OFB Interviews: Drinking the Dave Kool-Aid

OFB Interviews Miranda

Today Miranda (of Miranda Writes) shares her journey of paying off debt with her husband — $80,000 in total, and what finally got them to slay the Debt Monster once and for all. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself so entirely while also reading a ton of great advice and insight on budgeting. So let’s get right to it! Here’s Miranda:

Tell us a little bit about your debt story.

Our story is an all-too-common one. My husband and I were young and uninformed about money. We were trying our best, but ultimately, we racked up $80,000 in consumer and student loan debt. Not all of that was on the books at once. We would take out a few loans, then pay them off sporadically, always going back into debt each time. We were stuck in a cycle that never felt good, but we had no real plan or emergency fund.

It all came to a head around 2011. We had previously paid off some of the debt, but there was still a BIG chunk left. It felt like a guillotine looming over our heads and I (more so than my husband) was sick of it. I had heard about Dave Ramsey and read The Total Money Makeover. At the time, I was a little, um… obsessed. I liked the simple, old school approach. It felt doable in a way that nothing else had before. I told my husband all about it and said I wanted to pay off every cent we owed in full. This is the part where my husband would tell you that I drank the Dave Kool-Aid (true). He eventually agreed to my plan, and we got to work. There were certainly mistakes along the way, and it took about 2 years from the time we got serious before we saw that glorious $0 balance.

$80k! Congrats, you guys! So what specific things were most important in making that possible?

From the beginning, we got really honest with ourselves about credit cards. We know that for some people they’re a great tool. They use them strategically, pay off their balances every month, and have the airline miles to prove it. We are not those people. There are many things we can resist in life: taking every puppy home at an adoption drive, buying Apple products the day they come out, a third slice of pizza (sometimes), but credit cards are not on that list for us. I salute anyone who can use them wisely, but in our case, being responsible adults meant saying goodbye.

We also knew cutting back on expenses was going to be part of the deal, so we got creative. Aside from reducing our monthly bills, we found ways to go without that didn’t feel like a massive sacrifice. Some of the small things we did to save money were actually kind of fun. I taught myself to cut our hair (no tears and everyone has all their fingers). We discovered how much we prefer buying some things secondhand, as well as keeping a smaller wardrobe. Many of these things are still a part of our financial game plan. We did, however, start going back to professional hairstylists. Shampoo chairs=heaven.

The real game-changer was that we lived on half our income. Our decision to pay off debt coincided with a big promotion for my husband, but we did not use that as an excuse to spend more. We treated that additional money like it didn’t exist for any purpose other than reducing our debt. This was probably the single hardest aspect for both of us. Seeing a certain dollar amount on a paycheck and still feeling super broke was not fun. This is where it’s a good idea to remind yourself that it’s all temporary. Cookies help, too.

You mentioned that some mistakes were made along the way. Do tell.

We didn’t think (or talk) about money until money was a problem. We never discussed what we expected our money to do for us. It was just this thing in our lives, and we had no real intentions for it. When emergencies came up, we scrambled. This made for some unpleasant, last-minute decisions.

We did not start off on the same page when it came to our attitudes about debt. I had been approaching our discussions about it with a lot of anxiety and a ‘we-need-to-fix-this-now’ type of mentality. My husband is very ‘go-with-the-flow’ and he never responded to that. When our conversations shifted from thinking about debt as a massive problem to thinking about what we could do if we weren’t tied down to payments (dream vacations, retiring with lots of zeros in the bank, and being able to give generously) things became less strained. We changed it from a negative goal to a positive one. It took a lot more than one discussion, but eventually we got on the same team.

Once we finally made a budget, we (I) got way too obsessive about cutting every ounce of fat and things were a little too strict. This was fine when we were paying off those smaller balances, but over the long haul it was a bad idea. It’s extremely difficult to sustain a ‘no extra purchases’ policy for months at a time, and it usually back fired. If we had it to do over again, we would have made a point to put more spending money in the budget. Will power is a limited resource, and I’d be lying if I said we aren’t fans of shopping and eating out. It would have been smarter to have left some breathing room and not felt guilty about it. It was a hard lesson to learn because we just wanted to get it over with, but budgets really do need a cheat day.

