Today’s Debt Free Story is from Shannon. She writes at Growing Slower.
1. Tell us about you and your family. Where are you from? What do you and your spouse do for a living? What are your hobbies? Include anything that you’d like to add to give the reader an idea about your personality.
Hi all! I’m Shannon Brown, and I’m a crunchy Christian mama blessed to live in beautiful North Idaho. My husband and I met in architecture school. He now works as an architect, and I do some freelance from home now that we have kids. I have been sharing my passion for simple living on GrowingSlower.com since 2011, and I now have added the Real Mom’s Guide series of books and courses to further encourage my readers! That’s about it for hobbies, as our little ones are 1 and 3. They keep us very busy!
2. How much debt did you pay off? What kind of debt was it? How long did it take you?
As many students do these days, we had tens of thousands of dollars of debt by the time we graduated with our Masters degrees. Living on two-incomes, we could have easily paid off our debt quickly, but we had no idea at the time that “debt free” was even a thing. We bought into the myth that student loan debt is “good debt” and that it was better to “invest” in buying a home instead. That was in 2008, so you might imagine how that turned out! Luckily, even without misguided financial beliefs, we did pay off a significant portion of our debt before having kids. After we had kids, though, I stayed home, so we continued making the minimum payment for years. At the point when we finally got serious about paying off our debt we had $22,047 left. By the grace of God, it took us just under 9 months to pay it off. Read more about Shannon’s debt free journey.
3. What inspired you to get debt free? Was there a particular event?
In January 2013 there was a blog post on Keeper of the Home that first awakened me to the concept of living debt free. At the time I had a 1 1/2 year old and another baby on the way. We were living on one income that placed us just at the top of lower class income level. Things were TIGHT, and I dismissed the idea of becoming debt free as something other people do. In my mind, there was absolutely no way we could do it anytime soon. That post was the start though, and from there I started hearing more and more about being debt free. It sounded like a great idea. I finally got inspired that we should at least start working on this huge goal of being debt free when I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.
4. Did you follow a particular debt freedom plan or book, such as Dave Ramsey or Debt-Proof Living?
We loosely followed Dave Ramsey’s plan for inspiration. I wasn’t comfortable keeping only $1,000 in an emergency fund with two little ones and just one income, so we didn’t follow that part of his plan. We also continued using debit and credit cards (paid in full multiple times per month) for the convenience of tracking our expenses online. We have never carried credit card debt during our marriage, so we felt comfortable that it wouldn’t be a temptation. We actually earned $30-50 cash back from our credit card company every month, which ironically went right back to our debt pay off. Dave’s zero-based budget and Debt snowball concept were critical to getting us on the path to paying off our debt fast. Here’s a tutorial for how to use the Debt Snowball Calculator to get out of debt faster.
5. What are the top 3 – 5 ways you found money to put towards debt.
I ended up having some opportunities to earn extra income on the side from my blog, etsy shop, books, and architecture. That really accelerated our pay off. However, even if those things hadn’t come along, we were still on track to pay it off within 2 years just by saving every penny we could. We got an unexpected tax return, which of course went toward the loans. I think my husband got a bonus during that time, too. Every little bit that we were blessed with went directly to getting out of debt as quickly as possible.
6. What are your top 3 – 5 tips for saving money/pinching pennies to put towards paying off your debt.
There were many many small ways we pinched pennies, and those are so important. We cut everything we realistically could, and got very real about what our wants vs. needs were. I cut our grocery budget down to less than half of what it was. When the budget is already tight, there are only so many ways to save money. As Dave says, We had to live like no one else! Here’s a list of 9 crazy things we did to become debt free.
7. If married, who initiated the debt free goal? Were there arguments during the time you were working on your debt? How did you resolve the tension and arguments?
I was the first to get the “debt free” bug. After I read Total Money Makeover, I asked my husband to read it. Within a couple of weeks he was on board too, even though we had no idea how we would possibly get there. Then the real work began! Thankfully, there weren’t any arguments. Once we both took a look at our budget and finances, it was clear what we needed to do.
8. Who handles the day-to-day finances in your home or do you work on it equally? How often do you and your spouse discuss your finances/budget/spending?
I have usually handled paying the bills and budgeting since starting to stay at home. We both keep a close eye on our expenses throughout the month on Mint.com. Then we look at it together each month.
9. How did you celebrate when you became debt free?
Funny enough, after being so focused on saving for so long, I don’t think we really did anything but say a prayer of thanks!
10. What habits did you form while being debt free that will now stick with you for the long term?
Definitely getting in the routine of making a zero-based budget EVERY MONTH and reviewing our finances together is an important habit we picked up that will be key to meeting all our financial goals.
11. Was there something that you gave up that you will go back to now that you are debt free?
We had always been a one-car family since we were first married, but our live and work situations changed to where a second car would be a huge help. When I first started commuting, a family from our church actually loaned us their car for two months to ease our commute time! After we got out of debt, we did pay cash for a used car.
12. What are your financial goals now?
To be honest, we’ve sort of been coasting for the past few months. We aren’t quite ready to dive head first into another financial goal. I imagine that we will start saving for a house soon though.
13. What advice do you have for someone that is paralyzed by their debt load, but wants to be debt free?
There are two pieces of advice I would offer: 1) Find out how much you actually owe and how long it will take you to pay it back if you continue to make the minimum payment. I was surprised that it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. 2) Try the debt snowball calculator I mentioned above to see what impact you could make just by making a few small changes to your budget. Then commit to taking one small first step.
14.Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think would help the readers who want to become debt free?
After experiencing the amazing feeling of being debt free, I wanted to share it with EVERYONE! I put together a 2015 Family Budget Challenge with short and very simple video challenges to help others who want to jump-start their journey to debt free. I would love to invite Family Balance Sheet readers to join.
Thank you, Shannon, for being so honest with your debt free story. For more stories like Shannon’s, go to Debt Free Stories.
Would you like to share your real life debt free story? You don’t have to be a blogger to share. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Debt Free Stories” in the memo line and I will send you a questionnaire.
Please note, I AM NOT A FINANCIAL PLANNER. This series was written based on the experiences of others who have become debt free. If you feel you need additional advice, please consult a certified professional.
This post is linked to The Thrifty Couple.