Reader Testimonial: After 14 months of hard work, we’re debt-free!

Testimony from Sarah 

In December 2010, my husband (Brad) brought up the idea about us looking at our finances, creating a budget, and making some sacrifices so we could pay off our debt. I was a little skeptical as I felt we were already living tight. What more could we do?

He was teaching Financial Peace University classes and I just thought it was his emotional high from that. I wanted some proof that if I committed to this new way of life and gave up my cable it would actually mean something.

Even though we never argued much over money, the stress of debt touched our relationship in ways I never realized. I finally agreed to it, but still was not ready to make any of the major sacrifices Brad was proposing at the time.

The Moment of Realization

However, I had my moment of realization when I was building a humanitarian aid web site. I was entering in items you could purchase, and an option to feed a whole school in Rwanda for one week was $250.00.

Seriously, we could feed an entire school for a week and all it would cost us is one car payment! I felt almost sick to my stomach at our selfishness. We were surrounding ourselves with “things” that we told ourselves we needed or deserved, while that same amount could feed a school of 450 children.

I became mad that we had this debt and wanted to do something about it so that we could be free to give. I told Brad that I was ready to kick this debt… and fast.

Kicking Up Our Momentum

So we started with the budget and were determined to make this work. We had a garage sale and sold everything we could think of in that. We still weren’t satisfied — so we talked about Brad getting another job.

He became a referee and started reffing at our church. Then, an opportunity came along for me to give personal basketball lessons and regularly babysit two of my friend’s children. These were unexpected bonuses and we socked that money away towards debt.

Kissing Our Nice Car (and Car Payment!) Goodbye

At the start of this, Brad asked that I think about selling our car. I immediately rolled my eyes and said “no”. I explained to him that our car was a blessing. I mean, it has an automatic starter, we needed a reliable car, we only have two years left to pay it off… and on and on my excuses went.

We agreed that we would hold off on that. But what Brad didn’t know was I was seriously considering it and praying that God would give us direction. Finally, after a few months, I told myself and God that I was ready to sell the car if Brad brought it up.

Of course he did, and one week later, we kissed our Honda Accord goodbye and began that painful search for a new-to-us used car. After two weeks, we found a perfect car for our family, in our price range, that we purchased with cash.

It’s Official: We’re Debt-Free!

After 14 months of hard work, we paid off $23,000 and we’re celebrating a huge accomplishment: we’re officially debt-free! I actually feel more humbled than excited because I am so thankful for God’s goodness and grace this past year toward our family.

Sarah is a work-from-home wife and mom of a soon to be 3-year-old girl and another little girl due at the end of May. She works for www.hagcm.org a Christian non profit organization which focuses on radio overseas and humanitarian aid primarily in various African countries.

photo source 

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Comments

  1. Renee says

    Such an inspiring story! I struggle with the thought of giving things up, such as cable, but the stress of living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about how I am going to feed my children seems to be a silly way to live life! Thanks for your post, with this story and God’s help, I am going to someday be able to tell a story similar to this.

    • jac says

      Renee, hang on to stories like these and keep them handy to refer to whenever you are unsure of your goals and direction–walk in the way God calls you and He will bless your steps!!!

      • Renee says

        Thank you, jac. I am a single mom of 3 and I work full time and sometimes it’s easy to get down and think there is no way out. Sometimes I feel that I am barely keeping my head above water! But this is when I need God the most. I just keep saying that God will provide….He will take care of me and my children. I thank Him for taking care of us in the past also. He has never let me down even though I know I have let him down. What an awesome friend to have in your corner! :)

        • Carrie says

          Renee,

          I’m a single mom of 5 and work full-time. Hang in there. I also have debt I’m trying to eliminate. I traded in my fancy car for a more modest car and saved $150 per month on car payment, gas and insurance. I don’t have the time or energy to do another job, but little things do add up. It will get better.

  2. says

    This was very inspirational. My husband and I have been taking a very slow approach to paying off our debt, but we finally decided it is time to get aggressive. We want to pay off $59,000 in student loans by next June. It feels totally overwhelming but we are excited to try. We started off small by budgeting, planning meals and making dinners from scratch. Our car is 10 years old and so our last thing to ditch is cable. We are just having a hard time doing it. Hopefully progress will motivate us to take the plunge! Thank you for sharing.

    • Rebecca says

      Have you thought about trying netflix? It cost a fraction of what cable does :) Blessings on your journey!

    • Kerry D. says

      I would shift to Netflix in a heartbeat, but the men of our family greatly value the ability to watch baseball games… so… Aside from that, Netflix is really wonderful, and such a joy to leave commercials behind.

      • Wendy says

        I hear you. It’s an entirely different story when men and their sports are involved. I live with 3 of them.

      • Emily says

        Our house too. My hubby couldn’t do without football in the fall and college basketball in the winter.

  3. Sara says

    I know how you feel about being more humble than excited! We paid of $204,000 in debt, and didn’t tell a soul for over a month!!!!….. then we had our debt free party! :)

  4. says

    This is so inspiring. We are in the same boat of feeling like we are already making sacrifices, what more could we possibly cut? $23,000 in 14 months is amazing. So did all the extra money you made in your part-time jobs on the side go directly to pay off debt every month? Did yo give up anything else besides the car payment and cable? Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. says

    Such an inspirational testimony! I had no idea you could feed a school of children with that little either, that’s pretty crazy. Thanks for sharing your story, I’m excited to like into your company later on this evening. Congratulations on becoming debt-free!

  6. Ac says

    What an inspiring story and wonderful accomplishment! Doesn’t it feel amazing to be debt free? The freedom is almost indescribable.

    I am curious, though…you mentioned your husband was teaching FPU when you all decided to pay off your debt. I had always assumed anyone serving as a teacher had to have actually followed the steps and live a debt free lifestyle?

    • Emily says

      I was wondering the exact same thing. It seems to me that one wouldn’t be able to teach the class if they hadn’t yet taken the steps to become debt-free themselves.

  7. Brandy says

    I found it interesting that in the beginning your husband was teaching FPU but wasn’t yet practicing the steps he was teaching. This is a good reminder that we all need to take time to evaluate our buying habits to see if there is room for improvement.

  8. Julie says

    Sarah, did your husband call in to tell your story on the Dave Ramsey show recently? If it was him, I heard his call and debt free scream! How exciting! Congratulations on your hard work and self discipline!

  9. Katherine says

    I have about $27,000 in debt. While my husband has apx the same amount, we’re not ready to put our finances together and consider each other’s debt our own – after all, we’ve only been married for 5 months. The only problem is that our combined income is just over $34,000. We both have college degrees (our debt is 100% student loans), but due to the economy, finding a well-paying job is very difficult. So it’s impossible to save up enough money to pay it off in one year’s time, as our debt is nearly twice our yearly income. We have a small apartment and live minimally. No cable, no land line, no health insurance, and we each have one magazine subscription and one pre-paid cell phone. We have 1 car that’s been paid off. With careful planning and coupon clipping, we spend $45/week on groceries. It’s going to take a few years, but if I stick to my budget I’ll eventually be debt-free, too!

    • Sara says

      You’re married. What’s your’s is his, and what’s his is yours. Work together as a team!

        • Katherine says

          I have to disagree with you… My debt is in no way his burden, and he agrees that his debt is not mine. We’ve accumulated the debt by our own actions, so it’s our own responsibility to pay it off. Our student loan payments are pretty much equal, and it’s nearly impossible to shoulder any additional payments for the other person. We do, however, split everything else down the middle – rent, utilities, groceries, etc. Once those responsibilities are taken care of, I have enough money left over to make my monthly payment, and I have a little left over for personal expenses. We’ve decided that the best way to go about it is to “work as a team” to penny-pinch so we can save as much of our own incomes as possible – and apply additional money every now and again to the principal balance of our loans. However, we have promised one another that should either of us win the lottery, we would pay off the other’s debt :)

          • sarah says

            I appreciate you sharing your plan, and the discipline it takes to pinch pennies and make sacrifices. I would keep in mind as you are learning the idea of oneness in the first years of marriage that you can have separate bank accounts, (everybody has things that work for them), but if you look at debt as something that you are each responsible for it puts the burden on each of you, instead of joining together and feeling like this is ours to tackle.

