Debt Free: How We Paid Off $33,171 in 447 Days

by |

D

ebt is a fact of life for so many these days, but it doesn’t need to be. From school and cars, to credit cards, so many of us have accumulated a crushing mountain of money that we owe to others. Much of the debt we have begins before we get married, and we bring that into our new marriages with us. For Jess and I, on the day we got married, that number was just over $43,000, all in student loans. For the next few years, we paid the scheduled payments of about $500 a month and would pay a bit extra if we got a big tax refund or something, but we were never that serious about it. That $500 a month was a huge strain on our already-tight budget, but it had just become a part of life for us.

That all changed for us in late 2016. We looked at our budget and were tired of just how tight everything was. It was time for a change. We signed up for a Financial Peace University class through our church and started paying down our debt using Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method. We started the process with $33,171 in debt on January 24th, 2017. We got super serious. I sold the (paid-for) 14 miles-per-gallon truck I swore I’d keep for the rest of my life and bought an 18-year-old little car that gets around 50 miles-per-gallon. Within a month, we were down to $15,466 (that included big payments from the sale of the truck and our tax refunds). But that was the easy part. Not everyone has stuff that they can sell. For the next 14 months, we cut every spare dollar out of our budget. We didn’t go out to eat (unless we were getting an ice cream cone to celebrate paying off a loan). We both worked all the hours we could to make extra money. We said no to a lot of things we wanted to do because we wanted to kill our debt more. We found new ways to do really inexpensive dates that were still fun. For a while, it felt like we’d never see the end of the struggle. But we kept making progress. It was much slower than the initial burst, but it was measurable. Jess also got downsized at the end of June, and was unemployed until December, so progress was a bit slow. On April 16, 2018, we made the final payment and had finally killed the monster. Nobody helped us or gave us money, and we didn’t inherit anything. It was all hard work and chasing every opportunity in front of us. It was AMAZING to FINALLY be out of debt.

But how DO you do it?

Here are the steps we took:

  1. Ask God for help
  2. We prayed regularly through the entire debt-killing process. We prayed for strength and wisdom, we prayed for extra work, and we prayed for discipline. So many times we were faced with decisions and opportunities, and it’s our focus on God that helped us to persevere.

  3. Give yourself grace
  4. Life will happen, but the most important thing is to do your best in whatever situation you’re in. We had a whole plan for paying off our debt within 11 months, and then Jess’ income went away when she lost her job. That changed things quite a bit, but it didn’t change our focus. Sure, it took us longer, but we still kept our focus and made it.

  5. Stop taking on more debt
  6. This is probably the most important step. At the same time that we started paying off our loans, Jess was starting graduate school. We were faced with the decision of whether or not to take out loans. We chose not to. We pay for tuition out of pocket to avoid taking on any loans. School is taking a bit longer because we can only afford one class per quarter, but it’s worth it.

  7. Save up an emergency fund
  8. Dave Ramsey advises that this should be $1000 in a savings account to cover any unexpected expenses so that you don’t accidentally add more debt. Because we were in an incredibly expensive area, we upped this to $2,000, just in case.

  9. Get serious and get angry about the debt you have
  10. If you’re not serious, this won’t work. You need to be willing to take drastic steps. We sold my truck and spent almost no money on anything fun for 14 months.

  11. Start the Debt Snowball process
  12. This means you make minimum payments on everything you have and put every extra penny you have toward paying off your smallest debt (interest rate doesn’t matter) until it’s paid off. Then you use the monthly money you were paying on your smallest debt (and everything extra you can manage) to paying the next smallest debt. Repeat this process until they’re all paid off. (For more about the Debt Snowball process, check out Financial Peace University)

  13. Measure your progress
  14. To track our progress, we made a Candyland-style roadmap and hung it in our bedroom where we’d see it every day. It reminded us what we were working toward and kept us on track. Every time we made a payment, we’d fill in more of the path, and we knew we were that much closer to being free.

  15. Celebrate the small victories
  16. For us, every time we paid off a loan (we started with 10 separate student loans between the two of us), we’d go out for ice cream. It didn’t cost much, but those were some of the sweetest ice cream cones I’ve ever had. They meant we were one step closer to being out of debt.

  17. Have a plan to celebrate big
  18. Celebrate when you pay everything off. We love Disneyland. Jess grew up an hour away, so it’s a part of her childhood and we love to go. So, when we started the whole process, we chose that as our reward. As soon as we paid off the last debt, we started planning and saving for a trip to Disneyland. We drove instead of flying and still did things as inexpensively as possible, but we LOVED that trip for what it meant. We even got special buttons to celebrate.

