5 Ways We Destroy Debt {$30,000 in 16 Months}


Five Ways to Destroy Debt

“Here are the budget proposals.”

That sounds like something you’d hear in a budget amendment meeting, but it was in fact the voice of my husband (fiance at the time) as we sat in my parents’ living room.

He handed them three Excel sheets. “The first is a proposed budget for our first year of marriage, living on both our salaries. The second is living on one salary, and the third is living on one salary with a baby.” Josh had priced out the average cost of living in relation to his salary: apartment, food, gas, recreation, and even the average cost of a baby’s birth and care.

My husband has a degree in Computer Engineering (which explains the Excel sheets) and I’m really proud of that. But that degree came with student debt – as is the case for many young people today. When we met, I had already paid off the student debt I incurred during my time on campus. Now we had to focus on his.

We believe that debt is our enemy. Proverbs 22:7 says: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” While we don’t believe debt is a sin (there are medical reasons families must incur debt as well as other unforeseen circumstances) we DO believe it is not God’s will to stay in debt, passively accepting it as a fact of life.

At the writing of this post, we are 90% toward our pay-off goal. The five principles outlined below will show you how we accomplished this!

{Update: we are debt free! I no longer work outside the home but now run my freelancing writing business and stay home with our daughter}

1. We live on one salary and use every penny of mine to pay down the loans.

Between our two incomes, we make a very comfortable living. Many young couples make the mistake of using all the money they have available to them rather than taking a long-term view. Because we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class while we were dating, we had a plan in place for marriage and avoided this mistake.

If Josh’s salary cannot afford a certain expense, we do not incur that expense. We try to set aside a few hundred a month into savings in case of an emergency (and created our respective $1,000 emergency funds long before we were engaged).  Our savings have paid for car repairs, textbooks, and unforeseen expenses.

For health expenses, we each utilize a Health Savings Account provided by our employers. This is money taken out of our paychecks pre-tax and put into a fund that we use to pay for doctor bills. Our health insurance is high deductible, low premium, so we pay more out of pocket for a visit – but it’s already in the HSA. We have never had to worry about health bills, thanks to God preserving us and to our HSA.

All other expenses must come out of our monthly budget. Josh gives me a cash allotment that I separate into envelopes for each expense: groceries: $80 per two weeks, gas: $60 per two weeks, hygiene: $20 per two weeks (usually more like $10), spending: $20.

{Update: now that we are on a gluten/sugar free diet and I make our own baby food, groceries are $70 a week ($280 a month), $10 a week for hygiene, $10 a week gas (for me), and $10 a week spending.}

{Update 2: Since the last update, we moved to another state where groceries are more expensive. It now costs us about $300-340 a month for a GF/Paleo diet, and spending and gas have stayed the same}

2. We say ‘no’ to some of the niceties.

When you are on a mission to get out of debt, you have to prepare yourself to say ‘no’.

Below are some things we have said ‘no’ to in order to prioritize our debt:

  • New cars and/or car payments. Before marriage we planned to only buy one vehicle. I know a little about buying and selling cars from my mom and grandma. We are blessed in that Mr. M drives a company truck for work, so we only NEED one vehicle. We paid $4,000 cash for a used Toyota Solara (I had this much in my savings because of paying off my own student loans prior to meeting Mr. M, and because I have lived by frugal principles as a single woman) – but only $1500 out of pocket due to my buy-sell tactics. Avoiding a car payment has been PIVOTAL to our ability to pay down the loans. If our car needs a repair, we pay for it out of savings. It is far better to repair a car you have paid off than to pay for repairs in addition to a car payment.
  • Cable TV. There are several benefits to avoiding cable: we spend more quality time together; we have fewer distractions at home; we have less exposure to scummy TV shows; and we set a precedent for when we have kids (we don’t plan to have TV with our children). It also saves us money. Don’t get trapped by the ‘bundling’ propaganda – in the end, if you only want Internet you will still be paying less than a ‘bundle’ will provide (we use Shentel).
  • Date nights every week. It is often recommended that couples go on dates every week. While I think this is a great time to focus on one another, with our work schedules and current budget it is simply impossible. We have, however, created a change jar where we put extra dollar bills and coins. When it is full, we use the money to go on a nice dinner date!
  • Eating out. On that note, we try to pack our lunches every day. While there are exceptions, eating out is an easy way to rack up the bucks. This is why I carefully plan our grocery and meal strategies. We eat out only on special occasions.
  • Buying new clothes.  I definitely place high priority on representing my name well. However, I believe in accomplishing this without breaking the bank. I shop for specific brands (listed in the previously linked post) at Goodwill and consignment stores. I very rarely buy retail, and when I do, it’s from the clearance rack. Last year I spent no more than $100 on clothes the entire YEAR. If clothes are well taken care of and laundered, there is no reason to go through them quickly.
  • Vacations. Another benefit of Mr. M’s job is his travel points. Since he has been gone 6 out of the 12 months we have been married, he is a Platinum member at Holiday Inn. This allows us to travel without paying for hotels! Even with that being the case, we refrain from taking cruises, flights, or lengthy vacations. Short weekend trips suffice until the debt is paid off.

