OFB Interviews: Unstoppable Debt Slaying


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OFB Interviews Michelle and Mat

Hey guys! We hope this post finds you all finishing up preparations for the holidays. This is our final installment of our interview series. We’re sad to see it coming to an end! But we saved one of our best interviews for last. Today, Michelle shares how she and her husband attacked their debt in epic proportions. They started with over $50k, and you’ll be amazed at how incredibly how far they’ve come in less than two years. So we’ll let Michelle take it from here.

Tell us your story.

Mat and I got engaged in the spring of 2012, right as I was graduating college. It was about this time we realized we needed to create some sort of plan for our money. We didn’t expect our parents to contribute to our wedding, so that was goal one. Before this point ,we had little in separate savings and spent money as it came in.

After paying for the wedding, we started saving for the next big expense: a house. We moved into our house in November of 2013, and after that something clicked and we realized we needed to start paying down our debt, rather than just paying the minimum payments. With over $50K in debt, that was our 2014 New Years goal. Here’s where we started and where we are now (as of May 2015):

Amount owed as of Jan 1, 2014            Pay off date
Student loan 1: 3,997                              Mar 14
Car loan 1: 5,385                                     July 14
Student loan 2: 4,131                              Dec 14
Car loan 2: 8,853                                     Dec 14
Student loan 3: 16,470                            May 15
Student loan 4: 12,084                            ???

Cross your fingers we have the last loan paid off by September!

Congrats on your epic Debt Monster slaying! How have you two made that happen? What sacrifices have you had to make?

Thanks! It’s taken a lot of hard work and not so fun number crunching. I work in finance, so after coming home from work, usually the last thing I want to do is stare at more numbers!

The first thing to go was our cable. Using an antenna was fine and dandy until our TV broke in February (which we still haven’t replaced), so we’ve become really good friends with YouTube.

For Mat, the biggest toll has been his video game collection. With $50/month “fun” money, not many games can be had, and the old games cannot be played without a TV. For me, it’s been going out to eat. I love a delicious prepared meal that I don’t have to clean up after!

And what’s the motivation to tackle the rest of it over the next few months?

The light at the end of the tunnel! After all this time, we only have one loan left to tackle. One of our daydream goals is to take a backpack trip around Japan, so we might actually plan a trip there with our new cash flow as a reward. After that, I hope we establish our next plan so we don’t go back to our mindless spending. Any tips?

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

In college I was an accounting major, and now I work in finance creating the operating budgets for my company. (Side note: you’d be surprised how many people in the financial analysis & budgeting department don’t keep track of or budget their personal spending.) So I do have some experience. Since I’m pretty handy in Excel, we use that to budget and track.

As you can see from our above debt payment, we were kind of all over the board with which loans we paid off. We took a tip from Dave and paid off the little balances. He was right about how great that feels! We intermixed paying off the car loans, even though they were at a 1.99% interest rate, because student loan interest is tax deductible.

We also used the snowball method, but instead of using the extra money to make extra payments, we put it in a separate savings account so we could make one payoff. A lot of our loans would apply the extra payments to the next payment, pushing out the next due date, which was super annoying because it would mess with the auto-pay, but still accrue interest.

Where do you struggle most with your budget?

The biggest struggle is unexpected expenses. For us, it’s the mental shock of not feeling prepared when something does happen. Thankfully, we’ve been able to overcome the ones that have come up so far, but we’re always unsure what to do next and how to rebound. Do we roll with the punches or do extreme cutbacks in spending to make up for lost ground? In February of 2014, right at the start of our journey, the clutch in Mat’s car burnt out. Goodbye $1,200! And just a few months ago our cat required emergency surgery for $3,800. Not only was that hard financially, but it was also very emotional.

In smaller struggles, we’re both addicted to bakery donuts at the grocery store that we then eat on the way home. Wegman’s has them for 85 cents each, so how can you say no? Besides a completely unnecessary $3.40/week (yes, 2 each), they’re also not helping our waist lines!

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Does any of this sound familiar to you who are on the path of debt payoff? Michelle and Mat have made several uncomfortable life changes to get to where they are now, but they never lost their focus. We love stories like these so much. Paying off debt isn’t easy, but it can be done. Thanks for sharing, Michelle! If you have any fist bumps, thoughts, or tips on keeping your spending in check once the debt is paid off, please leave them in the comments below!

We’re thinking of doing another series in 2016. If you have any thoughts on one that would interest you, please let us know!

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2 Comments

  • Reply Violet December 21, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Totally appreciate the shoutout to Wegmans! Their baked goods in general are delicious so I get the temptation. It’s probably good that I don’t have one near me anymore.

    My biggest tip for continuing financial success after debt repayment is to have a new, specific goal. It sounds like you already have that with your backpacking trip in Japan. Try to figure out all the details as much as you can so you can have a concrete number to work toward — that’s definitely helped my husband and I stay focused on our savings goals.

  • Reply Shay December 21, 2015 at 10:06 am

    I would love to see you write about what you learned about debt reduction and being frugal to help students avoid large student loans.
    Think of where you would be now if you had been able to cash flow more of college.
    Great inspiration. Would love to hear more about saving for a down payment on your house and how you justified that before paying off debt. I still struggle to save because of the guilt of not putting it against the debt.
    Thanks!

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