How we got out of $19,000 credit card debt in 16 months! [Reader Success Story – Jenny]

Jun 18, 2015 | Baby and Kids, Budgeting Tips, DIY, Finances, Food, Get Out of Debt, Grocery Shopping, How To Save Money, Inspire, Lifestyle, Make Money, Meal Planning Tips, Meal Prep Made Easy, Motivation, Price-Matching, Recipes, Shopping Tips

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

FREEBS. Today I have a Reader Success Story that will knock your SOCKS off! Today Jenny Park is going to share the story of how she attended my Frugality Boot Camp conference, then got inspired to pay off debt…and she did! Her family got out of – are you sitting down? – $19K in credit card debt in just 16 months!! She shares exactly how she did it below. Jenny, I wish I could hug and kiss you, I'm SO STINKING PROUD!

(P.S all you Freebs, stay tuned! My conference is happening again this year! Just nailing down details so hang tight and I'll announce it as soon as I can. And yes, you can “attend” even if you don't live in Utah!)

Here's Jenny's Story…

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

Hi Jordan! Thanks so much for having me today! I'm excited to share my story. It was last January 2014 we went to your conference. Then I had a pity party. And then I put my big girl panties on and went to work.

We were able to get rid of over $19,000 in credit card debt, reduce our house payment by $200 a month and cut our living expenses by $400 a month while increasing our income by $1300 a month…all in just 16 months.

Wow right? Okay so this may be a lengthy email so grab a dirty diet coke, a swig cookie and settle on in…haha!


How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

1. Attitude and service.

So pity parties don't work and hard work does…period! Instead of being woe-is-me we decided to be positive, faithful and get to work. We are LDS too and paying tithing works! Also having a positive attitude just helps in seeing opportunities and laughing off set backs and makes life better. We also try to put out good ju-ju by paying for those $1 balloons at the grocery store, the lemonade neighborhood stands, and donating time and goods to whatever we can whenever we can. If we are busy helping others and looking for opportunities to serve it counts down the time we can be on-line shopping and plotting our next renovation/money spending right?

2. The earner and the caretaker.

Now this is probably controversial for some gals/guys but in our family we had to decide who was going to go out and make the money and who was going to make sure it was spent slowly and take care of the kiddos at home. Before my husband worked one job and I tried to do babysitting or farmers markets or little things here and there to make money. It was difficult to divide the duties and schedule time and was just crazy. My husband can make way more money in less time than me, and I am frankly way better at cleaning and making cookies…there I said it! 😉

So he took on two extra jobs and I stay home with kiddos. Luckily his two extra jobs are he teaches Tae Kwon Do one night a week for 3 hours (30 students x $30= way more money than babysitting and only 3 hours away from family= happy wife).

And the third job is two nights a week he sleeps over at a house for men as a caregiver. He basically makes sure they get their evening meds, don’t escape and wake up and get morning meds. He gets to sleep on the couch (some places like this don’t let you sleep which is just too hard to do if you have a day job), watch movies, or do homework. Yes Saturday and Sunday night are a bit lonely but he is gone from 9:30pm-8:30am so since I am sleeping most of the time (and hopefully so are the kiddos) it isn’t too much of a bug.

3. Turn your talents into money.

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

So since he is a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do my hubby started teaching classes out of our garage to neighbors and friends and local kiddos. Typically lessons around here are $100 a kid…well we have 5 so that would bankrupt us. When my hubby did a 4-H program for my daughters school (free and fun) we had so many parents and kids want to continue but couldn't because of cost. My husband LOVES to teach and LOVES martial arts time with our kids and especially teaching girls and women how to defend themselves and not be afraid to be strong. So he set up a business, got insurance and some gear and turned our insulated garage into a gym. We have 30+ students every Thursday night from 5:30-8:30pm. Yes sometimes they need to use the bathroom in my house right by the garage door, but mostly it’s totally convenient. Hubby is at home= no rental fees, he can deduct the gear on taxes, teach my kids for free (saving us a ton), gives people a cheap and valuable alternative to martial arts classes (we have people that travel from three cities away to come and a wait list because we are full), and makes us $900 a month. WIN!

