Remember the $204,971.31 in debt we had? It’s gone. We’re 100% debt free as of March 15, 2017.
Can you believe it? We’re 100% debt free, just as soon as I put the check in the mail tomorrow (literally).
We’re rebooting life. Thanks to Joe Saul-Sehy of Stacking Benjamins podcast for that — a reboot is exactly what we’ve done.
I wrote the check and a funny letter to celebrate the occasion…
I hope the person who receives this gets the joke. 🙂
Here’s how we got to this point…
By early 2015, just a few months from my 30th birthday, I started to feel restless. Working a part-time job at a nonprofit organization, I was doing work that made a real impact. Garrett was honing his sales skills at his job, a job he started just a year before.
I was still overcoming the health challenge of 2014 and Garrett continued to work through his own chronic health struggles. Like that wasn’t enough, we spent all of our free time over-remodeling our big house.
Meals and restaurants and trips to home improvement stores comprised most of the non-essential purchases we made each week to the tune of thousands upon thousands of dollars.
This was a typical day…
Breakfast. Work. Restaurant. Remodeling. Yard Maintenance. TV. Bed. Repeat.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on our situation. We put ourselves in a situation with our personal finances in which we lived paycheck to paycheck, using credit cards to fund remodeling projects.
And if that wasn’t enough, we leased a couple of cars we didn’t really need. We put ourselves in a situation with our personal finances that necessitated W2 employment.
Had we continued with that lifestyle, we would have never been able to retire.
We wanted to travel more often than the two weeks of vacation we had each year. We wanted to be able to leave our jobs to pursue other lines of work (and maybe even entrepreneurship).
But spending the way we were, we weren’t scratching that itch.
We didn’t spend money on airline tickets. We spent money on granite countertops.
Truth be told, I have no idea why we did the things we did. To some degree, perhaps we were trying to keep up with the fantasies portrayed in the endless stream of TV shows we binged each night.
Too tired to do much else, we parked ourselves on the couch two hours a night doing absolutely nothing useful. And what did those TV shows do for us? (Other than reinforce the aspirations of the Joneses, of course.)
Big house life was exhausting and expensive. We wasted more money and time than I care to think about. Between work and health, there was little room for much else, especially not the hobbies or the action verbs we aspired to.
It was like life was SCREAMING to us at one point to WAKE UP and get with the program! There’s only one way out of this life and working until death is NOT the only choice.
Enter the movements that are personal finance and financial independence.
Long conversations ensued about how we ended up in the position we were in. We didn’t know anyone who didn’t have debt. Car payments, student loan payments, mortgage payments, credit card debt. You name it. We had it all and so did everyone else. It’s like everyone thought it was normal to finance what they couldn’t afford and we were just as guilty.
Thankfully, we stumbled into the personal finance community of bloggers.
To say that personal finance bloggers saved us from financial ruin is…well…completely accurate. There are literally thousands of bloggers out there on their own personal, debt free journeys who shared their stories, tips, tricks, and strategies and we read ’em all (or at least as many as we possibly could).
It wasn’t enough to read. It was time for action! Here are our 13 tips for living totally debt free and mortgage free.
1. Put all the debts on a piece of paper
First, we knew that if we wanted to reclaim our lives, we had to confront the debt.
How much debt were we in? Looking back to when we started the blog, we had $204k in debt:
- credit card debt, $16,515;
- mortgage, $156,013; and
- student loans, $36,079.
Lots of folks don’t think of mortgage debt as a bad thing, but with our health struggles and our paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, the mortgage was risky.
2. Downsize to a smaller, less-expense house or apartment
Living in a big house with a big mortgage was risky. Plus, we didn’t love the big house, so we put that on the market at the start of our journey to debt freedom.
Once we knew we were selling our big house, we began drafting plans to downsize to a small house on a .06 acre lot in Lancaster County that would allow for our “tiny” 500 sqft house.
Smaller house, smaller payments.
3. Create a debt payoff plan
Once the big house was on the market and we started the process of cleaning up the vacant lot for the small house, it was only a matter of time before we’d eliminate the big house mortgage.
Time to figure out how to prioritize paying off debt.
For our debt eliminate plan, we started tackling our credit card debt. We took money from the credit card using a cash advance check because of a promotional zero percent interest rate, money we used to buy our teardrop camper. Yikes!
Our promotional rate was about six months from expiring, so we focused our attention on the credit card debt.
By the time our credit card debt was paid off, we had moved out of the big house and into the small house. So, we decided to pay off the mortgage for the small manufactured home we live in today.
After paying off the small house mortgage, we had student loans from undergraduate and graduate school to tackle. One by one, we knocked ‘em out until we achieved debt freedom.
4. Create budgets for spending money
To make this debt payoff plan a reality, we had to figure out how much money we had coming in and how much money we have going out.
We had a Mint.com account, a free tool that tracks our spending and helps us create a budget online. All of our accounts are attached to Mint, so it was easy to see how much money we were spending. Once we knew what we were spending, we created a budget and then challenged every expense. Now, we use monthly budgets, annual budgets, a bare bones budget, and a budget for daily spending.
5. Cut all expenses
Once we knew how much money we had and how much money we were spending, we knew we had to cut our expenses so that we could free up cash to put toward debt. We cut every expense that was unnecessary, big and small; here are just a few of the steps we had taken to cut all of our expenses.
