We’re debt-free, but we didn’t begin our marriage this way.
Since this is our story, I asked Doug to write it with me. I’ll share how we did it, but I don’t intend for this to be a “do these easy steps and you’ll get these results too” type of article. I just hope that someone will be encouraged by this story.
We were about to get married, and the day came for us to “open the books.” I knew Doug had some debt, but I wasn’t sure how much it was. We needed to discuss our finances openly together. It turned out to be a really hard day.
Doug: Right before we got married, we had a financial meeting. I found out I had a lot of debt, and that Rachel had lived without debt. It made me feel really bad. I felt like I was bringing a burden into our relationship. I knew as our relationship went on, the debt would become even more of a burden. That day I knew we needed a plan to get out of debt.
When he added up the debt, it was more than $30,000: $14,000 owed on his car, $16,000 in student loans, and possibly $2,000 in credit card debt. It was greater than all of my savings, and I knew that when we got married, the debt would become mine. I was ok with that. I felt encouraged that it was mainly from student loans, and that he wasn’t adding to it by overspending.
Doug: We had such different ways of handling finances. I had paid no attention to mine, but Rachel was in control of hers. When we compared our two financial situations and I saw them side by side, there wasn’t a middle ground. It became clear to me that I wanted to change how I had been doing it. I wanted to be unified in the way we handled our finances, and be debt-free.
One challenge was I had made a career change to an entry-level job in a new field. I was only earning half of what I had earned at my previous job. Somehow, that didn’t slow us down. Every extra bit of money that we earned was sent to pay off the debt. We watched the balance go down month after month.
Doug: It was hard at first to take what seemed like Rachel’s money and pay off my debt, but I just kept thinking about how even our money is married. Money is a huge part of a marriage relationship. Every couple has to get together on it or else it could be a big problem. So we did.
10 Ways We Became Debt-Free
- We considered selling the car instead of slowly paying it off. As it turned out, the car was totaled in an accident, and the insurance money cleared the debt. We didn’t replace the car for a while. Doug had a work truck to drive to work, and we used Rachel’s car for everything else. When we replaced it later, we paid cash for a used car that was much less.
- We rented an apartment instead of buying a house. We still live in an apartment, but it’s because we want to, and it’s been a good decision financially for us.
- We furnished our apartment with second-hand furniture instead of buying new.
- Rachel sold company stock at an opportune time, and then paid debt with the money received.
- Doug took side jobs on the weekend and worked overtime to earn more money.
- Our income tax refund was sent to pay the debt.
- We left our savings alone, and primarily used our income for debt payments.
- We were making good progress on the debt payoff, so we contributed to our retirement accounts at the same time.
- We didn’t buy very much that year. We didn’t have cable. We stayed home a lot and watched movies.
- We lived on Doug’s salary. Everything Rachel earned went to the debt payoff, plus extra from Doug’s income. When the debt was cleared, we continued to live on Doug’s salary. It helped us when it was time for Rachel to stay home with the baby.
Doug: The day I graduated from high school I received student loans, so I had been in debt my entire adult life. I was 33 years old, so it had been 15 years. I didn’t even consider it, because it was always there. By the time I was 34, the debt was gone. We hammered it — it was awesome. I was proud of myself. I felt manly. I felt free. Fortunate to have Rachel. Now I know that having money under control leads to having a lot of other things in life under control too.
I’m honestly surprised by how quickly the debt was paid off. I’m so thankful, just really thankful. I know that tackling it early in our relationship helped, because we didn’t have as many responsibilities at the time. It became a foundation for our finances — how we make decisions and work together on it. Doug worked really hard, he still does all the time. And that’s the story.