4. Cash isn’t king…trade is.

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

So sometimes people can’t afford to take classes for their whole family. I mean $90/month for three kids is still a lot of money! So we sometimes do trade instead of cash. We have a guy and his two sons we trade with. The boys mow the lawns in the summer, and he is a mechanic so we get work for free and pay for parts. OR another example is I make really freaking awesome old fashioned jam. Like I burn my skin off my forearms because I cook it low and slow using local fruit and honey/organic sugar, a little lemon juice and that’s it. No pectin so it is a soft French set jam and just amazing. Selling it is hard because no one wants to pay for my time and burnt arms…and I get it I am frugal too! So instead of selling it I trade it for goodies thus making it more valuable to me. I trade for beauty products from a friend that sells NuSkin and get a big old bag for four jams. Or I trade for jewelry for my girls. Or they make great teacher gifts and neighbor gifts and visiting teaching gifts. One jam with a nice bow goes far! Trade! Whenever we can we trade our goods/services and keep our cash for things we have to pay money for. We always come out ahead.

5. Less is more, simple is better, and take care of your stuff.

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

I HATE clutter!!!!! I HATE cleaning!!! I don’t want to run around my house picking things up all day and organizing and reorganizing everything all the time. I mean how many times do you hear people say their Saturday (the funnest day of the week) is going to be spent cleaning the basement or garage? What? I don’t want my stuff to stop my fun…only enhance it. So I read this book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“.

It gets a little bit wonky but the gist I took away from it is envision how you want your home and life to be, the feeling you get. Then only keep the things in your house/life you LOVE and are usual and give you that life. No more junk drawers of random “maybe I’ll use this one day, or what was that for again.” So I purged my house. Less to clean/pick up. Less to take care of. Only things I love and enjoy. And the rest?…..YARDSALE baby. I made $400 selling old clothes, knick knacks, gadgets and gizmos and all that. The most expensive thing I had was a $20 crockpot. But it all adds up. And the last hour of the yardsale (if you know you are going to get rid/donate what you have left) offer walmart sacks and say “whatever you can fit in this bag for $4”. People were buying $16 a piece with their $4 sacks when before they were offering quarters for $5 items…so we still made a bit and had a teeny bit to take to good old DI. (In fact the hour after our yardsale ended we left it in our driveway and posted that it was all free on a local facebook yardsale site so we literally had two tiny bags to take to DI).

And the things we kept we take care of and use. It teaches my kids to be respectful and work hard and take care of their things because if they break they don’t have 20 mcdonalds toys to play with. They even sold some of their toys when I told them they could keep the money and use it for fun this summer. Kids love money more than toys sometimes and then they spend it frugally because it’s their money.

6. Spend Less…duh…haha.

Here are all the ways we cut back:

