When my husband and I first met, becoming debt free was not one of our priorities. In fact, it wasn’t even on our radar! However, after getting pregnant pretty soon after we got married, we faced our financial truth and total up our debt. Honestly, we were both completely shocked to realize that we had over $111,000 worth of student loans and car loans! I mean, what on Earth were we thinking? Where were all the red flags that signaled us to stop taking out all the loans??!?!?! And to tell you the whole truth, it wasn’t until we were expecting our first little one that we woke up, put the debit card back in our wallets, and realized that we had to stop spending all our money!
We knew that we didn’t want to raise our children in a home that was burdened with debt and money problems. So we decided that it was time to focus on becoming debt free and pay off all our student loans and car loans. It took us 4.5 years, but we did it! We paid off our debt on just TWO TEACHER SALARIES! There were times we had to pause our debt snowball to have more babies, pay for surgeries, and cash flow large car repairs. We also had two children in daycare for 3 full years! Trust me, if we can do it, you can too! I’ve outlined some of the steps we took that helped us reach our debt free goal. I hope it helps inspire you to start (and finish!) your debt free journey.
We cut our spending habits
One of the best ways we were able to send more money towards debt each month was to significantly cut our spending. Every month we would write a budget and live on way below our means. Every purchase was weighed against our debt free date. For instance, we would weigh an expensive summer vacation against being debt free sooner. We were not perfect, but we almost always chose to spend less money so that we could dig ourselves out of debt sooner rather than later.
We followed a budget each month
Every month my husband and I would sit down a few days before payday and write out our budget for the upcoming month. We would make sure that we covered every expense for that month. We didn’t want to forget any commonly missed items in our budget. It wasn’t always easy to stick to a budget. There were times we were strict and followed our budget exactly, but there were also times we failed and spent money impulsively. To help us stick to our budget we tried doing these three things:
- We stayed out of the stores. Going to the store as little as possible helped us spend less and keep our budget in check. I tried my best to never go to Target just to “look around” because I had no doubt I’d buy something I hadn’t planned on getting!
- We paid for things in cash. People ask me if we paid for all our bills in cash and the answer is No. But we did take cash out for items that we tend to overspend on like groceries, restaurants, and gifts. We learned that paying in cash helped keep us in check and we literally could not spend more than we had budgeted. I created my own cash envelopes that you can get for FREE if you sign up for my Budgeting Basics Email Course! I also wrote an entire article about how to implement the cash envelope system. You can read that HERE.
- We checked our calendar BEFORE we made our budget. I promise that you will spend more money if you don’t plan for birthdays, celebrations, and social outings. After a few times of blowing our budget for unplanned expenses such as these, we learned our lesson!
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We focused on the end goal
After several months of working to pay off debt, we started to lose our motivation. The newness had worn off and I was honestly ready to give up. To keep us going, we decided to keep our goals visible. I made a debt free thermometer (get one for FREE by signing up for my Budget Basics email course) and would color it in as we paid off more debt each month. Our debt free thermometer lived in our master closet. It’s a place we went to several times a day and helped us remember what we were working towards!
We put ALL extra money towards debt
Tax refunds, side hustles, and any bonuses all went to debt! We didn’t use any “bonus money” to take summer vacations or buy new furniture. Instead, we sent our money straight to debt. This helped us see our debt go down a ton! Most years we even took any Christmas money that we received as gifts and put it towards paying off our student loans. A few of the things we did over the years to earn extra money included tutoring, teaching summer school, and driving a school bus (my husband is a band director and already had his license to drive a school bus). We took what we were already trained in to help earn extra income when the opportunity presented itself!
We always shop smart
Anytime we needed something new, whether it be clothes for our kids or household items for us, we always try to shop smart. Our children don’t wear name brand clothes and we like to buy clothes when they are on sale at the end of the season. We buy larger clothing for our kids and keep it at the top of their closets until the next year. We always shop sales for any household items we need as well. And when it comes to gifts for holidays, we find the best bargain that we can! These small savings add up over time and can make a nice dent in your debt snowball.
We stopped trying to keep up with others
There came a point in our debt free journey that I had to decide it was time to stop keeping up with others. My husband didn’t struggle with this at all, but I certainly did. I wanted the cute house that was decked out in the latest Target decor. Every summer I wanted to take vacations and layout by the beach all day. In my heart, I knew that I didn’t need everything else that others had, but I desperately wanted it. I didn’t wake up one day and immediately know that I should stop spending money just to be like other people. It was more of a gradual growth over time. Once I realized that I didn’t need to keep up with others, I was able to say “no” more often when it came to impulse spending, home decor purchases, and extravagant vacations. And let’s be real, we totally took an extravagant vacation that we paid for in cash once we were debt free. And it felt amazing!
We stayed organized
One way that we were able to be so successful with our budget was to keep everything organized in our Budget Binder. I loved that I was able to simply grab my binder to determine which bills need to be paid and which ones I’ve already paid. It was perfect to have everything in one place. Our budget meetings were less stressful and we were able to stay focused!
I promise you can do this too!
If you are in a place in your life where you are wondering if it’s even possible to become debt free then I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this! I know that it seems unreal and it seems impossible at times. You might be overwhelmed with the idea of sending money to debt, making ends meet, and keeping up with everyone else around you. Thankfully, you are capable of setting goals, paying off debt, and living on less than you make!