Are you looking to pay off debt fast? The thing about debt is, it can consume our day to day lives, and we do not even realize it. We paid off $50,854 worth of debt in 6 months all with an annual take-home pay of $80,000!
Seems impossible, right?
This is how it all went down. Step by step!
December 2017 our youngest son moved out of the house. With an empty nest, we looked around and felt the loneliness set in. We had done our job. Our children were no longer kids, and they had left to find their adventures.
Rob and I looked at one another with the feeling of loss weighing down on us and realized we were stuck. Our financial decisions caught up to us, and we were trapped.
Trapped in our careers and stuck in a town we no longer knew if we wanted to call home. It was the feeling of being trapped that lead us to the conclusion we needed to pay off our debt fast.
Looking back at what we accomplished still seems a bit impossible.
Our secret? We paid attention to our money! Like so many Americans, we were managing our finances, our life, on autopilot.
We were complacent with our finances and our lives. It was when we decided to open our eyes and pay attention to our money that we were able to see all of the possibilities that life has to offer.
We are here to tell you our story to hopefully inspire you to write your own story of success.
In this article, we will break it down for you with a step-by-step approach of how we were able to pay our debt off fast:
- Living on autopilot with our money
- How did we dig ourselves out?
- Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step Program
- Goal setting is how we paid our debt off
- So how did we pay off our debt fast?
- Where did the money come from to pay off our debt?
- What’s our plan now?
Learn how to pay off your debt fast too: Pay Off Debt: How to Pay Off Debt Without Any Money
Living on autopilot with our money
It is incredible how we can rationalize debt. We come up with terms like “good debt.” The fact about debt is we are spending our future.
We are spending our money before we have even earned it.
It is so easy to look at debt and justify it. That’s is where Rob and were late 2017.
We had a mortgage, an auto loan and a home improvement loan.
To us, we did not realize the burden that our debt had placed on us. We looked at our friends and our family and justified the hell out of our situation. “At least we are not as bad as ______.”
The thing about debt is, it can consume our day to day lives, and we do not even realize it.
It was the moment that our youngest moved out that Rob and I were able to see that we were not as young as we thought we were. It was an aha moment that smacked us upside the head.
We were in a financial hole that was trapping us and preventing us from dreaming.
Today’s decisions were determining our future. It was setting us on a path that would require us to work until we could work no more.
How did we dig ourselves out?
We got scared!
Rob and I talked about our future and realized that 15% of our take home pay was tied up in consumer debt payments. Although we were making a good income, yet we were living paycheck to paycheck due to our decisions.
We were taking money out of our savings as soon as we deposited it. We were drowning and didn’t even know it.
In total desperation, I Googled “how to create a budget.” With an element of disgust, my search results were riddled with Dave Ramsey’s name. I was not a Dave Ramsey fan because I knew he preaches paying off your mortgage.
At that time I was pretty happy with our mortgage and I did not want to give up fun today to pay off a stinkin’ house!
Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step Program
So, maybe a bit of an explanation is in order here. Who the heck is Dave Ramsey and what are these baby steps?
Dave Ramsey is an outspoken, extremely successful, radio talk show personality who has been encouraging his listeners to get out of debt since the 90s. He takes a no-nonsense approach to coach his listeners to make better financial decisions and building wealth.
Dave shares his own stories of how he rose to the top financially and then lost everything. Rob and I had listened to his message over the years when we would accidentally catch him on the radio and felt his extreme approach to debt pay off was not for us.
We didn’t think his plan was for us until we hit our rock bottom.
With years of coaching experience, Dave has developed a plan he calls the Baby Step Plan. It is a simple 7 step approach that allows you to take your financial concerns and break them down so that you experience “wins” along the way!
Just so that I am very clear in this post…Dave’s plan includes the word “baby,” but let me forewarn you, this plan is not for babies! It is intense, and it requires hard work and extreme cooperation. It is designed to help you pay off debt fast.
So what are the 7 Baby Steps?