  • Along with this we cut down on spending in general.
  • Less groceries, more stockpile on sale.
  • Less trips to the store, more gas money saved.
  • Less eating out, more fun family “buffets” (aka leftover night of bits and pieces of meals and the kids loved it…calling it appetizers…haha).
  • Buy jeans used…always! Oh my gosh I save soooo much money going to Savers 50% sales and getting nice (no holes/fraying/bell bottoms/ weirdness) jeans on sale for as low as $1.50/pair. Yes my girls are only 12 and 8 but they have style. We buy ALL our jeans second hand because they are usually a long-lasting item in the kids department and kids grow fast so you can usually score some great or even new items for uber cheap.
  • We got rid of our home phone, we have one cell phone we share (hubby is at work Monday-Friday and has an ipad he can message me with so no biggie). Our plan is the cheapest and we have unlimited minutes so we talk to family and locally without worry.
  • We got on the equal payment plan for our utilities…no more huge heat bill in the winter and huge air conditioning bill in the summer. This way the payments are the same month to month making our budget easier and if we spend less than they project we get a refund.
  • I also was able to be a volunteer on a kids art camp which then gets my kids art classes for half off and I get first pick of the classes to sign them up for. This is so handy in saving my sanity because I can schedule all four classes at the same time because of the early sign up, and I still save 50% on classes so they can all take one or two each! I just man the information booth for a few hours (while they are in class anyways) and then hand out t-shirts the last day of camp…easy peasy rice and cheesy!
  • We refinanced our house and saved $200 a month (we didn’t pull anything out, just qualified for a better loan). That is handy.
  • We buy used/scratch and dent/discounted everything we can…but only if we need it and want it. Hoarding good deals can sometimes lead to overspending so I buy what we need and can use and save the money for the next big deal.
  • We asked the grandparents to give the kids bikes this year for birthdays. Now our whole family has bikes and we have free fun/transportation/exercise…yeah!
  • Also we asked them to give gift cards to movies or restaurants or pay for activities for the kids to do instead of toys. My kids are not big toy kids…1 day of fun and a lifetime of mom picking it up and putting it away right? So to make sure we don’t have to have another huge yardsale we ask for experiences. The kids love to go to a restaurant and order their own meal and soda…I know small pleasures right. But we are a big family of 7 and eating out doesn’t happen much and when it does it is of the “no soda, share a meal, frugal, frugal variety”. This way the kids can pick to spread that gift card out on a few mom and me/ dad and me dates or go big and have a one time fun meal with no stops. They get gift cards to their favorite places to eat, or movie theatre or stores where they can pick out art supplies or tickets to go somewhere, or art classes. One time my mom paid for three horse riding lessons…such a fun experience!
  • We use Deals To Meals…nuff said right! (Jordan note: Read “How I Grocery Shop” for all the tips!)
  • We have cheap city internet.
  • We have a push mower (great exercise and our yard is tiny compared to most).
  • We trade for babysitting or now that we have a 12 year old we pay her or bribe her to watch some of the kids.
  • We go on lunch dates instead of dinner dates.
  • We have at home dates twice a month after kids go to bed early (they stay up late Friday night for family movie night and then on Saturday go to bed early so mom and dad can have an at home date….good trade).
  • We have Hulu not regular TV or cable $8/month aint bad….and I don’t have to have a DVR or pause button or worry about missing something.

7. Make it yourself.

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

Family movie night= homemade pizza. But the good non-bread kind. The stay at home chef has a refrigerator pizza dough. I make it, let rise 90 minutes, stick it in the fridge till ready to use for up to a week. Costco sells bomb fresh mozzarella that you drop in bits on pizza, freeze the rest for next week. I make and can homemade marinara sauce. So pizza is cheap and easy and soooo good! You can even use that leftover chicken and bbq sauce.

Love it at a restaurant? Make it from scratch and save. More cooking together and fun times talking. My girls are 12 and 8 so they can help cook. In fact they can make French toast on their own. My five year old and 3 year old love to “help” when they can too.

My husband is diabetic so we spend more money on food than the average family probably because his treats are fruit and good tasting meals and he can’t have super fast and easy sometimes. But we pick local fruit when we can, make everything from scratch that we can and save that way. Jars are reusable and people get rid of garden fruits and veggies all the time. Turn it into sauces and jams and trade them or enjoy. We even made a family cookbook of our favorites so we have a wide variety of meals to choose from.

Plus buy some cheapy containers at the local bakery…make a treat and tie it with bakers twine or that huge ribbon roll from costco and you have a cheap and beautiful and tasty gift. If you spend a bit of time on the packaging you can take a ribbon and clear wrap and make something tiny and inexpensive look thoughtful and amazing. The same with homemade cards! Costs me less than a $1 to make but the thought and time is appreciated! And kids have a blast making them.

