Today’s interview is with Laura P., who, with her husband, paid down over $80k in debt in a little over a year! Did it take hard work? Yup. Sacrifice? You betcha. But they did what it took and continue to do it. Here’s their incredible story:
Tell us your story.
Long story short . . . I came out of college with money in the bank. I was one of those kids who received so many scholarships that I was paid to go to school. Yes, feel free to hate me now. Then I met my husband. He was fresh out of a divorce and loaded down with a U-Haul full of financial baggage. Together, we had a lot of fun getting ourselves into even more debt. By the time it was said and done, we had over $80K sitting in the negative column of our credit life. We decided it was time to buckle down and make some changes.
We have been debt free since 2011 with the exception of our mortgage. Now my husband counsels other people from our church and from his work on personal finances. It’s a calling for him; he doesn’t do it for money.
$80k in a little over a year?! Explain yourself. How did you make it happen?
Lots of Ramen and cold tootsies! We buckled down hard core. We were determined to get out of debt ASAP, so that’s what we did.
We both took new jobs with pay increases during this time, too. That helped. We sold the only vehicle we had a payment on, and my husband was gifted a company car. We downsized our phone plans. We cancelled our cable. We made the typical changes to get out of debt.
However, my favorite story from this era was when we didn’t turn the heat on in our apartment for as long as we could stand it one winter. We would come home from work, and it’d be 48° inside the apartment. And we would cuddle up under a blanket in gloves and hats. Between us was a space heater that was under the blanket to really warm us up. Occasionally, the heater would overheat and shut off. We would have to wait for it to cool down to turn it back on. At night, we would close our bedroom door and use the space heater to heat the room. In the mornings, we’d do the same thing in the bathroom. It was hilarious then. The most important thing we did was keep our sense of humor.
Also, we saw a financial analyst who was investing some money from previous 401(k)s for us. He put together a debt elimination plan. We took that and Dave Ramsey’s plan and made our own plan. It was just a snowball-effect plan, but we found what we thought was the fastest way to the finish line. We even named it with our initials and started having regular meetings to discuss our status on the debt elimination. We still have those meetings to discuss the state of the union of our household. We are determined to never finance anything again (with the exception of our house).
We’re sending all the best, most positive baby vibes your way for your next IVF cycle. What financial sacrifices (if any) have you had to make to pay for those cycles?
Thanks! I’ve been sprinkling myself with baby dust lately, so hopefully that will help.
I’m kind of in need of a new car. My 2001 Honda has over 270,000 miles on it! Plus we have an office and nursery upstairs that need to be finished. Those two items have been on the budget since we started our infertility journey in 2010. Each time we have a failed IVF cycle, they get pushed to a much later month. Also, we haven’t been able to save as much for retirement as we would like. We are maxing out our 401Ks, but we aren’t maxing out our Roths. That is something we really have on our wish lists! Saving for IVF has been the priority since we found out that was our new route.
What got you hooked on budgeting?
An obsession with having no debt. I’m serious. When we made the last debt payment, 7 tons of weight was lifted from our feeble, very cold (from the “winter without a heater”) shoulders. At that moment, we knew we would never finance anything again as long as we could help it.
What advice would you give to those who are struggling with debt or keeping a budget?
WORK AS A TEAM!!! I think this is one of the hardest lessons. You both need to find ways to agree on each thing. My husband is the gas and I am the brakes on spending. I have to find ways to let him have some fun with our money, and he has to respect my need to save more than spend at times. It’s a fine balance. We make adjustments to the budget regularly. We do it together, though. Our state of the union meetings really keep us in sync.
Also, be flexible. For example, we used to do our weekly spending budget from Sunday to Saturday. Then we realized we were getting to the weekend and not having enough left to have some fun. We changed it to budget Friday through Thursday, which works much better! Now if we have too much fun on the weekend, we don’t eat for the next 4 days. Kidding. We just find somewhere to cut back until the budget resets.
Getting out of debt is a sacrifice. My husband’s favorite line is, “It was a lot of fun getting into that debt. It’s not going to be as much fun getting out of it.” Obviously, he only uses this in our circumstance and with others that have shopped themselves into a frizzy. He doesn’t tell this to people who are in debt because of medical bills or lawyer fees or other *not fun* expenditures.
What budgeting tools (apps, spreadsheets, strategies, etc.) are you using?
