In November of 2014, we had some friends over for Thanksgiving. Just in casual conversation, I found out they had read Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover,” and were following him. I had never heard of him or his book but just the brief conversation intrigued me. I bought the book and read it on our plane ride home for Christmas. The stories inspired me and the guidelines seemed pretty simple to follow. About a week later we had a 3-hour drive from Cory’s hometown to mine. In that 3 hours, I figured out how we were going to change our financial life forever and set a goal to get out of debt in 3.5 years.
The book motivated us to get out of debt but most importantly, it made us realize it was possible! We started with $145,000+ of debt and after we paid off my federal student loans in March of 2016, we realized we had paid off $55,000 in just 15 months and now 3 months later in the middle of 2016 we have paid off $66,000 in 18 months! I needed to share how we did this! I didn’t want to wait until that 3.5 year mark to let the world in on our secrets.
1.LIVED BELOW OUR MEANS – MADE A BUDGET
This may be common sense, but the key to getting out of debt is living below your means. So the first thing we did is create a budget that had us living below our means. No more spending money aimlessly and hoping to have money left over each month. Each dollar had an assigned name. Seeing the numbers on paper motivated us to be more frugal because we wanted that payment going towards debt to be larger.
We tracked every penny spent so we could accurately see where our money was going. This ensured we stayed on budget.
Check out this post to see how to make a budget.
We currently use Every Dollar to track our budget.
Do you have a budget in place?
2. WE USED SAVINGS TO PAY OFF DEBT
The first baby step to The Total Money Makeover is save $1000. We already had $4000+ in savings so our first month in this process, we took whatever was leftover after $1000 and threw it at the debt. This immediately knocked out the only two credit cards we had. Boom, just like that we now had extra money from those payments to throw at the next debt.
Some people aren’t comfortable with only have $1,000 in savings. We were completely comfortable with it, so I didn’t mind at all throwing the rest we had in savings to pay off debt.
Can you take the risk and throw your savings at debt?
3. IMPLEMENTED THE DEBT SNOWBALL
I have always been told to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. While mathematically that seems to be the best option (it saves more money on interest) mentally it is not always the best especially if its one of your larger loans.
We liked Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method because it gave us small victories and we were able to apply more and more money to the next debt.
Using Mortimer’s Money Machines debt calculator, I plugged in my numbers. We would pay off debt faster with the debt snowball, but save more money by paying off the the highest interest rate.
Plug in your numbers and see what works best for you!
4. CONSOLIDATED PRIVATE LOANS
The bank I had my private student loans through had a promotion going on last year to consolidate the loans for a lower fixed or variable interest rate. The loans were at a 6.0% interest rate so I applied for the variable rate and received a 1.75% interest rate. It has since gone up to 2.01% but I don’t foresee it jumping too high before we have it paid off.
This consolidation lowered our payment by 150 bucks, which we were then able to throw at the current debt we were paying on.
Check and see if you can consolidate anything to save money. Just don’t consolidate for a lower payment then blow the extra money. Make it useful or else its pointless.
5. CANCELLED SUBSCRIPTIONS
We wanted to free up as much money as possible in order to put more money towards debt. We decided what we could live without and what we needed for sanity.
We quickly cancelled Sirius XM. Why pay for that when there is the regular radio or music on our phone?
I kept Direct TV while Cory was deployed, but when he got back we cancelled it. I easily got my fix of TV from Hulu Plus and Netflix which is much cheaper!
I continued to pay $10 for my monthly IPSY. Was it necessary? Of course not; however, it was my little cheap gift to myself every month.
What are you paying for every month or year that you don’t need?
6. SHOPPING/SPA BAN
I made it a goal of mine to not shop in 2015. While I wasn’t 100% successful, cutting out a majority of my shopping lead us to be able to put much more money towards debt! I had enough clothes to get through the year, so shopping just wasn’t necessity.
I have been dying my hair since high school, at least! That costs couple hundred bucks every other month. I put that and getting my nails done on hold for the year.
Some people may need shopping for sanity (or you think you do) just be sure to budget for it and don’t go out of control. See what other things you can save money on that aren’t necessities.
7. PUT A HOLD ON HOBBIES
Cory was in the middle of rebuilding his motorcycle when we decided to attack our debt. He willingly put that on a hold to throw more money towards our debt.
