When Mary and I met almost 11 years ago (ELEVEN YEARS?! Man time has really flown by), I never thought about debt, only credit. That doesn’t make sense, right? How can I think about credit and not the debt that goes along with it? Honestly, I was so focused on “building credit”, that I didn’t realize how the small items here and there would mound up to be a big mountain of borrowed money for a bunch of stuff that I really didn’t even need.
Over time, Mary and I (though still pretty savvy with spending) had built up a nice chunk of debt including credit cards, student loans, and my car note. I’ll be honest, the majority of it was mine, but when we got married, Mary said “No this is all of ours, the good and the not so good.” – she’s so amazing.
I really didn’t like that though. I hated knowing that I had created a big debt mountain that was hindering us from things that we really wanted to do, like buying a house. Contrary to popular belief, debt and wealth are like oil and water. Saying that you’re rich, even if you make a lot of money, means nothing if you owe a bunch of people. In fact, the Bible even tells us to “owe no man anything but to love him.” We definitely were going the opposite direction of that.
I started listening to Dave Ramsey at that time (the first year of our marriage), and tried to get Mary in on it, but she wasn’t at a place yet where she was ready to hear it. Not that he wasn’t talking truth, but in her words upon reflecting on that period in time, “Wasn’t open in heart enough to listen.” To her, hearing other people talk about their debt only made her feel worse, and because she wasn’t receiving it, I drifted away from it. So for the next few years we’d talk about getting out of debt, only to realize that we were still creating more of it. We knew that we could get out of it, we had paid for our own $20k wedding (wayyyyy over budget by the way) in cash after all by simply saving and doing some DIY work - which I may save for another post. We knew that we had gone through one of us being without a job for nine months and never missing any bills or payments. We knew that God told us that we had the capability to be the “lenders and not borrowers”, but we had definitely borrowed a lot. A WHOLE lot.
But a couple of years later, something shifted. We went to talk to someone about our finances, to see where we were and where we needed to be in order for us to buying a house. It was no surprise that with the amount of debt we had accrued, even with good credit scores and strong history of no missed payments ever (Hallelujah thank you Jesus), we wouldn’t be able to do it. Hearing that triggered something in us. We knew that something had to happen if we were to reach the goal and vision that we believe God gave to us.
We had to make a mind change. I realized that the only way to reach anything that we desired, to obtain any sort of promise that God had for us, WE had to change our minds and actions to fit the course that our goals required. You know that saying “Name it and claim it”? Yeah, that only works if you name it, claim it, and do it. In other words, “faith without works is dead.”
So last year we made our plan official. NO MORE DEBT!... great in theory, but difficult in practice. We had to make some sacrifices and changes, and we plenty of meetings together, wrote out a lot of numbers. I have a background in banking, but I got out of it for a reason: I hate numbers. Nonetheless, we did what we had to do.
Fast forward to the end of May, and we are so proud to say that we've paid off about $10k in debt AND saved an additional $5k. God is amazing! We weren’t one of those couples that’s out here making $100k a year. So here were the circumstances that we were facing, and the way we were able to pay off $10k in debt in spite of our challenges:
1. $15k Pay Decrease - that's right, I said decrease. We made less money last year than we ever have since being married. When we moved, the jobs we obtained here in Charlotte honestly were not paying much. So we took a cut pay. Not going to lie, that part was pretty tough and for a moment had us questioning why in the world we'd leave our higher paying positions back in Richmond. I'll touch on this later.
2. Travel back to VA kicked our behinds – we had no idea that we’d need to travel back and forth to VA so much over the year. Our expenses for going home were beyond the $1k mark. Thankfully, we were able to cut that back toward the end of the year.
3. Terrible, expensive health insurance was no joke – Oh, I didn’t mention that before we moved, I lost my job. Honestly it was a blessing, but I also lost my health insurance. After leaving Capital One, I had insurance through Cobra for 6 months, and then it rocketed to over $700 a month. The new jobs we had in Charlotte didn’t over health insurance, so we had to utilize the Health Care Market place to get crappy coverage that was $200 just to cover me and my meds.
4. We still wanted to have fun in our new city – What sense would it make for us to move to a growing city like Charlotte and not experience what it had to offer? We still wanted to date, have fun, enjoy a dinner and movie, or a live performance from Lauryn Hill (if she actually showed up). We had to figure out how in the world we could still enjoy our lives with everything we had going on.
5. The Random Expenses – washer, dryer, car repairs, stuff breaking, hospital bills… man the list goes on. You know how it is, sometimes when it rains it pours. We’ve all been there and we were no exception to it. It honestly seemed like we were “putting our pennies into bags with holes in them” like Haggai (prophet in the Bible) said.
I don’t think that most of what we experienced is any different than what anyone else experiences. In fact, I believe that there are people who have dealt with far worse. That said, I want to tell you our challenges, to be transparent with you, and maybe even help someone who thought that they couldn’t overcome their challenge realize that they can.