            Think about the opposite- if you suddenly got a job where you made $50,000 a year and your husband still made the same salary – What would you do? You would hopefully look at the loan with the highest interest rate and pay it down then tackle the next loan. Not worrying about whose was whose but working toward the common goal of being debt free together. I am doubting that you would pay yours off and then let your husband keep his while you bought new shoes every month. (Well maybe one pair of new-no more school loan-celebration shoes!)

            I too have debt – my own equaling about your combined debt in school loans. My husband has none – he paid his last school loan off with part of “our” tax return. We will now use his salary to live off of and mine to pay down this debt. Life is hard and one of the blessings is having a partner to share your burdens. So I would encourage you to remain hopeful that your husband and yourself will have the opportunity to use your education and increase your salary. But also as you grow in marriage you will grow in oneness, tackling whatever comes your way together.

          • jac says

            Katherine, I just want to encourage you in your journey toward becoming debt-free. Find inspiration in this story, but don’t be discouraged if it takes you longer than 14 months to pay off your debt. Rather than comparing your timeline to others’ timelines, compare your “then” to your “now”. Be encouraged every time your debt gets smaller, even if it’s only $5 or $10 smaller. The point is to move forward, toward a $0 balance.

            Keep up the hard work!

          • Rebecca says

            It’s great that you are dedicated to paying down your debts, but I think you may need to find some ways to increase your income. Working together as a team is one of the most important aspects of marriage. I was wondering what would happen if you were to have a child? Would you keep tabs as to who bought the last package of diapers or formula? Who would buy clothes, and who would pay for childcare? Or what happens when one persons income exceeds the other? I am not trying to judge you or anything, I was just curious. I have friends who are struggling in their marraiage due to finances, mostly due to keeping them separate. She made the most money and would pay their mortgage, and he was responsible for the utilities. However, when he did not have enough money to pay the utilities they fell behind, and she was partially unwilling to pick up his slack. I wish you and your husband the best on your journey to debt freedom (my husband and I are also paying down some ENORMOUS student loans with medial jobs…it’s a bummer) and I hope that if you choose to remain “separated” financially, that you come together with LOTS of communication. Personally, I have to giggle at the thought of my husband and I sitting at our table with a calculator dividing our electric bill in half :P

          • Katherine says

            If my income were to magically increase (and it would have to be magic!), I would help out my husband. Right now, dividing our expenses and debt payments works because we’re on an equal income. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to pay off my own debt and then dangle my larger income in front of my husband… If our expenses were to drastically change, then we would take another look at our finances. I’m not quite sure why this concept is so “controversial” – what works in my marriage works in MY marriage. It may not necessarily be what works for everyone and that’s fine. To each their own :)

    • julie says

      When do you plan to combine finances? Youre married…theres no more his and hers, its OURS. My husband and I combined finances (even debt) the minute we were marrief, if not before. Together weve paid off over $7000 of combined debt, and are working on his $50000 student loan. 100% of my income goes toward paying that off. I am so thankful we found Dave Ramsey, just wish it had been sooner :)

      • Wendy says

        I don’t think there is a magic formula that works for everyone. My husband and I had separate financial accounts until I quit work a few years ago and didn’t have any money of own coming in. Now we have combined accounts, but if I still worked we’d probably have separate ones. It was working fine. My parents have been married for over 40 years and still have separate accounts. My mom writes the checks for the bills, but my dad gives her half in cash to deposit. It’s worked fine for them. Different couples handle finances in different ways. As long as both agree to the plan that’s all that matters.

        • says

          Wendy, I agree. There is no need to be judgemental of the way other families handle their finances. As long as a couple are living within their means and committed to paying off debts, it’s not my place to say they are going about it the wrong way. Let’s all remember to support each other and not get hung up on the small differences among us.

          Katherine, I wish you and your husband the best of luck.

          Sincerely,
          Happily Married and with separate accounts,
          Sara

        • Debbie says

          Wendy, my husband and I do it exactly like your parents do. It works great for us. We’ve been doing this for 12 years. It worked so well before we got married that after we did make it official, we didn’t even consider combining accounts. Money fights have never been a part of our relationship. Of course this sort of arrangement could be an issue if both are not on the same page. We are both savers but when we do want to spend on something for ourselves, it’s never an issue with the other because it’s our own money we are spending. We have the same short and long term goals for our money. We have both been debt free for 4 years. Big purchases are discussed and bought together, split down the middle. Works for us!

