how sara's family paid off over $150,000 by

I’m so excited to introduce you to Sara! I first “met” Sara over on Instagram and I felt like I had found a friend!  Seriously, go follow her now @thesmallhelm! I absolutely love how honest she is and how she can find joy in the small things! I knew that I’d want to share her debt free story with you, so here she is today!

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hi!  I’m Sara, wife to the hardest working man I know, and mom to 4 awesome boys.  I love being a boy mom and the only female in our home. We started our debt free journey while living in Ohio.  Halfway through, my husband got a job offer and we moved our family across the country back to Utah to live closer to our families.   Because we were in the middle of our debt free journey, we didn’t have any savings other than our $1000 emergency fund, and his job didn’t pay for moving expenses.   So, we sold all our belongings and moved what was left in a tiny trailer hitched to our minivan. We lovingly named our trailer, the clampett. (After the tv show, The Beverly Hillbillies)  Yes, strange, I know. But, we paid cash for our move, didn’t go further into debt, and managed to put a little money toward debt that month.

How much debt did your family start with and what type of debt was it?

We started with a little over $150,000.   It was a car loan (18K), credit card ($7K) and the rest was student loan debt.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to become debt free?  Was there an “aha” moment for you and your husband?

My husband had been in school for 5 years.  When he finally got a “real” paycheck, we lived just like everyone else does.  I “had” to have a house, so we bought a house, with no money down. Our family was growing, and we “had” to have a family car, so we financed a minivan.   

One day, my husband called me from work.  He told me he wanted to stop and grab something from Target on his way home from work that day and asked if that would be ok.  I said, “Uh, we don’t have enough money to cover that until you get paid.” He said, “What?! I make too much money for us to not have any money in our account.”   I agreed. It was a tough wake up call for me. We finally were living a life with a real job and a real paycheck, and yet we were still holding our breath each month like we did when he was in school.  I hated it! I hated the tension I always felt around money. It was always a worry to me and there never seemed to be enough money, no matter what size the paycheck was.

What steps did you take to become debt free? What worked best for your family?

When I read The Total Money Makeover, I knew in my gut it was the answer for our family.  I said to my husband, “It would mean the world to me if you read this book and we could get on the same page about our money.”   He was more than happy to do so. Once we were both on the same page, we decided together what we were willing to sacrifice to get out of debt.

I give credit to 3 things for our success:

  • The budget.  Neither of us is the nerd in our family, but our money issues bothered me more, so I was fine to take on the nerd role. I created and updated the budget each month. I arranged the budget meeting. But we worked together, as a team. Was it always perfect?  No. Did we have a lot of kinks to work out along the way? Yes!
  • Cash envelopes.  Using cash is key for me.  It is finite. When the money is gone, it’s gone.   I never ever felt pain when I would use the debit or credit card.  It didn’t feel real. I could justify any purchase when I used plastic.
  • Grit & determination. We decided that no matter what happened, we would not quit.  Our original goal was to be debt free in 3-4 years. It took 6.  SIX long years. We had Murphy come visit us more times than I can count.  My plan was thwarted over and over again until I got to a point where I threw up my hands.  I got rid of my timeline and began to trust that it would happen eventually. And, eventually, it did!  We really did cross that finish line!

If you could go back in time and do 1 thing different on your journey, what would it be?

I would try to be more flexible and realistic. Getting out of 6 figure debt with a household of 6 people and one income is challenging. There are people and factors that are simply outside your realm of control. I would have these big grandiose goals for paying off debt and then a kid would end up needing surgery, or the car would break down. We even found ourselves with a new job and had to move our family across the country during our debt free journey. Flexibility is a must.

What 3 tips can you give to a family just starting out on their debt free journey?

  1. Be honest with yourself.  Be willing to look yourself in the mirror and focus on your own issues surrounding money. You cannot change another person. Do not let another person hold the reins to your life. That’s your job.
  2. Put the blinders on.  Stop looking at what your friends are doing. I know it’s hard. All of our friends lived nicer than we were living. All of our friends owned really nice homes, had really nice cars, and traveled on really fun vacations. I wasted time and energy in comparison that would have been better used creating a dream and vision for my own life. 
  3. It’s ok to make mistakes.  No month is perfect. No budget is perfect. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the wagon. I did that more than I can count, and you know what? It didn’t help. It only made me want to spend more in order to numb out from the bad feeling for a tiny moment.  I’ve learned to give myself a beautiful gift, the gift of grace. When I fall down, I now say to myself, “It’s ok Sara.  It’s ok to be a human being on a human journey. You’ll get it eventually.” And you know what, eventually I do.

What does your future look like now that you’re debt free?

Our biggest hope is that our children don’t make the same mistakes with money that we did. They’ve watched us struggle, work, and sacrifice to get where we are today. They celebrated harder than we did when we made our last debt payment and screamed, “We’re debt free!!!” They have learned how to give, save, and spend their own money. They’ve learned to delay purchases, take time to review and compare prices. And most of all they’ve learned that “if you don’t have a plan for your money, other people do”.  Changing our family tree is the biggest gift this journey has brought to our family. My hope is that it will continue on for generations to come.

Tell us where we can find you and where we can purchase your amazing products!

I share our journey over on Instagram, @thesmallhelm.    

I also sell personalized kids bank boxes on Etsy.

Want to read more debt free stories?  Check out the ones below: