Three and a half years ago, Johnny and I were living in New York City. We’d been out of school less than two years, we were paying off debt, we had just a couple thousand in savings, and we’d been hoping to get pregnant for over a year. We were living happily, but in that moment it felt as though our lives would always be in a state of watching every single penny, putting as much as we could toward our Debt Monster, and wondering if and when we’d be growing our little family (and whether or not we could afford it).
I think the way we felt is pretty typical. It’s hard to imagine anything but the present, whether that current moment is good or bad.
Sure, we were happy, but we working for a day when the grass would be greener. We didn’t even know what that grass looked like or why it would be worth it, but it motivated us and our frugal ways every day.
Fast forward three and a half years. We’re back in New York City (surprise!… no, seriously, we never would have predicted that one) with a two-year-old and a second baby arriving anytime in just a few weeks. I quit my full-time job almost a year ago, Johnny has a higher-paying salary, and we’re 100% debt free. Our NYC apartment this time around is twice the size as our last, includes a dishwasher, full-size fridge, and a room for two little kiddos. We have better furniture (mostly still IKEA) and the same moody cat. We not only have positive money in our bank account, but it’s more than we could have ever dreamed we’d have three and a half years ago.
For those of you in the trenches right now, it’s really difficult to imagine being in a position where you’re debt-free and saving a ton of money. It may feel like that financial strain is going to last forever or that your circumstances will never get easier. But that day will come. For some, you may be at the beginning of your journey. For others, you may be in the home stretch. Some days will be harder than others and there will be sacrifices. But if you stay the course, you’ll get there.
It took us two years to pay off our debt and two years from that date to have a six-figure net worth, something we really couldn’t have fathomed just a few years ago. These were all personal victories that had zero fanfare and that meant nothing to anyone but us. Nor should they — all of us are running our own marathons. But it’s been worth the hard work. Fortunes can change fast. Once you’ve paid down your debt, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can grow your savings. So many great things are waiting in our futures if we just work hard and keep pushing.
And even though we find ourselves in a totally different situation than we were the last time we were living in New York City, our mindset hasn’t changed. We’re still sticking to a budget and finding ways to save. But instead of paying off debt, now we’re saving for retirement, our children’s education, and for that home we plan to buy someday somewhere. Currently, we can’t imagine the day when we’ll have our target retirement amount of $2 million saved up, or when we’ll be settled enough to be homeowners with a yard and a real mailbox. But as long as we keep on keepin’ on, that day will come. And all this freaking budgeting nonsense will be worth it.
Who out there can give a sister an “amen” and back up what I’m saying? What helps you to keep chugging on this journey?
Thank you for this post! I need it as I look at our projected debt payoff date of July, 2019. Law school is nasty business when it comes to student loans. But I think, too, about how when we started this debt payoff in June, 2014, the projected payoff date was January, 2020. We just keep chipping away, making better progress some months than others. We will get there, and who knows what God has in store for us on the way!
I loved reading your comment, Jen. Way to go on staying the course. And for chipping away at your debt payoff date! That’s no small task. With your attitude, you guys will get there before you know it, and it’ll be worth every little sacrifice!
Thank you for your post! Really needed to hear that today
Thanks for your comment, Brianne!
Thank you for this post. I have lurked on your site for so long and this is my first comment. I find your posts so motivating, but I have to say that I don’t think I was ready to really dig in until very recently. My whole adult life was a pattern of spending every penny that was burning a hole in my pocket, barely paying rent and bills, and asking my parents for money. I was so embarrassed with myself that I couldn’t even think of a way to dig out until I ran across your blog and started truly taking what you write to heart – mostly because I never had someone to keep me in check. I love reading your blog because you both understand how important the accountability partner-thing can be.
I have to say that it really does help to have a partner in crime when it comes to personal finance, and I love reading how you and Johnny work together to keep each other on track and motivated. I recently got married and am so happy that my husband is on board with all of this. While he didn’t bring as much debt to the table as I did, we are committed to slaying this monster together. It truly does help to have someone there with you – which is why I think I failed so many times before. Thank you so much for putting yourselves out in the open like this. You both are such an inspiration to me!
Really loved your thoughts, Vanessa. I was the same as you before Johnny and I got married. It really does help to have someone by your side who has the same hopes and dreams for the future! You guys will do great things together!
Definitely still cozy in the trenches in my own life, and hoping I can take the steps I need to move forward. My mind easily become overwhelmed by the thought of it, but I know that actually taking the steps will make it easier. I do dream of the days where my student loans are gone, my car is paid off, and I don’t have the worry if my checking account will last until the next payday. It is a really hard place to be in. Even though I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 8 years, we still keep our finances separate – which is how I think it should be with no engagement yet. I want things to change when I know we are solidly in life together.
It can definitely feel overwhelming. Just take one day, week, month at a time. More than anything, consistently working toward our goals is what got us there — not perfection. You should feel proud for the hard work you’re putting in!
REALLY needed to hear this today. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment, Terri!
I absolutely know what you mean! My husband and I just paid off our house a few weeks before he turns 30 and I turn 28. We’d always joked about trying to do that before we were both 30 but never thought we could actually do it. Just like you, it’s budgeting that got us here and while it was so hard at times, it feels so worth it now. Budgeting even meant that I could quit my job when I was pregnant with #2 (now 4 months old) because we knew where our money went and how to get by on less. I think the biggest thing that keeps me going, especially now that you would think we don’t have to budget is the big picture (but we still do budget). Money isn’t everything but there are huge benefits of being debt free and having financial freedom.
Wow! What an awesome achievement. It’s crazy what can be accomplished with consistent budgeting. And agreed… that big-picture perspective is what makes it worth it every day.
Thank you for this post! I needed it today as I am feeling overwhelmed. We are trying to get out of debt! We have paid off 2 credit cards with one to go. We should have that paid off as soon as we sell our 3rd car (we bought a commuter car but are selling our paid off car ourselves)! Then we have 2 car loans and my student loans to tackle. And raising 3 kids in an expensive area of the world (Boston)… Despite this it seems most days that we are so far behind the eight ball. We have so much to save and so much we need to save up for (our stove is about to die but it is spring so we can grill instead, right???). Knowing you felt like this and now are on the other side gives me hope.
I also loved your post about what points you don’t agree with Dave Ramsey. We feel the same on all those points!
You are doing a great job. You’ve made so much progress already! When you’re feeling especially overwhelmed, just take it one day at a time. You guys are already on the path and have already committed yourselves to the cause, which is the biggest hump to overcome in the first place. You will get there. Best of luck, Jodi!
Here’s a big “Amen” to you, Joanna. As you and Johnny know, my wife and I are now both retired, have raised our family (2 kids), now have grand kids (5), everyone doing well, house mortgage paid off back in our 40’s, debt free, retirement investments all doing well, living well within our budget with savings achieved regularly. And yet, it wasn’t always like this. We married in our early 20’s, rented for a few years before saving enough to put a down payment on our 1st house. We had credit card debt, monthly bills to pay, just like everyone else. We made sacrifices, did without. For the first few years of married life we didn’t own a car, just took public transportation to work. The darkest period back in those days was when I was part of a company-wide downsizing and was unemployed for 7 months. Fortunately, with my wife working and my severance package, we were able to get by. So, yes, life isn’t always a walk in the park but, like you guys, we kept plugging away, doing the best we could towards our long range goals (both financial and lifestyle), taking one day at a time and not getting discouraged when times got a tad rocky. And you know it all eventually worked out. We planned the work, worked the plan, and didn’t sweat the small stuff. So Joanna, when I read each day about your family’s adventures, it all seems like deju-vu to me! Keep on truckin, lady! 🙂
Always good to hear your perspective, Rob! You’re a great example of someone who kept a big-picture perspective through it all!
Amen, sister! It really is amazing how far you can get by just saving a little at a time. I have been amazed how much our net worth has increased once we got out of school and started actually making money. And I’m glad to read this post because I am wondering how drastically our finances change once the kids come! Hopefully we’ll stay the course like you guys have!