      • Katherine says

        Not anytime soon. If I placed 100% of my income toward his debt, then he would be responsible for everything else – and to be honest, he doesn’t make enough money to do so. I think it’s perfectly fine to have separate bank accounts and separate expenses. In fact, my parents, who are now separated, said that combining their money was one of the worst mistakes they’ve ever made – and that it eventually lead to the end of their marriage. His mother said the exact same thing. Her husband had accumulated debt prior to their marriage, which resulted in a bad credit score. Other factors lead to their divorce, but she cites their financial troubles as one of the key aspects. Maybe we’ll combine finances years down the road… But not right now.

        • k and B's mom says

          You don’t have to combine everything together. I have been married 12 years and we still have separate accounts – we prorate the bills and it works for us. Seriously I don’t need my husband looking over every single credit card charge and I don’t want to do the same to him. Of course major purchases (over a grand) we usually discuss. BTW the only debt we have had for the last 8 or so years is the mortgage which we are set to pay off in less than 7 years.

        • J says

          I agree with Katherine. When I first got married (almost 5 years ago- time flies by fast!), people were shocked if they ever found out we had separate bank accounts. It just worked better for us- people close to us don’t necessarily need to know the reasons. They had so many concerns that we weren’t being “one” or committed to each other. However, for the sake of this blog and its readers- it was much better for us to have separate accounts because my husband used to shop as soon as he had money in the account (he had great taste and style though!). As much as I appreciate his style, all of our money would be spent if we had the same bank account. Having separate accounts allowed me to be a wise steward of my funds, pay off all my debt, and build up our savings fund. Throughout the years, we’ve had several discussions (and arguments) about his spending habits. We technically split all our expenses equally (rent, utilities, food, etc), but there were several times he didn’t have enough funds- so thankfully I had a buffer in my account! I don’t know what we would have done if we had a combined account! Thankfully, by the grace of God, he has finally come around during the last 6 months. Not only does he realize that his spending was a problem (he’s always known this was a weak area), but he has taken significant steps to control his spending, pay off debt, build up his credit score, and save money. We are at the point where we have one combined account, but both have our own accounts as well. Perhaps we’ll combine all accounts in the future, but for now, we’re happy with the decisions we have made. In fact, our marriage is now stronger because of these decisions. Katherine, keep doing what’s best for you and your marriage. Don’t let others judgmental attitudes (whether intentional or not!) get to you. Keep up the hard work with paying off the debt- you can definitely do it! Reading personal finance, minimalist, simple living, and frugal blogs/books provided me with inspiration and motivation. Putting some of their advice in action helped both my husband and myself become debt free- even though it took awhile!

  10. Kaila says

    very inspiring. We are working off paying our debt too. We just paid off the last credit card my husband had. But our main culprit is student loans. We also just bought a house last year and we had to buy a used van when we found out I was pregnant. Getting 2 kids out of a 2 door car would be a hassle. Of course we should be budgeting more, my husband likes to eat out which only cost us 10-14 at a time but we could be saving that. The only things we can really cut out are what we spend on food and what we spend on Netflix.

    • jac says

      Good for you! Here’s a thought–what if you track your eating out and Netflix expenses for a month or so, and then evaluate that figure to see how much you could cut? Maybe cut it in half, or whatever amount seems reasonable. Use coupons when you eat out, or carry out entrees only and prepare drinks and side dishes (salads, steamed veggies or baked potatoes, for example) at home, to reduce the cost while still having a break from the kitchen. Then you could put the money that you DON’T spend toward your debt, but not feel deprived.

      • Kaila says

        Although that is a good idea… The places we eat don’t have coupons and we never do carryout. The days we eat out are usually bc we had doctor’s appts, shopping, or got caught up in house work, never for pleasure. We cut down to the Netflix package for streaming. Maybe I’m not frugal enough for grocery shopping we don’t buy stuff that uses coupons unless the store has their “special” coupon in their ad. Our grocery budget is roughly 75-200 a month depending on when the last time we went shopping was.

