As of August 11th, we hit an exciting goal – we are officially debt free!! We finally got all of the student loans paid off. It felt like the weight of 32,000 single dollar bills was finally off our chests.
Before we were married, we took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class, which is hands-down one of the best things that we could have done during our engagement to prepare for marriage. (No- he didn't pay us to say that. We just believe in the principles that he teaches THAT much! Thanks Mom and Dad Braz for THE best Christmas gift!)
Sure, we knew about debit cards and savings accounts, but honestly, that was about the extent of our financial knowledge. In our 9-week FPU class we learned about saving money, tackling debt, real life insurance and investing, and being generous with money in order to bless others. Thanks to that class we were able to knock out our $32,000 of debt in 22 months.
Luckily for us, we are a young married couple with fewer expenses and debts, but it still wasn't always easy. There were several sacrifices and cutbacks that we decided to make during the last two years. (Spoiler alert: it was SO worth it!)
LIVING WITHIN OUR MEANS
Sure, when we graduated college in May of 2014, as newly engaged people, about to begin in the working world, the idea of splurging on a nice apartment with friends, close to our college town sounded great. But we didn't do that. We were both blessed with the opportunity to live rent-free with family during our engagement. 10 months of putting our paychecks toward paying off debt, instead of rent. We can't tell you how fortunate and grateful we are to have had that option.
Once we got married, we SO wanted to buy a house. But we realized that instead of forking out money for that and piling on tons of debt for a house that we really couldn't afford, we instead would get a super affordable apartment that allowed us to pay off current debt even quicker.
Cutting the Cord
The biggest sacrifice was no cable. Sure, you can watch 180,291,391 different shows on Netflix (that's an approximate number, of course), but there is just something missing when you can't watch live TV. But, instead of shoveling out that $60+ to Charter every month, we dutifully added to the student loan payment.
After two years, we have watched ALL of the Netflix. The whole thing. But we are debt free!
Skipping the Drive Through
One of the biggest ways that we saved money is by learning to enjoy cooking. Not learning to cook…. But learning to enjoy it. Sure, some days you come home, and you're exhausted after work. The thought runs through your head, "man, I don't wanna spend hours cooking and cleaning. Might as well just grab Chic-fil-A". I'll be the first to admit that the Christian Chicken is my weakness, but doing that several times a week for a whole year can quickly add up to several hundreds of dollars that could have been spent somewhere else… like student loans.
Instead of enjoying the luxury of having other people cook our food and clean our plates, we explored Pinterest. We quickly became master's of the crock-pot and freezer meals. There are some days that it just seems like a serious chore to cook in the evening, but it has saved us a ton of money since we cook enough for the two of us to have dinner and lunch the next day at work. It eliminates the temptation to spend money on food!
Planning ahead is super helpful, we usually plan out our meals on Sundays, which doesn't allow us to use the excuse that we're too tired to cook. Plus, every once in a while it's actually fun and even healthier!
The world is a fun place. Concerts. Movies. Football games. Unfortunately, the world is an expensive place. When you're trying to pay off those pesky student debts like we were, you learn to get creative for entertainment. We could have spent $50 by going to the movies and buying snacks and eating dinner out, but instead, we opted for a Redbox. Instead of going to concerts, we had walks in the park or downtown. Instead of purchasing tickets to football games, we watched them with friends at home. While we paid off our debts, we spent a lot of time going to hiking trails, playing board games with friends, or going to local, free events.
Aside from both being frugal and cautious with money over the years, we also put most unexpected or extra money that we made straight towards the loans. Raises, bonuses, birthday money. If we didn't have an extreme need or a legit want, extra income went straight into the deep, dark hole of student loans. But we have filled in that hole, and it's helping us reach our goals. Some months we were able to pay significantly more than the monthly payment, other months we paid what we could. But we made a commitment to each other that we would not let ourselves become slaves to our debt, that we would pay it off quickly and intentionally, and we carried through with that promise.
Being freed from debt has given us the ability to invest more in our photography business, start saving for our first house, and we are so excited to begin giving back to others without being worried about our own financial situation. You can't put a price tag on the freedom that eliminating debt gives you!