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I’ve got an awesome guest post for you today by Gina at The Saving Whiz. Gina is passionate about helping people find their sweet spot in spending and saving, by being more frugal. She’s all about finding new ways to save money without sacrificing her lifestyle. She regularly posts on all personal finance topics such as budgeting, building wealth, frugal recipes, time-saving tips, budget travel options, growing your career, and so much more. This is her debt free story and it’s AWESOME! Enjoy! ~ Jamie
This post is a celebration of a huge milestone for me. As of this month, I am officially debt-free, paying off $105,000 of debt in 5 years! The feeling is indescribable, but I will tell you this. I can literally breathe easier knowing that I no longer owe anyone anything. Well, except for my house payment, haha.
Debt is one of the easiest things to obtain. It takes literally minutes to get in debt.
Embarrassingly, I admit to you that most of my debt was not necessary. When I took on this debt, I already paid my student loans, my car, and everything else that was considered “excusable” to be in debt for. All of my debt was home-improvement related. I bought in to the marketing notion of making my house into a home.
If you want to know specifically what my debt consisted of, check out this link after you’ve read this post.
So, you’re probably wondering how I paid off such a large amount of money in 5 years time.
Let me first say, I didn’t get an inheritance, I didn’t sell any property, and I didn’t win the lotto. My husband and I both work. We’re pretty frugal people and don’t like to spend money without a plan.
Okay, now that I got those ideas out of the way. Let me tell you how I did it.
Method 1- We spent time creating a reasonable budget.
I can’t tell you how many times we had to re-do the budget. The first budget was so restrictive that it failed miserably. I don’t know why I thought I could feed my family of 4 on $200 per month in California. Yeah, it was a bit unrealistic.
We continued to tweak the budget until it was doable and reasonable. I now spend about $300 per month on groceries and it is more or less the average that we spend. It works for us and I don’t feel too deprived.
Method 2- We used all deals and discounts we could find.
I’m a huge deal seeker. I check online, clip coupons, go to stores during huge sale promotions and pretty much do anything I can to lower the price of an item. I’m not cheap, but I want to walk out of the store knowing I got the best deal.
Method 3- We stock up at rock bottom prices.
I’ve been known to get 10 loaves of bread when the price is $0.99 per loaf. I will stock up on meat when its on a crazy sale. Because of my stocking habits, I’ve created a stockpile pantry in what used to be our hallway coat closet. I also have a stand a long upright freezer. Yeah, it may sound a little nuts, but it works!
Method 4- We pay way more than the minimum on our debt.
We figure out how much the payment will be if we want to finish the debt in 6 months or a year. Then, we decide whether its realistic with our current expenses. We try to make our monthly expenses as low as possible so we can afford to throw more toward debt. Then, we start knocking down the balance as fast as we can.
For example, we had our roof installation that cost us $18,000 from Sears. The financing terms were interest free for 18 months. We decided to pay about $1,200 per month so that we can pay off the debt way before the 18 months are over, because Lord knows I don’t want to pay all that compound interest at 24%. Yikes!
I realize this may not be realistic for everyone, it all depends on your income and how much your monthly necessities cost you.
Method 5- We stopped adding to the debt.
This is the most important and crucial Method in the whole process. And I must admit, it’s not easy to do when you’re in the habit of going in debt. But, once you decide to pay off all of your debt, you have to stop accumulating more of it.
Mr. FC and I came up with a 3 question test for ourselves whenever we were tempted to buy something.
- Is it necessary?
- Can we afford it?
- Was it in our original plan?
I can’t tell you how many times this little test saved us from racking on more debt. It was so helpful.
Method 6- I cooked at home and packed our lunch for work/school daily.
I cooked a lot at home and we’d take our lunches every single day to work and school. I politely declined tons of work lunches with my friends, which I didn’t enjoy at first. But, as I started to see my debt go down, I became more motivated to say no. Sometimes, my friends and I would take our lunch hour walking and talking and we’d eat our homemade lunch together. It was nice to see others support my decision to not spend money on eating out, and I think it indirectly influenced their spending habits with lunch as well.
Method 7- We had a plan and stuck to it together, despite all of the obstacles.
Mr. FC and I sat down and looked at our debt together. We paid off the largest debt first (not the smallest, like Dave Ramsey suggests). We started with the largest because it made the biggest impact on our stress levels. We came up with our own payment plans (as I mentioned above) and pretended that the creditor required that amount. It kept us consistent in the payments and we never paid less than what was originally planned out. Then, as we moved down the line, the little ones were super easy to knock out.
Method 8- We limited our vacations to 1 per year.
You may be laughing thinking that this is a no-brainer. Prior to renovating our home, we used to take mini 4 day vacations 3-4 times a year. But, if we were going to do our BEST to pay our debt off as early as possible, we needed to significantly reduce the amount of vacations we went on per year.
Our current vacation of choice is an all-inclusive cruise for 4 days during the off season when the prices are really low. You may think that it would have been better to eliminate the vacations altogether. But, we have kids that had nothing to do with our bad choices. It also amped us up to continue on our debt-free journey if we felt like we were still enjoying life. So, even though this delayed our payoff date a bit, we decided it was worth it for our kids and ourselves.
Method 9- We kept our home clean.
It sounds strange, but believe it or not, when your home is not tidy and organized, you don’t want to be home. This causes you to spend money outside to avoid going home.
Once we started a routine of tidying and organizing our home, we looked forward to spending time together without having to go out. Think about it. If your home is freshly cleaned, it feels incredible. You look forward to hanging out and even want to invite others over (which we do often).
Loving your home is more than just renovating it. It’s also keeping it clean and inviting.
Becoming Debt Free is About Creating Habits
I know some of these methods may sound strange to you. And they may not work for everyone. But, these are truly the habits that helped us pay off $105,000 in less than 5 years. The great thing is, that now we are ready to save at least that amount in the next 5 years. And hellooooo compound interest!
Let Me Know in the Comments
Have you tried any of these methods when paying off your own debt? What other methods have you used? I’d love to hear from you!
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#5 – not adding to debt. It doesn’t sound like you are adding to debt when you pay cash for an unnecessary item, but you are, because that cash could have otherwise be used for debt pay off. You two did this so well! It is sure hard to give up vacations, but I bet the one you take this year will feel SO good!
#9 is so freaking hard to do with a toddler in the house, but also so completely true. Working on this one still (especially through decluttering).
Thanks for your sweet comment! I totally agree, spending on unnecessary items with cash while you’re in debt is no better. ? Tes, I cant wait until our vacation is cash flowed, we’re actually planning on going to Egypt for three weeks! Don’t worry about keeping it perfect with a toddler, I totally get that, we’re just at a stage where our kids are a bit older. Believe me, it gets easier! ?
Totally in agreement with the house being clean thing. My anxiety goes through the roof when there’s stuff everywhere or my dishes aren’t done. It’s all I can think about! This is an excellent point you’ve made!
Thanks for your comment, so glad you agree! It makes such a big difference in my day and my wanting to be home if the house is tidy?.
Awesome post! I agree we can’t put a total halt to vacations with little ones.
My husband and I are climbing out of debt… it’s hard. Thanks for the motivation
So glad I could help! Yeah, it’s all about finding a moderate balance while paying off your debt so you’re not so deprived that you end up giving up. Little trips can make all the difference to keep you going.
So proud of you and your hubby for taking the step toward being debt-free. You can do this, I believe in you!