We’re Debt Free!

Y’all, we did it.

We did it!

WE.DID.IT.

We paid off our entire $82,000 in student loan debt in 3 years + 2 months.

And we even did it 38 days before our goal {which was December 31st of 2016}.

There’s so much I want to share with you, so to keep myself organized, I am going to break this down into categories.

BUT, if you haven’t read our original story on our debt-free journey, please read this first. 

  1. HOW I FEEL. 

I made the final payment on Tuesday, it went through on Wednesday, I surprised my husband and told him on Thanksgiving {Thursday}, and today, Friday, it’s just now starting to sink in.

We’ve been working our butts off for the past 38 months.  At the beginning of this journey, there was no light at the end of the tunnel—nada—not a glimmer.  In fact, it was more like a black hole.  So, when the end actually started getting closer, it honestly didn’t seem like it was true.  I compare the thought of it to the dream of someday having the perfect body . . . you hope it will come true, but you know deep down it ain’t ever gonna happen. Now that this dream of ours is true, it’s hard to process.

When I made that last payment, at first I felt nothing.  It was like any other payment I’ve made toward our loans. Then I posted this picture to Facebook on Thanksgiving Day.  I had such an awesome response from my friends that when I was reading through everyone’s comments, I was overwhelmed with emotion and just started crying {happy tears,of course}.

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Right after I told my husband the news on Thanksgiving Day.

Today, I have just felt giddy.  All day.  I am sure that soon I will finally feel relief.


2. HOW WE DID IT.

I’ve gotten this question a lot since I’ve been public about our journey.  38 months ago we started Dave Ramsey‘s Financial Peace University.  This taught us how to reallocate our money and get on a budget.  I recommend that EVERYONE take this 9-week course.

Before, I thought I was doing the right thing by having our money going in every direction – college funds, savings accounts, retirement funds, and student loan debt {minimum payments, of course}.  Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps taught me that my good intentions weren’t working.

Here’s a bulleted list of all the changes we’ve made since September of 2013 to “find” extra money:  

  • We immediately stopped putting money into the kids’ college funds, the savings accounts, and retirement and started dumping that money into the debt.  That was super scary for me at first because I’m a saver.  This alone freed up about $400/month. 
  • We canceled our DirecTV which was costing us $125/month!  We invested in a digital antenna and an Apple TV instead.  We now watch local stations for free and pay a total of $17/month for Netflix and Hulu.  This freed up a little over $100/month.
  • We started paying cash for groceries.  Not only that, but I only budgeted $300/month for groceries and any other food.  This meant pretty much NO dining out.  I’m not sure exactly how much this saved us because I used to buy our groceries with our credit card and didn’t keep track, but I estimated this saved us at least $200/month.  
  • We changed our car and home insurance, which freed up about $50/month.
  • I was putting about $100/month toward my students loans, which had about a $6,000 balance.  We paid that off as quickly as possible by pulling money out of our savings.  That obviously freed up $100/month to put toward Randy’s student loans that had a $76,000 balance.

The minimum payment for Randy’s student loans were around $400/month.  By making these changes, we were able to put an extra $850 toward our debt each month {equaling $1,250} just from our teaching salaries.

Other changes:

  • I took a vow to pretty much not go shopping until we were out of debt.  I did get a few things here and there, but very little.  No new decorations for the house, no new clothes or new shoes, no new home appliances.  No fun.
  • I’ve always been cheap frugal, but I took that to a whole new level.  I figured out how to take advantage of Kroger fuel points, and I started making my own laundry detergent and other cleaning products.  I started getting rebates through the Ibotta app.  If you sign up using my code {fjovarx}, you’ll get $10 and I’ll get $5.  Yes!
  • We rarely ate out or did much for entertainment.  We watched movies on Netflix instead of going to the theatre.  We made sure to pack lunches every day.  We played games at home instead of going bowling or Chuck E Cheese.  I did workout videos from YouTube for free instead of going to a gym.

Extra Work. 

We could have just paid the $1,250/month toward our debt that we were able to “find” by simply reallocating our money.  In fact, that’s what we did for the first several months we started our debt snowball.  But this would have taken us about six years to complete, and I started developing a hate toward our debt that was so repulsive.  Like, if our debt was a person, I have no doubt I’d punch it so hard in the face I’d knock out half a dozen teeth.  I had to get it done quicker.  The only way to do that was to increase our income.

