Our Debt Story

‘Til Debt Do Us… Part I: Debt’s Birth

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Our Debt Story: Part I

This is the first installment of a three part series of our get-out-of-debt story. What you are about to read may frighten small children and animals. Viewer discretion is advised.

Can I get some funky bass and cymbals, please?

Now this is the story all about how
Our life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there
I’ll tell you how we became the debtors of a town called Desp-air

I wish ours was the story of Mr. Fresh Prince: a rags to riches tale featuring a cousin named Carlton. While we’ve worn our fair share of rags (like that middle school gym shirt that magically escapes the giveaway pile every year), we’ve still got a long way to go to reach them riches. And that’s just fine.

Our journey through the Debt Kingdom all started on a cool, October night. I was conveniently assigned a meteor counting assignment for my astronomy class the week after I met a cute girl at my apartment complex. She took a chance and correctly assessed the non-serial-killer-ness in me. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

After six months of dating, ring shopping was in order. And that’s where I first met… the Debt Monster.

Our Freaking Budget's Debt Monster

At the ripe age of 21 (yes, we were young, naive, blah blah), there wasn’t a whole lot of money in my student checking account. But payday was just around the corner from my web design (read: being nerdy) job at my apartment complex. So I jumped on my computer, browsed through a bunch of student credit cards, and ultimately chose the one that had the coolest looking design on the front. It was a Citi MTVu credit card (recently replaced by the Citi Forward card) with a $2000 credit limit, 0% APR for 12 months, and my freaking name on the front. This wasn’t one of those flat, fake, gimmicky cards that credit card companies send that you’d put in your wallet because it made you feel cool… oh, that was just me? Cool.

After doing some homework on the 4 Cs of diamond shopping, I equipped myself with my newfound plastic confidence booster and drove down to a local jeweler. I found a ring, a rock, and a price that was just scratching my credit ceiling. I shopped around, brought my sister for female approval, and swiped that card proudly. This was what being an adult felt like, right? But that feeling wore off quickly as an unfamiliar uneasiness grew. So within a couple weeks of purchasing the ring, I cashed my outstanding paycheck and promptly paid down my credit card debt. Ahhhh, much better.

+$2000$2000 = $0 — Atta boy!

But the Debt Monster wasn’t done with us. A few weeks after our engagement, Joanna asked to have a heart-to-heart with me. I was terrified her beer goggles had finally worn off and she was calling the whole thing off. So when she told me she’d be bringing thousands of dollars of student loan debt to the marriage altar, I was relieved. By no fault of her own, Joanna couldn’t cover tuition and had taken out loans every semester of college. And since I was fortunate enough to avoid that, I felt confident we could shoulder that burden together.

Our Freaking Budget gets married

On a 98º, 100% humidity, June day in Birmingham, Alabama (take note: this is a bad idea), we officially became a Mr. and Mrs. After the newlywed stimulus of Target gift cards had subsided, we settled into normal living. We paid our  bills, pulled many an all-nighter to finish writing term papers, and regularly made Del Taco runs for 39¢ Taco Tuesday (which years later I found out Joanna actually dreaded… lame). And since interest hadn’t kicked in on the student loans, that debt wasn’t anywhere close to being on our radar.

+$13,000$0 + 100s of tacos = $13,000 + angry angry organs

The Debt Monster waited until my senior year to rear his ugly head again. I was finishing my degree in Advertising and the recession was in full effect. Finding a job was as easy as finding a can of Crystal Pepsi, so internships were highly coveted. Fortunately, I was able to land an internship in New York City in the spring and another internship in Los Angeles in the summer. Unfortunately, both internships were unpaid and in two of the most expensive cities in the country. And that meant returning to face the Debt Monster and reach deep into his bottomless pit of a stomach. But more importantly, it was our final encounter (fingers crossed) with debt.