1 – $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
2 – Pay off all non-mortgage debt using the Debt Snowball
3 – 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
4 – Invest 15% of household income into your retirement
5 – College funding for children
6 – Pay off home early
7 – Build wealth and give!
Rob and I did not follow his plan to the letter. We continued to contribute to tour 401k accounts to ensure we received our match and we held onto a $2,000 emergency fund rather than the recommended $1,000.
Goal setting is how we paid our debt off
So armed with Dave’s messages, we started by setting goals. If it weren’t for the goals that we set at the very beginning of this journey, we would have never found success.
We set a short-term goal
Once we decided we were all in and committed to paying off our debt, we penciled out:
- how much money we thought we had,
- how much money we thought we brought in every month,
- and how much money we thought we had going out every month.
It was very crude and abstract!
It gave us a few talking points that gave us the courage to set a time-sensitive goal!
At the time it felt too unrealistic.
It was pretty much taking every penny we had and every penny we expected to earn over the next 11 months and throwing it at this debt.
We did it not know the ins and outs of how we would meet this goal, but we made sure that we made a promise to ourselves and each other that we were all in!
We set a long-term goal
On the high of thinking that this may be doable, we decided that if we were going to make this sacrifice for 11 months, we were going to gain something long term.
Retire early! Wow!
We decided that we want to retire by the time Rob is 60. Yikes! For us to accomplish this long-term goal, the short-term goal was going to have to become a new way of life.
[After all, Rob is getting old!]
Our long-term goal was only 15 years away. Where has the time gone?
So how did we pay off our debt fast?
I know that sounds like a fairytale, but it is true. We just paid attention to what we were doing and made sure that we thought about the outcome before we made any decisions that would derail our goals.
It was through careful budgeting and planning that we were able to see our path to success!
We realized how fortunate we are financially to have the middle-class incomes we earn. We are grateful for the longevity we have had with our employers. (Rob has worked for the same retail company for 26 years. I have worked for our local utility for 13 years.)
It has been our years of service that has allowed us to earn a middle-class income; it was our complacency that got us in trouble.
These first few months of our journey were filled with so many moments of disbelief. It was as if we were finally awake.
Where did the money come from to pay off our debt?
Are you ready for the details? The details are almost unbelievable for us as it is not the outcome we expected.
This is how it all played out when we decided to align our goals and start living our life.
Yep! That’s right! We showed our commitment to our goal by utilizing sixteen thousand dollars from our savings to pay off this debt. I know, that sounds reckless, but let me tell you, it was motivation through fear! As mentioned earlier in this post, we had savings; we were taking money out of the savings as quickly as we put money in. The account balance had not grown in years.
Rob and I were already reckless, and we were operating under the premise that we were responsible because we had a savings account.
Looking back and thinking about our mindset before we started this journey, it was only time separating us from depleting our savings while still maintaining all this debt.
Paid to Debt: $16,200
2. 10 Ways to save money
We evaluated EVERYTHING! We went over our monthly expenses with the intention of holding ourselves accountable to the life we want.
Everything was reviewed with the questions: Do we need this? Can we buy it for less?
It was almost unexplainable the money we found. Simple steps, minimal time investment, with enormous rewards! From these changes, we were able to commit nearly thirteen thousand dollars to our debt.
Paid to Debt: $12,827
3. Scheduled loan payments
We already committed to paying $942 a month in loan payments which totaled $5,652 during the six months that it took for us to settle this enormous amount of debt.
Typing that balance puts me in awe. Through our determination and creativity, we were able to pay ten times more than scheduled.
The thing about accomplishing a goal of this nature is that sometimes it is hard to believe that we were able to do this.
Paid to Debt: $5,652
4. Income Tax Return
The income tax return was an unexpected chunk of change. In 2016 we came up short on our tax withholdings by $1,200 and had to come up with the money by April 15th, 2017.
After recovering from the unexpected bill, we updated our withholdings in May and just hoped that we would break even in 2016.
