Today’s debt free story is from Aja. She writes about family, finances and faith at her blog, Principles of Increase.
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.
Kelvin and I just celebrated 10 years of marriage last November. High school sweethearts reunited in our mid twenties, we married after 4 quick months of courtship! I own a software consultancy that I run from home and my husband is a letter carrier with the post office. We have 2 girls that I am home schooling this year. We are a musical family and love plugging into our urban community through volunteering and mentoring local youth. As a family, we love cooking and spending time together.
2. How much debt did you pay off? What kind of debt was it? How long did it take you?
We paid off about $110K worth of debt. We were not as “gazelle intense” as we should have been so we often went back and forth adding new debt, paying off other debt, and cash flowed about 30K of private school tuition, so the numbers can get wobbly at times. It wasn’t until the last 2 years that we got serious. We paid down mostly student loans, vehicles and business credit card debt (we already own a home outright). It took use about 10 years because we didn’t get serious until the 11th hour.
3. What inspired you to get debt free? Was there a particular event?
When we had our first child, we both agreed it would be best for me to stay home as long as possible. Nine years later, I am still at home! We realized that debt payments were eating into our income and potential to build wealth. It would be hard to have the laid back life we envisioned with both of us working frantically just to pay bills (mostly made of debt.) We toyed around with the idea for a long time and didn’t think it was that possible for a while, since we were on one income most of our marriage. Finally, we took the dive by making a budget and starting our debt snowball. The rest is history!
4. Did you follow a particular debt freedom plan or book, such as Dave Ramsey or Debt-Proof Living?
Yes, we followed the recommendations outlined in Dave Ramsey’s resources, Total Money Make Over/ Financial Peace University. We made lots of mistakes, but the key was to keep going. We are so glad that we did not stop!
5. What are the top 3 – 5 ways you found money to put towards debt.
The budget is key. As we became more “gazelle intense”, this actually translated into more income through my business. More diligence with finances brought in more income producing opportunities for us. Funny how that works. At times we had so much excess cash flow, that we were paying $2,000-$3,000 a month EXTRA on debt. It was a glorious time! However, it was crucial to agree on where that excess would go. Otherwise, we could both get sidetracked and spend that extra money frivolously. There were times we almost couldn’t agree on where to put the extra money. Thankfully, the vision prevailed and we are where we are today.
6. What are your top 3 – 5 tips for saving money/pinching pennies to put towards paying off your debt.
- Tell people about what you are doing. For the last two years, I told anyone who would listen about us trying to make our goal of being totally debt free. Some people though I was nuts, others were inspired.It helped with accountability and it helped others realize this was something possible to be accomplished.
- Budget. If there is no direction to the money, it can go anywhere! So direct the money often and early
- Be willing to sacrifice- there are things we had to do that made us look weird: home school, skip eating out as much with family, doing my own hair & nails, getting a wardrobe from the thrift store and forgoing paper towels. These little inconveniences will add up to victory sooner than you think!
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?
Each one of us on the inside knew there had to be a better way to deal with money. Neither of us were sure what to do. When I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio for the first time, I knew it was exactly what we needed. I told Kelvin and he wasn’t overly excited, but he was on board right away and was pretty complicit in the budget making and accelerated debt pay-off. We rarely argued about finances since we paid the decision to be debt free. We were blessed to have a relatively smooth ride.
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 am the nerd. So I work the budget and spreadsheets. We agree on what happens to our extra cash and discuss weekly our goals for saving and investing as well as any big ticket purchases on the horizon.
9. How did you celebrate when you became debt free?
I had a client engagement in Las Vegas in March 2014. Kelvin came along (using airline points) and we lived it up in Vegas for 6 days and drove over to LA to see friends for a day. It was an awesome celebration. We saw shows, shopped and ate until our hearts were content (no gambling!) Since I was getting paid for working and hotel/airfare was covered, we were able to celebrate with a small net effect on our budget. My client had sent me to Las Vegas about 6 months earlier, but we couldn’t really splurge the way we wanted to, as we were still working on our debt snowball. This trip was special because we were able to do so much more than our last trip to Las Vegas.
10. What habits did you form while being debt free that will now stick with you for the long term?
We still look for bargains and shop at thrift stores. I had been looking for a dining room table for a while, when I decided to simply restore one we already had. We have the money now to buy 20 dining room sets if we wanted to, but we are opting to live as frugally as possible now. The money that we save can be either put back into my business or invested for retirement. That mindset keeps us grounded in spending habits these days.
11. Was there something that you gave up that you will go back to now that you are debt free?
We just got our cable turned back on. I am not a TV person at all, but my husband enjoys sports. Since he so dutifully sacrificed the last 10 years, I thought it would be a small thing to reward his hard work with.
12. What are your financial goals now?
We are behind on retirement savings due to high levels of debt the last 10 years. We are almost done with our 3-6 month emergency fund and will begin maxing out our retirement accounts. Once we max them out, we hope to put excess cash into real estate and potentially additional brokerage accounts.
13. What advice do you have for someone that is paralyzed by their debt load, but wants to be debt free?
I would tell them to just make the decision to be debt free. Just start there. If you do that, everything else will follow. We didn’t know how we would make this happen. We had one income and lots of debt. It literally looked impossible. But once we made the decision, doors opened up and the money came. The money will come if you give it a purpose. Just decide what you want and the rest will come into place for you.
Thank you, Aja, for being so honest with your debt free story. For more stories like Aja’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 other who have become debt free. If you feel you need additional advice, please consult a certified professional.