Debt Free: Leslie pays off $29,474 in 14 mo, on $55K income! [Freebs Success Story]

Budgeting Tips, Finances, Get Out of Debt, Inspire, Motivation

Here's her story:

Debt free! Leslie pays off $29,474.18 in 14 months on $55,000/yr income!

I have the most incredible debt free Freebs Success Story for you today! Just in time for the Holidays, to remind us that you can do amazing things. Leslie emailed me, explaining that she and her husband paid off $29,474.18 in 14 months $55,000/year income! Can you believe it?!? I can. I asked her to share her story, and here's how they did it…

The Background:

Hey everyone! My name is Leslie and I am 28 years old. My husband and I have been married for 5 years and we were blessed to have a beautiful son, who is now 2 years old. We live in the Pittsburgh area with our 3 dogs. I work full time as an Auditor and my husband watches our son.

My husband and I started off our marriage like most Americans do…in debt. We had a car loan and some credit card debt. When we wanted to start our family I had a panic moment because we had too much going out and not enough coming in. We decided to clear all of our debt so when we brought this child into this world, the stress of debt wouldn’t be over our heads.

That was the first time we became debt free…

At that time my husband was going to school to finish his degree. He previously served 8 years in the Army Reserves and had one deployment to Iraq. His deployment entitled him to the Post 911 GI Bill, which covered 60% of his tuition. We were advised to take out student loans for the difference because he had an incentive in his contract that would pay for $20,000 of student loans. We thought that was amazing, so we signed for the loans and didn’t question anything.

The Wake-Up Call:

In December 2013 we received our financial wake up call.

After I submitted the loans to be reimbursed we got notified that the incentive doesn’t pay out $20,000 in one lump sum, they pay 15% of the outstanding principal balance a year, up to $3,000. The icing on the cake was my husband fell into a loop hole and we weren’t going to see a cent of that money. We were then faced with paying the entire bill ourselves. We were devastated to say the least. My husband felt betrayed by the County he served. I felt defeated.

We had just paid off our debt, and here we were right back in the middle of almost $30,000.

We decided the best thing to do is just go through the emotions and come back together when we are both of a sound and rational mind. When we did, we both agreed that this was ultimately our faults. We put our faith and financial well-being into the hands of the government (we all see how well they manage money) and that was just plain stupid.

We were already fired up about having this student loan in our lives we just needed a plan that would unite us both so we could get it out of our lives forever. We both, hands down, want to give our children the opportunities we were blessed enough to have and experience, and we knew we could not do that with debt strapped to our backs. 

The Pivot:

So here is how we paid off $29,474.18 in 14 months on one income of $55,000/year:

First we followed Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. We attended his Financial Peace University Home Study Class.We dropped our emergency fund of $7000 down to his recommended $1000 in baby step one. Baby step two is listing our debts from smallest to largest. There were 7 loans ranging from $900 to $4500. The $6000 from the emergency fund went right to debt. I worked over time for the first 3 months which gave us about $4000 to put towards the debt, leaving us with about $20,000 to cash flow over the remaining months. Another positive change happened; I took a better job with higher pay. I also earn about $7500/year in mileage reimbursement which we used to help pay off the debt. This only worked because my husband and I were on the same page and had the same goal.

Second we did a hand written budget every pay. EVERY PENNY had a name. Managed money works harder and you wouldn’t believe how much more you can squeeze out of your budget when you are in control and you don’t let those $5 purchases here or there mess with your plan.

We became very creative to help us save money on all budget line items:

  • We made our own laundry detergent (recipe made 10 gal, lasted 13 months doing 8-10 loads/week)
  • During the nice days of summer we hang dried our clothes
  • Cloth diapers (BUM GENIUS 4.0)
  • Made our own baby food
  • Bought used books for our son (.50 each)
  • Consignment sales for kids clothing
  • No going out to eat
  • No vacations
  • Coupons (tried to have a coupon for every item that I was going to buy anyway)
  • Ate leftovers (this alone saved us about $75/month because that food wasn’t going in the trash)
  • Used cloth instead of paper towels to clean the counters and floors
  • Used vinegar and baking soda to clean bathrooms
  • We ran the AC only on the hottest days
  • In the winter we kept the heat at a lower setting
  • We made our own dish washer detergent
  • When the oven was used and then turned off, we kept the door opened to help heat the house
  • Combat showers (only turning the water on to rinse)
  • Saved water and power where we could (unplugging unnecessary things)
  • Charged my phone at work
  • Christmas was a craft (I crocheted several gifts)
  • We asked for a discount on everything we purchased
  • No cable, we watch Netflix
  • Content with staying home and playing with our son (all toddlers can provide a ton of entertainment)
  • Surround ourselves with positive and encouraging people that kept us motivated

Here is an example of what I did that illustrates that every penny counts.

