It started in March 2015, when my wife Anna quit her job to stay home with our baby—an unexpected choice that left us scrambling to live on one income instead of two. Initially, we relied on credit for everything from business expenses to restaurant meals and entertainment. In other words, we lived way above our means.
By early 2016, Anna and I found ourselves drowning in $30,000 of credit card debt. We decided we were done living this way—and made a plan to start digging out of debt. In addition to relieving our own stress, we wanted to raise our son in a family with good financial habits.
Here’s how we paid it all off in less than a year on a $75,000 household income, and finally got our finances back on track.
We stopped racking up more debt and created a budget.
Our first step was to stop adding to our credit card balances and pay with cash whenever possible.
Next, we created a budget—something we’d neglected to do after becoming a one-income household—prioritizing debt payments and other necessities, but cutting most everything else. We knew that making real progress on our debt meant paying more than the minimums, so we sacrificed everything from our cable subscription to traveling.
We also tapped our savings account, which was at about $10,000. At the time, we felt it was more important to pay off debt, then resume saving. Fortunately, we didn’t have any emergency expenses in the meantime, which we recognize could have left us further in debt.
We moved to a cheaper area.
Our mortgage payment was $2,200—after refinancing. Without Anna’s salary, that was suddenly unaffordable. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to build a cheaper home in an area similar to our old neighborhood. In fact, it was $100,000, or $700 per month, less. (We used the proceeds from selling our home to put a down payment on the new one.)
We lived with my in-laws for two months while it was being built, and put the equivalent of our mortgage payments toward debt.
We put every extra penny to good use.
We immediately set aside the $700 saved from our new mortgage payments. We also received some outstanding checks owed to us from our business, and Anna picked up a consulting gig a few hours a week. Then we sold household items—like our dining room set and sports memorabilia—on Facebook and Craigslist for about $1,000 profit.
All told, this extra money added up to about $20,000 over the course of eight months—and was funneled directly to our debt.
We didn’t give up.
Sticking to our plan wasn’t easy. Sometimes, we really just wanted to go out for a pizza or get away for a long weekend. But no matter how hard it was, living with the tightness in my chest that came from being in debt was worse. Remembering our goal helped us re-commit to the process when it got tough.
By October 2016, we’d hit our goal—wiping out the full $30,000 and finally becoming debt-free, aside from our mortgage. Since then, we’ve shifted our focus to two new goals: rebuilding our emergency fund (which currently sits at $1,500) and paying off our home. Based on our successful debt journey, we’re confident we’ll succeed.
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June 5, 2017