  19. Don’t go back
  20. When you finally do get out of debt, commit to staying out of debt. We drive two old cars that, combined, have well over 500,000 miles. Just because we are out of debt, doesn’t mean that we can start spending the money that was going to debt frivolously. We still have to plan for the future.

    Since becoming debt-free last April, we’ve used that same intensity to build up an emergency fund. We’re gunning for 6 months’ worth of expenses. As of now, we’re at a little over 4 months, and it’s slow going, but we’re staying on it as much as we can. (2019 update)

Getting on the same page with your finances and tackling debt as a team is one of the most amazing things you can do for your marriage. It is a great way to learn, work as a team, and encourage each other along the way!

What about you? Are you working to pay off debt? Are you debt free? Wherever you are, share with us in the comments–we’d love to hear from you!

Will you join us?

Have you been blessed by our ministry? Do you want to help bless others? If so, we’d be honored if you’d pray about partnering with us.

Our mission is to encourage and challenge couples to have a solid foundation built on Christ. Because when couples have their foundation rooted in Jesus, they are then empowered to do whatever God has laid upon their hearts.

Want to join the mission to help couples have awesome marriages? And also get early access to new content? Partner with us today.

Want to dig deeper?

Check out Radiant Marriage Academy, our free 16-lesson course!

Tiptoes

(Fully free. No catch.)

adam & Jess

Hi, we’re Adam & Jess--we’re so glad you’re here!

Our marriage got off to a rocky start in 2014 and quickly escalated into a full-out crisis. God healed us, and now we're inviting you to walk with us as we all journey toward healthier marriages together!

7 Days to an Awesome Marriage

Check out our free eBook and connect with your spouse!


7 Days to a More Intimate Marriage

Follow Us

Treasuring the Tiny Moments

The goal for the day was simple...Get food for dinner and prepare a delicious meal for our friends who were coming over (while still social distancing). I had gone to the store and had everything that I needed...except for the fish. I was planning on making fish with...

Choosing Your Spouse Over Your Checklist

We published an image of a quote on our social media not too long ago, and it struck me in just how profound it is. The quote, by D.L. Moody, is this: “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his...

How to Love Your Spouse Through Their Rough Day

There I was in my car in the garage processing through the events of my day. You know those days where everything just seems to go wrong? This was that day. From dropping a smoothie onto the floor in the morning to having a rough interaction with a friend to work...

7 Game-Changer Questions to Fight Disconnection in Your Marriage

Have you ever gotten to a place in your marriage where you felt completely disconnected from your spouse...and didn't have a clue how you got there? In these times, it can be so easy to ignore the problem and become apathetic. In the moment, ignoring things seems like...

10 At-Home Activities to Do as a Couple

Let’s be honest. The past few weeks have been a bit insane. Have you been going a bit stir crazy? Have you craved being with your friends or family? Do you miss hugs? Are you finding yourself losing track of days and time? Us too. In the midst of being under “shelter...

4 Ways to Take Charge of Anxiety

Army. Green. Couch. Can you picture it? Now hold onto that image and I’ll come back to it. If you have read my posts for any length of time, you know that I struggle with anxiety. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized how much I can fixate on things…...

Faith in the Midst of Uncertainty

I t was dinner time when we found out that Washington had issued a “shelter in place” mandate. While we live in Idaho, Adam works in Washington. And Washington was the first of the two to issue the mandate. Like many of you who have these state rules right now, we...

7 Ways to Grow Your Marriage During COVID

This last week has been insane. I feel like I woke up on Friday last week and the world had started to end. Grocery stores were being emptied, in-person church services had been canceled, schools were closed, and my graduate program was put on hold...and I couldn’t...

Abandoned, Alone, and Afraid

Abandoned, alone, and afraid. These three words have been the theme of my feelings over the last month or so. We're in this weird stage of life where so much about our current situation feels unsettled and nothing is secure. Our finances, not having a home base, our...

Building Momentum in Your Marriage

Having a great marriage isn’t based on one moment, one action, or one success, but rather a pattern of right actions (and corrected wrong actions) over time. This may seem obvious--doing the right thing is commonly best practice--but the effects are less obvious. It’s...

Want to build an awesome marriage?

Get started with Radiant Marriage Academy, a 16-lesson online course to help you build an awesome marriage.

The best part? Thanks to our patrons, it's completely FREE. No credit card. No upsell. No catch. Just great, free marriage tools to help you make your marriage awesome.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest