Growing up I didn’t believe that debt was a problem. From what I observed, everyone around me had credit cards, car payments, encouraged student loans, and shopped on credit with no fear of the future. My first interaction with debt was wanting to take it out so that I could go to a small private Catholic college. However, my father was adamant that I needed to go to school in-state to save money and avoid taking out loans. I fought against this but I’m grateful that I was on the losing side because I graduated from college with $0 in student loans. Thanks, Dad.
I met my husband Jake during my junior year of college while working at a summer camp. He was funny, loved John Mayer as much as I did, had a horrible sense of style, and was simultaneously everything I ever wanted. He went to a small private Catholic college and studied to become a church youth minister. He graduated with about $15K in student debt and moved near me after his graduation to see if I was “the one.” Spoiler alert, it worked out. We got engaged during Christmas break of my senior year and started to plan for a wedding.
We were immediately overwhelmed by the cost. I had looked forward to my wedding since I was a little girl but I also couldn’t fathom spending anything close to $25K which is what the average wedding costs. As we considered the cost of venues, food, a dress, and all of the other details, we realized that we had a lot of tension about how to spend our money. So we decided to get help and enroll in a financial course together.
We Got Help
This was one of the best decisions of our relationship. We spent time making a vision for our family, deciding what would be important to us, budgeting together every month, and challenging ourselves to say no to small things so we could say yes to bigger things. After this course, I felt like I was ready to conquer the world and I had a plan for how to do it. What could possibly go wrong, right?
We Made Mistakes
The summer after taking that course, we moved to Phoenix and began new jobs. After sharing a car to commute to opposite sides of town, we knew we needed to buy a second car. We had very little cash, especially while preparing a wedding. So, even though we knew better, we somehow convinced ourselves that spending $15K that we didn’t have on a car was a smart decision for us. Long story short, it wasn’t. Out debt total doubled to $30K before we even got married.
This choice of plunging into more debt, put a lot of stress on us. We agreed that we could not under any circumstances take out more debt for our wedding. In hindsight, this motivation was what we needed to pay cash for our entire wedding using a combination of our savings and gifts from our parents.
I Learned What Creative Budgeting Could Do
We had a *beautiful* wedding on one third of what the average wedding costs. It took massive creativity, some sacrifice, and thorough planning. Friends and family made the cake, did our flowers, made decorations, bar tended, coordinated, and did us major favors. We bargained every step of the way and had to say no to things we really wanted. I specifically remember bridezilla level ugly crying after coming home the day I said no to the ‘perfect’ dress because it was double the cost of what we had budgeted. No one said it would be easy and it wasn’t. We did get to say yes to certain things we valued like good music, photography, and a nice venue. I cherish the memory of the day and am still amazed at what budgeting did for us.
We Got Serious
When we got home from our honeymoon we saw that we needed to buckle down to get out of debt. I was working a cold-call sales job that I hated. I took the job with the sole intention of getting out of debt. I told myself that I could quit the second we paid off the $30K debt amount. At the time, the goal felt insurmountable.
We had made a decision that the most important thing we could do as a couple was to get out of debt. No more excuses. We continued budgeting intensely and looked for any area that we could cut our expenses. We went bare bones or without on birthdays and holidays. We started meal planning. I challenged myself to stop using retail therapy as a crutch. We used furniture we found on bulk trash day to furnish our new apartment and we sold stuff we didn’t need.
It Paid Off
After just ten months of hardcore focus, it worked. I couldn’t believe it. In March of 2016 we wrote two massive checks to pay off our final balances. I was nervous about making such large payments, so I listened to a few Dave Ramsey rants on debt to get me FIRED up. Then we wrote the largest checks of our lives at that time. We did it.
We made the payments and for the first time were debt free! I felt as light as air. I remember driving down a highway in the desert and looking over at Jake while we did our debt free scream, windows down, music blaring, hair in my face because of the wind. I remember thinking about how stressed I was eight months before and how different I felt then. I hoped that other people could feel as light as I did that day when they thought about their future.
Within weeks, I quit my sales job and took a job as a High School Youth Minister. My husband had the same job at another church. To celebrate our hard work that first year of managing finances together, we took a trip to Italy. We met the pope, ate so much pasta, and paid for the trip in cash. We were on top of the world.
Our Debt Free Scream Was Just The Beginning.
I’m excited to share with you the second part of our story, our journey to financial freedom. That’s for another post.
Wherever you are in this process of overcoming debt, you’re might be feeling overwhelmed and doubting if it’s even possible or worth it to keep trying. I promise you, it is.
Here are a few of the most important takeaways I learned during this season of our life. I think they will help you in your journey towards financial freedom.
- Budgeting is the only way
- There is no way to accidentally get out of debt. Unless you are making a budget every month and telling your money where to go than you are not using your income to its full potential. It’s that simple. You need to treat your debt as the most important expense after your basic living costs. Tell your money where you want it to go every single month.
- Consider taking a job that’s not your dream job
- For me, this was a sales job that I hated. But this sacrifice got us to that debt free scream four times faster than we could have otherwise. Sometimes, your dream job that pays next to nothing can wait a few years while you pay off your debts. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s a sacrifice worth considering.
- Not everyone will encourage you
- It’s easy to believe that when you start this journey, everyone is going to be supportive. Sadly, this might not be the case. You probably have people in your life who are really comfortable with their own debts. Your decision to better your life will challenge their lifestyle choices. It may inspire them to join you or it could make them insecure and cause them to discourage you on your journey.
- Saying no sucks sometimes
- Following through with your budget is infinitely more difficult than just writing down arbitrary numbers. If you are serious about getting out of debt, this means you’re going to have to say no to things that you want. When you reach your goals though, those sacrifices will be completely worth it.
- Stop making excuses
- I say this with love but, your excuses aren’t helping you get to where you want to be financially. They are just temporarily making you feel like you don’t need do the uncomfortable. Turn your excuses into your reasons for getting out of debt. Flip your script.
- Find a community and resources that motivate you
- This journey is too hard to go on alone. Make sure you and your partner are motivated together. If one spouse isn’t on board, it won’t work. Then, find people who inspire you online. My goal is for this blog to be one of those resources for you.
- Getting out of debt can happen as fast as you are motivated
- There are always ways to think outside of the box. Maybe they are radical but how creative you get to pay off your debt is how fast you will do it. You have to have a fire in your gut that gets you to sprint out of debt. You would be surprised at how fast you can pay down your balances when you get a little radical.
What I want you take away from this story is that if it’s possible for me, it is so very possible for you.
Plenty of people in your life will encourage you to be comfortable and stay where you are, living paycheck to paycheck and stressed because that’s ‘normal.’
Consider this your invitation from me to you to choose another way. To not be normal and do something better. You are capable of moving forward financially instead of treading water.
You can do this and I’m cheering you on while you do.