. If I had this responsibility upon myself, it would have made our debt-toll quite a bit higher. This is something I am thankful for every single day and seriously could not have asked for better parents.)

As of yesterday: August 27th, 2014, we have paid every penny off! I am not going to lay out a plan for paying off debt, but here are some tips and tricks that got us through this mess, and how we intend to never get ourselves back in it again. (Bear with me, this will be a bulleted list. I am OCD and bulleted notetaking is my life. It gives me joy.)

debt free 2

  • Make the decision TOGETHER that you are going to do this 100%, fully, no looking back. Both partners have to have both feet squarely on the train for this to work. If you are single, get an accountability partner who is 100% in this with you and will tell you like it is and not pretty-it-up. Does this mean that one or both of you can’t waver ever? Uh, no. That’s a nonexistent, impossible scenario. It just means that when one partner struggles, the other one is there to encourage you back on the train. Choo choo.

 

  • If you are a part of a couple, learn to live on one income. No, I don’t mean one of you should quit your job. I mean pick the person who makes the most and force yourselves to budget based on that salary only. Pay all of the minimum payments on all of the loans with the main income. I am completely aware that this is not realistic for every couple and every situation, but I highly recommend that it be a goal as you pay off more and more. Here’s why:
    • The obvious reason: if one of you loses your job or wants to change jobs or wants to stay home with your kids, you aren’t screwed. I would never in my right mind want to readjust our budget like that. It was a pain in the butt to get it figured out and streamlined to begin with, and to have to par it down even more would induce suicidal thoughts.
    • It frees up an entire income to put towards paying off debt and saving money.
    • It teaches you to live well within your means like, for real. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. I would much rather have plenty of wiggle room than be maxed out within our budget.
    • It allows you some extra spending money to reward yourself a bit along the way. Since you’re using the main family salary to pay the minimums, you can afford a big date night or weekend getaway to reward yourself after your close out a credit card account or pay off a load.

 

  • SELL EVERYTHING. I mean this. That motorcycle I talked about? Gone. That Land Rover we bought and I loved so much? Gone. We’ve had several cars since then because we have just been trading down and trading down until we had cars that we owed a manageable enough amount on to pay off. Downsize your home if you have way more house than you need. Get creative with your selling. We had a bunch of random kitchen items that we would have never been able to sell on their own, so we took a photo of the whole lot together and put it on Craigslist as a kitchen starter kit. A college student came and got it like the next day. Have a garage sale. Consign your clothes. Be weird and unmaterialistic. Every little bit counts.

 

  • Cut your cable. I’m not even a little bit kidding. You will live. We cut ours and got Netflix, Jetflicks, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. AND WE SURVIVED. And no, we aren’t those weird people who say things like “We just don’t watch very much tv.” (<–What?) I watch practically every show on television and did so using those streaming services. And don’t come at me shouting about sports. That’s why God invented Buffalo Wild Wings and friends’ houses. Offer to bring some food if they can host the watch party. And when you’re out of debt or to a manageable point in your journey, get the cable back. We did. I promise you will survive.

 

  • Get creative with eating out. I am the last person who will tell you to stop eating out, because who does that? I mean you should cut back for sure, and make a monthly budget for when you do. All that jazz. What I’m talking about it how to be able to eat out more within your “eating out/entertainment” budget. Here are some ideas:
    • Get water. This is an easy and obvious one.
    • Don’t get alcoholic beverages. Seriously, you can enjoy the company of friends and each other and buy yourself a six-pack for way cheaper. It’s a win-win.
    • Share. I know this sucks and takes some skill, especially if you have different tastes. Do what you gotta do, get an extra side dish, get separate salads before the entrée, all that good stuff. You can even pre-game at home before you get to the restaurant so you’re not famished and tempted to get separate meals. We definitely did not do this every time, but it practically doubles the number of times you can eat out every month within your budget.
    • Save the big spending for bigger occasions.  We rarely ate out together (Eating out without the other one came out of our “personal spending” budget, not out joint entertainment budget) unless it was for date nights or group activities. Sure, we grabbed food while running errands or similar situations plenty, we just knew where to go that wasn’t going to break the bank. (Holla for Sams Club’s cheap-as-crap pizza combo!)
    • Enjoy the company without the spending from time to time. What I mean is, sometimes it’s possible to sit with your friends and not get coffee or whatever, or eat before you come when it’s a group of other people who you know will be ordering. I have coffee with a group of girls regularly on Tuesday nights and only get a drink some of the time. I can make coffee at home a lot cheaper and sometimes I would really only be buying it because I’m there, which is not a good reason. Bryan has lunch with a group of guys from church every Thursday in a local mall food court. Back when we first started (And even still sometimes!), he would bring his own lunch and eat at the table with them. They used to make fun of him, but now several other guys have taken FPU and started doing the same thing!

 

  • Cut out anything else extra. Monthly subscription boxes? Cut ’em. Regular music buying? Stop it. Gym memberships even? Buy INSANITY and work out from home for a short time while paying stuff off. All of these sacrifices suck, yes, but remember that it’s only for a short time and it is SO WORTH IT in the end. Plus, like I’ve stated above, it is totally possible to find creative measures to make it suck less.

 

  • If you have the time, coupon. Yes, this takes dedication, but it’s kind of like throwing money away if you have time and don’t anyway. I started it and then stopped because of the time factor, but now that I am coming home from my job, I plan on starting back up again. There are lots of websites and free tools to get started. My favorite one is http://www.thekrazycouponlady.com.

 

  • Give each other/yourself loads and loads of grace. This crap is hard, and everyone will tell you that you’re crazy for trying. Don’t let it discourage you. I can’t tell you how many fights, breakdowns, and minor relapses we each have had that set us back, but we always forgave each other, recommitted, and got back on the train. Give each other grace and forgiveness for past/current mistakes as well. It was freaking hard to accept that ALLLLLL of this debt that Bryan had accumulated before I even knew he existed was now on my shoulders as well. It took a while to forgive him for that and get to the point where I was as driven as he was to get rid of it. Thankfully, Bryan was a lot more forgiving and patient for my unwillingness than I was for his debt mistakes.

You will survive, I promise.

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too hard or not worth it. I am standing here today with so much freedom telling you that IT TOTALLY IS.

If you’re just starting out in your journey, I want to really encourage you to pick some sort of learning material. Obviously, I am a big supporter of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, but there are others as well. You just want to make sure you pick one that is based on your personal values-system and beliefs, and that ultimately DOES NOT BELIEVE IN BEING IN DEBT.

People have all kinds of opinions about Dave Ramsey as a person, and I’d love to talk to you about it sometime if you want, but regardless of personal beliefs, he is an expert and his methods are TRIED AND TRUE to work, if for no other reason than giving you a head start and getting you and your partner on the same page when it comes to finances. Bryan and I teach FPU at our church now, so if you are in the NWA area and want to take it, please let me know! We’ve had all kinds in our class. Singles, older people, engaged couples, Christians, non-Christians, etc.

 

This was part of our first graduating class of FPU!

This was part of our first graduating class of FPU!

I have lots more tips and tricks to share if you want them. I hope our story encourages you just like others’ stories did us. I would LOVE  to talk more about it with you. Just let me know :).

Love, Alex

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8 thoughts on “Tips on Getting (And Staying) Debt Free

    • College loan debts are the worst! Low enough that you know it’s doable, but high enough that that last stretch feels sooooo long and hopeless :(. You got this girl, keep at it!

  1. Woohoooo! So proud of you two! Just one aspect of how beautifully you have grown together and accomplished so much. Glad to see you’re passing on your well-earned wisdom as well!

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