Our adjustments to our withholdings were a bit of an overkill and did not take into account our son’s college tuition expenses that were not covered by his scholarships.
We ended up with almost four thousand dollars that we were not expecting to put toward our debt.
We were dumbfounded! We received a tax refund of $3,900!
Paid to Debt: $3,900
5. Vacation sell-back
So, you remember how I mentioned our motivation to pay off our debt derived from our desire to see each other?
Well, this money is a perfect example of how we just worked and worked and were not living our lives.
Our workaholic tendencies left us with nearly 200 hours of vacation that we didn’t take the prior year that we were forced to sell back to our companies. We traded 200 hours working more to live less.
When we used this $3,500 to pay off our debt, we vowed to ourselves and each other that we were not going to sell our vacation anymore. Time goes by to fast, and we have lost too much already.
Paid to Debt: $3,500
6. Work Bonus
We still do not understand this one.
Rob has worked 26 years for the same company. In those 26 years, he has never received a bonus as he did in 2018.
We were used to an annual bonus of around $300. 2018 was different. It was so unusual that Rob had to check with the payroll department to make sure his paycheck was correct.
Paid to Debt: $3,300
7. Extended warranty
Out of the $50,854 of debt, $34,000 of that was a brand-new car I purchased.
In 2017 I felt the impending life changes that were looming over us in which our son will graduate and leave home. That was the excuse I needed!
I have always had a thing for driving new cars, and well my fears of our boy leaving was all I needed to justify buying a car.
So, here is how it went: I bought a 2017 Ford in April 2017. I quickly decided it was too small and I didn’t like the color. I traded it in July 2017 for a 2017 Buick.
The joke at work was that I was going through a mid-life crisis. My response: Nope, this is the empty nest crisis. Look out when the mid-life crisis hits.
Out of the $34,000 debt, $2,300 was for an extended warranty. With the exhilaration of paying off our debt, we knew that if something happened to the car, we would have the resources needed to cover the expense.
So, we canceled it and applied the premium to our debt.
Paid to Debt: $2,300
8. Skipped mortgage due to refinance
Our mortgage refi allowed us to skip one monthly payment. We took that payment and applied it right to our outstanding debt.
Paid to Debt: $1,027
Okay, this is a small one, but it is part of our story.
Overtime was one of our last resorts for finding the money. Rob and I had spent so many years passing one another due to our obsessive desire to work, we decided we did not want to give up any more time with one another than necessary. We agreed that if this decision extended our timeline for our short-term goal, it would be worth it.
It totaled less than $1,000, but it is an excellent example of how every dollar counts.
Paid to Debt: $869
10. Cash Back and Bonus Money
Although Dave Ramsey HATES credit cards, Rob and I have always found the cash back for shopping to be an excellent way to earn a little bit of money.
The crazy thing is, we were terrible about cashing it in.
So we cashed it in!
We also decided to be adults and open a joint checking account. The bank gave us a $200 bonus just from opening an account. $200 is $200!
Paid to Debt: $807
11. Sale of our flatbed trailer
We have never been good at selling things. Giving things away has always been our MO.
Then my brother offered to buy a flatbed trailer that we were not using. Usually, we would give it to him since we were not using it. This time, we met his offer to buy with a dollar amount. That was it!
All we needed was $450 to reach our goal! Trailer sold for $450!
Paid to Debt: $450
What’s our plan now?
It has been nine months since we started this journey. Due to the extra of money coming into our home, Rob and I were able to pay our debt off within six months versus the time-sensitive goal set of eleven months. Our savings is almost back to the original balance of $16,000.
We have increased our 401k withholding to 15%, and we have maxed out our Health Savings Account (HSA). Any surplus of cash at the end of the month no longer goes to the debt; it goes to our savings.
2018 has been a year of growth for us that energized us for our future. This energy is what has prompted us to start our Empty Nestin’ blog. We are excited to learn more, share experiences, and help and inspire others with our story!
What role do you think complacency plays in your finances?
Does complacency keep you from reaching your goals?