We are so proud of ourselves for getting out of debt, and I have to share how we did it! Keep on reading if you want to know how we became debt free.
I shared the background on our debt story from part one of this series, and now it's time to talk about how we got ourselves out of a financial crisis! If you haven't read part one yet, go take a quick peek!
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Prefer to just cover the highlights or want a quick summary? Here's the skinny: we built a house, put our life savings into the house, lost the house and our savings, my husband started a business from the ground up and quit his job, we lived off only my income for 1 year, I got pregnant, had our son, quit my job, and now we only live off of my husband's income, he didn't take a paycheck some months so he could pay his employees and we racked up credit card debt, I'm pregnant again with no maternity health coverage, and STILL have managed to get out of debt.
Wheew! That was a mouthful! Now, it's time for the meat and potatoes version of how we became DEBT FREE as of this week. (Anyone care to join me in a happy dance?!)
LESSON #1: STOP LIVING IN FEAR
There are certain things we can't avoid.
Taxes. Bills. Certain debt. Unexpected “surprises” like poor health, losing a job, unexpected pregnancies, death, disaster, etc.
What I've learned is that you can't live your life dreading or trying to avoid these things. You can't live in fear, it doesn't do you any good. You have to work hard and prepare for the worst, and fight to stay on top of things in order to get ahead. REGARDLESS of your circumstances, we are all in more control than we give ourselves credit for.
As of Monday night my family is virtually debt-free.
WHAT BEING DEBT-FREE MEANS TO US
I know everyone's definition of debt free might be slightly different. For us, here's what it means:
- We paid off all our personal credit cards (they had started stacking up because there were a few months where our income was unstable, or there simply WAS no income).
- Bubba and I have no car payment (we plan to get a second car, but said we wouldn't until our debt was paid off…and once we do, only a reasonable payment).
- We have no student loans.
- All our bills are paid and up to date.
- We have a reasonable mortgage that we make payments to each month.
Maybe by now you're thinking, that's great, Jordan! Good for you! Now, how'd you do it?! Well, I'll tell you! Spoiler alert: it was hard work, but it was worth it.
HOW WE ACHIEVED DEBT FREE STATUS
When we got married my husband drilled into my head this philosophy that we've really tried to live by. It has become our mantra, and gives me strength to put back that super-cute-but-totally-unnecessary-something at the store:
“We need to live like no one will for the next 5 years, so we can live like no one can for the rest of our lives.”
So, what did that mean for us?
- We lived within our means. Enough said. That's really what it comes down to. It's like losing weight; no matter how much you exercise or how little you eat, if you are consuming more calories than you are burning, you will NOT lose weight. Same with finances! You absolutely CANNOT spend more than you make and expect not to go into significant debt eventually. It's physically, literally, and eternally IMPOSSIBLE.
- We set a reasonable and FIRM goal. We knew we needed to get cracking on getting out of debt, but it took us until New Years' to officially set a resolution and decide to stick with it. You won't get anywhere in life if you don't have specific and firm goals, direction, and reasoning behind everything you do. We created steps as to how we would get there and more than anything, we were dedicated!
- We made a budget and stuck to it. When we were both working we tried budgeting a few times but didn't pay attention to it. We just tried to spend reasonably and had confidence that we'd be able to pay off our cards at the end of each month. It was hard to change our ways, and it took a lot of trial and error, but we got into a good pattern. I have a lump budget amount each month, I put it all on a credit card so we can get cashback benefits, and I keep detailed records of everything I spend. I simply do not go over the budget, because I know we'd be getting back into debt if I do! You have to be disciplined. I'm not perfect, but I really try hard to stick tightly to it.
Budgets and goals are the easy part! This next part took comittment.
WE SACRIFICED A LOT TO BECOME DEBT FREE
- We cut unnecessary expenses. I only go for a haircut every 5-6+ months and get it done for cheap. We don't have cable. We don't travel much. Our house isn't fancy nor decorated extravagantly (though you certainly can do this for cheap if you are crafty!…which, I am not.) We don't have gym memberships. Our TV is tiny. I don't buy name-brand food or clothes (unless they happen to be cheaper than the no-name stuff). We buy used whenever possible.
- We sold our car. It feels like a curse sometimes, but I know deep down it's been a blessing. 🙂 We had a nice, fully-loaded SUV that we financed to pay $500/mo so we could pay it down quickly. We had a second old-school sedan that I've had since high school. It's completely paid off. We sold the SUV in August and have been sharing the sedan ever since. That $500/mo + insurance + registration + maintenance + gas adds up to more than you know. It's been really hard sharing a car and, trust me, I've complained. But sacrifices are necessary to get where you are going and I'm really proud of us to do it.
- We stopped giving each other big gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas, and we don't do gifts for other holidays (Easter, Valentine's, etc) at all. We set a budget of $20 for birthdays and anniversaries and $40 for Christmas. Is it worth putting your family in debt so you can have something really awesome to open for Christmas? NOT for us! The best part? I've had the best Christmases ever these last two years, because I've really thought carefully about what I asked my family for Christmas, and I appreciate the gifts so much more!
