A little over a year ago my husband and I were getting ready to possibly buy a new, nice car and go further in debt. Luckily, we got some sense knocked into us, and we went with a nice used vehicle instead, for less than 1/2 the cost. It was around that time, we decided we needed to make a change for the better with our finances, and pay off our debt. We were like so many American couples, where consumer debt is the norm. But we wanted to change that, so that is how it all started.
I'm writing this in hopes that it may help someone else. And to be honest, sharing this makes me feel a little vulnerable. I am not writing this because I think that I am a financial advisor, or know a lot about money management. I am a frugal person, but I have a long way to go in knowing how to successfully manage money. This is just simply an explanation of how my husband and I were able to pay off all our debt, except our house, in six months. On a very modest income, I might add!
What did we need to change?
Spending habits. We needed to change our spending, and quick! We are not big spenders, but we were spending money on little things that were adding up. We knew we needed to get a strict budget in place. So, we started by writing down all our expenses. It was a HUGE shock to see where our money was going. We then knew if we wanted to be successful at saving money and doing great things with our money, we needed to budget. And so that is the first step of how we paid off our debt. We cut things out of our budget and went bare minimum.
- We cut our cable bill. Instead we got a Roku, and streamed Netflix. (Has saved us thousands!)
- I meal planned, used coupons, and made homemade cleaning items. I love using good old vinegar and baking soda to clean with!
- We tried to conserve our gas. This one wasn't easy, but making a conscious effort improved our spending. Plus, I earned gas rewards at Smith's, and that helped.
- We used cash only. No credit cards! We did use debit cards for our gas sometimes.
- We stopped wanting “things.” For the time being, and for our plan, we just needed to focus on our goal and stop wanting things. (For me, that was clothes, shoes, everything at IKEA, etc.) I think when you start to think of all the things you want, first of all, you get depressed. And second of all, sometimes you end up buying those things and spending unnecessary amounts of money. Money that you may not even have in the first place!
Well okay, let me back up, making a budget wasn't the very first step we took–my husband and I read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. We literally read it every night for a week, after the kids had gone to bed. Romantic, huh? It was so inspiring, we couldn't put it down! Dave Ramsey teaches about getting a $1,000 emergency fund put into place, and then using all your other money (savings and disposable income) to pay down your debt, paying off the smallest debt first. (And if you think about it, it really doesn't make much sense to have a bunch in savings when you are sitting on a lot of debt, right? It's not doing much for you just sitting there!)
Then after paying off the smallest debt (not the smallest interest rate, but the smallest dollar amount), you take the money you were paying towards that, and use it to go towards the next debt. It's called the debt snowball. Imagine rolling a snowball down a hill–it gets bigger and bigger as you roll! And that's what worked for us. We started with $14,000 of debt (from cars, student loans, etc.), and paid it off in 6 months. We started with a small amount of credit card debt we had, then went to the student loan, and lastly went for the car loan.
Where did the money come from?
We used all of our money from our savings to pay the first little bit off (except the $1,000 emergency fund.) Then, we worked our tails off trying to manage our money, scrimp & save, and pay off the rest. Okay, so we didn't exactly use all our savings to pay the debt down at the very first. We actually decided (before we even read Total Money Makeover) we were going to use some of our savings to pay our bills (utilities, phone, insurance, NOT mortgage) six months in advance. Then we would use the money we would have been paying towards our bills, to go towards our debt. Because our money had already gone to that plan, we had to stick with it. I know it may seem silly to some of you that we didn't just pay down the debt with our savings in one big chunk at the first, but there was a reason behind it.
First of all, we hadn't read the book yet, (which probably would have made us do it differently) but we felt that we would be more strict with our money if we were seeing a big chunk of the debt being paid off each month. I know that may not make sense to some of you, but for us, it worked. Because all our bills were already paid, we only had to focus on paying our mortgage, church tithes, and debt (loan) payment. Three bills to worry about each month and that was it. It made it simpler in my mind, and it worked for us. So, after reading the book, we made sure to have our $1,000 emergency fund, and then we used all our other resources and income coming in, to pay off our debt. And then, of course, we had to have money each month to live off of, so we were really frugal and made every dollar stretch! Here are some things we did to pay the debt off:
- Both me and my husband were on board–You both have to want it!
- We made it a game to see how little we could spend each month. It was fun to see how far we could make our money stretch.
- My husband worked overtime.
- We used cash. No credit cards!
- We set a tight budget and stuck with it!
- We tried really, really hard not to spend our money on things we didn't need.
- We didn't eat out hardly at all.
- We lived off our STOCKPILE!!!
- I used lots of coupons.
- I limited the times I went grocery shopping (tried to go only once a week.)
- We found inexpensive activities to enjoy.
- We SOLD things we didn't NEED–One of those things was my husband's old truck.
What was in our budget?
We used most our income coming in to pay the three bills I talked about. Then, we took the remaining money and lived off of that. It was a different amount each paycheck. But let me just tell you, it was not very much at all, but somehow we made it work. Being frugal was the key! We basically budgeted for food and gas, and for our family, that was all we needed for those six months. If we had any left over (which happened a couple times) we used that to go towards our debt.
Did we just cut our spending, or try to make more money too?
Well, we tried to do both. As I mentioned above, my husband worked overtime. That wasn't always available, but he did what he could. I also had just started teaching coupon classes, and making a little money doing that, so that went towards the debt too. And then of course, my husband sold his truck. It was a big sacrifice for him to do that. (What a guy, eh?! :)) And that helped pay down about 25% of the debt. Dave Ramsey mentions in Total Money Makeover, that you should get “Gazelle Intense” and try to do all you can to get rid of your debt! If that means taking odd jobs or selling things, go for it! Do anything, and all you can, to attack your debt!
We paid the last of the $14,000 debt off right before the new year. Which means we paid it off right after Christmas. Gasp! We were able to do that because we had been budgeting for Christmas (that's a topic for another article) and I also had been buying toys throughout the year on Amazon. And we didn't spend a ton on Christmas either. In fact, my husband and I decided to not get each other anything because we wanted to reach our goal of paying it off before the new year. I just HAVE to say this as well– couponing, one hundred percent helped us pay off our debt. Without it, I'm afraid we wouldn't have reached our goal of paying it off in six months. While doing this, we were turning to our stockpile more than we ever had.
What are we doing now?
Paying off our debt made it so we no longer have a car payment. With the money from our old car payment, we are now almost done saving up our large emergency fund (which Dave Ramsey suggests is 3-6 months of expenses) and then moving on to paying off our house! And we are also working towards making investments. Want to know more about what Dave Ramsey teaches? Well…
***CLOSED***I'm Doing a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Class Giveaway!
So, now I have a fun thing to giveaway to one of you! Dave Ramsey has created a curriculum that helps people reach their financial goals called “Financial Peace University.” It is a class that is offered all across the nation, and right here in Utah as well. Find a location here. It is a class that is once a week for 9 weeks. I am giving away to one of you, a FREE tuition to take advantage of this class! It is a household tuition (valued at over $105), so you can take your spouse, and if you have teenage children, them as well! You will receive materials to help you succeed, and it is a lifetime membership. I've heard it is an AMAZING class, and I myself, will be taking the class too! If you want to win you must leave a comment on the giveaway. Also, to get an extra entry, follow me on Instagram. By doing both, you will have a greater chance of winning!
I hope this article has inspired some of you to get out of debt and start reaching your financial goals. Start making a plan of attack on your debt and go for it!
A BIG Thank You to Zion's Bank, for sponsoring this giveaway!