+$7,000 + $13,000 = $20,000 — Ughhhhh…

But wait! The story continues: ‘Til Debt Do Us… Part II: Debt’s Life

‘Til Debt Do Us… Part II: Debt’s Life

Our Debt Story: Part II

This is the second installment of a three part series of our get-out-of-debt story. It’d be cool if this was a Choose Your Own Adventure story, but it’s not. If you want to continue reading our debt story, scroll down. If you want to join the robot army in pillaging Humanville, turn to page 154.

After completing back-to-back summer internships at advertising agencies in New York City and Los Angeles, we returned to Utah to finish our final semester of college. As we sorted out our post-education plans (or lack thereof), we quickly came to grips with the fact that we owed a bunch of money to intimidating sounding banks and government organizations. We figured it was just a matter of time before stout dudes showed up on our doorstep with baseball bats and fixated gazes on our kneecaps.

So I got a job as an account manager for a budding tech startup earning a cool $30,000. With our first substantial paychecks rolling in, we really felt like we were rolling in the green. Think of all the IKEA furniture and Dippin’ Dots we could buy with all this money?!

And then serendipitously our good friends told us about a financial book they had recently read and let us borrow it. That book? Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. ANGELIC CHOIR AAAAH’S AND BLINDING LIGHT!!! I drank that Kool-Aid right up and Joanna wearily accepted my purple drink. We suddenly felt empowered. “Our freaking budget” was now uttered in our home with 24% less disdain. And after all, it was our freaking budget that would lead us to the debt-free promised land.

Soon after our “coming to Dave moment,” Joanna landed a job as an editor for an online university. And that meant we needed a second car. We had roughly $5000 in our bank account, and we were confronted with a tough decision. Choice A: Ask ourselves, WWDD (What Would Dave Do?), and then find a used car that wasn’t a penny more than the cash in our bank account. Choice B: Tell Dave to take a walk and go for a slightly newer, nicer used car that would require another rendezvous with the Debt Monster for a couple extra loaned G’s.

Option B didn’t sound too unreasonable to us. We would still be buying used and putting a lot of our own cash down. But ultimately, the Cult of Ramsey beckoned us back to the fold and we found a four-year-old Ford Focus hatchback with 50,000 miles for just $4,500. Here’s a nice body shot of our babe.

Our Ford Focus

It was a screaming deal and we were thrilled… until summer came five months later and we realized the car wasn’t equipped with A/C. Isn’t that illegal?! Is that not a basic human right?! But I digress. Even without A/C in 100º desert heat, we landed a great deal and avoided more debt. Victory.

$20,000 + $0A/C = $20,000 + sweaty back in under 2 minutes flat

So with two cars, two incomes, and two years of marriage under our belt, we were ready to take on the world. We set a goal to have our student loans paid off in 18 months — January 2012. That worked itself out to being a little over $1000 a month, roughly 35% of our monthly take-home pay, which we felt was doable. Debt snowball? Screw that, let’s debt avalanche this mother!

$20,000($1,111/month x 18/months) = $0 by January 2012 — easy peezy

But life had other plans. A few months into our debt repayment, I got a job offer to work as a copywriter for a storied ad agency in New York City. Is this real life?! It was a no-brainer to accept the job. And in our euphoric delirium, we sort of forgot about that whole bit about NYC being the most expensive city in the country.

The Debt Monster lurked, awaiting our next move…

But wait! There’s more: ‘Til Debt Do Us… Part III: Debt’s Death

‘Til Debt Do Us… Part III: Debt’s Death

Our Debt Story: Part III

This is the final installment of a three part series of our get-out-of-debt story. We join your previously scheduled broadcast already in progress… While we were preparing for our new adventure, we sat down to figure out the finances of our move from Utah to NYC. Moderate 15% salary increase?…

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Our One Year Debt-iversary!

Debt free for one year

What’s a debt-iversary celebration without a good back story? So let’s take a look, it’s in a book, and read how we got into and out of debt at Our Debt Story. Sorry about the quasi-Reading Rainbow reference. One year has come and gone since Johnny and I said farewell…

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