What budgeting tools (apps, spreadsheets, strategies, etc.) are you using?

I wish I had a cool answer to this question, but I don’t. We are SO boring when it comes to our budget. For bills we use a Google Doc and our calendar. The only money app we’ve consistently used is mobile banking. Every two weeks when money hits the bank, the bills get paid, savings are transferred, and what’s left over is how much we have to spend. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Being debit card users means that our bank account is almost always up-to-date in real time.

We’ve learned that an itemized budget for anything other than bills is torturous for us to keep up with long-term. It worked great when we were actively paying off debt, but now we’ve changed that approach. We also found we like having more than one savings account. The larger one is for major stuff like a job loss or health emergency (that we hope we never need), and the other is a place to funnel money for those non-recurring expenses.

It might not be the most sophisticated answer, but a good, old-fashioned conversation is really our best budgeting tool. We make it a point to carve out time for money chats. Because we work completely different schedules, we cannot always have a face-to-face conversation when something comes up, so preemptively making decisions is vital to keeping us on track. These money talks coincide with the new budget at the beginning of the month. Because a lot of our expenditures roll over, they’re usually brief. It’s just a quick check in, but it’s key for us.

Any final words?

Here’s the thing about paying off debt: it is so unremarkable and very, very boring. There are no Rocky-style money montages (complete with theme music and sweatbands). No one high-fives you for staying the heck away from Target when you really want new throw pillows. If you run a marathon, your friends and family come to cheer you on, and when you lose weight, people tell you how great you look. Paying off debt is a huge accomplishment, but it isn’t as public a celebration as something like graduating from college or landing a great new job. There is not a ‘Congrats on paying your crap off’ section at the Hallmark store. When you pay off big debts, it’s sort of a quiet moment. You’ve gotta high-five yourself. Make it as fun as you possibly can. Celebrate your own little moments of victory. Most of all, even when you screw up, you have to keep going because (major cheese alert) it really is worth it. We had spent our entire adult lives in consumer debt and the feeling of clicking that last ‘submit payment’ button felt more liberating than I can fully express. *Sniff. Sniff.


Thanks for sharing your story, Miranda! What can I say? We agree 100% with everything she said. I don’t think anyone has ever described so perfectly the paradox of paying down debt — such a huge, important accomplishment, yet accompanied with zero fanfare (or Hallmark cards, ugh). And we loved how Miranda emphasized communicating with her husband. Being on the same page financially with your spouse is top priority. It’s a few years late, but big congrats on paying off all that debt, Miranda!

If you have any thoughts or high-fives for Miranda, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

How We Keep Our Budgeting System Simple

Our Budgeting System

It’s time to get real. Budgeting is no fun. It’s a necessary evil that we do day in and day out because it’s… necessary. At times, we warm up to it, like when we freaking rock our monthly goals or grow our savings or become debt free. We may briefly dub ourselves king and queen of budgeting and have the townspeople in our pretend kingdom chant, “All hail budgeting!” in the streets. No, that would be weird. But most of the time, budgeting’s a no fun, messy, frustrating, complicated affair.

Johnny and I have probably definitely overshared on the topic of budgeting — ways to budget, using Mint, tracking our net worth, and where we keep our money, etc. But we’ve never actually compiled it all together and explained how we keep things simple and straight in our day to day. So here’s a major spoiler: we’re actually pretty lazy.

So ready for more oversharing? Yay! Here are our main budgeting tools and how we keep them simple in our crazy lives.