Homemade laundry detergent…no joke. I was 100% Tide and Clorox and spray and wash and all that shebang. But I tried the recipe from One Good Thing By Jillee. Less than $40 to make and it works fine.

The trick is to get that Costco size of oxyclean and two $1 buckets. Fill those buckets up (half way) with hot water and scoop of oxyclean. One is for light clothes and one with darks. Usually we have a pink/red bucket (4 girls after all) and a lights bucket. When clothes get messy rinse with water and a bit of soap to get off the super junky bits. Then toss in the oxy clean bucket to soak. When ready to wash toss the whole bucket in the washer and add 2T scoop of homemade detergent into the washer and wash it up. Oxyclean soaking items was the #1 stain remover by America's Test Kitchen. Something about the items soaking in it breaks up the stain better than the spraying and rubbing technique. It has worked on blow-outs, ketchup, salsa, lots of things…but mustard was still faintly there so it went a second round of soaking…yellow stains are the worst for me it seems.

Less/cheapy cleaners. Vinegar, dawn detergent and rubbing alcohol, and bleach and you are set. I have a homemade shower cleaner and granite cleaner that work fabulous and cost pennies. And a big pack of those microfiber yellow car towels from Costco can polish your windows, appliances, dust blinds/baseboards, mirrors and TVs with /without water…free!

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

Jenny saved money by redoing their kitchen themselves

8. Free Fruit/Veggies.

We have picked tons of free fruit from random strangers because they want their yards clean/not full of fallen fruit they won’t use…especially apricots. So one craigslist/ you can find people willing to let you glean from their garden and yard. I always post that I will come pick the fruit they don’t want and turn it into jam and pie filling and kick back a jar or two to them to say thanks! I get tons of jams and sauces and they get a clean yard/less mess and free homemade goodies…win! I always go with buckets and my kids so they can help pick and work with me…and sometimes a friend…safety in numbers right?! Especially here in Utah I have had people contact me to come grab their apricots so they can have some jam…haha!

And Zucchini…who isn’t growing and trying to get rid of that. I make breads and muffins and waffles and sauces and freeze it for later. And at the end of the season before the frost if you notice a tomato field with some still on. Make the owner an offer per bag/versus per pound. I once was able to glean 30 bags of tomatoes for $10…bags!!! I made enough marinara sauce to last a year and it was good! (and I still have the jars and rings so I just need some lids and more tomatoes to do it again this year).

Another time a gal posted she had free granny smith apples. Her father owned an orchard in Washington and she brought them down to sell but no one wanted that kind. So she posted them for free if you brought bags. Well my kids and I headed down and ended up with 200 pounds (and that was with sharing it with 20 other families (she had crates full). We made dried apple rings, apple pie filling, and tons of applesauce…just added a bit of sugar to sweeten them up a bit. I had so much applesauce it lasted 1 ½ years and we just ran out last week. I tried to give my kids some store bought applesauce and they said they would rather wait till September when I make another batch…haha…so that is a downside I guess too!

Free is great!

9. Birthdays.

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

We make our cake. I am HORRIBLE at decorating cakes…but they taste good. So we decided to make it a joke. How horrible ugly can I make your birthday cake, any flavor, any color but always ugly. They love it. I have done ugly princess cakes, superhero cakes…as long as they taste good we have a good laugh and happy tummy. We also do a special dinner for them and make whatever they want. For the gifts we tell them either to pick a family party or friend party. Friend party is cake and fun at the house…either homemade pizza party or late night movie party with popcorn and treats. Simple and fun. Family party is a day to do whatever you want. Eat out at a restaurant (with those grandparent/family gift cards), a movie at the cheapy $1 or $3 theatre, go do something fun? It is always affordable, terribly fun and not gift focused at all…just experiences and family fun. And the kids each make a card. They have picked family parties mostly because they like to have that special time.

