Joe and I had already been dating four years when we got married. Before getting engaged, I was well aware of his debt as he was with mine. It was a lot. It seemed like a huge hurdle, but we had both been through the financial impact of divorces and were determined to make our marriage a success.
Did you know that financial issues are the number one cause of divorce? Conquering our elephant in the room was a huge challenge for a new marriage, and our finances continue to be an ongoing conversation in our household. We knew we wanted to travel but considering our budget and debt, traveling was a luxury and couldn’t be considered if all of our income was tied up.
Disclaimer- So I know some of you may be already thinking, you guys must have good jobs. My cost of living is higher. You don’t have my medical expenses. You name it, there are financial stressors for every household regardless of the income bracket. To be transparent, I’m a teacher and Joe has a government job. We live in a nice house in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. Even though our income is middle class, at the time we conquered our debt, we had two teenage girls living at home and were paying child support for three other of our kiddos. Also during that year, we spent $10,000 in legal fees battling a custody issue. And not to mention, you name it, every appliance, air conditioner and automobile seemed to break and have to be repaired.
Most of our strategies came from reading Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. It’s an easy read, and I don’t know how many times in our 5 years of marriage we have referred back to it. We also took Dave Ramsey’s class “Financial Peace University” at our church as part of our marriage preparation. We learned so much in the class, we now have given our children an financial incentive to go through the class themselves when they graduate from college or decide to get married (whichever comes first).
So how’d we do it? It wasn’t easy. Anyone that gives you a quick get rich scheme is trying to get rich quick themselves! Just like weight loss, slow and steady with a lot of hard work is what is takes. But regardless of the mountain, conquering it can be done!
How We Eliminated $35,000 in Debt (in one year)
So We Could Travel the World
1. Make it a team effort.
For us to conquer our finances, we had to put on an “It’s us against the world” mentality. Since Joe was bringing in most of the debt, at first, he didn’t want me to have to sacrifice because of his debt. I had to remind him that I was bringing baggage into the marriage, too, just a different kind.
When we started thinking of everything as “ours”– our budget, our income, our debt, it was easier to see the big picture.
Joe is a naturally saver, but free spirited. Sometimes I have to help him stay focused on the task at hand and plan for later. I’m a spender, but also a planner. It’s very hard for me to go shopping and not come home with bags of stuff I really don’t need.
One of our best financial solutions involved our groceries. I started making a menu for all of our meals, with a detailed shopping list which I gave to Joe to buy. That way we actually had food already purchased for every night’s meal. If you have the ingredients already on hand, it is easier to say no to going out to eat. Handing over the grocery shopping to Joe, keeps me out of the store, buying up things that aren’t on the list that we really don’t need.
I don’t see how anyone can eliminate debt if one partner isn’t on board. There were times that I really felt left out when friends were going out and it wasn’t in our budget. I needed someone to hold me accountable and to remind me of our longterm goals. Our kids even got to the point where they would ask “Is it in the budget?” when they wanted to buy something. Sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn’t. It was a family effort all around.
2. Make a budget.
This was sooo hard. We had to give every dollar we earned a name. No more “Where did all our paycheck go?” It took us a couple of months to nail down exactly how much we needed for groceries, gas, and other things like the kids’ school expenses, but eventually we got pretty close each month. Part of our budget was just for debt, eliminating the smaller ones first, then tackling the biggest ones last–our cars. It is amazing how much all the little things, like Starbuck runs and fast food pickups, add up. I learned to keep a stash of snacks in the car, so that if I got hungry running errands, I already had a solution with me that didn’t involve spending anything.
3. Sell everything but the kids.
One advantage that we had in this area was that when Joe and I got married, we combined two households. We had a lot of duplicates. First we had a huge garage sale of miscellaneous odds and ends and made $800. Then Joe began the tedious process of selling our nicer things on eBay. We made about another $1,000 selling items on eBay. It is amazing what people will buy. Something I would tell Joe, “No one is going to buy that,” a week later he would holler, “Some guy in Wisconsin just paid $17.00 for that clock you said was junk!” This is something he still does, especially with bike parts he doesn’t need anymore.
4. Save money on the things you have to have.
We comparison shopped for our home/car insurance saving us $600 a year. Joe started going to several grocery stores each week to get the best deals. Yes, it took time, but we kept to our debt free goal so we could travel goal in mind every time we started to get tired and want to take the easier/faster route.
When the knob of our washer fell off, Joe found (on eBay) a new knob and replaced it instead of his original idea of attaching a lock vice pliers. My old ways would have had been just getting a new washer and dryer. After all, our old Kenmore washer and dryer set was bought in 1989. All our neighbors have pretty uprights. My daughter calls our old set “racket” and “embarrassing”. Well, it is paid for and is still working just as well as it did when it was brand new.
My wedding band cost $16.95 (yes, on eBay again). The gold-plating has long since rubbed off and a new one would look so much prettier. Do I really need a new wedding band? No, I don’t. Now that we are debt free, it would be really easy to find ourselves back in debt again lured by the shine, bling, vroom and zoom. I keep the old washer/dryer set and wedding band as a reminder of all the mountain of debt Joe and I eliminated. I don’t ever want to have to battle it again. So not only are those old things a constant reminder of what we need and don’t need, but you could also say it is kind of like a badge of honor–a testament of what’s important and not important to us.
5. Work your tail off with side jobs.
While Joe was busy selling anything not bolted down, I picked up a computer job that I could work when I wasn’t teaching. If there was an extra job at my school, I did it. Some of the extra things I did didn’t involve money, but maybe if I got something for free, like a gift card, I used it strategically. If I could use it as a birthday or Christmas gift or use it in our budget, I did that job, too. Trust me, there were nights after school that I just wanted to sleep. The idea of working on the computer for four hours filled me with dread, but that’s when family teamwork helped.
6. Give yourself some fun money.
There’s no way Joe and I could have kept whittling away for a year if we didn’t give ourselves some fun money. In the beginning we gave ourselves $20 each per month to spend anyway we wanted. Joe usually spent his 20 on fast food or beer. I tended to save mine for a couple of months then go buy myself a new dress or necklace. Once a month we allowed ourselves $40 for “a real date”. So no fancy restaurants, but cheap eats and a matinee movie were doable. By only using cash there was no way to overspend. Making it for whatever we wanted, eliminated the guilt. It’s the same reason some people need a cheat day when dieting.
Yes, this was a tough way to start our first year of marriage. But since then, we have paid off our mortgage, paid cash for a travel trailer and truck, and gone to Europe twice. It is a little easier now. Joe and I now go on 2 dates a month (woo hoo!) and sometimes it involves fancy places, too! However, budgeting and planning is still a struggle. When we go shopping, my girls still ask, “Mom, are you sure this is in the budget?” I could easily slip into my overspending habits, and Joe still hates planning for the future. However, I keep making the menu, and Joe does the grocery shopping. I still buy most of my clothes at consignment shops. 90% of Joe’s cycling gear he bought was used. Keeping our travel goals in the forefront of our mind helps keep the old bad habits at bay.
So how do save up for something you really want? Please share by commenting below!
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