We hadn’t purchased clothes for two years while we were getting out of debt.
We cut cable TV, Amazon Price, and Netflix.
We clipped coupons using the grocery coupon app Ibotta to clip coupons.
6. Increase income
I switched from a part-time job to a full-time job, which doubled my income.
We started a side hustle in digital marketing to make more money.
Grow the gap between your income and expenses!
7. Find free stuff to do
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Between our jobs and our side hustle, we worked a lot. We tried working all the time to get out of debt in one year, but we found out pretty quickly how exhausting that can be.
Having free things to do outside like going for walks and hiking are a great way to break up the day. Nature can be refreshing and give you clarity.
8. Surround yourself with like-minded people
Find friends and family who want to get out of debt, too. Engaging with others who share your feelings about personal finance will help keep you motivated.
You may also want to get involved in an online community of people who want to get out of debt just like you.
9. Forgive yourself
The steps to debt freedom are black and white: decrease spending, increase income, and put the difference toward your debt. But it’s hard to stay committed, month in and month out. We made mistakes along the way.
We spent money on restaurants sometimes out of
We wasted money on road trips buying overpriced snacks at rest stops.
We bought too much stuff from this thing called “Amazon.” (Maybe you’ve heard of it.)
Know that there will be mistakes and maybe even an emergency along the way. Forgive yourself and jump right back on your plan.
10. Educate yourself
Read personal finance books, listen to personal finance podcasts, and read personal finance blog. You can learn a lot about yourself and money from this online community.
11. Challenge yourself
With everything you’ve learned, what else could you try? Reading books and listening to podcasts will teach you even more, so use those nuggets of wisdom to accelerate your journey to debt freedom.
12. Take care of yourself & your responsibilities
When we were getting out of debt, we worked almost 24/7. Thanks to our frugal meal plan of beans and rice, salads, and smoothies, we had plenty of healthy food in the fridge to keep us going.
Getting out of debt can make some people do all kinds of things to try to accelerate progress (like working too many hours like we did). Whatever you decide to do, have a plan for self-care to ensure you’re eating well, exercising, and taking care of your responsibilities.
13. Celebrate debt freedom!
When you get to the end of your personal finance journey, celebrate with those around you who supported you along the way.
Throughout the tough times when I complained about mortgages and being in debt (A LOT), there were lots of supportive personal finance bloggers who helped keep me motivated.
Quite literally, we crowdsourced our way to debt freedom. Between the personal finance books, blog posts, and podcasts, we collected the best advice we could find for the mess we put ourselves in. There is power in this community. Celebrate with your community!
Now, we we’re taking this space to thank those who care about us. 🙂
Thank you to John and David for your amazing wisdom and equally amazing and practical tips to get your money situation in check. But above all, you’re great friends.
Thank you to Tai and Talaat. This journey hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows, which is why your pocast has been so important to me. Hearing the success stories of others kept me motivated along the way.
Thank you to PT for inventing FinCon. You are super nice and your conference helped us connect with all of these amazing people.
Thank you to Our Next Life for being our cheerleaders along the way. 🙂 I’ve got spirit fingers for you when you retire this year!
Thank you to the most groovy couple we know at Freedom is Groovy. Whatever we can do to help make the Junior IRA a reality, you got it.
Thank you to Maggie for everything you did to help take Side Hustle to the next level. We’re forever grateful. Without your input, we wouldn’t have what we have today.
Thank you to Dom for challenging me to change my mindset and set bigger goals. You’re an inspiration to me!
Thank you to Bobby for your constant support along the way. We’re lucky to have friends like you!
Thank you to Mr. 1500 for your 1,500 day goal. Your goal encouraged us to set our own 1,500 day financial independence goal, which we know we’ll hit on May 18, 2019.
Thank you to Femme for bringing together a local FinCon group. I love these opportunities to connect with you and other bloggers!
Thank you to Steve and Courtney for your constant support and encouragement. Every Airstream will always remind me of you.
Thank you to Penny for the endless support and hilarious tweets. Twitter wouldn’t be the same without you.
Thank you to Kim from Philadelphia. You are most awesome!
Thank you to Amanda and to Michelle for helping us dream bigger. In the thick of debt, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s there!
Thank you to Cait for the shopping ban idea. It really made me appreciate all that we’re so fortunate to have!
Thank you to Ang and Sporty for all the encouragement along the way. I appreciate all the ways in which you challenged me to think (and act!) differently.
Thank you to Steven for making us commit to our FI date and all the support along the way. It’s a little over two years away, but I’m confident we’ll get there!
Thank you to Chris for Retirement Freedom and all the support along the way. We can approach the next phase of our journey to financial independence with confidence.
There are hundreds more bloggers and non-bloggers we’ve connected with, online and offline, who have been influential along the way. Steve. Pat. Sarah. Andrew. Veronica. Laura. J. Money. Literally hundreds more. 🙂 What can I say? I’m a people person and an extrovert!
Thanks again for following along as we paid off our debt. Stay with us as we journey to financial independence/early retirement!
P.S. Close to paying off a mortgage? Wondering what to next after you paid off your mortgage?
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