What We Did to Get Out of Debt

If you look up the phrase “the American dream” I’m pretty sure there’s a Visa or a MasterCard logo right there next to it. And if one of them isn’t represented, then it’s a company trying to convince you that you need a personal loan in order to live your best life. And if THAT isn’t distracting enough, there are now what seems like a million retailers waving “buy now pay later” promises in your face, and debt overall just kinda seems…normal.

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Well, I’ve never been one to be…normal. (No comments on THAT little revelation, folks, okay?!)

In all seriousness, a couple years ago, my husband and I realized that we were in a BAD spot when it came to debt, and we didn’t even have the American dream to blame. Life had just kinda…happened…and we hadn’t been prepared for it, so we fell back on lines of credit and pieces of plastic, and the results turned into something that was simply not for us. We knew we had to get out. And guess what? WE DID.

Since then, we’ve had multitudes of folks ask us how on earth we did it. Well, there’s no big secret to it. We’re just the average middle class family who got stuck in a position we didn’t want to be in and focused on getting ourselves out of it. But we decided that detailing out the process we used and the extra ideas we set in motion to help ourselves along may be just the help and/or encouragement someone else needs to free themselves from debt, too! So…here we go!

In order to understand how we got rid of our debt, it’s important to understand how we acquired it in the first place.

I BLAME THE KIDS.

Kidding. Kinda sorta. Not really. Okay, maybe just a little.

Honestly, we probably didn’t pay all that much attention to the way our world was changing, kids included. That may have been our first mistake. After all, we went from a 2-income household with no kids to a 1-income household with 2 kids. And while we initially thought we were ready for that, some of our circumstances changed dramatically.

We had been in our current home for just over two months. We were thrilled to be living in our dream house, and Jerrod had just been promoted to an even better job with the company he had been with for nine years. He had told me that if he got the promotion, I would be able to do something I had wanted to do since the girls were born – be a stay-at-home mom. It was all just falling into place perfectly for us.

So I put in my two-week notice at my job, finished out well and then, on that particular Monday, delved into life staying at home and raising two almost 1-year-old babies. By that Friday, my husband had been let go.

We were REELING. I remember that Friday so well. He came home and told me what had happened, and we sat at the kitchen table in our dream home, watching the girls sleep on the baby monitor, and laughing manically…because here we were, in this beautiful home, with two cars in the garage and two kids to take care of…with NO income. I mean, better to laugh than cry, right?!

For the next few months, while he looked for a job, we coasted. We had already cut so much in order to make me staying home with the girls work, we didn’t even look at our budget to see what other expenses we could cut, because we didn’t think there WAS anything else we could do without. And there it started: “Just put it on the credit card. We’ll deal with it later.”

After all, we had several credit cards with very healthy limits on them, because they were acquired when we were a 2-income household. It didn’t phase us. We assumed we’d just pay it off later.

Within a couple of months Jerrod was working, but he was working temporary independent contractor jobs for much less money than he was making before. He had several opportunities to make much more money than he was making before, but turned them all down because they involved long periods of travel, and he didn’t want to be away from us.

However, within a couple more months, he landed a wonderful job with a great company and lots of promise for moving up the ladder quickly. The only thing was…the initial pay was about $20k less than what he was making previously.

We just had to hang in there, we said. He would work his way back up quickly, we just had to hold on until then. Throw it on the credit card, we’d pay it all off once things get back to “normal”.

And then, what we refer to as “the year from hell” began.

We got hit by Hurricane Irma, with water seeping into our home, into the girls’ room, to be exact. So we got that fixed and did a few other repairs around the house to lock it down. Money money money!

Two months later, sweet Gracie had what we thought was a cold…turned stomach virus…turned kidney infection…turned admitted to the hospital, cared for by specialists, racking up the medical bills as she went.

Two months later again, sweet Maddie caught hand, foot and mouth and ended up having the extremely rare side effect of seizures…which landed HER in the hospital and under the care of a neurologist, also racking up the medical bills as she went.

We came up for breath from all of that, only to have Jerrod undergo surgery, ending up with a lengthy recovery time, and, you guessed it! More medical bills!

All of these extra expenses trying to come out of a budget that was already stretched to the max. It didn’t happen. It COULDN’T happen. We couldn’t manage it. And the plastic kept getting handed over.

When we realized we were in trouble, we FREAKED OUT. How did this happen?! Well, we KNEW how it happened…but how did it get so bad? How did we allow this to grow into such a large issue? Would we ever be able to get out from under this mess and live a “normal” life again?

We were at the point where we had worked and re-worked the budget a hundred times, but the ends just weren’t meeting. Our final response was, “Oh well, it’ll work out, it HAS to work out!” But that wasn’t paying any bills!

So when we heard about the Financial Peace University class our church was offering, we decided it was now or never. We’d hit the point where we’d had enough, and we were ready to DO something about it.

So we signed up. I think we even paid for the workbook for the class with a credit card. I mean, that’s how bad it was. We were STRAPPED.

And I’ll be completely transparent here: after the first session, I asked myself, “What on earth have we done? We’ll never be able to follow these steps! We just can’t do it! We’ll be stuck like this forever! There’s literally no help for us!” We went home and I cried it all out in the shower that night. I was totally overwhelmed.

