When Weston and I got married 5 years ago, we had about $72,000 of student loan debt between us (that ended up being $92,000 with interest!). We bought a new car within the first month and we didn’t understand the gravity of our student loans until we made our first payment 6 months later. We racked up a few thousand dollars in credit card debt when we had “emergencies” come up. With student loans, a small personal loan, a car payment, credit cards, and braces, we ended up paying off $135,000 in debt in 4 1/2 years. We made some mistakes at the beginning of our journey to become debt-free, but we finally got it right.
This blog post is very dear to me because Weston and I wrote it together! Our debt-free journey was a team effort and it only felt appropriate to share our story together.
“Oh, I could never do that.”
“Wow, really? How did you do it?”
“I am impressed! Maybe one day I can pay off my debt.”
These were the reactions most people had when we told them we paid off all our debt. We know we are weird based on modern standards because twenty-somethings aren’t supposed to pay off debt. They are supposed to travel and buy boats and cars and live life to the fullest. We did three out of those four things (no boat, but maybe one day!) and still paid off $135,000 in 4 1/2 years. It’s still difficult for us to wrap our minds around this!
So the question everyone asks (and rightfully so) is, “How did you do it?” We believe the secrets to our success were…lean in real close because it is crucial…contentment and intense focus. That’s what it all boils down to when getting out of debt – being content with what you have while staying focused on the end result.
Being business graduates, it made more sense for us to work on the loan with the highest balance and highest interest rate. We would save so much money in the long run, right?? Fast forward a few months later when Weston started listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast in the morning while we got ready for work. I [Ashley] hated listening to it. I’m not a morning person and the last thing I want to hear when I wake up is Dave Ramsey’s podcast (sorry, Dave!). But, everything he was saying about debt made sense. Against every fiber of my being, I started using the debt snowball method to pay off our loans. And man, did it snow!
About six months later, one of our church leaders approached us about leading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) course. We were both excited and hesitant at first. Excited because Weston had been listening to Dave’s radio show for months and we had started using his debt snowball method. Hesitant because we are not teachers by any means, especially Weston – the shy one! We prayed about it and told him that we would lead the class. This is where our financial freedom journey got kicked into high gear.
Throughout FPU, Dave teaches the importance of contentment and being focused on paying off your debt once you have established what he calls a “baby emergency fund,” which is $1,000 in a savings account. We already had more than that amount in our savings account, so we applied all but $1,000 toward debt. Next, we started what Dave calls “the debt snowball method.” This method is paying off debt smallest to largest regardless of interest rate. When we started making a monthly budget, we realized that we could live off of Weston’s paycheck and use Ashley’s paycheck for debt. Any extra photography money she made would also go toward debt. We were able to pay off almost $50,000 in one year alone because of the debt snowball method. Tell me this doesn’t work!
Being on this financial freedom journey was sometimes overwhelming and tough because we felt like we worked so hard and didn’t have much to show for it. But because we had a plan, we were able to remain focused on the end goal of being debt-free. We cut our lifestyle by not eating out as much (a big one for us because we spent a decent amount on eating out), not buying unnecessary items, and focusing on a budget. A budget allowed us to see where our money was going each pay period and know that every dollar we brought in had a purpose. (Side note: Don’t be turned off by the word budget. Budget doesn’t mean never having fun and only eating Ramen noodles. We had lots of fun traveling, eating out, and hanging out with friends. The difference is that we budgeted a certain amount of money for this each month and tried not to exceed that amount.)
When Dave Ramsey said, “We buy stuff we don’t need in order to impress people we don’t like,” I [Weston] really changed my perspective on buying. I don’t need a new car, a boat, fancy clothes, and gadgets. I just need to remain content with what God has provided. We also live by Dave Ramsey’s motto, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live and give like no one else.” That was the motivation we needed to get out of debt. We decided that paying off debt and not having the materialistic things now, was worth it so that later in life we can have paid-for-in-cash vehicles, healthy retirement funds, and the ability to give generously to others without it hurting our bank accounts.
This is our secret to paying off $135,000 in less than 5 years and we believe you can do it too! You may have high amounts of student loans, financed cars, and a mountain of credit card debt. Well, so did we! How relaxing would it be to drive in a brand new car that you paid for in cash? What about giving more to your church because you can? You will never hear anyone complain about getting out of debt. You actually get to keep your money that you are working hard for every month. Imagine the impact God’s people could have if they were debt-free. Make a decision now to get out of debt and you won’t regret it. It won’t be easy; if it were, everyone would be debt-free. Just know that in the end, all of your hard work will be worth it!