We have our budget in an Excel spreadsheet. (Our friends even tease us about my love for spreadsheets and budgets.) I have budgeted every penny we will make from here until the end of 2016. We set weekly spending limits, which is just one of the bazillion line items on the budget. I update the budget every day at work to make sure I stay on top of things. I send my husband text updates on each of those work days about where we stand on weekly spending. Then I send him a more comprehensive update on Mondays via email. He loves my updates and will send me back occasional questions or comments, especially when we stay under budget on something. It’s our way of staying on the same page between our meetings.
Any final words?
I know that budgeting is hard. I also know that having a mound of debt is harder. Once you find a system that works for you, you’re going to be so happy you did it. If you try one system and it doesn’t work, try something else. There is a way to budget and get out of debt for everyone. You just need to be resilient enough to stick with it until you find it. Happy budgeting!!
Thank you for sharing your story, Laura! I love hearing couples emphasize teamwork and communication. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, the road to financial independence is a joint one. Laura told it like it is: getting out of debt takes sacrifice. But how much better off they are now that they’re on the other side of it.
If you have any thoughts or fist bumps for Laura, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
48 degrees! That is TRUE commitment to paying off debt. Glad this story was shared!
Thanks, Money Beagle! It was a cold winter inside and outside. We lived in Texas, so it wasn’t miserable. Plus, we were newlyweds, so it was fun being that snuggly.
Hi Laura! I am totally with you in the brakes vs. gas in the spending dept. with my husband. Is it possible you could give an example of what your weekly emailed spending recaps look like? I feel like that might be something that would help as reminder, and be expected. Currently, we only have written conversations about the budget when things are seriously backsliding!
I just wrote you a long comment. It may have been too long. If it doesn’t show up later this evening, I’ll paste it back in here in sections for you. Am I long-winded or what?! 🙂
As for the actual weekly update, it’s more detailed. Here is a list of all of the points I cover in those. They are all copy & pastes from our Excel, so it’s not as time-consuming as it may seem:
* Our Savings Plan – We have categories in the budget where the transaction name in one column is INVESTING & SAVINGS and the detailed description in the next column is IVF FUND, CAR FUND, etc. I sort that spreadsheet by those and then copy and paste that for him to see how that savings plan will be met each month. Then, I give him a recap of the savings plan, which is also a copy and paste that automatically updates when I change numbers in the spreadsheet and has conditional formatting, too. It helps us to see if there are areas of savings that we need to concentrate on becuase they are insufficient.
* Outstanding Business Expenses – This is just a little recap of what he has outstanding that he needs to submit for his business reimbursements.
* Budget – This is the kicker section. I give him a 1 month out glance of what we have in the budget. Keep in mind that I’m an Engineer, so I budget to the penny and well over 1 year ahead of time.
* IVF Spending – We are currently working towards an IVF cycle, so he gets updates on where our money from that budget item has been spent.
* Other miscellaneous funds – I give him quick snapshots on areas that we have set aside money for something like finishing off our extra rooms. That way he can see how much we have spent and how much we have left.
* Weekly transactions – I just copy and paste each of the last week’s expenditures here. Again, I’m anal, so I do keep a running tally of every single thing we spend money on in this spreadsheet.
So glad you can relate!! I will absolutely give you an idea of what our email looks like.
So daily, I send him a quick update via text that says:
10/30-11/5 (7 days):
Spending Money = $81.24
If there are other things happening that week in the budget, I’ll add those. For instance, if we are going on a weekend trip, I’ll add the budget for that trip. Make sense? The dates make it easy for him to look at and see which days I intended that to be for.
Great post! I am curious, what do people generally mean when they say “maxing out the 401(k)”? Does that mean meeting the federal contribution limit (is it $18,500 this year?) or getting the company match (contributing 3% or 5% or whatever your employee matches)? I usually assume the first and think, man, we’ll never be able to do that for both of our 401(k)s! But I wonder if people actually mean just getting the employer match?
Ours is just the employer match. We actually feel it’s better for our money to be put towards IRAs after we meet the employer match. Therefore, “maxing it out” isn’t that full $18,500. Good question! Thanks for the encouragement, too.
Hey, that’s me! 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing our story. I kind of feel like a little rockstar being on such an awesome blog. You guys do such a great job of sharing yours and others’ stories on personal finances. I love it! I am very excited to get to be a part of this. Thank you, again, for giving us this opportunity. (My mom is going to be so proud!)
Yes, her mother is SO proud! Todd and Laura were in some serious debt, and they made and stuck to that budget – no matter the circumstances. They have a beautiful spreadsheet of their budget, and even some professionals have used it as examples for their finance classes. Woohoo! One proud mom of Laura and favorite MIL of Todd.
You are too sweet, Mom! I love that you have always been so proud of us.