My Unbelievable Life After Debt- What To Do Once You're Debt Free

Yay! You did it. Or, you’re thinking about doing it. Or, you’ve almost done it. Now, what to do once you’re debt free?!

It’s been 3.5 years since we’ve paid off our $100,000 in debt. I wanted to share where we are financially right now, because of the choice to pay off our debt all those years ago. The options are honestly limitless at that point. I hope this post inspires you to keep working towards debt payoff and, once you’re there, to create an intentional plan with all that extra money!

I remember thinking that life would be a total cakewalk once we finished paying off our debt. While it has changed dramatically, there still have been some struggles. I want to be completely open and honest about our journey.

FIRST, LET ME START BY SAYING, IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

I just wanted to get that out of the way.

Neither Sam nor I have ANY regrets about paying off that debt. We don’t ever think to ourselves “if only we would’ve invested that money instead of putting it all towards debt.” We know, deep in our bones, that paying off the debt was 100% the right decision for us. Totally and completely.

All the numbers I’m going to share with you are actual numbers from our budget. These are based on around $120,000 annual income. The numbers are the current amounts from our actual budget. While I appreciate your thoughts and concerns, Sam and I are super intentional and are doing what is right for our family right now! Please, only share your thoughts if they are constructive.  Thanks!

ARE YOU IN IT FOR THE LONG GAME?

We’re not into get rich quick ideas or schemes. We’re all about patience, gratitude and work. Those three attributes have gotten us through our debt payoff journey and they’re guiding us during our “what to do once you’re debt free” stage.

All that said, here’s how we’ve built wealth and lived out our Values and Vision since paying off our debt 3.5 years ago!

TRADITIONAL INVESTMENTS

EMERGENCY FUND

We started investing much more aggressively once we paid off all that debt. But, even before we started with investments we had to build up a 3-6 month emergency fund. Sam and I talked it over and have decided that we both feel comfortable hanging out at the lower end of that fund number. We calculated what it would take for our family to survive on the bare minimum monthly expenses – and multiplied that times 3 to get our number for a 3 month emergency fund. Then we put that away in an Ally savings account. Ally became our bank of choice for our emergency fund because we wanted to be able to get to it quickly (if needed), but we also wanted a great interest rate. Ally fit the bill for us. They are currently offering us 1.75% APY!

After we saved around $15,000 in an emergency fund, then we started investing.

COLLEGE SAVINGS

In 3.5 years we’ve created college 529 accounts for each of our 4 children and automated monthly $50 payments to each of them. We are both aware that this small amount is NOT going to put each of our children through college, but we’re also sure it will give them a great head start. They will grow up knowing that they will need to work or have a side hustle to help with college costs and living expenses. (Or, do something completely outside of the box and not go straight to college. (gasp!)) And at that point in our financial plan we will likely be able to help them cash flow the rest, since we completely and totally STAND AGAINST student loan debt!

IRAS

We’ve also created RothIRAs for both of us that we currently have at Betterment. (If you don’t know Betterment it’s a robo-advisor that we’ve used pretty much the entire time we’ve had investment accounts. We heart them. Read more about them on my resources page.) We automate $150 per month for each account (we have one in each of our names). We’re working towards maxing these out each year, but right now with me having a start up business and Sam having a commission based business we’re not sure what our income will be annually. So, we wait until the end of the year and make a big deposit around tax time.

Lastly, since we’re both self-employed, at the end of the year our accountant helps us figure out an amount that we can put into a SEP IRA to help offset our tax burden AND boost our investments even more. Win-win.

We accomplish having a large amount saved to deposit into these investments by putting 30% of all of our income checks into a savings account. This is so we can pay our taxes when tax time comes around in April and hopefully have a bit leftover for investments. Currently, 30% of all income works well for us and we have had excess left over at the end of the year to put into the SEP IRA.