You guys have already been on the path for so long that I don’t think anything could take you off of it. You guys are a great example of a couple who keeps the long-term financial perspective in mind with all the choices you make!
[…] and one of those is never stopping to appreciate accomplishments. That’s why this post from Our Freaking Budget made me pause and think back to how far I’ve come in the years since I had my personal […]
Amen! I love that your goals transcended the stages of your life and also adapted when a couple of cute additions came along. The idea that debt will be gone or nearly gone from our lives by the time my husband and I have a little one join us is enough motivation to work our tushies off now.
Amen!! Nice work, Johnny and Joanna – you’ve come so far in just a few years.
I finally paid off my student loan last month (ironically, in the first month in which I was receiving maternity pay rather than working for a salary – yes, I know we have it pretty good in the UK!) so we are explicitly debt-free for the first time since my student days. We have decent savings but a house purchase (at least in London, where we live) is so far beyond us that it can be hard to stay motivated to keep that money working. Posts like this help!
Go UK! And go you guys! That’s so great. The house purchase goal likely feels as daunting as the way you first felt thinking about paying down your student loans the first time. They’re just rungs on the ladder. Sometimes I wish the rungs were a little closer together or I could skip a few, but what fun would that be.
One big thank you for writing this post. We’re in the home stretch of paying off the ‘bad debt’ from our past – as in we keep looking at our spreadsheets for June when we actually start saving! Our debt payoff journey has been a long road with a lot of twists and turns with two steps forward and one back some months, but after a year and a half, we’ll be free. We love talking about the future and can’t wait to finally get on with it. Thank you for reminding us that even though it’s been a struggle, it’ll all be worth it in the end!
Congrats on making the home stretch! We used to look at our spreadsheets all the time. In fact, we still have them, just so we can remind ourselves where we started and how far we’ve come. We’ll eat a cupcake or two or seven in June to celebrate with you.
It’s good to be reminded that our current financial situation will someday change. With my husband in school full-time and us living on my salary, sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards. But, the only debt we have are his school loans and I know it will be worth it in the end!
It will change. Education is an investment, an investment which thankfully pays off much more consistently than most things. Hang in there, you guys are moving in the right direction.
Amen! I bet a few years ago when I was in debt, I’d never imagine how much I’d have saved now. Especially in retirement, it’s amazing what saving month in and month out can accomplish tucked away in accounts you don’t touch. Sometimes I look at the balance like…Wow, when did that all happen? 🙂
It is good to look back at all the financial success! Congrats on yours.
That’s totally our expression come the 1st of every month when we do our net worth tracking. And then I remember Joanna moonlights as a drug dealer and it all makes sense. 😉
This made me laugh out loud when I got the response 🙂 haha!
Wow, this was cool! OK, 3.5 years ago, I was making less than 50% of what I make now but had a cool and interesting job that would lead to my current job. I had $37K in debt, I lived with my boyfriend of nearly 4 years, and I was stressed but happy. Now? I have the best job I ever had, making more money, I paid off my debt and bought a condo, and best of all, we got married almost 10 months ago (same guy :))! We also dealt with a lot of tough issues and we are stronger than ever. I started 2 new blogs, and am working on other side income pursuits. I’ve got to meet tons of new friends through blogging. We do now have a mortgage, but our expenses each month are less than income, and that’s including savings! I still have so much more to accomplish but yes, I didn’t think I would get to do all of these things and with the people I love in this time frame!
Wow, that’s amazing 3.5 years! Congrats on all of your success. And we’re a big fan of your name for obvious reasons. 🙂
I think I want to be you when I “grow up.” I’m teetering on moving to NYC in the next year or so and this was very inspiring for me to read. Even if that’s not what you intended, it is always nice to see stories of people who’ve “done it” and succeeded! 🙂
We’re very much in the “trying to do it, fingers crossed, maybe?” stage. 🙂 But thanks for your nice comment! Good luck with your future scheming and hopefully NYC is in the cards.