Today’s Debt Free Story is from Charissa. She helps readers gain control of their finances and live well on a budget at her blog Cook with a Shoe
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.
My husband and I live in the Phoenix metro area in the beautiful southwest desert of Arizona. I am a free-lance sign language interpreter, putting my husband through engineering school by paying cash. I love to cook and am always experimenting with different dishes. We enjoy going to the park for a picnic. Someday, I would love to have a mini-farm, with a big garden and some chickens.
2. How much debt did you pay off? What kind of debt was it? How long did it take you?
We paid off $7,665 worth of credit cards, school loans and a car loan. We started paying it off when we got married and became debt free just shy of our second anniversary.
3. What inspired you to become debt free? Was there a particular event?
I had watched my parents pay off their debt, including their house, when I was a pre-teen, which really influenced me. They didn’t like debt, and as I grew up, neither did I. When my husband and I got married, we both brought debt into the marriage and I knew that I wanted to pay it off. I also wanted to pay off the student loans he had, and see him graduate without occurring any more debt.
4. Did you follow a particular debt freedom plan or book, such as Dave Ramsey or Debt-Proof Living?
I found Dave Ramsey’s plan about a year after we had been married and finances were really tight, especially with a variable income. I would say that this plan helped me more in the area of using a zero-based budget and sticking with a budget. I also appreciated the simple, common-sense advice and the baby steps. It was after I started listening to Dave Ramsey, that I started thinking about getting out of debt more quickly and realizing that it was definitely possible to become debt free.
We did follow Dave Ramsey’s plan, for the most part. I did pay a little extra each month, but we weren’t very intense about paying off everything, nor did we follow the debt snowball method- regardless, we still were able to pay off everything. However, since paying off our debt, I have become a much bigger fan of the baby steps laid out by Dave Ramsey and really see the wisdom in paying off debt in that fashion.
5. What are the top 3 – 5 ways you found money to put towards debt
We followed a budget and switched to using cash, which helped us stay on track with the budget. Following a budget and giving every dollar a name showed where there was extra money to put towards paying off debt. The other thing to find more money towards debt was simply picking up more work. Paying for school out of pocket also helped by not accruing more debt.
6. What are your top 3 – 5 tips for saving money/pinching pennies to put towards paying off your debt.
My top tips to pay off your debt would be the following.
- First, get on a written, zero-based budget (where you assign every dollar of income to go towards a specific purpose for the month).
- Find your Why. What are the reasons you want to get out of debt? What could you do if you had no payments? What do you want to do, but you are hampered by debt? Where could you go? How could you give?
- Make your goals visual. Have pictures of your Why around in your daily life to help keep you motivated.
- Track your progress. Be it a spreadsheet that automatically calculates any payments and reduces the final amount or a picture you color in for every time you pay 100 or 1000 etc towards your debt. Write a blog and put your monthly reports online. Tracking your progress and making it visual do so much to motivate you to find more ways to cut expenses/earn more to get that debt paid off as quickly as possible, especially when it takes a long time and you get discouraged.
- Earn extra money. Sell things. Do a side hustle. Get a second job. Whatever you can do to bring in extra money and knock out your debt even faster, do it. Get the debt out of your life for good!
- And finally, follow the debt snowball method, where you pay off the smallest debt first, while paying minimum payments on everything else, then add the payment of the smallest debt to the payment of the next debt. You will see some small wins, which is good for morale, and the payment continues to grow and grow on each subsequent debt.
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 initiated paying off the debt. My husband was on board with the idea of living beneath our means, and paying off debt. There have been more money arguments about other things, but not so much paying off the debt. To resolve tensions, we look at the monthly budget together and if there is a bill due that we don’t have the money, we work together to rearrange accounts. We also try at talk about the budget itself, instead of blaming each other and bringing in emotions.
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?
At this point, I handle the day to day finances. Though my husband does help with some negotiating to combine bills or consolidating them. We aim for a monthly budget meeting at least. I prepare the budget ahead of time and then share it with my husband for his input. We’ll meet more often if there’s a problem.
9. How did you celebrate when you became debt free?
I realized we were going to make the last payment on his student loan (our last debt), so I called my husband in to click the ‘submit’ button since it was his debt after all. We then celebrated by going out to get ice cream, and used a gift card. I honestly thought the Debt Free Moment would have been a much bigger deal, but it wasn’t. I did notice that following summer that by not having any payments there was so much peace and a lot less stress in my life. The longer I am on the side of being debt free, the more I do not want to go back into debt for any reason.
10. What habits did you form while being debt free that will now stick with you for the long term?
Budgeting. In fact, I became more of a stickler to the budget after becoming debt free and it was then that I realized my Why. Living on less than we make and being willing to delay gratification with purchases is another habit.
11. Was there something that you gave up that you will go back to now that you are debt free?
As I said before, while we were paying off debt, we didn’t go very fanatical in any way or give up anything. However, I did increase my food budget slightly at first, and more later, as wholesome, nutritious food is important to me. We have increased our giving since becoming debt free. I think there will be more purchases added in once we are finished with school, since most of the extra money goes towards tuition right now.
12. What are your financial goals now?
Right now, the main goal is to finish saving up all the money my husband needs to finish school, which should be done later this year. The next goals in line would be to build up a 3 month emergency fund and save enough money to replace my car. After that, I would love to save up enough money to pay for a house in cash or at least have half the money for a down payment.
13. What advice do you have for someone that is paralyzed by their debt load, but wants to be debt free?
Every little bit helps. Cutting expenses, bringing in more income, following a budget are all tools you can use to become debt free. If you can’t pay much right now, do the little you can and keep doing it. One day you will look up and realize you have made traction. You will have a little flame of hope growing inside you, telling you that it is possible to pay off every debt and become debt free. Listen to that hope.
Track your progress in a visual manner and keep at it. Don’t give up, it may take a while, but it is so, so worth it to become debt free. You will be very glad for the sacrifices you are making now, when you don’t have a single payment in your life. Stop and think about that right now, what would your life look like if all your debt was paid off? You can pay off everything and become debt free. You can do it. I know you can and I’m cheering for you, my friend! I’d love to celebrate with you too, when you pay off everything, so stop by and let me know.
Charissa is the author of the blog Cook With a Shoe, where she shares her own story of paying off debt, while paying cash for her hubby’s school, and encourages others to do the same by living on less and following a budget. You can connect with her on Facebook, Google +, Twitter or Pinterest. Check out Charissa’s very popular, ‘Planning a Successful Budget’ worksheet here.
Thank you, Charissa, for sharing your story.
For more stories like Charrisa’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 email@example.com. 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.