NON-TRADITIONAL INVESTMENT

Sam is currently working as a realtor and we have both always loved real estate as an investment. We also live in a crazy popular part of the country where real estate has experienced intense appreciation in a short period of time.

Once we paid off our debt we both decided that investing in a rental property would be a good use of our money as a long term investment. While some folks say NOT to do this until you are completely debt free (mortgage, too) and can pay for the property in cash…we chose another way.

DISCLAIMER: I REALIZE THIS HAS MUCH MORE RISK INVOLVED AND MAY NOT WORK FOR SOME PEOPLE. IT HAS WORKED FOR US AND WE NOW HAVE ENOUGH SAVED TO MAKE 6-12 MONTHS OF THE MORTGAGE PAYMENT SHOULD THE HOME GO VACANT.

We saved a down payment (which was a bit more than the traditional 20% since it was a rental and not a primary residence) and an extra $9000 for improvements to make the space more desirable and rentable. When a place came on the market, we jumped!

It has been an amazing opportunity and investment for our family. It’s been almost 2 years and we’ve built nearly $50,000 in equity and are saving $480 a month into a general investment fund through Betterment.

We are hopeful to have this property paid off before our oldest goes off to college and then use that rent payment for his tuition or to fund his gap year or whatever amazing adventure he would like to have post high school!

We’ve also recently decided to invest in a short-term investment property that we’re hoping to flip within a 6 month period. I’ll let you know how that goes since it will be our first time flipping a house!

VACATIONS

We currently take three, week-long vacations a year, and multiple long weekend getaways. All of which are DEBT FREE!!

I know you’re thinking, how is taking a vacation an investment? But to us it feels like saving for vacations so we can take them without incurring debt has been an investment in our quality of life! We used to go on vacation and worry about how we’d pay for it later. Honestly, this would lead to us NOT taking vacations!

Since paying off debt we have been able to push $350 (sometimes more depending on what vacations we’re planning that year) a month into a “Vacation Savings Account.” To figure out how much we’ll actually need to save monthly we estimate our per vacation cost, total all the vacation costs together and then divide by 12 (or however many months we have that year before the vacations).

This is one of my favorite things about being debt free! Guilt free investment in self care! Going on a vacation and spending money eating out and going to museums or other fun attractions without worrying about how we’re going to pay for things later…it’s SO satisfying and makes the vacation so much more enjoyable!

DREAM HOUSE 

We were able to buy our dream house this year. I didn’t know that being in a space so ideal for our current family situation would make such an impact on my sanity and happiness.

I LOVE our new home. The house and the yard make me SO happy, and I love that it’s just a simple 4-minute drive to our kids’ schools. The value of saving so much time for our family has been immeasurable!

Our new house would never have been possible had we not paid off all of our debt all those years ago. Once we paid off our debt we started to cash flow multiple improvements on our old house. These improvements led to our home being very desirable and ultimately sold in one day!! It was truly amazing.

We bought our dream home without creating a higher mortgage for ourselves!

CONCLUSION 

Building wealth takes patience, time and intention. Don’t believe those get rich quick schemes. Be patient and thoughtful and set your mind towards those dreams of YOURS and your path to financial independence will all start to become clear. You’ll begin to see opportunities that you didn’t realize were open to you before.

Oh, one more thing, don’t get stuck in the “what you should do” trap. Be OK making your own way and deciding how best to build wealth for your family. Be open and be brave!

Since paying off debt we have put our money into a three month emergency fund; vacation savings fund; our dream house; two investment properties; four separate 529s for our kids; multiple investment accounts including a RothIRA for each of us, a traditional IRA (that we used to rollover our 401Ks from our previous 9-5 jobs), a SepIRA for self-employed folks, and a general investment account for long-term savings where we are putting our investment property savings.

That seems like a lot when I write it out but I’m always open to new ideas! I’m excited to hear how you’ve been intentional with your life since paying off debt! Comment below and share – let’s help each other live the best life we can!

Rooting for you always,