  11. Natasha says

    Such an inspiration! My husband finally “got it” and now we have a set budget with jars for each category( insurance, daycare/gas, groceries, phones, rent, credit cards, cars/loans and then the power/cable bill. We almost always have left over money now and we never did a few months ago! We are hoping to be debt free soon! We will be moving into rent-free home(or less than $400/month-depends on the landlords because already are millionaires…literally) in July and hope that with no rent payments due, that we can build up our emergency fund of $1000 and then start eh debt snow ball!

  12. amber says

    Great job, Sarah & Brad! We just started Baby Step 2 yesterday! We’re so excited to get on the ball and work towards a debt-free life. Thanks for sharing your story.

  13. says

    That is awesome! I would love to cut some things out and pay down our debt but my husband isn’t there yet and would rather spend on eating out and entertainment including an expensive cable package to watch mainly sports. It seems as though every time we try to save up we need to pay a large car repair or replace the central air, something comes along and eats it up so we can’t get ahead. We are working 5 jobs between us so getting another job is really not an option and we have 2 kids in private school because we really don’t think the public schools here are good, plus I teach there as one of my jobs. I just keep praying that we will find a way to pay off this debt but then I think maybe God is saying, be patient, and it will happen in my time. Meanwhile, we can pay all our bills and maybe that’s enough.

  14. SandyH says

    My husband and I have a combined debt of about 40,000. This is so overwhelming to me that I can’t even fathom how it could be paid, ever, much less in a year or two’s time. A portion of that amount is our kids’ student loans; hopefully at some point they will be settled into careers that will allow them to pay them themselves ( one child already does.)

    We have no retirement savings, one car, behind on our mortgage, and four grown kids. We so desperately need help ; the paltry monthly payments we make on the loans are getting us nowhere. I try every payday to to take what is still in my checking account from the month before and transfer it into savings; this is an effective tool for me, and I am trying to accrue enough to pay off two credit cards hopefully by summer.Our credit card debt is the least of it, though, as we have never had high enough limits on the cards to get to the stratosphere numbers.

    With four children and two grandchildren, I admit a large part of my spending is gifts. We do big Christmases and birthdays, and while we have eliminated extended- family gift giving ( mutual agreement) it still is enough to be a big part of my spending. I pay cash only. I cook and bake from scratch. We eat leftovers. We don’t travel, ever. Raising four children gave me many frugal talents, but wonder of wonders, looking back on those days when I THOUGHT we were so broke, I never thought it wold be THIS time in our lives when we really are. I am sad every day.

    • Rebecca says

      I definitely understand student loan debt! It is a tough road. I was wondering if you might be able to put those loans into deferrment while your kids get into their careers? They will accrue interest, but will help you in the meantime. Maybe you could talk with your kids about how much of a burden it is on you and they could help with whatever amount they can, especially since the loan was for their benefit. I graduated 8 years ago with my degree and have been struggling to find a job since….but I still am responsible for making payments on my loan. A person does not need to have a “caree” to have an income.
      Don’t be discouraged by others quick debt payoff time…my husband and I are looking at a 5 year timeline to pay off our debt. Celebrate the small successes you make towards paying down those bills. You make no mention of your/your husbands jobs, but maybe someone could pick up an extra job somewhere to increase your income. Crystal has some great ideas to make money at home also. IF your kids use childcare for your grandchildren and you live close by, maybe you could watch the kids for some income. Just some ideas….hang in there and keep doing what you can. Every little bit helps :)

    • Carrie says

      Hang in there. On the positive note, you aren’t accumulating more debt, so that’s a step in the right direction. I think you should tell your kids how you are struggling. When my ex-mother-in-law lost her job, she asked to cut down on Christmas and birthday gifts. Well, it was the best year. I didn’t feel the overwhelming pressure to buy for her and your children may be in the same boat. She made me a sweater and did knitted mittens and modest gifts for my children. We have never gone back. She also asked us early in our marriage to take over one of my ex-husband’s student loans. We were thankful for all the help she gave us up to that point and it didn’t hurt us to take on this responsibility. I never knew she was paying it. Take care.

