Meet Amanda. She and her husband have paid off over $100k in debt as a single income household with 2 children and without ever making 6 figures. Amanda chronicles her life and financial journey on her awesome blog over at CentsiblyRich.com and today she's sharing her money story with us specifically around how they paid off all that debt, what kept them motivated, how they powered through the difficult days, other mistakes they made and how it was all worth it. Enjoy and be inspired!
What was your "enough is enough" moment that inspired you to pay off your debt?
Early in our married life, my husband and I fell into a perpetual cycle of debt. There was always some rational reason we conjured up to justify purchases that we subconsciously knew were unnecessary.
Even though we had debt, I loved frugal living and was drawn to personal finance books and blogs. Eventually, I read the life-changing book "Your Money or Your Life" and discovered personal finance blogs.
I read countless online success stories of normal people, just like me, who changed their lives by taking control of their finances. Many of these people paid off their debt and built enough savings to have the option of retiring before the traditional retirement age.
I had no doubt that if we worked hard and were patient, even on one income, we could do it too. But not if we continued the cycle of debt. Ultimately, it was the possibility of more financial freedom and early retirement that made us decide to stop the cycle of debt once and for all.
How much debt did you pay off in total?
A conservative estimate of the debt we paid off over the years is $100,000. This includes a combined $40,000 in student loan debt, plus at least 8 auto loans and 2 camper loans. There were times when we paid off an auto loan before financing another, but most times we went from one car payment to another.
We paid off our student loan debt first and then worked on our car buying habit. It took a few years of continuing to buy cars for us to stop once and for all. Since the debt has been gone (with the exception of the mortgage), we’ve been maxing out our retirement accounts and saved enough for a down payment on a rental house.
The plan is to have enough saved for early retirement, hopefully, less than 10 years from now, in our early 50s.
How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?
We’ve been a single income family for almost 17 years now. Our income has grown over the years, but when we started working on the debt, we were making around $50,000-$60,000/year and have never made six figures.
What specific things did you do to pay off your debt?
We’ve always lived a frugal lifestyle, but we really focused on cutting expenses further to pay off the debt and build savings. Each year, we shop for better home, car insurance rates, and ensure we are getting the best rates on our cell phone and internet service.
We cut the cable years ago, cook most of our meals, shop the sales, and DIY the majority of our auto and home maintenance. Since we’re accustomed to living on one income, any extra money we get can be easily saved.
I’ve had my share of side hustles over the years, from babysitting to teaching community education classes. And when we decluttered several years ago, we sold much of our extra stuff on Craigslist (sometimes I flip items too).
Automation has been the key to consistently saving. On payday, automatic deposits go to the 401k, Health Savings Account (HSA), and two other savings accounts. What’s left is what we have to work with for the month. I’m always surprised at how we are able to adjust when we increase our automatic savings.
Once we bumped our savings up 10% - the first few months were difficult, but it wasn’t long before we adjusted to less spending.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
My husband and I share many of the same financial and life goals. And we review and discuss the topic frequently. That support is a huge reason we keep going, even when things get hard.
We know what our “why” is and we know what we want out of life. Since we are clear (and agree) on what our priorities and values are, it’s easier to align our money with those values.
How did you manage the days where you just wanted to go out and spend money?
There are still times when I just don’t want to pay attention to what I’m spending. This tends to happen when life is crazy and I’m really busy. At these times, spending money seems like the solution to the stress. Most often this spending is on food or a day or relaxation.
When this happens and it’s just not in the budget, I try to find alternative ways to feed the need for a break. For instance, I keep fast meals (frozen pizza and veggie burgers) and food the kids can make themselves (mac and cheese) on hand for when I just don’t have the time or energy to make dinner. This saves us a meal out and I still don’t have to cook.
The main way I squelch the desire for new and shiny things is to focus on those long-term goals. I remind myself of the trade-offs. For example, if we were to spend money on a new car, that could take away an entire year (or more) away from retirement and travel. It’s just not worth it to me to sacrifice the time.
What would be your money advice to your 21-year old self?
Oh my! There is so much advice I could give my 21-year old self! But if I had to choose, the two main pieces of advice would be -
- Delay grad school and work for a while and,
- Do not take on any car loans
If I had done these two things differently, I would be so much further ahead financially. As a young couple, we took on significant amounts of debt, to the point that we had a negative net worth for many years. If only I knew then what I know now! Maybe we’d be retired by now!?
What steps are you taking to ensure your debt freedom is permanent?
We keep lifestyle inflation in check and save, save, save! There were a few years when our income went up, but our spending went up right along with it. At that rate, it’s hard to stay ahead of the game.
Now we realize how many more options and life choices we have with debt freedom, not to mention financial security and less money-related stress. We never want to go back.
As far as savings goals, automation has been the key for us. As long as we have those automated savings chugging along and don’t dip into them, we know we are on track. Having an emergency plan in place for those times when unexpected expenses come up helps immensely.
Though we don’t like to use our savings, it is comforting to know it’s there when we need it. And when it does get used, we work hard to build it back up.
What advice would you give anyone reading this looking for encouragement?
This is my favorite question! My answer? It is worth it!!! I don’t care how much debt you have or how overwhelming it may seem, take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment at a time. But keep at it. It’s not easy. In fact, sometimes it’s burdensome and painful. But, believe me, it’s so worth it. You won’t ever regret it.
Money is 80% mindset, 20% numbers. If you can get your mind right, the numbers will follow. This means you need to have the burning desire to make it work. And I firmly believe that if you know your “Why” in life, it can become the driving force for change. Whenever you feel like it’s too much or you’ve hit an obstacle, remember “Why” you are doing it. Take control of your life and make your “why” happen.