Hobbies might be necessary to help pass time while you are paying off debt. If you have an expensive one, try and find a cheaper one for the time being. If you like reading, go to the library instead of buying books. Think outside of the box.
8. NO GIFTS
We let all of our family and friends know that we would not be getting them gifts for any holidays or birthdays this year. I cannot wait to spoil them when we are out of debt!!
Will your family be ok and accept that?
9. NO RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTION
Dave Ramsey teaches to stop contributing to retirement while paying off debt. We knew we needed to start contributing ASAP, but after reading the book, we decided to tackle our debt first.
This is a scary step to take for a lot of people. If you are serious about getting out debt and getting out fast, it’ll be worth it. We are near 30 years old and haven’t saved a dime. I am confident we will be able to retire early if we want, even with a late start.
10. GROCERY SHOPPED REGULARLY
We constantly found ourselves throwing away food, so once we started tackling our debt we knew we couldn’t just be wasting money on groceries. We started shopping for a week of food at a time and planning our meals, so we weren’t throwing stuff. We even shop more regularly than that now.
Do you find yourself throwing away a lot of food?
11. BUDGETED FOR ENTERTAINMENT
We knew if we completely limited our entertainment fund, we would go crazy and over spend. Every month we gave ourselves a healthy ($300-$400) entertainment budget to ensure we still got out of the house and enjoyed the area. This budget covered everything from eating out, to picking up coffee, to going to the movies, to anything that was not covered by any other category.
This is probably the hardest one to stick too but probably the most important. You’re bored, you’re to tired to cook, you want to go on a date, so what do you do… spend money. Just research cheaper options, find stuff to do for free, plan ahead. You can still have a life and be on a budget. You just have to plan accordingly.
12. INCREASED OUR INCOME
Being in the military hinders us from acquiring additional employment. While it is possible in some cases, it isn’t always possible.
The best way for us to increase our income is to move up in rank. Some ranks are automatic after so many years, others you have to study for or apply for.
I applied to become an officer and was fortunate enough to be selected. This dramatically increased our income after a year of paying off debt. My next two ranks will be automatic for me over the next 4 years. Cory, on the other hand, has to study for tests and is selected based on a points system. Many factors play a part in his path to higher ranks. We just found out he has been selected for the next rank, so next summer we will see about a $500/month pay raise for him!
Military members also receive a raise based on their amount of time in service. Every two years we see a small raise.
Other ways military members can increase their income is by volunteering for deployments or TDYs. This isn’t always a possibility. Many factors influence whether or not you can deploy or go TDY. But if the opportunity arises itself, members can dramatically increase their income for a period of time!
We also sold some stuff around the house such as a computer and entertainment center.
What can you do to increase your income? Part-time job? Find a higher paying job? Sell stuff?
13. PUT ALL EXTRA MONEY TOWARDS DEBT
While being in the military, we have a few opportunities to make some extra money (the ones I just mentioned above). These opportunities include deploying, going on a temporary duty assignment and PCSing (moving to a new base) We ensured that we took advantage of these opportunities and put all the extra money towards debt! Sometimes it took a lot of self-discipline.
What do you do with extra money you make even if its only a tax return?
14. SET GOALS
The very first thing we did when we decided to tackle out debt was set a goal. We wanted to be done in 3.5 years. We needed to set little goals along the way though. This would keep us on track.
Whether its setting a goal for how much you want to pay off each month or year or a goal to only eat out once a week so you can stay on budget, they are pertinent to staying on track.
What goals do you have?
15. NEVER GAVE UP
There were a few months at the end of 2015 that we weren’t able to put a whole lot of extra money towards debt. Not seeing a lot of reduction in our debt total became frustrating. However, we had to remind ourselves that things would be better in a few months. There was no time to give up if we wanted to reach our goals!
So there ya have it. Those are the factors that played the biggest part in us paying off $66K in 18 months!
It takes the realization that debt IS NOT necessary, and you DO NOT have to live with it for the rest of your life; it takes the proper motivation; and lastly, it takes some intense execution and strong self-discipline.
What are some key players that helped you pay off debt?
Still not MOTIVATED to get out debt? Read how to get motivated here!