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There’s nothing even remotely fun about being broke and living paycheck to paycheck. I know that from experience.
I also know being broke on your honeymoon is hot, steamy garbage juice.
Have you ever had to check your account balance before buying something you really?
That was literally me during our entire honeymoon.
“Hey let’s go to dinner” checks account
“Wanna go snorkeling” checks account
“We need to stop for gas” checks account
I mean can you blame me when we still had a mountain of bills to come home to?
I grew up dirt poor so even being at a beachfront resort in the Florida Keys on my honeymoon was supposed to feel like a major win.
But because I knew we couldn’t really afford that trip it didn’t feel like that at all.
The turning point was when our snorkeling trip was cancelled due to weather. We had the option of taking a credit and coming back the next day or just getting a refund.
Part of me wanted to make my new wife happy by taking the credit and just coming back. But my adult-y brain just wouldn’t let me because it was a chance to get some of the money we spent (that we didn’t really have to spend) back.
A few moments later, we found ourselves “talking” about money on the resort balcony during our honeymoon.
One thing led to another and there we were counting up our debt.
Roughly $61,000 in the form of cars and credit cards. Our minimum payments were a little over $1,500 each month.
Here’s the honest truth: I felt so helpless because I had no idea where to even begin.
I grew up hearing lines like “you’ll always have a car payment” and “you need to keep a credit card for emergencies”.
And for the first 25 years of my life I believed them. But something on that trip just wasn’t sitting right with me about our finances.
For the first time I was uncomfortable in this mess.
Every book, podcast, blog post, and video I came across told me that a good budget was the key to getting rid of this debt.
We had tried a few different templates and sucked at sticking to them all.
But something woke up inside me on that balcony.
And come hell or high water I was committed to debt freedom no matter what it took.
And if you’re feeling down about your debt, that’s the first step for you too.
Don’t just accept debt as a way of life.
The first time I ever used a credit card was to fix a car that broke down on a road trip.
I was 22 hours away from home with no money other than what I needed to get home.
What makes it worse was that the car broke down after hours. This random guy stops and tells us he’s a mechanic and can get us on the road in no time.
The problem was he charged the heck out of me for the after-hours work and the only way I could pay was with that credit card.
That’s not too bad, right? I mean I had to get home.
The problem was that this incident became the norm. Anytime something went wrong, my credit card played superhero and would save me.
And that’s not okay.
Had I been living on a budget with at least a small emergency fund, I could have avoided going into debt during an already crappy time.
An emergency is not an excuse to go into debt. In fact, it should actually be the reason you start taking money seriously and creating a plan.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Being newlyweds, it was important for me to get Taylor on board with paying off our debt quickly.
She actually thought it was a great idea on our honeymoon.
But when we came home and I started cutting some of the extra spending, things became a little tense.
We had more money fights that first month than we’ve ever had.
Because I wasn’t being a team player.
I was doing the budget by myself then telling her what she could and couldn’t spend money on.
And that sucks almost as much as being in debt in the first place. She felt attacked and rightfully so.
After butting heads for a while, we sat down and had what I now call a “Dream Session”.
Looking at our budget, I knew we had at least $3,500 we could throw at debt.
So I asked her “if we had an extra $3,500 every month and no debt, what would you want to do?”
She told me things like: travel to Europe, consider quitting her job to be a stay-at-home mom, and even the house she would like to live in.
Then came the game-changer.
I asked if giving up a few dinners out, skipping the nailshop and hair salon, and not having extra spending money was worth more to her than those goals.
That was literally all it took to get her on board.
It helped her realize that our spending was creating a financially uncomfortable lifestyle that was literally killing her dream life.
After that it was game over. We started crushing it.
Creating The Budget
Now that we were both willing to cut back on expenses and go crazy on our debt, the budgeting process was fairly simple.
We started slashing bills to find extra money to send to debt.
Our focus was on maintaining 4 key areas while we paid off debt:
- Modest Housing
- Reliable Transportation
- Professional Clothing
Everything else was extra and we stayed away from it for 16 months.
Here’s a tip: create a joint gmail account for all bills.
A side benefit was that we used our joint email as the login for our budgeting app.