WE HUSTLED & GOT SCRAPPY
If we want something that doesn't fit into our budget, we either go without or find a way to make extra money! Remember how my husband made $350 last weekend by selling things we didn't need anymore? He was able to buy something he's been wanting for a really, really long time but we haven't “been able to afford”. I'm proud of him for making the effort! (See the 3-month budgeting rule that teaches how to afford things that are outside of your budget.)
WE PRACTICED PATIENCE
This is really hard for me. I really, really, really wanted an iPad for Christmas. All I asked for for Christmas was money, and I saved extra money from my budget for months to save up for one. Christmas came, and I didn't have enough money. Guess what? I didn't get an iPad. I used the money and got a few smaller things instead, and it was great. Remember what my husband won me for my birthday? That's right folks. Good things come to those who wait. I have a million stories like this, but I'll spare you.
WE TRAVEL FOR CHEAP
Elaborate, exotic vacations are tempting, but we're trying to live right now within our means so we can live better for the rest of our lives. We travel for free thanks to timeshares, travel with family and friends whenever possible (it's super fun, and you can split costs that way), and try to keep vacations within driving distance, or fly as cheaply as possible.
WE TAKE GOOD CARE OF OUR THINGS
Whether you buy something “cheap” or high-end, it's important to value and take care of what you have. And pass that lesson of respect onto your children as well! That can be tough. We get our carpets cleaned every 6 months, don't wear shoes in the house, and I vacuum every other day because we have low-end carpet I'm trying to make last as long as possible.
I use nice detergent to keep our clothes stain-free and looking new and wash them immediately if they get stains on them. My husband has had the same snowboarding equipment for years. I keep our nice things away from my toddler. We get our shoes shined and re-soled rather than buying new ones, and don't wear our nice shoes in the rain. Our son wears bibs. We keep our car maintenance up to date so our old-school car will keep kicking for as long as possible!
WE GOT HELP
My son had to have surgery when he was 5.5 months old. It was expensive, and I no longer had the great benefits my old job came with. While it was hard and time-consuming, I got financial aid and they wrote off most of the surgery. It was an absolute blessing, and I'm glad I asked for help. We also ask around a lot and utilize our network (asking opinions, trading favors like babysitting, borrowing things, working peoples' connections with various things, etc.). There is no shame in asking for help. If you qualify, don't ever be ashamed to get on food stamps, financial assistance, W.I.C, or any other programs available. As long as you plan to pay back society however possible, utilize help that is out there for you!
WE SPENT WISELY
We really take our time making purchases; budget, save up, shop around, research, ask around, find a deal, think carefully about things before buying. I am the queen of putting things back at the register. Always take a breath before buying something! I am also the queen of returning things. Always keep your receipts. We also believe that with certain things it's important to buy good, quality items that will last. Take my Dyson vacuum, for example. It costs more than a typical vacuum but has a lifetime warranty, and it's nice enough that we'll have it forever! Quality is key in some things.
WE GIVE GENEROUSLY
I truly believe what goes around comes around. We make it a point to pay an honest tithe to our church, and try to give generous fast offerings whenever possible. It's important to help others however you can, even if you don't have much money. I created this website to share things I learn about saving money with you! I do it because I love hearing how others save money and love to share my tips with all of you! It has come around and helped me more than it's helped you by doing this.
DO YOU WANT TO LIVE DEBT-FREE, TOO? 3 FINAL TIPS
If you're reading this, I bet you have debt you want to pay down. I know you can do it! Here's some final advice:
- We didn't shop for things, long for things, or plan for things we “couldn't afford”. Just don't even look. Trust me, window shopping sucks. (The reason I have “couldn't afford” in quotes is because you can find a way to afford nearly anything you put your mind to…it's CHOOSING to not afford something and not giving in to every desire.)
- We built up a reserve. Our reserve was small; only $100 from every paycheck would go (automatically) into savings. Now we're able to afford more, and we feel so much safer having savings that we hardly even notice is growing.
- We simply live frugally. We try to follow the F.A.C.T's of saving as best as possible. We try not to throw out or waste food, instead, we find ways to reuse EVERYTHING. Unless our dishwasher and washing machines are full, we don't run them, and we turn off lights behind us, and wear sweatshirts in the house or open windows rather than running our heat or A/C all day. We try not to eat out without a coupon. If we do eat out without a coupon, we try to share a meal. Basically, we look for every opportunity to be frugal, and have a blast doing it believe it or not. 🙂 And most importantly…..
Our family lives as much as possible, has as much fun as possible, does as many things as possible, and lives in the moment. There is not much joy in living for “if”, “when”, and “someday”.
I'M CHEERING FOR YOU TO BE DEBT-FREE, TOO!
Wheew! In conclusion, as my speech teacher taught me to say :), we worked hard and are proud of ourselves. I hope you all can feel the same sense of accomplishment that we do!
If you need a little help along the way, then Budget Boot Camp might be for you!
Looking for a few free resources that will help you begin your journey to living debt-free?
- Learn how to start a budget!
- Start shelf cooking so you can waste less food and spend less at the grocery store!
- Snag a copy of our budget planner so you can keep track of your spending and develop healthier habits.
You've got this!