Here’s how we increased our income:

  • In January of 2014, I started my own cake pop business called Bondbons.  This has been a fun way for me to work from home and make an extra income.
  • My husband started a painting business in the summer of 2014.
  • I get “extra duty pay” through my school for doing things like subbing on my plan period, taking tickets for soccer games, supervising detentions on Saturday mornings, working on a curriculum committee, being a home bound teacher for students in the district, etc.
  • I supervise the ACT test about 4 times a year.
  • My husband used to be a mechanic, so he will often work on people’s cars from our home.  He will also find run down cars for cheap {or sometimes even FREE}, fix them up, then sell for a profit.
  • I taught summer school during the month of June.
  • We tried selling as much as we could.  We had several garage sales, and would also sell items on Craigslist or Facebook.
  • My husband donated plasma.
  • I started teaching cake pop classes and selling cake pops at vendor events whenever I could.

By doing all these extra things, we were usually able to pay an additional $1,800/month toward the students loans—making our payment around $3,000/month total.  Sometimes it was more, and sometimes it was depressingly less.


 

3. WHAT WE DIDN’T CHANGE.

Tithing.  I have tithed 10% of my income since I started making my own money as a teenager.  That was something I was not going to give up during this journey.  My husband and I still faithfully tithed to our church and other organizations we’re passionate about this entire time.  This whole time our debt was paid on 90% of our net income.  In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do with your money . . . well, actually, it’s God’s money.  He just lets us manage it for Him.

Murphy’s Law.  This isn’t something we controlled, but no one is exempt from Murphy’s Law of “Anything That Can Go Wrong . . . Will.”  During the last 38 months, we’ve had to owe more on taxes than we expected, we’ve had to get new tires on our van, my husband has had to fight former ding-dong employees in legal battles, we’ve had to make unexpected trips, we’ve had deaths in the family, and more.  Even though we’ve had an emergency savings fund, all of these events have put kinks in our pay-off plan, but we kept trucking.

Kids. I wanted to make sure that my kids {who are currently 8 and 10} didn’t have to suffer during this season of our lives.  I made sure to be available to help with homework, to attend basketball games and ballet recitals, and to take them out on dates.  I still had a lot to fit on my plate with orders to fill, essays to grade, lesson plans to make, and extra duty jobs to work.  Therefore, I tried to let that cut into my SLEEP more than my kids’ time.  No matter how hard we tried, our intense focus to get out of debt definitely took some time and attention from our kids, but we tried out best for it not to.


 4. THE NOT-SO-FUN PARTS.

I came across this quotation a couple of years ago, and it stuck: “Never envy the success of another.  You don’t know how much she had to sweat to get there.”

I’ve had so many people comment to me that they’re so jealous of the fact that we’re out of debt now.  I know this is probably meant as a compliment, and I don’t know everyone’s financial situation, but I just want to scream: YOU WOULD NOT BE JEALOUS OF THE LIFE I LIVED FOR THE PAST 38 MONTHS!” 

Seriously.

It’s all cute and awesome now, but the only thing that’s been fun about this journey is seeing the debt’s balance go down every month.

This did not “just happen.”  No one helped us.  We did not gain an inheritance.  We had to work and make sacrifices.

Here’s a little glimpse of the not-so-fun parts that we’ve endured to get out of debt so quickly.

  • On average, I got about 5 hours of sleep a night.  FIVE.  It’s a miracle I wasn’t constantly walking around like a zombie and actually functioned {most of the time}. Even on weekends I rarely had time to catch up on my Z’s.  Sometimes I would have to catch a cat nap on my lunch break or in the van before my son’s soccer games.
  • I gained about 20 pounds over the 38 months.  YUCK.  This was mainly due to stress.  I found that I am an emotional eater, and you can bet that I wasn’t snacking on celery sticks.  I also did not have the time or energy to really care what I was eating, cook healthy meals, or work out.
  • My husband and I were like two ships passing in the night.  One of us was constantly working while the other was home with the kids.  Babysitters, dining out, and entertainment weren’t in our budget, so we haven’t had much quality time in the past 3 years.
  • There were times my hands would be so sore from rolling cake pops that I could barely grip the steering wheel in my van. There were also times I would be up so late working on orders that I would start crying from exhaustion.
  • I’ve been driving the same {paid off} minivan for nine years with no plans to trade it in, and my husband has been driving piece-of-crap vehicles because nice, newer ones weren’t in the budget.
  • My husband and I tried to help each other out whenever one of us wasn’t as busy with our own business.  He helped me make cakes, put boxes together, made deliveries, and tied bows on cake pops for my Bondbons business.  Over the summer I helped him . . . paint.  You guys, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I. HATE. PAINTING.  And of course the days I helped were always super hot and miserable.  I seriously loathed every single second as sweat was coming out of pores it shouldn’t be coming out of.
  • We constantly had to say “No.”  No to our kids when they wanted to go someplace fun.  No to our friends when they wanted to dine out.  No to our family because we couldn’t afford to travel.  No to ourselves when we wanted to update the house or buy something new or . . . do basically anything.
  • We were constantly tied to a tight budget {side note: we will ALWAYS be on a budget, but this one was REALLY tight}.  As I mentioned before, I only allowed us to spend $300/month on food.  Many times toward the end of the month, we would run out of money.  We had to get creative and make some interesting casseroles out of the food we had in the pantry, and often we had to just eat cereal or Ramen noodles for dinner.
  • As much as we tried not to cut into our kids’ life, the extra work still did.  One of my lowest points was when I had to miss my son’s soccer game because I was scheduled to work a Saturday morning detention.  That was the only game he scored a goal the entire season, and I missed it to make an extra $60.  I vowed that when we got out of debt, I would try my best not to miss another game or activity again.

