As of a few months ago, Christopher and I are officially DEBT. FREE.
Aside from our wedding and, you know, graduating from college, this was probably the biggest event in my adult life. I thought it might be helpful to share our Debt Free story today, as well as some of the tips and tricks that helped get us here!
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I spent YEARS post-college slowly but surely working on getting myself out of the student loan debt I acquired attending Bennington, and when Christopher and I first met I was quite literally toting around my copies of The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace both by Dave Ramsey and nerding out in his direction about my obsession with budgeting. I actually remember a specific conversation we had where I went off on this twenty minute tangent about budgeting techniques and then tried to stop myself because I realized he likely didn’t care…only to have him encourage me to continue, because he was so stoked that this was a passion of mine!
Chris isn’t anywhere near as nerdy as I am about budgeting and becoming debt free, but he was very excited at the prospect of having a partner who was very into financial management, as that was very different from his previous experience.
Finding Our “Why”
The first order of business – for us each separately and together as a couple – was to decide why. Why was becoming debt free important to us? What was our reason for wanting to be debt free? How did we see ourselves and our future and why would that piece of financial freedom help us get there? For us we want to raise Jess in a financially stable environment and teach her how to manage her money young so she doesn’t have to go through as much confusion and hardship as she gets older. And ultimately, we had a goal to get me working from home full-time, but we knew that wouldn’t be an option for us as long as we had student loans or credit card bills weighing down on us.
Maybe your “why” is taking a big trip as a family or being able to retire at a certain age or just feeling financially secure! Whatever it is, just make sure you have a super clear vision of your “why” as you move forward – you’ll need it!
Separate Finances Before Marriage
I’m a bit of a grandma (traditionalist, whatever) when it comes to many aspects of relationships, so I was pretty adamant that we didn’t combine our finances before we got married, which Chris agreed with as well. Especially in a stepfamily, there are many financial aspects that can get a bit, shall we say, complicated when finances combine, so until we were married it made the most sense to both of us to keep our incomes and our budgets separate.
This meant that, for about three years, while we were dating and engaged we worked on taking care of our debt separately. We had lots and lots of conversations, figured out how to help each other make the most of our money, and even made up mock budgets in our engagement for what things would look like when we were married, but at the end of the day we were each working on cleaning up our own mess.
This was important for us, as we felt we each needed to have that commitment to being debt free separately before we’d be able to conquer it together in marriage.
Cash Flowing Our Wedding
I’ve actually talked about this subject on the blog before, but it was so incredibly important to us and our success in becoming debt free, that it’s absolutely worth mentioning again! We paid cash for our wedding. And it was AWESOME! When we left on our honeymoon we had exactly zero wedding bills at home for our return. We were able to start our new life as a married couple without bills for flowers and photos and venues and chairs and goodness knows what else waiting for us. And we had an absolutely gorgeous wedding! I did not feel that we scrimped on anything in order to have the wedding we wanted. We were careful with our budget and we took the time to save up, which made all the difference.
Marriage = Team
I know lots of married couples handle their finances a variety of ways, especially in stepfamilies, and I think whatever works best for your family is great! However, it would be remiss for me not to say that working together as a part of a team was a total game-changer as far as our finances were concerned. Once we were married, we made a budget that combined both of our incomes and both of our debts, and got to work! Working together and being on the same page made a massive difference in our ability to focus. It was honestly a little surprising how much faster we were able to get things done once we combined our finances and really honed in on our goals together!
We used the books I mentioned early (most notably The Total Money Makeover) as well as other Dave Ramsey resources (the podcast is AWESOME) plus just our common sense and personal money beliefs and goals to dig in and get this done. We love love love the EveryDollar app for budgeting (read my review of it on the blog here!) and found that communication and staying focused were the top most important things to keep us moving forward with our debt free journey! The other thing that’s always important to remember is that making a mistake isn’t gonna ruin everything, it’s just a mistake! My perfectionist brain sometimes equates a mistake to a defeat, and that’s just plain not true! Reminding yourself that a mistake is just a setback, not a defeat, can make a huge difference!
Make Room for Fun!
This one might surprise some hardcore Dave Ramsey enthusiasts, but I’m a huge proponent of keeping fun in your life while you’re working on getting out of debt. Sure, it might be cheap fun, but you still need fun! The quickest way to lose your focus is to totally hate your life, so make sure you don’t! Find inexpensive or free ways for you and your family to have fun! Take a staycation or a short trip to visit friends, make a picnic, or go on a long walk or hike! We became totally obsessed with this road-tripping app when we first starting ballin’ on a budget and we still love it so much now!
Make room in your budget for a few small fun activities to include each month! Your budget is just that – yours! – and only you know how to make it work for you!
And finally… celebrate! Celebrate the big wins, of course, but also be sure to celebrate the little wins along the way! We were so blessed to be able to celebrate in a BIG way – by being featured on Dave Ramsey’s radio show and podcast! Check out the video below if you wanna hear a little more about our story and hear us do our “Debt Free Scream!” And please don’t tease me for giggling too much – I was SUPER nervous! (The video should start right at our call!)
Are you debt free? What did it take for you to get there? I’d love to hear your story as well!
Interested in some more tips for getting out of debt? Check some out here!