Our Debt Payoff Story- $100,000 in 26 Months
I thought it was about time to go into a bit more detail about our debt payoff story! So, here goes.
Our debt payoff story feels more and more normal the further away it gets from us. It’s just a part of our past instead of a monumental accomplishment. With some objective inquiry, though, I realize how abnormal it was – and is – in our culture of quick, easy and comfortable. I also remember that hearing these debt payoff stories were a huge inspiration for us when we were on our journey; I want to do the same for others. I would LOVE for you to read my story and know, like I did at the time, “If she can do it, I can do it, too!”
You’re right…you can. And, friend, you will.
There comes a moment in every debt payoff story I’ve heard where debt becomes absolutely abhorrent. Where the plan is no longer simply, “I’m not going to use my credit cards any more.” Or, “I’m not going to ask my family for money any longer.” But, instead, becomes a primal willingness to sacrifice in the short-term in order to be transformed and achieve a big, beautiful vision of a debt-free life. It’s a universally specific and singular event.
My “moment”, came right after our second child was born. We had cut up our credit cards after our first arrived, convinced that the presence of plastic in our wallets was what was holding us back from climbing over the $100,000 pile of loans in our life. For over a year we had been plastic free, but, without any other intention or attention, we hadn’t made much headway on our debt. Clearly, there was something else being asked of us beyond the dramatic photos of scissors slicing through the Ikea Card.
With only a few weeks of maternity leave remaining before I would return to full-time work as a physical therapist, I was beginning to realize that 12 weeks was NOT enough time for me, or my baby, or my family. My number 2, at 12-weeks-old, would only sleep on my chest in a carrier, and had only taken 1-2 bottles in her life. Needless to say, returning to full-time hospital work was causing lots of anxiety for this postpartum Mama.
I remember trying to have one of our visioning date nights around that time. We tried to talk about what we hoped our life would look like in 5 or 10 years, but, both of us were stuck. We couldn’t imagine finding a way past this enormous mountain of debt, and we couldn’t imagine settling in its shadows and limits. The tension and anxiety it was causing in our lives was palpable and stiff that night. It was not a super awesome date night, to say the least.
When I feel stuck, though, I take action. On anything, on something. I refuse to feel powerless. We started by taking a good hard look at our finances and realized we had a negative Net Worth. That may be evident to you, knowing that we were carrying a solid $100k in student loans and other debt, but at the time, in our ignorance and inattention, it was a startling, illuminating revelation to us.
After all, the prevailing story, and social norm in our land is to keep your head down, ignore and consume, ignore and consume. Seeing – really seeing – our Net Worth was like snapping out of trance. We saw, for the first time, that the path we were on – plastic-free or not, led us down the path we were on – broke and in debt, resentful and hoping for a different life, overwhelmed and obligated.
Free of the trance for the first time, we made a plan built on a vision for our future that was free, open and unencumbered. A future that was not in the shadows of that, or any other, mountain (unless, they were mountains on a map). It was my MOMENT, and it changed everything.
We decided it was time to really, truly live on a budget. Sam got to work and started crafting an elaborate spreadsheet. (Which we used for two full years before it became so clunky we were fearful it would crash our computer! So, we switched to this little gem.)
With some hard questions and thorough research, we decided that the best option for us was to hire a nanny for our children and start working 40-60 hours in the short term, so that in the long term I could be present for my kids.
WE REALIZED, IN SHORT, THAT WE COULDN’T HAVE IT ALL, AND WE STARTED LIVING FROM THOSE VOLUNTARY BOUNDARIES.
I moved to a full-time weekend job (Friday through Monday) AND worked Wednesdays, while Sam worked weekdays – we only needed a nanny M, W and F. It was a solution that met our financial goals – paying for childcare only three days per week – but it was hard for our family, and really hard for our marriage. We rarely had time all together, and we consciously chose to withdraw from communities and activities that were part of our life at the time.
Nothing was sacred, in the short-term. It was like a butcher shop for a while – hack, saw, cut. There were a lot of tears shed in those 26 months of working and scraping and sacrifice.
But, as I sit here and write about that experience, even though I can feel those emotions come back, I know it was worth it.
Our family is SO strong because of those very experiences, because of the hardness and edges and challenge. I would do it all again.
WE GAVE UP PRETTY MUCH ANY LUXURY YOU CAN THINK OF DURING OUR DEBT PAYOFF TIME:
ALL vacations (we didn’t even go camping during this time)
Lunch out after church. (SO much easier than going home and cooking, #amiright?!)
Church for that matter.
Nights out with friends.
Baby music classes (or your baby extracurricular of choice).
Birthday and Christmas gifts (which, looking back, I honestly prefer).
All the “things”.
We stayed home. A lot.
It’s really not possible to sugar coat this. It was a REALLY, REALLY hard 26 months. But, we can do hard things. And, friend, so can you.
To get through it, time and again (usually after a good cry) I went back to our big picture vision and values for our life. I had to connect back to our “WHY.” If I didn’t, I pretty much wanted to quit every day!
BUT OUR BIG PICTURE DREAMS KEPT ME GOING:
Being able to be a stay-at-home mama for my kids’ younger years,
Having the opportunity and freedom to pursue my passion,
Never stressing or fighting about money with Sam again,
Feeling like the world is a place of abundance not lack,
Stepping towards my personal goals,
Stepping away from overwhelm and exhaustion.
Freedom. Big, wide open freedom.
Those dreams up there allowed me to work 50-hour weeks while pregnant with number 3 (which included a lot of vomiting in the car on the way to work; darn morning sickness – needless to say there were many, many mornings I wanted to give up and stay in bed!), and to live SO frugally that we would have thousands per month in excess. Those dreams inspired me to put that excess into our debt rather than something fun (like a trip to the beach or a new car or a romantic dinner out or even a bra…not really fun, but also not really necessary).
And you know what? It totally paid off. Pun intended We attained all of those Dreams, and now we’re dreaming even bigger! I never thought that bigger dreams would or could ever be my reality. Never! But they are, and I am SURE they can be part of yours, too.
If you’re interested in starting your own personal finance journey, here are some resources I have available to you right now!
Go through the actions listed on my Start Here Page. There are LOTS of freebies throughout here that you could piece together to get you started! A great starting place is my “Defining Your Values Workbook.”
Go even more in depth with my “Finding Your Greatest Worth Starter Kit.” This kit gives you all the printables, exercises and reflection prompts you need to create a budget you will actually stick to, while finding meaning, beauty and purpose in the process. You won’t need to search around and piece it together by yourself. I’ve put everything together in a fluid, concise way. No need to guess, just follow the plan (the plan we used to pay off debt and still use to this day) and get ready to find beauty in your finances!
Don’t forget that your “Why” is what will get you through those harder times of saying no to consumerism and saying yes to the frugal life!
I believe in you and your Dreams. Take that first step, friend.
As always, I’m rooting for you!