      • SandyH says

        Thank you for the encouraging words. You are right, I didn’t mention our jobs- I own a small business, and my husband works for a small company. part of the problem with getting an extra job is the fact that we live in a huge city and have one car. I work at home part of the time to offset the need for me to use the vehicle. My husband is in outside sales and is in the car constantly. He also owns a small business on the side.

        My children have limited awareness of our financial situation. They are in no way spoiled or have a sense of entitlement. NONE of them would ever accept another gift if they knew!

        Part of the problem for me is how overwhelmed I feel. This is
        affecting me in every aspect of my life. I wasn’t aware of the severity of the problem until fairly recently, without going into too much detail. Naturally I am aware of the student loans ( all of which I pay) and my own credit card accounts. Touching on a subject that arose earlier, my husband and I have fairly separate finances. I know it sounds odd, but it really isn’t.We had a joint checking account for many many years, but when I went back to work after being a stay at home mom, I opened my own account., because his had become mostly a business account for his small business. We share the bills, his is the lions share, but I buy all groceries, and pay two utilities and the student loans. We file a joint tax return. It’s mainly the checking accounts that are separate. And I would like to add that it eliminated all arguments over spending for us, but the downside is,which i have come to realize, it also pretty much eliminated communication about it, too. My husband would rather die than discuss money. I have wanted so badly to set up a budget, get credit counseling, etc but he just never would. His parents were very responsible and frugal people, so i’m not sure where that came from.

        • Stephanie says

          Sandy – I think it would be a relief to you if you could talk to your kids about your finances, and that you are in danger of losing your home if some things do not change. The student loan debt really needs to be their responsibility; you have too much on your plate. I think you may be underestimating their understanding, and I also feel they will give you enormous emotional support once they know the full story.

          • SMS says

            “My children have limited awareness of our financial situation. They are in no way spoiled or have a sense of entitlement. NONE of them would ever accept another gift if they knew! ”

            They need to know everything and start paying their own/seeking their own deferments, and the gifts need to stop. You already stated they are adults. Give the gift of your time.
            Your husband does not have to like to discuss money. Have you explained to him the importance of it on your mental/physical/spiritual health?

            My husband wasn’t willing to discuss cutting back until he went on unemployement. Now he’s on board and we realize how we could have been saving a whole lot more. Good Luck.

    • Teresa says

      Have you thought that maybe your kids would appreciate you ownsizing Christmas and Birthday gifts. My mother-in-law loves to go all out for holidays and birthdays. On the recieving end, I am overwhelmed and a little frustrated at times. There have been times when I haven’t felt like doing anything for my kids for holidays because anything I do would be outdone. Maybe for Birthdays you could just do something inexpensive with the birthday person if they are close. One of my favorite memories growing up was my Grandma taking me out to eat with just the two of us. Maybe this is something they would enjoy more.

      • SandyH says

        I am careful to not ” outdo” the grandkids parents. That would not be fair to my kids. One thing I am going to suggest is the possibility of going in together on the expense of the big gifts, like a swing set or playhouse or whatnot, instead of having that expense fall on one person.

        And I am cutting Christmas in half for each person. We generally give each child and spouse $100 each, 4 kids/spouses=$800. I spent $200 each on the two grandkids. I begin buying the Visa gift cards for the kids in September each year. I used to shop for all of them, but last year went the gift card route.

  15. says

    Great job! What an inspiring story. I think a real shift in thinking is brewing in response to giving. I love it when we work toward these goals that we might have more to give!! Such awesome life purpose.

  16. Raquella says

    My husband and I are currently working our way toward $0 debt. We paid off my student loan and have his and our car loan left, which is about $12,000 total. Since he is the only one working (I am a stay at home mom of 2), I have become very frugal about how to spend our money. I just can’t get him on my same page. He likes his Starbucks drinks and his cable. Any tips on how to get a husband to become as frugal as we are?

  17. K* says

    Could you maybe, instead of dropping the cable, cut down the package size? Instead of stopping him from going to Starbucks, why not cut down the amount of times he goes there, say by getting him a reloadable card?

    I don’t think that frugal needs to mean that you cut anything “extra” just because you can., know what I mean? Some people become very, very unhappy with the minimum. I am one of those people.