With that we always saw what the other had spent in real-time.
This was especially helpful for us because I travel a lot for work and wasn’t always home.
She didn’t have to remember to tell me she bought something out of the clothing budget because I could just see it when I logged in.
You can’t help but win once you’re in sync on your budget like that!
Teamwork makes the dream work!
Save Some Cash
Having the experience of the broken down car solidified the fact that we needed some cash for emergencies.
I wasn’t trying to get 6 months into this thing and have to start over paying off debt because something broke down and we put it on a credit card.
Nope. Not happening.
So we saved one month of our necessary expenses to have on hand just in case it got a little crazy.
We were prepared for the small emergencies and when stuff popped up, we took care of it and replenished our little emergency fund.
Sold Unnecessary Stuff
At some point while we were paying off debt, we realized that all the junk we own used to be money.
And not only that, but if we sold it, we could turn it back into money.
We seriously went through our house and sold every single item that we didn’t need.
Clothes, shoes, furniture, etc.
We even moved from our 3-bedroom house into a tiny apartment.
If it didn’t bring value to our lives, it had to go.
This led to us paying off our first credit card within 2 weeks which was an absolute adrenaline rush.
It gave us the sense that we could pay off our $61k worth of debt and we wanted more of that feeling.
Believe me when I say there is nothing quite like paying off that first debt and doing it FAST.
The Debt Hybrid Method
The debt snowball is when you list your debts in order from smallest to largest and pay them off in that order regardless of interest rate.
The debt avalanche is paying off your debt in order from highest interest rate to lowest.
We saw the benefits of both, and came up with a way to pay off debt that worked for us- the debt hybrid method.
Anytime we got a little extra money, we added that amount to our snowball.
As I already said, we paid off the first credit card within about 2 weeks from selling stuff.
For the next credit card, we paid the minimum payment plus all the money we were sending to the first credit card thus creating our first little snowball. (insert heart eyes emoji)
But anytime there were 2 things with similar balances, we would focus on paying off the one with the highest interest rate to save more money.
We became addicted to the process really quickly as we watched debt after debt just vanish.
That positive momentum even kept us pushing when I lost my job. I just side hustled working for a food delivery service until I found a new one.
We kept going when Taylor had a lupus flare and missed about a month of work.
Although we dealt with hardships, we never really struggled to pay our bills during either of these times.
This was mostly because of our monthly budget.
Also, the extra expenses like lawn care and higher utilities made it clear to us that we would be able to pay off our debt even faster by going back to an apartment.
So about halfway through our journey, we moved which added about $450 per month to our debt snowball.
A side benefit of downsizing was getting to sell more stuff and throwing that money at debt.
KILLIN’ IT is literally an understatement for what we were doing.
We finished our journey by paying off the cars and man! I don’t know what it is, but your cars seem to drive A LOT better once you actually own them.
I swear the new car smell even comes back for a few days!
We kept that positive momentum going until we paid off the entire $61,000- which took only 16 months.
Aside from the obvious benefit of having way more money at our disposal, our marriage grew tremendously as a result of paying off debt.
Our communication got better, we became more united, and we are a lot more patient with one another now when talking about money.
We also completely understand each others goals and intentions behind certain financial decisions now.
Being debt-free IS possible. Once you decide to start getting aggressive, there will be people telling you “you’ll always have a car payment” or “credit cards are just a way of life”.
Don’t listen to them. Don’t let them discourage you. Focus on YOUR dream life and how you’ll live once you’re done.
Also, know that it’s better to pause and celebrate a win than it is to allow yourself to burn out and quit.
Nothing to set yourself back months or anything, but a dinner or a fun night out is a great way to stay motivated once you’ve hit milestones like 25, 50, and 75% of your debt payoff goal.
Keep in mind that it’s not a race either. Just because we paid ours off in 16 months doesn’t mean you have to. The goal is paying off debt whether it takes 16 months or 61. You can do it!
And once you do, keep that positive momentum rolling until you get 6 months of expenses saved up in an online savings account.
I’d love to hear from you if you’re on your debt-free journey or if you’re already debt free.
Let me know some of your tips and strategies in the comments!