OFB Interviews: Hyper-Slaying the Debt Monster

OFB Interviews: Michaela

We’re at it again… another weekly installment of OFB Interviews! We really enjoyed today’s interview, and we think you will, too! Our special guest today is Michaela! And we’ll let her take it from here…

Tell us your story.

I grew up as one of eight siblings (yes, really!) in Southeastern Michigan. It was wacky, loud, exciting, and awesome. I met my (now) husband Jacob in high school, and we began “officially dating” at the homecoming dance our junior year.

After graduating, I went on to the University of Michigan, where I earned a BA in Pure Mathematics and a BFA in Dance. As you might imagine, I was the only one studying that unlikely combination at the time, but I’ve always loved learning about lots of different things and have had a hard time pinning down just one main interest or focus.

After college, Jacob and I moved to Dallas, where we both got jobs working for the same educational nonprofit. Our year in Dallas was full of new experiences and tons of excellent food (mostly smothered in queso), but in the summer of 2014 our organization had a good opportunity for us that involved transferring to “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. A month after our cross-country move (which included me driving with our cat, Sully, in the passenger seat for over 20 hours), we got married near our family homes in Michigan. In the 9 months since our wedding, we have enjoyed settling in to married life, exploring this beautiful state, and paying down over half of our debt!

So what motivated you to get into hyper debt monster slayer mode?

Through some close friends and family, I was able to see firsthand just how oppressive long-standing debt can be. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn enough of a lesson to keep me from accumulating around $40K in student loans over the course of my college career. In my first year post-grad, I made small dents into the pile, but wasn’t able to make real headway due to high living expenses and having to put money towards the wedding.

After we got married, Jacob and I decided that it was important to us to get rid of it as soon as we could. The main impetus for this was the freedom that comes with being debt free. We would both like a large family, and living without debt will help give us the option to have me stay at home/work from home/work part time while raising the (hopeful) future brood. We also hope to give Jacob the option to retire early, or at least be more flexible in later career decisions and be able to pursue his less lucrative passions. In order to be able to invest enough to make these dreams possible, we knew that we had to slay that debt monster as soon as possible!

How are you able to throw so much money into debt slaying?

Budgeting, budgeting, budgeting. We have built our budget so that our regular expenses are basically covered by one income, and then the other income goes almost completely towards our loans. Thankfully, cost of living expenses in WV are pretty low, so that certainly helps, but we still have to be really careful and intentional about our spending. In particular, we love to eat out a lot, which ate up a lot of our budget pre-marriage. We’ve had to curb this habit, and have had fun with at-home “date nights,” where we try out a fun, new food or recipe for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant bill.

I also love hunting for a good bargain. I try to make a game out of seeing how much I can squeeze out of our budgets because having fun with it is the only way I’d be able to stick to the plan long-term.

You mentioned “communicating” as a big reason for your awesome progress. What does this look like in your relationship in regards to your finances?

I mainly keep track of our spending and bills, but we make sure that we’re constantly talking about our finances and budgets. At least once a week, I’ll update Jacob about where we are in each of our budget categories for the month, and we have a conversation about if there is anything coming up that we might need to plan for.

We each have a small “fun money” budget, which we are free to spend without discussing it with the other. But for anything else we talk before making any purchases that cost more than $10. This may seem excessive, but by making sure that it’s a super consistent topic of conversation, it prevents the discussions from becoming tense or stressful.

Talking about budgets and making decisions about spending has become a really routine part of our lives, not one that we dread or avoid. Thankfully, we share a lot of the same spending priorities so there are rarely big conflicts. We still run into the occasional disagreement when I say he shouldn’t buy a $90 wood carving tool or he tells me to stop shopping the J. Crew sale again.

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

I plan out our budget initially using a good old Excel spreadsheet because I like to be able to have it as a reference and calculate the percentage of the budget that goes towards each category. From there, I enter all of our budget info into mint.com, which is what I use to track our expenses on a daily basis. I love the functionality to roll over budgets from one month to the next, as we have some bills that only come every other month and we often save up for larger purchases for a while. I check our accounts every couple of days while I’m drinking my morning coffee and categorize any mislabeled expenses as well as check out how we’re doing for that month.

How are you going to celebrate when you’re done? (If you’re throwing a party, can we come? What I’m really asking is can we drop our little girls off at your party and then pick them a few hours later?)

Yes and yes! I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate than to play with two adorable little girls 🙂 In all seriousness, we haven’t really decided how to celebrate. By our current calculations, we should be able to make our final payment on December 31, 2015, so there will definitely be a large New Year’s Eve celebration. Now I just have to figure out where I can get good queso in WV…

Any final words?

It may seem silly, but one thing that has helped me stay motivated is to pay half of our monthly debt repayment with each paycheck, rather than only paying it once a month. The satisfaction I get from seeing that big number tick down every two weeks or so is honestly something I look forward to, and it helps to keep us on track. It doesn’t make any difference from a budget perspective, but it helps me to stay excited about this process and our progress.

Thanks, Michaela! We love reading about others taking control of their debt and slaying the Debt Monster like it ain’t no thang. We’ll be sharing more interviews soon, and if you have any thoughts or questions for Michaela, let her know in a comment below!

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  • Reply Ellen June 19, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I am loving these interviews! I think breaking up the debt payoff into paychecks instead of one lump sum is really smart. I think we are going to try that. Plus, it seems much less scary paying that much money every month. Thanks Michaela!

  • Reply Katie Ball June 19, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Ditto on the loving the interviews! 🙂 It’s so encouraging to hear so many different stories.

  • Reply Caroline A. June 19, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Long time lurker- first time commenter- just to say “HOLLA” at a fellow West Virginian! 🙂 It’s great to read about other folks conquering the debt monster. Hope you’re enjoying our beautiful state!

  • Reply Carl June 19, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Welcome to West Virginia!

  • Reply Emily N. June 27, 2015 at 9:11 am

    That’s great that you’re making so much progress on your debt!
    Funny fact–my husband’s name is Jacob and he is one of eight siblings.

  • Reply Laura @ Making Baby Provence June 30, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    What a great story! I always love hearing about others that use Excel to budget, too. Congratulations on being able to see the end!!!

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