My husband and I are debt-free after we paid off almost $90,000 in consumer debt. It has been one of the most freeing experiences of our life! Here’s the story of how we became debt-free (and how you can too).
By April Swiger, Contributing Writer
There was nothing abnormal about my family. We had a mortgage, student loans, a car loan, and credit cards with various balances. We believed that debt was just a normal part of life and there was no way around it.
In reality, we were in a terrible place, living paycheck-to-paycheck, praying nothing catastrophic would happen. We had absolutely no savings, and were in debt up to our eyeballs. That reality was crushing, and I struggled with fear and anxiety about our financial future.
In 2013 my husband took a worship pastor job in Connecticut, and we moved in with my parents for six months. We sold our house in Pennsylvania and used the proceeds to put toward a small emergency fund and the rest toward our debt.
Living with my parents for six months helped catapult us forward in our debt-free journey. My husband took extra side jobs computer tutoring, and odd jobs he found on craigslist to pay off our debt faster (that’s a whole other blog post about the quirky gigs he took).
Over the next two years we had ups and downs in our debt-free journey. We moved into a rental home with the smallest rent we could find. We knew we were in no position to buy a house yet, and had zero down payment. My husband’s pay also increased, and we began receiving a monthly stipend from the state when we became foster parents.
Some months we weren’t able to put much toward our debt, and other months we had excess in our budget. Every extra penny went towards those pesky student loans, and our motivation to get rid of them grew by the day. We tightened up our budget and anticipated being debt-free by August 2015.
Finally the day arrived and we had the exact amount needed to pay off our final student loan. We opened the website together with our 4-year-old son (who was equally as excited), payed the final payment, and then celebrated like crazy. We screamed out loud “we’re debt free!” and praised God for bringing us the financial freedom we had been craving for years.
It felt so good.
Here are my top three strategies for paying off debt. With a plan, and a season of intensity, you can do it too!
1) Get on a budget
This was the number one way we were able to get our money under control (as opposed to us being controlled by it). It took a couple months to work out the kinks, but once we knew exactly what we needed to live on each month, we could easily allocate every extra dollar to debt. We highly recommend You Need a Budget, as well as EveryDollar.com, and Dave Ramsey’s baby steps.
When you tell your money where to go, it feels like you got a raise. You’re welcome.
2) Determine needs vs. wants
We haven’t had cable in years, but honestly, I don’t miss it. Instead we have Netflix and enjoy Redbox every once in a while. We rarely eat out, buy new clothes, or travel.
When you are determined to change your life, these are sacrifices that you make for a season. It is hard, but very worth it.
3) Commit to doing it with your spouse (or accountability partner if you are single)
Money fights are one of the top reasons couples divorce. Having felt the crushing weight of debt on our young marriage, I can see why!
Working toward this big goal (and then accomplishing it) brought us closer together and strengthened our marriage in ways we never have imagined. Our finances have done a complete 180 since our wedding day. Not only are we debt-free, but we have an emergency fund of four months expenses, and are on our way to saving a down payment for a house, and investing for retirement.
Our next big need will be a car and we plan to buy it with cash! I never thought this would be possible for us.
This was one of the hardest journeys we’ve ever been on. We went from broke to a positive net worth. Fearful about the future to confident and hopeful. Floundering through life with our money to having a plan with goals.
With sacrifice and a commitment to a counter-cultural lifestyle, it IS possible to live debt-free in America.
Want FREE budgeting advice to help you get out of debt? Check out this FREE live training: “7 secrets to a winning budget (you can actually stick with)” held this week only! Register HERE now!
Thank you for this inspiring post, April! We have debt and it is so hard not to feel discouraged and stuck. After many failed attempts at budgeting, we finally have a good routine down and that has made a HUGE difference! We’re using everydollar.com, as well as our bank’s in-house tracking tools.
That is so awesome, Elsie! That is a massive part of the puzzle, and it sounds like you guys are on a great track to becoming debt-free. It’s so worth it, and I’m confident you will get there if you keep it up. Slow and steady always wins the race ☺️
That is so encouraging! Great job on paying off that much debt.
