I originally wrote this post for GoGirl Finance. I have updated it to reflect our last check payment that we made last week.
It wasn’t until about three weeks after our wedding that Eric and I decided to sit down and go over all our finances. This is when we discovered that we had more than $45,000 of combined debt:
- $26,500 in student loans
- $13,500 in car loans
- $5,500 in credit card debt
Starting off our marriage on such shaky financial ground put us into a panicked frenzy and is exactly the reason you should talk about finances before you get married.
But we did what we had to do: we came up with an action plan. We talked about our financial goals as a couple and created a budget that would help us achieve those goals. We focused not only on paying off our debt, but on saving for vacations, a down payment on a house, and enough wiggle room that we could still enjoy an occasional night out.
Paying off debt even when you’re broke
Some people like to believe that everyone who focuses on paying off their debt quickly must have a substantial income in order to do so. But in our situation that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We had several setbacks that pushed our goal of financial freedom further away, such as:
- Living on one salary when my husband quit his job to attend the fire academy full-time for four months
- Unexpectedly living again on one salary when Eric suffered a soccer injury and couldn’t work for a month (we did not have access to disability pay)
- Reducing our debt progress when my husband could only work part-time for several months
It was during these moments of financial stress that our resolve would weaken and we would question whether paying off our debt at an accelerated pace was worth it.
But we stuck with it, and every month we simply did what we could.
Spend Less, Earn More
In order to pay off our debt and create the life we would want to live, we knew we were first going to have to make some major sacrifices. Typically, in order to pay off debt faster, you need to create a combination of spending less and earning more, so we did just that.
Some of the sacrifices we made to spend less included downsizing from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio (which I liked to call “the love shack“) and postponing our honeymoon to Costa Rica for more than two years.
Downsizing helped us contribute an extra $500 a month toward our debt. And we used Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method to keep tackling our debt.
Every time we paid off one loan, like my car loan which came with a $434 monthly car payment (eek!), we then started to contribute that monthly amount toward a new loan rather than spend it.
Other sacrifices we made was limiting our dining out to about once a month. We stuck to a strict grocery budget and, at one point, we were on such a tight budget that we restricted each of ourselves to a $20 monthly allowance, which was enough for one happy hour with friends, or a couple of cups of coffee.
To make more money to help pay off our debt faster, I started freelancing on the side (I made $20k+ in side hustle income in 2013), monetized my blog, and held a couple of garage sales—hey, every little bit helps when you’re trying to get out of debt.
To Be Debt Free
Last week, we completely paid off all $45,000 of debt we originally started with. That feels good!
We currently have $8250 left on a 0% interest student loan for Eric that won’t be due until Dec. 2016. While we have the money in the bank to pay it off completely, we’ve decided to continue to earn the interest–at least until we rebuild our savings by meeting our goal of saving $30k in 2014.
45 months ago, when we decided to pay off our debt, we were making 40% less money than we are now. It IS possible to pay off debt even when you’re not making very much. It just requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
I am so happy with how far we’ve come in our debt journey.