This year has been a whirlwind filled with tons of change and exciting events. I launched a podcast with my blogging friends, got married, and quit my day job to be a full-time blogger and freelancer.
The icing on the cake was that I still able to stick to my main goal of paying off as much debt as possible. My husband and I made a joint effort to pay off a huge chunk of our debt this year and we ended up paying off $14,354.81!
It wasn’t always an easy process especially since we don’t earn a ton of money. My husband has an entry-level job and before I left my day job, I was only making around $36,000 annually.
Before I share the best practices on how to merge finances after marriage, and how we managed to pay off more than $14k in debt while only earning somewhere around the average American household income. I wanted to break down our debt categories so you can get a clearer picture of our situation.
A Breakdown of How Much Debt We Had to Begin With
Longtime readers of my blog may be a little confused as to how much debt we started with. When I started my blog, I was only dating my now husband so I only reported my personal debt amounts which were around $30,000 back in 2015.
This debt included a $10,000 car loan and my student loans. I paid off my car loan completely in 2015 and started chipping away at my student loans.
This year, my husband and I got married in May and we didn’t manage finances together before then which meant we had separate bank accounts but still split a few living expenses.
By the time we got married mid-2016, we combined our debt and had about $40,000 together.
However, since I’m discussing how much debt we paid off for the entire year, only mentioning our progress after we got married would be telling just half the story.
So starting in January 2016 (when we were still engaged) we had about $44,983.14 worth of debt which included:
My Student Loans: $19.384.37
His Student Loans: $16,120.62
His Credit Card Debt: $2,776.11
His Auto Loan: $4,603.04
Our Shared Finance Purchase: $2,099
Here are the key things we did in order to crush our debt this year.
We Got on the Same Page
Getting on the same page was the first step. My husband and I made a joint decision to work toward debt freedom so we could live a life with less worry over finances and have more control over our money.
We hated making payments to lenders each month when the money could have been kept to line our pockets or invest or save.
We decided to start having bi-weekly ‘money meetings’ or ‘finance dates’. Sure, it doesn’t sound sexy but it was actually pretty fun to get together twice a month and discuss our financial situation and our goals. We chose to commit to the avalanche method of debt repayment which allows you to focus on paying off high-interest debt (that is costing you the most money each month) first, then work on low-interest debt after.
We bounced ideas around and held each other accountable which helped during uncertain times when it wasn’t so easy to make extra payments on our debt.
We Committed To Living Like College Students
My husband and I both went to a state college and we’d never heard of college students living lavish or inflating their lifestyle. Thus, we decided to keep living like cheap college students even if we started earning more so we could maximize our debt payments each month.
Buying a house has been a long-time goal of mine but for now, we live in a two-bedroom apartment with our son and make the best out of it. Like most people do who are trying to improve their finances, we lowered and cut unnecessary expenses like cable, our cell phone bills, and dining out.
All the furniture in our home is from college and I picked up a few nice items at garage sales over the years. The T.V. in our living room was given to us by a friend but several pixels started going out over the past few weeks. The T.V. still works perfectly fine though.
We both take turns cooking at home in order to avoid the temptation of dining out all the time and my husband committed to bringing his lunch to work for the past two years straight.
We take really good care of our clothes and buy used or clearance items when we need them. Adopting this frugal ‘broke college student’ lifestyle may not be glamorous, but it makes us happy because we have more money to spend in other areas.
For people who don’t get that like my husband’s old boss who playfully made fun of him for bringing a home lunch to work all the time, we could care less about what they think.
We Increased Our Income
Since we don’t earn a large 6-figure income (yet), it’s not like we had a lot of extra money to throw toward our debt each month. Cutting out expenses and living like college kids was only half of the equation.
The other half was finding ways to earn more. Back when I worked for a traditional employer, I started freelancing and blogging on the side. Freelance writing was my main source of extra income which allowed me to make extra payments on my debt. I was also doing something I loved so that was an extra win.
At the end of August, I actually quit my job so I could be a full-time freelance writer. Yet and still, the fact that we had lowered our expenses so much allowed me to still be able to contribute extra debt payments even while being self-employed.
I talked to my husband about finding a side hustle too and he decided to start driving for Uber. He’s a people person so he loves it along with the fact that he has the flexibility to drive for Uber whenever he has extra time.
With our side hustle income, we set strict goals during our money meetings to use it to pay down our debt instead of succumbing to lifestyle inflation.
We Committed to Spending Based on Our Values
Finally, an important step we took was to prioritize our spending by spending mostly on the things we valued. I know to some it may sound like we were depriving ourselves by living so frugally, cutting cable, not buying new clothes or shoes, avoiding the iPhone craze, and being patient with our bulky T.V.
However, we didn’t find it that hard to make those decisions because we realized we didn’t value fancy cell phones, flat screen T.V.s, cable and other material things.
We focused on things we found fun and valuable like experiences. We went camping and to Wisconsin Dells over the summer as a family.
I started paying for a gym membership because my health is very important to me and I found that I didn’t have the discipline to commit to working out at home. We also paid for our son to participate in extracurricular activities that he loves like basketball and Boy Scouts.
Value-based spending has a lot of power. Instead of wasting your extra money on impulse purchases for things you think you want or getting caught up in the vicious cycle of consumerism just because ‘everyone else is buying it’, you can spend money on things you truly value instead and avoid overspending as a whole.
Embracing Frugality and Being Realistic About Debt Payoff
All in all, I’m extremely proud of the amount of debt we’ve paid off these over past 12 months. Embracing a frugal lifestyle and still holding onto our values has played a key role in our success so far.
Sometimes when you’re paying off debt the process can seem draining. While it’s important to hustle your butt off, it’s also equally as important to think about the present and find a balance between enjoying your journey and living consciously now as well.
Our debt payoff strategy may not work like a charm for everyone, but it’s allowed us to realistically measure and maximize our debt payments.
The hustle will continue as we hope to have the remainder of our debt completely paid off within the next 24 months or less.
Don’t Forget to Enter the Holiday Giveway!
This month marks my two-year blogoversary. To celebrate and say thanks to my readers, I decided to offer another holiday giveaway. Enter to win a $50 digital or physical gift card just in time for the holidays or to use for something else. The giveaway closes on 12/15 and I’ll announce a winner. Good luck!
My Favorite Resources
Rakuten – This is my favorite and easiest way to earn cash back for regular online shopping. Rakuten partners with most online retailers to help you apply coupons to your purchases AND cash back. They pay me a nice check every quarter with my earnings.
Earn More Writing – Learn how to start freelance writing from a writer who went from $0 to $225,000 per year.
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – Most bloggers I know are raving about this course and that’s because it’s awesome and really works if you want to make money from affiliate marketing.
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