My husband and I paid off $60,000 of student loan debt in 3.5 years.
How did we do it?
We worked hard. I’ve seen people talk about paying off debt, and it seems like they want to find a magic bullet or get creative. The reality is, if you want financial freedom, you have to work for it.
After I finished graduate school to become a teacher, we had $60,000 of debt. My husband was debt-free when we got married, and told me that we would be free of my student loans in 5 years. I thought he was crazy. I mean, I was paying a little more than my minimum payment each month and the needle was moving, but I just didn’t see how it would be possible to get it all paid off that quickly, especially when we weren’t making boatloads of money.
When we started, I had just begun my teaching career, and he was working for the Idaho Fish & Game department as well as helping out on a ranch.
We weren’t really budgeting, but we were putting a fair amount towards the debt each month, but the needle didn’t move much.
It wasn’t until we found Dave Ramsey and took Financial Peace University that things really took off (this is not a sponsored post-but I wish it was). This program was a game-changer for us.
We brought in between $45,000 and $70,000 over the course of paying off our debt. In the first 2 years, we paid off $9681.22, and after taking the Financial Peace class, we paid off the remaining $48,810.90 in 1.5 years. We paid $27,479.39 in the last six months. The progress was insane. I haven’t looked at those numbers in a long time, and they just blew me away again. I attribute our success to a few things.
- Combine finances with your spouse: I strongly believe that married couples should combine their finances after getting married, and for us, doing that made our financial situation so much stronger because we were working as a team and really communicating about our finances.
- Take Financial Peace University: Something about that class really got us fired up, and we’ve been followers of Dave Ramsey ever since. I still use the budgeting forms on his website every month to make our budget (There’s also an online budget you can do, but I prefer paper and pencil).
- Create a budget every month: Before taking the class, I kept track of what we spent each month, and at the end of the month I added up our receipts and put our spending into different categories and felt sick over how much money we had spent as I paid our credit card bill. Once we started writing down our budget and telling each dollar where it should go, we ended up with more money that could go towards the debt.
- Work. Work. Work: I was working full-time as a teacher plus working the after school program and milking cows. My husband was going to school full-time and got a housing stipend through the G.I. Bill. He also worked milking cows and breeding cows through a paid internship. We did a lot of Weird Things We Did to Get out of Debt. We didn’t see each other much, unless we were both able to get to the farm for milkings, and we spent a lot of time on the phone during our respective commutes. It really sucked, but we knew it was only for a season, and that we could slow down once this goal was met.
- Keep expenses down: We are incredibly fortunate that we live in a house owned by my in-laws. It’s not my dream home, or anywhere close to it, but it’s a roof over our head and it serves its purpose. I don’t love having people come over or the fact that it doesn’t truly belong to us, but it’s a means to an end that allowed us to reach our goals and for that we are thankful. The majority of people have to pay rent or have a mortgage, so we know we’re rare in this case, but choosing a place with a low rent or mortgage can help to move you towards your goals much more quickly. Outside of housing expenses, we kept our entertainment budget tight, giving ourselves $50 each and $100 together each month for eating out, fun stuff, etc. We raise or hunt our own meat, so we budget $200 each month for groceries, and we use any income from selling our pastured pork and poultry to pay for our share of the meat.
- Lastly, and possible most importantly, have a WHY: Neither one of us likes to depend on others and, really, that’s what debt is. Depending on the grace of others-the bank, the school, the credit cards-to buy the things you want. That was our first reason, we don’t want to depend on anyone else. Our other goal was to give ourselves peace of mind and allow one of us to stay home to raise our kids. Two months after we became debt free, we got pregnant with our first child, and the peace we felt knowing that my income would be enough to sustain us was incredible. My husband stayed home with our son and is now working part-time to get our income up a little more. Being debt-free has afforded us the opportunity to raise our kids in the best way we can.
Since I originally published this post in 2018, my husband went back to work full-time, so I could be a stay-at-home mom. This decision meant that we had to find healthcare through other channels which I’m sure I’ll write about soon. We’re also making less now than what we were when I was full-time and he was part-time. But even though it required some adjustments, the fact that we have no payments allowed us to do what was right for our family.
What is your top tip for getting out of debt???