It wasn’t until about three weeks after our wedding that my husband and I decided to sit down and go over all our finances. This is when we discovered that we had more than $45,000 of combined debt, including a car loan, credit card debt, and the bulk in student loans.
Starting off our marriage on such shaky financial ground put us into a panicked frenzy and is exactly the reason experts advise you to talk about finances before you get married.
But we did what we had to do: we came up with an action plan. We talked about our financial goals as a couple and created a budget that would help us achieve those goals. We focused not only on paying off our debt, but on saving for vacations, a down payment on a house, and enough wiggle room that we could still enjoy an occasional night out.
Paying off debt even when you’re broke
Some people like to believe that everyone who focuses on paying off their debt quickly must have a substantial income in order to do so. But in our situation that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, for the first three years of our marriage, my husband barely made a little bit more than minimum wage. And while I made a decent salary, it definitely wasn’t anything to write home about.
We also had several setbacks that pushed our goal of financial freedom further away, such as:
- Living on one salary when my husband attended the fire academy full-time for four months
- Living again on one salary when my husband was injured and couldn’t work for a month (we did not have access to disability pay)
- Reducing our debt progress when my husband could only work part-time for several months
It was during these moments of financial stress that our resolve would weaken and we would question whether paying off our debt at an accelerated pace was worth it.
But we stuck with it, and every month we simply did what we could.
Spend Less, Earn More
In order to pay off our debt and create the life we would want to live, we knew we were first going to have to make some major sacrifices. Typically, in order to pay off debt faster, you need to create a combination of spending less and earning more, so we did just that.
Some of the sacrifices we made to spend less included downsizing from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio and postponing our honeymoon to Costa Rica for more than two years. Downsizing helped us contribute an extra $500 a month toward our debt. And we used Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method to keep tackling our debt.
Every time we paid off one loan, like my car loan which came with a $434 monthly car payment (eek!), we then started to contribute that monthly amount toward a new loan rather than spend it.
Other sacrifices we made was limiting our dining out to about once a month. We stuck to a strict grocery budget and, at one point, we were on such a tight budget that we restricted each of ourselves to a $20 monthly allowance, which was enough for one happy hour with friends, or a couple of cups of coffee.
To make more money to help pay off our debt faster, I started freelancing on the side, monetized my blog, and held a couple of garage sales—hey, every little bit helps when you’re trying to get out of debt.
To Be Debt Free
We currently have a little over $10,000 of 0% interest debt left, but we have all that money (plus some) currently sitting in the bank. We’re waiting to make our last debt payment until my husband starts his new job– hopefully in January 2014.
The idea of starting 2014 with no debt is so enticing. It means that all money we earn and make will now be ours to do with what as we please—we will no longer be paying for our past. Our new goals include saving up for a house down payment, traveling and paying for our next car in cash.
By January, when we pay off the last of our debt in one last bulk payment, we will have paid $45,000 in debt in 45 months.
It seems unbelievable to us that we were able to accomplish this goal, but all it took was hard work and dedication.
If you have debt to pay off and haven’t made a budget, check out the GoGirl Guide to Making a Budget to help you determine how much money you can put towards debt repayment.