So, this journey has not been fun, but it was definitely worth it. I’d do it all over again to ensure the financial freedom we’re going to enjoy in the future.


5. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NEXT?

I’ve also gotten this question a lot, and there’s so many answers.

Many people have had the impression that we are going to live it up, quit our jobs, or buy whatever we want now.

While we will have more freedom with our time and money, we will continue following Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps, so we will still be on a strict budget.  I’m sure that makes me sound like Captain No Fun, but don’t worry, we have lots of enjoyable things planned, too.

Here’s a list of what our future looks like:

Savings + Investing. 

We are now officially on Baby Step 3, which means we need to fully fund our Emergency Fund.  This will be a savings account that will have 3-6 months worth of our living expenses in case something tragic happens {a loss of a job, a horrible accident, etc.}.

As mentioned above, we’ve been driving the same minivan for over 9 years, which is getting close to 200,000 miles, and my husband has also been driving crappy cars to make do. We plan to drive these vehicles until the wheels fall off, but in the meantime, we’ll also be putting money into a separate savings account {called a “sink fund”} for “new” {to us} vehicles in the future so we can PAY CASH and not have to get a car loan.  We never want to go into any kind of debt ever again.  Ever.

We have also put off investing and retirement during this time.  My husband is actually only about 11 years away of being able to retire from teaching, so this is quite scary to us.  After our emergency fund is completed, we will be on Baby Step 4, which is to start investing 15% of our income.

We also need to start putting money back into the 529 Education Plan we have for our kids to save up for their college.  We don’t want our children to have to endure crippling student loan debt like we had to.  This is Baby Step 5, but it can be done the same time as Baby Step 4.

We still have a mortgage that we’d like to pay off early.  This is Baby Step 6, which can also be done at the same time as Baby Step 4 and 5.  Any extra money we have after investing and saving for college will go to the house.  Have you ever played around with a Mortgage Payoff Calculator?  Click here to try one.  For us, just by paying an extra $100/month {on a 30 year mortgage} will cause us to pay off our house 7 YEARS EARLY!  An extra $500/month would pay off our house 16 YEARS EARLY!

Reallocating the Money.

We have had a limited budget for groceries, gifts/giving, and entertainment. We plan to reallocate our money so we open up more room for all of those areas and can have a bit more comfort in our lives.

Work.

We will both continue to teach and do our side businesses. In order to accomplish everything we want, we still need to make some extra money.  BUT we can now limit how much we work.  Before we took whatever jobs or orders possible out of necessity, now we can pick and choose what we want to do.  We both like doing the businesses that we started, but neither one of us can keep up at the pace we were going.  I don’t know how this will look just yet, but I do know that I am going to get some more sleep at night.

Time.

As mentioned above, we won’t be working as much.  I plan to give my kids more undivided attention that they deserve and need.  We also want to volunteer more.  We just want to relax and spend more time with family and friends.  I plan to spend more time cooking healthier meals at home and working out.  I would like to blog more and maybe even write a book.

I also plan to facilitate Financial Peace University classes in the future to help other people get out of debt in our area.

Celebrate.

Before doing anything I mentioned above, we are going to celebrate first!!!  In fact, tonight we’re taking our kids to a nice, fun restaurant and to see a new movie in 3D.  We have rarely dined out since 2013, and we never go see new movies.  We either rent them, watch Netflix, or go to the cheap $2 theatre in town.

I also went shopping for fun for the first time in over 3 years.  I plan to redecorate our living room—something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’ve even gotten some new shoes and clothes.  Look out, world.

The most exciting thing we have planned though is a long, sweet vacation this summer out west.  Since we’re both teachers, we have the summer off, and we will probably be gone for a good 3 weeks.  We will even be able to afford a house sitter!  Woot! Details about that trip will be a post for the future.


Thank you to everyone who followed our journey and encouraged us along the way.

We have lived like no one else so that we can now live {and give} like no one else.

Love,

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PS – Share this post on social media via our Facebook page {click here}, and I will send a lucky winner a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover to help you get out of debt. It will change your life.