We have a strict $300/month budget, which is $75/week. One week I spent $73.74, so I had an extra $1.26. Instead of just letting that money slip out of my fingers, I sent Navient a principal payment of $1.26. Yes I know $1.26 isn’t moving the needle that much, especially considering we were making $1500+ principal payments a month, and I secretly hoped it cost more to process it than anything. But what I showed is our dedication to getting those student loans out of our life’s as fast as possible. Every penny that didn’t go to bare necessities went to student loan repayment.

Debt free! Leslie pays off $29,474.18 in 14 months on $55,000/yr income!

Leslie and her husband at a wedding.

Debt Free For Good:

Looking back I am so grateful we sacrificed as deeply as we did because now WE ARE DEBT FREE!!!!! My husband and I learned so much during this process.

We learned family is the most important and no amount of “stuff” can make us happy.  

We also learned that we need to be intentional in every area of our lives and to not assume anything. If we had done our research up front, we could have made different choices. But I think God wanted us to feel this pain now, so we can make better choices over the course of our lifetime.

I’d like to thank Jordan for giving me the opportunity to share our story. Also, thank you to all her readers who took the time to read what I had to say. Remember every penny counts!!


Isn't that amazing? I'm so proud of Leslie for sharing such a vulnerable story.

Do you have a success story to share?

Email me, [email protected] and I'd love to feature you! Or leave a snippet in the comment section below to share quick successes with us right now! We love hearing them.

Thanks for sharing Leslie!



  1. Kim

    I think you should for sure do people’s success stories. It will keep the momentum of your blog going when you are at a writer’s block or pregnancy tired. Hearing people’s stories is very motivating to me so thanks!! Keep it coming!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      So glad you like it! And thanks for the feedback! XO

    • Andrea

      Could you also volunteer to look over people’s financials and make recommendations and follow up at month intervals. Kind of like the show Til Debt Do Us Part. Do you know it?

  2. melissa

    Great post Leslie and congratulations! I’m glad all your hard work has paid off:) take care

  3. Kristin

    I love reading success stories!! Great job!

  4. Ivette

    Great story! Thanks for sharing it.

    How did she get $7500/year in mileage reimbursement? Would love to know if this is something we can do.


    • Sarah

      Would love to know as well!

    • Leslie

      I don’t know if this will post under the question, but here goes…I get the $7,500 mileage reimbursement from my company for travel to different clients. I put about 25K miles on my car a year….painful! I also learned that the miles my company won’t reimburse (we have to deduct the distance from home to the office and vice versa, off the top for all clients) you can deduct that on your tax return if you itemize as unreimbursed job expense.

  5. Tammy

    Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration! I started saving all my loose change in a glass jar so I can save EVERY penny. I literally used to throw them away. ; ( Thanks to Jordan, I’ve re-vamped my budget to break it down weekly, it’s much better! I also told my husband if we sacrifice now and “live like no one else will, we can live like no one else can”. He’s on board so that helps!

  6. Kellie


  7. Leah Frausto

    I am new to fun cheap or free and I just bought budget bootcamp (literally yesterday). My husband and I have 4 kids ranging from ages 6-2 and we want to be able to give them a better house and neighborhood to grow up in. However, my student loans prevent us from being able to do that. It to mention our vehicles, and our loa. From water proofing the basement. I needed to read this success story. It makes me want to work that much harder to get this going. My husband is on board too! We have a lot of work ahead of us, and this will take a few years. Thank you for sharing this! We can’t wait to get started!

  8. Story

    Welcome to the fun cheap or free community! It’s inspiring to see your determination after investing in the budget bootcamp. With four kids and financial challenges, your commitment to providing a better home and neighborhood for them is commendable. Facing student loans, vehicle expenses, and even waterproofing your basement can be overwhelming, but reading success stories fuels your motivation.

  9. StorySaver

    I welcome all to fun cheap community. It’s really amazing and engaging. It’s an inspiration for all. Thank you


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