As long as there are student loans in our lives, we plan around their pay-off. Everything else takes a back seat.

3. Responsibility before frivolity.

Trust me: I’m an impulse shopper. The discipline you see on this blog is in place BECAUSE I am a frivolous, undisciplined person.

In order to pay down the debt with power, we had to learn to place fiscal responsibility BEFORE impulse buys. That sense of responsibility is rooted in our love for God.

We believe that while God loves us in spite of our debt and wishes to care for us through this stage of life, He does NOT wish for His children to continue incurring debt, nor to contentedly live in it. It is binding. It limits how much we can give.

So out of a love for God and a trust in His ultimate provision, we attack the debt full force. We say no to debt so we can say a better ‘yes’ to God.

So this means we don’t take out money for ANYTHING: not for furniture (we bought ours secondhand or were given it – you can look at my Instagram for pictures of our apartment. It’s not ugly!), not for vacations, not for clothes, not for anything. We live within our means: the means God has provided through the work of our hands.

4. We track our progress to keep up momentum.

Josh started paying off his loans in November of 2013. We married in February of 2014. In January 2014 I made a ‘thermometer’ and stuck it on the fridge. Our goal was to pay off the loans by May of 2015 – about a year and a half from when he started. Every two weeks I fill in the thermometer a little bit more to track our progress.

I absolutely LOVE filling in that thermometer! It gives a sense of accomplishment and progress. It is satisfying. It is GOAL REACHING!

Every time Josh gets overtime or a bonus, we throw it at the debt and watch the thermometer fill up a little bit more.

5. We trust God to provide for our needs, not always our wants.

I once received an email from a Christian man who told me that because my husband and I had used Dave Ramsey’s techniques to pay off our debt, we did not trust God.

When I replied that Mr. M and I lived within our means and were paying debt down so we would have the freedom to give, he rudely replied that he had “given more to missions than I had ever paid off in debt”. I was deeply saddened by this man’s actions toward us – his brother and sister in Christ.

Contrary to this man’s assumption, paying off debt is EVIDENCE of trust in God. It is evidence of someone who so values the provision of God they wish to live within the means God provides – no longer a slave to the lender, wisely using the resources God is lending to them.

Because all our possessions – money included – are being LENT to us by God. They are not our own.

We trust that God will give us enough money to supply all our needs as well as pay off the debt. Dave Ramsey’s principles have helped us accomplish this. And when our debt is gone, we will be even MORE free to give than we are in this moment.

As I write, we are 90% toward our payoff goal. When the goal is complete, we will have paid off $30,000 in student loans in approximately 16 months.

{Update: We have now been debt free for over two years! It took us 15 months to completely pay off the loans. I resigned my full time job after our daughter was born and now work from home as a freelance writer, supplementing Josh’s full-time income. We recently bought a house, using a mortgage, so we are once again “in debt” – but only for our home.}

Our story is one of the less impressive success stories when it comes to loan payoff. One of my coworkers paid off his wife’s $25,000 in student loans in FOUR MONTHS! He lived like no one else for those four months – but now he gets to ‘live like no one else’ his age with the freedom of being debt-free!

Finally, this article provides encouragement from a woman who has been up to her ears in debt. Her blog is devoted to helping people overcome financial difficulty.

If you are a single person, a newlywed couple, or even an older married couple looking for financial wisdom, please consider our story as you make your choices. There is NOTHING like knowing we will go into the next stage of family life debt-free. Certainly there will come a day when we have a home mortgage – but we are currently saving for a substantial down payment, and once the debt is gone, saving up will be no problem at all!

As a wife, I live securely knowing three things:

  1. My husband and I are unified in our financial plan.
  2. I know exactly how much money we need to live and give.
  3. God is being glorified in our financial choices, and even if we were to lose it all, He will provide for His righteous ones (Proverbs 10:3).

This knowledge greatly reduces my stress and anxiety, contributing to a happy marriage.

I hope the same for you.



In the Confessions of a Newlywed series:

5 Things I Learned About Respect {In My First Year of Marriage}

Actually, Sex Can Be Scheduled

5 Habits I Formed While I Was Single {That Prepared Me to Be a Wife}

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