10. One car.

I don’t know how long it will last but we have had one car for 12 years. We have 5 kids. My husband works 3 jobs. So planning is key. But we spend less on car care. I drop off hubby to work then I take kids to school. They ride the bus home, hubby gets a ride home ,trade for TKD lessons ;). I walk/bike ride the four blocks to pick up Kai from preschool (I have a stroller and bike trailer so if weather is nice we do this to save money on gas and get exercise and get out). We go grocery shopping once a week. We do fun things on Saturday together. We are lucky and live close to lots of things and have bikes so we have options. But even in the snowy months it hasn’t been a bug too much. We live close to hubby’s work so really the only time it is a hassle is when not planning for after school activities and hubby needs to get home because his carpool ride is sick/had to leave early. It works for us.

11. Buy with cash.

For me cash in hand is hard to spend. It is painful to hand over a stack of money. Somehow a debit card and credit card (even with cash back options) don’t seem like real money. I pay with cash, I pay bills online for free with my bank. The mere act of looking at my stack of money has had me put back items from that gigantic Costco cart more than one time. Plus I wait a week to get non food/essential items. Do I really need a picnic blanket because it doesn’t get wet? How many wet picnics do I attend? Can I use a regular blanket or the camping chairs we have? Yep. What about the cooler with the rolling wheels? My cooler is scratched bit and doesn’t have wheels…but it’s clean and I can carry it and already paid for…haha. Sometimes if you pay with cash you get discounts even…like gas in CA on our trip to visit family…nice! Then I take our change and save it up in a jar for our fun activities. WE can go to the splash pad and head over to maceys for an ice cream cone and wa-la $5 activity from the change jar…win!

12. Freeze with a purpose…that’s important real estate there

I cannot tell you how many times I have bought a ton of chicken thighs on sale, wrapped them up and froze them…and then NEVER remember to thaw them to use them. So I now freeze them in marinades/sauces or as part of a meal. Or if I am super ambitious I grill them and then freeze them. Bam! Enchiladas, salads, tacos, soups…grilled chicken. And grilled is sooooo much better than crockpot (to me and my family at least). My little freezer (on my fridge in my kitchen) is for the things we need to use up…leftover pasta, potatoes, veggies and such. But my downstairs fridge is for the good deals. Veggies come on sale but they are not a huge price difference. So I store cheese, meat, butter, and the expensive stuff in the fridge downstairs. That is expensive real estate in there my friend so I need to make that space count. I do make my own broths and sauces and freeze them in wide mouth quart jars as well if I have the space because if you have a few veggie scraps or chicken bones…you have free broth.

13. Kids pay

How we got out of $19,000 of credit card debt in 16 months! Reader Success Story from

Kids always want things, so for those extra things they spend their money. They have an allowance that is tied to more than chores. We treat it more like a real job…attitude, work ethic, zones (chores), school work, getting along. They get checks everyday. Full checks= full pay (half their age, minus 10% tithing and then half to savings). Minus a check= half pay ( or earn full pay by extra chores/memorize a poem or scripture…something that takes a bit of time and work). Minus two checks= sorry, you can try again next week. They have an area they are responsible for a week and then it switches the next week. The little kids buy gum with their money and my oldest has saved $129 (aside from her savings) because she wants to spend it on something good. The first time I took her to the store to spend her money she realized quickly that the $10 notebook she wanted was fine when I paid for it…for if it’s her money she much prefers the 39 cent one…haha. This works for all non essential clothing and health care items. And if it is a family event we pay, if they go with friends they have to pay half. It works really well. And now my 12 and 8 year old can clean the whole kitchen, cook a bit, budget, shop and do laundry. They are prepped for college haha.

That is pretty much what we did. Of course there are more things like buying on sale and stocking up on certain things (I’m looking at you butter). And that makes it easier to make things from home for cheaper. Or Costco diapers/wipes. Or coupons at thrift stores, or facebook yardsale sites for shoes and out of season clothing. But I make sure to only stock up on what we need/will use. I like to keep a three month supply of everything not long term food storage. A year of wheat, beans, rice, oats, sugar, milk, potato flakes (we use them in bread). The rest is usually a three month supply or 3 of that item. Then I know when sales hit if I need to replenish or not.