But, as often happens with me, I felt a bit better about things the next morning, and Jerrod and I started delving into Dave Ramsey’s steps to financial freedom (Financial Peace). In case you’re not familiar with them, here they are:

  1. Baby Step #1: Save $1000 for Your Starter Emergency Fund
  2. Baby Step #2: Pay Off All Debt (Except the House) Using the Debt Snowball
  3. Baby Step #3: Save 3-6 Months of Expenses in a Fully-Funded Emergency Fund
  4. Baby Step #4: Invest 15% of Your Household Income in Retirement
  5. Baby Step #5: Save for Your Children’s College Fund
  6. Baby Step #6: Pay Off Your Home Early
  7. Baby Step #7: Build Wealth and Give

Seems fairly simple, right? To two people who had never lived life like this before, it wasn’t. We fought to make headway on this. There was a lot of crying (on my part) and a lot of frustration (on Jerrod’s part). We pushed ourselves to adjust to this new way of thinking, and we pushed HARD.

And then suddenly…we had our emergency fund.

Well, hot dog!!! We started to think that maybe we really and truly could DO THIS!

But the next step was what was so daunting. We were face to face with the debt we had accumulated and we had to start chipping away at it.

But again, we knew we had no choice. So we ate, breathed and slept Baby Step #2. Every minute we didn’t spend eating, breathing and sleeping was spent looking for ways to get more money to throw at this debt we wanted to be free of. I’m talking, birthday and Christmas money that was given to us was being thrown at debt. We were all in, no mistake about it. And I’m sure our friends and family were getting pretty tired of hearing about it…and hearing, “Oh no, I’m sorry, we can’t do that with you guys. That would cost us money that we could use to pay off debt, so…”

Was it hard? YES. Was it fun? NO. Do I ever want to repeat the process? I really don’t, and I hope I never have to! But was it worth it? YES!!!

On January 22, we paid off the last piece of our debt. It’s GONE, y’all!!!

And it’s funny – we rejoiced with a high-five, and a discussion about the next step in the process! HA! That’s how much our thinking has changed! No need for an expensive celebratory dinner or to run out and buy something we’d been wanting and hadn’t been able to get…no no. A high five for our lil’ team was perfect!

Obviously we followed the steps in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program, and obviously we HIGHLY recommend his approach. (Nope, he’s not paying me a single cent to say that, I just found his plan THAT helpful!)

But as we followed his approach, we did a few things of our own that seemed to help, as well. So here you go (in no particular order):

  1. Write out your budget. This may seem like a simple step, but once everything is written down in black and white, you can really get the full picture. It’s a big-time eye opener, which is super helpful in the beginning.
  2. Look at your expenses from largest to smallest. That will tell you exactly where you need to cut back. If your largest expense is your mortgage, well, that would be hard to cut back. But if it’s entertainment…well, then…
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask. Call your cell phone company, call your home security company, call your cable company. Tell them you need your bill to be cheaper than what you’re currently paying, and ask them what they can do about that. (Our cell phone bill literally shrank by about $30 per month! Oh, and we haven’t had cable for several years now!)
  4. Don’t refuse help if it’s offered. When we had people offer to watch our kids for free so we could have a cheap date night without having to pay a sitter, we accepted. When our parents offered to pay a medical bill for us, we accepted. When folks offered to bring us food, we took it and saved some money on our grocery bill! There’s no shame in that, folks!
  5. Barter! What skill(s) do you have that someone else might need? I traded photo shoots for property work and theme park tickets (so we could have a tiny break!) and traded my organizational skills for family photo shoots!
  6. Ask for more work. My husband went to his supervisor and asked if any teams needed help or if there was any extra work available that would be considered overtime. His supervisor floated overtime work in his directions for MONTHS. That was TONS of extra income that we were able to pay straight to debt!
  7. Ramp up some part-time work. I promoted and did some additional photo shoots, and also took on some extra clients in the marketing world. All the extra went towards our debt. Late nights, but super helpful in the end!
  8. Sell your stuff. I was already feeling like the house had gotten too full of STUFF, so I started selling things via sell pages on Facebook and through Facebook Marketplace. Not only did that help with clutter control on our end, but it also gave us some extra cash to throw at bills!
  9. Look into “budget billing”. Our electric company offers an option where your account is evaluated and then your bill remains the exact same figure every month. Takes away the larger costs when your heater or your air conditioner are running more!
  10. Ask the wise for advice. Throughout this journey, there were a handful of folks we noticed were doing life the way we dreamed of doing life. We took the time to stop and ask for their advice. They gave it, we followed it. Simple as that.
  11. Be a united front. We got on the same page and we STAYED on the same page. Because all the hard work we were doing would have been for NOTHING if we weren’t BOTH focused on getting out from under our debt. If one of us wavered, it would have thrown everything off, so working together to tackle things was KEY.
  12. Coupons. We didn’t do any extreme couponing, but we looked for coupons everywhere. They helped us to cut back all of our food expenses, and every little bit counts!

So there you have it! That’s how we made it this far, and we’re still working on the rest of those baby steps. With determination and focus, we know we’ll make it all the way to the end of the process!

If you’d like more information on Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, or would like to find out if there are any classes happening near you, CLICK HERE.

Have YOU paid off a large amount of debt? How did you do it?

P.S. All the lovely photos you see in this post were done by the talented Lindsey over at LaBella Mae Photography!

Due to the amount of comments from all of my wonderful readers, it is not always possible for me to respond to each one. However, I absolutely do read them all, and if you’d like to address something specific, or have a question for me, please don’t hesitate to email me at Kristen@theroadtodomestication.com. I will respond to your email as soon as possible! Thank you for visiting the blog!

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