Thank you, Keelie! It was a ton of work, but very worth it. Thanks for reading ☺️
What an inspiring post! Getting on a budget was crucial for us as well. We entered marriage with both of us in debt. After our first year we attended Financial Peace University and became serious about financial freedom. Not having car and credit card debt feels amazing. We recently had some medical debt that we just finished paying and I was so thankful when we could make the final payment. Best to you!
That’s such wonderful news, Aimee! Great job! We love FPU and are coordinating our very first class right now.
Thank you for this encouragement!! We recently put our house on the market with the intention of putting most of what we net toward our $18,000 in student loans. After our house sells our family of 5 will be renting but 100% debt free!
Yay!! That’s awesome! We’re renting right now too. It’s not so bad ? And, we know it will feel wonderful when we’re able to buy a house with a solid down payment, along with our emergency fund in tact. It will be a blessing if you do it with wisdom. Congrats to you guys!
But by renting and not building equity in a home you’re flushing money down the toilet. With how low interest rates currently are you can buy for the same monthly cost as renting. Plus mortgage interest and real estate taxes are tax deductible.
Sue: I used to have that same opinion. But after 10 years of home ownership and working to pay off our mortgage early, the market crashed and we lost every penny of equity and then some when our home value dropped more than 50%. We moved for work and are about to pay another several thousand dollars at closing to get out of our mortgage. Maybe I will own another home someday (though in our area,”starter homes” approach a half million dollars), but in hindsight, renting would have been more flexible and cheaper in the long run. You just never know. 🙂
I agree, owning a home is definitely NOT always the best way to go, it’s just what we have always heard growing up.
April, what a wonderful post! Debt-free pastor’s wife with adopted boys here, too. So nice to meet you!
Isn’t God good?!!! Way to go! Rejoicing with you!
Oh wow, that’s so cool Jamie! Yay! Love that we have so many things in common ☺️
Jamie @ Medium Sized Family
I love reading stories like this that prove it can be done. And it can even be done while you are raising children!
We have a long debt payment road ahead of us. It’s tough, but I know it will be worth it in the end! Can’t wait for our debt free scream!
Thank you for sharing your story!!! I understand everything you said, I have a son too and I recently wanted to start to work again to help my family so we can be debt free,. For me was a little bit more different, I ‘m an interior designer and I was out of the market for like 2 years after my son’s birth, so if I wanted to go back to the business I needed to deliver good ideas so I started to sale the idea to transform regular room like bathrooms, bedrooms into sapces where you can relax like in a spa, and now thanks to our faith and hard work is actually working out. It is hard, I’ve cried so many times, but has rewards too. I completely identify with your post, it is important to get debt free. So thank you for sharing!!!
I so, so can’t wait for the day when I can finally say “We’re debt-free!” Congratulations to you and your family. Way to work hard to pay off that debt!
I’ve never been in much debt before. Being debt free always made sense to me, so I almost never went into debt. I did borrow $4,000 from my parents for school. Then I dropped out of school and got married to my first husband. My ex husband was also on the no-debt train, so we lived like paupers and somehow we got by ok. When we divorced (not for money reasons, surprisingly) there were no debts or assets to split up. I moved back in with my parents and paid off the loan they gave me. I then met my new husband who had a pretty good job, had no student loans, and had just paid off his new car. The only debt he had was the credit card he paid off every month. It’s a huge blessing to be debt free! We have money flowing to retirement, emergency savings, HSA, and investments every paycheck and we still have some leftover for us to live comfortably and pay extra on our mortgage. It would be so hard for me to see all our hard earned money leave our pockets and go right to the debt collectors.
We are DEBT FREE as of today! I just wrote the last check. We paid off approx $40k in just over three years. Some months we didn’t pay anything above the minimum payments but most months we paid $1500+ extra. Our final payment was from our tax return and our additional $1500 from our budget. It is so freeing knowing that next month that $1500 is ours! We are planning on saving for the next two years in order to have a good down payment on a house!