 

 

 

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Seven Everythings I’ve Learned from My Dad

Eating ice cream. Circa 1984.

Eating ice cream with my dad. Circa 1984.

I’m starting a series called “Seven Everythings I’ve Learned.”  Here I’ll feature seven “everythings” {because . . . blog name}  I’ve learned from various people and experiences.  I’ll also feature guests posts from people I find intriguing.   I figured since Father’s Day is today, it was only fitting for my first post in this category to be what I’ve learned from my dad.

I don’t remember my father ever sitting me down and saying, “Courtney, when you grow up, you need to do X, Y, and Z.”  Rachel Cruze teaches when it comes to parenting, “more is caught than taught,” and that is exactly how it’s been with Papa Jack.  He never had to sit me down and have such talks—he was teaching me by my observations.

1. Live Below Your Means

Daddy/Daughter dance at my wedding.

Daddy/Daughter dance at my wedding . . . that he paid for.

My dad is cheap frugal.  Every trip to the grocery store results in him asking for rain checks on discounted sold out items.  He will politely argue with cashier if he was shorted even a penny.   And I was mortified whenever he would make me scalp tickets at KU basketball games so we could get better seats on the cheap.   We never drove new cars, rarely went on vacations (other than visiting family), and the only beverage I was allowed to order at a restaurant was water.

But because my dad was a penny pincher, he was able to pay for my college and my wedding.  He has freedom to be incredibly generous.  He could buy more expensive items if he wanted, and he’d pay cash instead of going into debt. His frugal ways have definitely rubbed off on me as I now see myself putting his tightwad techniques into practice; they pay off in the long run.

2. Work Hard

My pops has always worked, and he’s worked hard.  When I was younger, he had numerous paper routes to put himself through college.   After an MBA, he became a business man and the head of the purchasing department at his job.   I worked in the factory at his business to make extra money in college.  I’ll never forget when an employee pulled me aside one day and said, “You know, if your father ever left this company, it would completely fall to pieces.”  I swelled up with pride at this comment—that was my daddy he was talking about.  His work had become invaluable, and when your work becomes invaluable, you gain purpose and security for you and your family.

Like father, like daughter.  At my graduation for my master's.

Like father, like daughter. At my graduation for my master’s.

3. Education is Important

I was expected to do well in school and go to college.  I wasn’t even allowed to take an easy load my senior year of high school. Before I turned in my proposed schedule, my dad made me switch everything around to take all the harder classes, dang it! Because of his high expectations, I went on to get my bachelor’s, and one of my proudest moments in life was finally being on par with my pops in degrees by attaining a master’s.  Education has stamped out the ignorance in my life and heavily molded me into the person I am today.

It wasn’t just formal education my father emphasized—it was a love for learning.  Before Google, my dad had “The Red Dictionary”–a tattered old thing that seemed to always be within arm’s reach of him.  Whenever we were uncertain about anything, we’d consult said lexicon.   Even though I am now a teacher by profession, my dad has taught me to forever be a student.

4.  Be Cool

If you surveyed 100 people who know my dad well and asked them to describe Jack in just one word, I’d bet “cool” would be used more than any other.  He’s seriously just a cool guy and I’ve never met a soul who doesn’t like him.   So . . . Be Cool = People Like You.

5. Quality Time Matters

Catching a Boston Red Sox game in Boston

Catching a Red Sox game together in Boston

Some of my favorite memories with my dad are taking road trips, attending ball games, and playing euchre.  Now that he has grandchildren, he makes it a point to spend quality time with them, too. I guarantee those memories will be more significant to them than any gift they ever receive.

6. Invest in Others

My dad was a part of a bus ministry back in the 1970s where he picked up kids for church. Through this ministry he was able to build relationships with numerous boys and become a fatherly figure.  Over the years he’d hire them to deliver newspapers, took them to Royals games, and mentored them spiritually.   He still has a close relationship with many of them, and one in particular says he wouldn’t be the man he is today if it weren’t specifically for my dad in his life. Watching this as an adolescent majorly influenced my decision to become a teacher, a teen leader at my church, and a volunteer.

7. Eat Ice Cream

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Passing on the art of eating ice cream to my kids.

I’m pretty sure there is a direct correlation between ice cream and happiness.  If my dad is visiting, you can bet there will be ice cream in our fridge.  He may even splurge and we’ll go out for some.  You don’t want to live a life full of regrets—a life without ice cream is sure to be regretful.

And . . . Mmmmmmm.  Ice cream sounds #sogood right now.  I think I’m gonna stop typing and fill a bowl.

I love you, Dad.   Thanks for the lessons.

Happy Father’s Day.

Love,

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