Using HomeBudget

This app is our go to day-to-day tool. It houses all of our budgeting categories, and we use it to record our spending in real-time. As soon as I buy groceries, I enter the amount and the store I shopped at into our “Groceries” category. If I forget to enter an expense on the spot, I sometimes find myself entering items in bed right before I go to sleep. But we don’t use every feature the app offers or get overly concerned about tracking every little penny:

  • We always round up or down to the nearest dollar.
  • We don’t keep track of any of our checking/savings/credit cards or other accounts in the app.
  • We only track our projected budget and our actual expenses. There are separate sections of the app for bills and income, but we don’t usually use these.
  • At the beginning of each month, we adjust the budget as needed, depending on whether portions of our spending needs changing.
  • Yes, it’s requires manual expense tracking and that’s how we like it.

In short, the entire purpose of this app is for us to be aware of our spending and to have an easy way to record it. That’s it. It’s not where we reconcile all of our finances. If it gets too granular or time consuming, we know we won’t do it.

Using Mint

Mint is our big-picture budgeting tool. We have all (and I mean all) of our accounts connected to Mint. Here’s an idea of what I mean:

  • Checking
  • Savings
  • Emergency fund savings
  • Business checking
  • Business savings
  • Health savings account
  • PayPal
  • Credit cards
  • Roth IRA investments
  • Taxable investments
  • 529 college savings plans
  • Car equity
  • Scooter equity
  • YouTube-famous cat equity (still waiting on this to pan out)

It’s hard to keep track of all that stuff otherwise, so Mint is a great tool for keeping it simple and knowing exactly where all of our accounts stand. If we want to know exactly how much we have in liquid cash right that second, Mint will tell us. If we want to know how our retirement accounts are shaping up, Mint will tell us. You get the idea. We check it one or two times a week. And by “we,” I mean “Johnny.” He’s the nerdier one.

Tracking Net Worth

Johnny has this super nerdy net worth tracking spreadsheet that we use to reconcile our finances from month to month. He opens it up on the first of every month and manually enters in all of our account balances. Creating the spreadsheet in the first place took some time, but now it just takes a few minutes to enter our balances using Mint as a reference point. The spreadsheet does its thing, and we’re able to track how much money we gained (or lost) from one month to the next. It’s a great way for us to start each and every month knowing where our finances stand overall. Did we save as much as we hoped? Why or why not? After our move and some extra business costs, we were dreading computing our August net worth. And we didn’t end up liking what we saw. But it was a good reminder for us to buckle down in September and really watch our spending.

Keeping a Paper Trail

While spending with cash can be a good way to control spending, we actually avoid it. We prefer to do as much as our spending as possible with credit cards. They’re all synced on Mint, so we can see their balances and transactions at all times. And if we forget to record our spending, it’s easy to reference it. We’re able to rack up points or airline miles, and it’s really nice to have a paper trail of exactly what we bought. I can’t just splurge on pillows from Target without Johnny knowing — which is actually a very, very good thing. It’s easy for cash to be spent anonymously with no accountability of where it went, at least for us. And while we spend mostly with credit cards, we do it within the confines of our budget. We also make sure to always, always, always pay them in full at the end of each month.

Splitting Responsibilities

We get our utility bills and phone bill e-delivered to Johnny’s email, and paying them is his responsibility. While we’re all about joint finances and discussing our spending as a team, we do break up certain responsibilities in order to keep things organized. I completely manage our meal planning and grocery spending, for instance. When it comes to paying off our credit cards each month, on the other hand, that’s on Johnny. By knowing who’s taking charge of certain areas of our budget, we never find ourselves wondering if a bill was paid or overspending on food because no one planned what to eat.

Our number one goal is to simplify our budget as much as possible (hellooo, we couldn’t live without our Everything Else category), while still keeping track of everything. The time we spend on budgeting is minimal. And while it’s always in the back of our minds (as well it should be), our system keeps us from feeling like budgeting is laborious or a burden in our day-to-day life.

So that’s how we KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and make budgeting work for us. What’s your budgeting system, and how do you make it work for you?

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