When it comes to getting out of debt, there is a lot of information out there to help you reach your goals. Of course, you can read pages and pages about how to get out of debt. But, does it work? Does anyone really ever do it? I’m here to tell you that they do. How do I know? Well, I have been on both ends of the debt spectrum — from declaring bankruptcy to paying off my own debts. I share this story with all of you, not for accolades or “atta’ girl” notations, but rather because it sometimes helps to know that you are not alone and there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel (no matter how long that tunnel might be).
“How We Paid Off $37,000 of Debt in 27 Months…”
In 2001 I was a twenty-something just enjoying life. I bought what I wanted, when I wanted it. Of course, I never paid cash because it was so “cool” that I had a credit card. I didn’t worry about my budget — heck — I didn’t even really know what a budget was!! Each and every pay period, I would have to rob Peter to pay Paul. I truly lived paycheck to paycheck. I made good money, but since I didn’t take responsibility for my own finances, my spending was out of control. I used my credit cards for everything. I used them to pay for my gas, my groceries, my clothes and sadly — occasionally to even pay a bill.
It wasn’t until December 2001 (at the end of a long relationship), that I noticed that I was financially unstable. There was no way I could afford my bills on just my income. Once I sat down and crunched the numbers I realized I had brought this all upon myself. I accumulated a lot of debt, but had nothing to show for it (not even a home). It was an eye opener. I knew that something had to change, but being young (and still pretty stupid), I did what I thought was the only answer. My only answer at that time was the “B” word — bankruptcy.
It was August 2002 when my official bankruptcy declaration was filed. It was something that shamed me and lifted me up at the same time. I was ashamed that I had allowed this to happen, but it also changed the way that I looked at money. Never again did I want to find myself in this situation. I left my bankruptcy and my life behind and headed east to Kansas City. It was time for me to take complete control of my life and ensure that it was headed in a direction that I wanted.
I knew that this would follow me for the next ten years of my life. I had messed up. Shortly after moving, I met my husband. He was so caring and understanding about my situation. However, he also knew that this was something I had to take care of before we could get married. Within a few days of my bankruptcy being filed, he proposed and we were married in June 2003.
The one thing we wanted to right away was start our family. Both of us were into our 30s and knew that we wanted to start sooner than later. We also knew that I wanted to quit my job and stay home to raise our children. We knew it would but some strain our family’s financial situation, but we also just figured we could figure it out as we went along.
I will admit that money was tight. However, we did very well not using credit to ever pay bills. We did take out a home equity loan to fix up some things around the house (no frivolous spending this time). Not only did we have that loan, we also had to vehicle loans and a little on credit cards (less than $1,000 total). Some months we struggled to make our payments, but we managed. Not sure how, but we did.
In October 2007, our son’s Godparents shared with us Dave Ramsey and his Total Money Makeover plan. We both knew we needed to eliminate our debt, but of course, were clueless how to go about doing it. We were both very curious and eager to learn what Dave Ramsey could teach us. So, in early November 2007, we placed an order for his books. We sat down and read everything within a few days (no joke). As we read his books, we had no clue as to how this man would change our lives — forever.
We were both so enthralled with the idea of eliminating our debt that we read every book and watched all of the movies in a matter of days. At that time, we had nearly $37,000 in debt which consisted of automobiles and a home equity loan. As we began our journey I realized that we had made a huge mistake. I had vowed to never allow myself to get into the same financial situation I had been in years before. However, I “thought” that auto debt and a home equity loan was “OK” debt to have. I was wrong. The right type of debt is no debt at all.
Thus began the changes to our way of living. I did the same steps many getting out of debt follow – right down to cutting up those credit cards and using only cash for everything. So, when I say I understand — I truly do! I know how tough it can be. I know that looking at that budget can make you sick to your stomach. I know you think that there is no way you can do it. However, we just kept at it and as we worked and tweaked our budget, we realized that we really could do it. Sure, it would mean hard work – but of course nothing worth having is ever easy.
We reduced our grocery budget and then used extra money to pay down debt. Part of our doing so was to find a way to save more money at the store. Through my studies and hard work, I learned how to really save on our shopping excursions. I shared this information with some online friends. My best friend encouraged me to start a blog. I never dreamed it would be what it is today. I am truly blessed.
As I shared my deals, we continued to pay down our debt. We sold items. We didn’t eat out. Finally – in February 2010 – we made our final debt payment! It was liberating. I can’t describe the feeling. This time around I did it the RIGHT way. I didn’t just run from my debt. I faced it head on – with my husband. We paid it all down. It took us 27 months, but we did it. We paid off more than $37,000 in debt – the most liberating feeling in the world!!!!
I am proud of so many accomplishments in my life (my husband, my kids and my site), but I am also very proud that I was able to actually pay off that much debt. When I say that this was life changing – it truly was. Not only did we pay off our debt (other than our mortgage), we changed our way of living. To this day, we still use the same budget form. We check and update it regularly. We still use cash — and use our envelopes. If you ever catch me shopping at the store, you will see that is how I pay. We still have no debt – and do not plan on heading down that path again. We have fully funded our emergency fund. We have been able to do things that we want to. When you do not have debt, your money is all yours.
I share my story with all of you so that you all know that it is possible to do this. I want you to know that I understand where you are at – more than most of you probably ever realized. If you want to change your life, you can do it. But only you can make the decision to change your life – for the better!!
Tracie shares her money saving tips and ideas daily at Penny Pinchin’ Mom. She is featured regularly on her local CBS Affiliate – KCTV5 – helping local families learn how to make the most of their own budget. When not busy saving money and helping others, she is a mom to 3 kids, ages 4 – 8, at her home outside of Kansas City, MO.
P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!