How did we make it happen?
1. Tithing and Giving – No lie, I’ve literally tried tithing, then tried stopping it, and learn very quickly that not only does it work, but when you stop honoring God with your 10% things don’t work out the same way. Here’s the thing, giving money doesn’t’ always mean you’ll get it back in cash. But for us, I saw God honor His Word to us in our health, avoiding accidents, keeping our home safe, and so on. I also believe that God put a safeguard on our finances as well as He always supplied exactly what we needed.
We also gave a lot. We donated old clothes, gave time to people, and gave money to others. Mary volunteered her time at a senior citizen's facility, I gave my time to help out business owners who didn't even pay for any of my services. We gave money to our neighbor at our old apartment during a time that they were struggling.There were times that we gave to complete strangers. And when God blessed us back, I couldn't help but to be reminded of Hebrews 13:2 which says "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." None of this is to boast, but it's to show that giving to other's is a part of what God uses to bless us back as He witnesses our commitment, effort, and humility.. #BeHumble.
2. Set up a plan – “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” We knew that there was absolutely no way we could kill this giant without a plan of attack. Debt is smart. It markets to us by reaching that inner place of need and desire and then persuades us with “No interest till” gimmicks. If you can buy something and then pay it off before the interest hits, cool. But most of us get lazy or don’t really have it, so we build up this mountain of borrowed money in no time. Our plan had to involve a strategy for how we would pay our debt down. We used the snowball method. We paid the smallest bill off first and then took that minimum payment and added to the next bill and so on. The excited you get each time a bill is paid off is what helps keep you motivated. We also looked at how much money we had coming in and going out, and realized that we had money going out for stuff that didn’t make sense, like having both Hulu AND Netflix accounts. Pointless.
3. Made our vision/goal bigger than what we saw – This was one of those mental things that needed to change. Seeing the stuff that people post sometimes can play Jedi mind tricks on you. Their perceived success and attainment of what you want can be frustrating and annoying at times, but it can also breed jealousy. We made sure to stop caring about what we saw and instead made it a point to celebrate with those who were achieving their goals.
4. Used what we had – Did you know that you have about $10k sitting around your apartment/condo/house right now? Stop looking for cash, because it’s not in cash! A lot of times we humans try to find solutions in places all around us, not realizing that what we need is already “in the house.” It’s like the widow in the Bible who had to find a way to pay her debtors off or else loose her sons. She took the pots that were right in her house and sold the oil in them to pay off her debts. She even had extra left over. Her faith in God allowed Him to fill up the empty pots. Likewise, I found a bunch of stuff in my home that we could use to make money. I took old picture frames and creatively turned them into serving trays and sold them. We went through all of our old stuff and sold it on Facebook Market and Craigslist. We then took that extra money and
a. We also saved a bunch of gift cards from our wedding. Rather than balling out with them as soon as we got them, we sat them aside for a rainy day or right before they expired. Because we had so many, we were able to go out on dates and have fun without hurting our budget as badly as we could have.
5. Invested money in ways to make money – We took the small amount of money we had going toward savings and made it work for us. We met with a financial planner who helped us invest Mary’s money in better accounts that gained her better interest. I invested in the stock market and started making more money for my retirement account. Before you try to say “I don’t have that kind of money”:
a. Neither did we. We put in about $20 a month towards savings until we increased our income. TWENTY DOLLARS! That’s $240 a year. If you did $50, then you’d have $600 saved. It’s small increments. Where will that money come from? See Numbers 1-4 of this section 😊.
b. If you don’t have money going toward a 401k or some sort of retirement account, get on that ASAP! Let me be real, the reason so many of us struggle now is because our parents didn’t stack up money that could be passed down to us. In other cultures, the parents and grandparents have money and property set aside for their children and grandchildren to get them started. Many of us didn’t or don’t have that privilege, BUT we can change that cycle today by investing in our future. Today will be gone in hours, but tomorrow is still coming. Live for today, plan for tomorrow.
6. Hustled – We worked our brown behinds off! Mary worked overtime, I worked all kinds of crazy hours (shout out to being a business owner, where 9-5 does not exist!), and we took every opportunity afforded to us to make that paper.
Listen, there really isn’t a short method to this. No get rich quick schemes or major windfalls of money. It was just hard work, and it will continue to be that way until we finish paying this debt off. And I’ll be honest, I’m incredibly undisciplined. Often times my brain can go off to a million creative ideas at once and I go into a daze of unfocused energy. Mary on the other hand is incredibly organized and inquisitive (sometimes too inquisitive, haha). So, we took our strengths of creativity and organization and developed our method for paying off debt. Card after card got destroyed under the hand of our mighty sword called consistency. So, Mary and I celebrate a major milestone for us, and we still have racks more to go, but this small victory is enough to let me know that “it’s all worth it.”