Sorry this is 8 pages but it helped me and we are 100% credit card free. Thanks for all your help, I hope this helps someone else! – Jenny


Can anyone else say OH MY GOSH?? What amazing info!! Thanks for sharing, Jenny!

Do YOU have a Freebs success story to share?

Email me [email protected] and maybe YOU will be featured too!



  1. Jenny

    Oh this is sooo inspiring! At first when I started reading….I had a deja vu moment when I read the name Jenny because Hey that’s my name and maybe one day I could be telling how we are debt free. 🙂 I can also totally relate to the “my husbands a diabetic so we spend more on food that the average family.” It’s true….between stevia, sugar free this and that….it’s expensive. Great post! and Way to go Jenny!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks for reading…and great name! ha!

  2. Camille

    That was very inspiring and got me thinking of new ways my family and I can cut back and save. Thanks for sharing Jenny!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Karen

    Amazing! So inspiring!!!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Seriously, right?!

  4. Samantha

    This is very inspiring! Great job!
    Jordan – It seems like the majority of your tips are for married, mostly stay-at-home moms, multiple children households. But what about the new couple trying to figure out a budget and pay down individual debts? Please don’t forget about us!
    Thanks for all your awesome help!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Great question and comment! We actually did most of our “figuring out” before we had kids, or while my son was just a baby. So the good news is…they all still work! Everything, almost! The multiple bank accounts, the budget weekly instead of monthly, how to pay off credit card debt, most of my fundamental systems can be adapted to any family size. Adapted being the key word though! So check out the beginner’s guide page and look at the general rules and tips and you should be able to adapt it down for a couple! If you have specific questions about a specific systems let me know and I’m happy to help!

  5. evi

    That was a lenghty post for sure – and I enjoyed every single word of it! Congratulations, Jenny, you did a terrific job! And thank you Jordan for offering the platform to share Jenny’s story! Sooo inspiring! keep going!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks for reading! XOXO

  6. Liz

    Way to go! Jenny, you are a rock star!

  7. Jenn

    Wow. That was AWESOME! I’m going to print and highlight this. It’s almost like a Frugal Handbook. I love it! You guys rock!! <3

    • FunCheapOrFree

      So glad you liked it! I know, she did a great job right?!?

  8. Cassie

    Wonderful ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. I would like more information about your kids chores/allowance system! Sounds awesome. Could you include pictures of your record-keeping system/explain it more? Thanks!!

  9. Brandi

    I would love to have a more detailed explanation about Jenny’s allowance system for her kids. Does she have a blog? I would love to know if she read this from a book, or where she discovered the concept and how it works in detail. Do their kids get paid daily, or weekly? Is it 1/2 their age in wages a day or a week? (age 8/2 = $4 a day or a week?)

  10. Laura

    Jenny had such GREAT tips throughout this post! What an awesome story for her and her family. <3

    We have one car and although it's hard to be at home so much at times, I know it also prevents me from going and spending money unncessarily. 😉 Also love her tip about the change jar and paying for things out of that. When it comes to ice cream or hitting up a garage sale, you can get certain things without feeling like you're digging into a budget line.

  11. Joyce

    It may be a long post but it’s worth it to read every word! And I don’t even have kids. I live with and care for my elderly mom. My job is based on my flexibility to care for her; get her to appointments, etc. and I do not make very much right now. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am definitely going to implement some of these ideas. Also, would you be willing to share your jam recipe? Thanks so much!

  12. Kamryn Carlson

    I love love love hearing all of these amazing stories!

  13. Shannon

    I always love hearing success stories and learning how they made it to their goals. While the individual situations are slightly different, you can see the same underlying steps that work. Such an inspiration!! One day, our family will be that success story too ☺️


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