Paying Off Debt

by Jason on February 7, 2011

Our journey really started a few years ago when Shelly and I returned from a vacation in the Dominican Republic.  Despite the tropical temperatures in February, sandy, nude beaches (gotta love our European friends!), and all the food and drinks we could consume, both of us had an uneasy feeling.  We knew we were in trouble.

We financed the majority of the trip with credit cards.  When we returned, we didn’t have enough money to pay our rent, so we were forced to borrow money from a relative.

As we pored over our bills, we had an epiphany.  We were spending much more than we made, and racking up unnecessary debt in the process.  It left a bitter taste in our mouths.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious.  I still kick myself for being so stupid.  Hindsight can be cruel.  Yet we were only doing what the vast majority of middle class Americans do.  We were accumulating “stuff” at a rate we could not sustain.

Once we recognized we had a problem, we attacked it with fervor.  With the help of Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover“, we developed a budget.  We listed all of our recurring bills, debts, and income.  Dave’s plan involves paying off the smallest debts first to generate psychological momentum, then move on to the next smallest.  The money saved from the payment of the first debt is used on the second.  As you pay off the debts, the amount increases, hence the “snowball” moniker.

I’ve been told by a more mathematically-gifted friend that it is not the most efficient method to reduce debt, but it was easy.  Shelly and I both preferred ease-of-use over complex efficiency.

The first debt, which totaled a few hundred dollars, was paid off in a few months.  It felt good.  REALLY good!

The next debt took a little longer, but we were adjusting to the idea of living on a budget.  We made a lot of lifestyle changes, including:

  • Paying for everything in cash,
  • No longer buying anything that cost more than $50 without consulting the other,
  • Following a strict budget, then reassessing every two weeks for adjustments,
  • Clipping coupons and combining them with in-store sales (HIGHLY effective),
  • Reducing the extravagance of our lifestyle by eliminating things like eating out on a frequent basis

Like Dave says, we were living like nobody else so we’d eventually be able to live like nobody else.

I would like to say we cruised into a debt-free lifestyle after a few months.

But we didn’t.

We fell off the wagon many times.

The lure of a great meal at a nice restaurant proved too tempting.  We got tired of the labor involved in cutting coupons and researching sales.   Sometimes we were too lazy to stop at the bank to get cash, so we used our debit cards.  Every once in awhile, we’d buy a fairly big-ticket item (X-box 360, for example).

We were like Charlie Sheen and porn actresses… sometimes we’d be good..  We’d scrimp and save to pay off our “target debt”.  Other times we’d fall off the wagon host a huge drunken party with ten girls in a hot tub… er, I mean pay next to nothing on our accumulated debt.

Slowly but surely, we made progress.  We really started picking up steam when we decided to try simplistic living.  Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Wok Week” was our major motivator.  We realized we were still spending way too much on crap we didn’t need.  We were unnecessarily cluttering our lives.

At this point, we started actively eliminating our junk.  This turned out to be highly effective at preventing purchases, because we knew everything would just add to the clutter.  Around the same time, we started kicking around the RV trip idea.  Knowing we’d have to get rid of everything but the essentials that would fit in the confined RV helped immensely.

That was a few months ago.  As of today, we are probably about two months away from paying off all our debt except for our 2.5 acres of land we purchased immediately before the housing crash.  Since the land is only worth about 2/3 of what we still owe, we’ll likely stick with it for awhile.

Paying off our debt has been a great process.  While painful at times, it has laid the groundwork for our ideal lifestyle.  We’re no longer shackled by our poor decision-making.  Being debt-free gives us something we haven’t experienced in a long, long time- freedom.

We are free to make major lifestyle changes, which of course we are.  This wouldn’t be possible in the past.  We would have required a large income to support our debt payments.  Now we’d be able to maintain our ideal lifestyle by working part-time at McDonalds… and not even management.  We could get by as a fry cook.  ;-)

I know a lot of people that talk about their dreams.  In most cases, they involve some grand adventure.  They talk about the adventure in the a future tense; their voice riddled with both an enthusiastic optimism and a hint of defeat.  They want to accomplish the dream, but deep down they know they will probably never get there.

Shelly and I used to talk like that.  Then we realized sitting on a beach watching well-tanned breasts while sipping margaritas paid for with credit cards is not sustainable.  We made the necessary sacrifices.  It has been a long three years of no vacations.  However, we’re on the cusp of being able to move to that beach permanently if we so choose.  THAT is a great feeling!

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Extra Cash

People often ask us if we did anything to increase our income when paying off our debt.  We did.  We jumped at every opportunity that came along.  Dave Ramsey recommended getting a second job delivering pizzas.  I tried, but it was a surprisingly difficult field to break into (we live in a college town).

Alternatively, I found ways to make money that didn’t require working per se.  I didn’t want to spend time away from my family.  Blogging was one of these ideas.  You can start your own blog at blogger.com or wordpress.com (I’ve used both).  Once I started blogging, I realized money could be made selling stuff in affiliate programs. Eventually I set up a program of my own for other people.

If you have a blog and/or website, and you think your audience may be interested in barefoot or minimalist shoe running (my passion), consider signing up for my affiliate program.  Once you set it up, the only work you have to do is add the link to your site.  You get paid for every person that buys my ebook or the printed version. You can find details here: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/affiliates/.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam February 7, 2011 at 7:46 am

Nice blog Jason, Did you know Craig & I have always practiced this? Other than houses and cars, but i just inherited my mother n laws 95 Toyota Camry, so now no car payment, which is super!! Do you have to pay $$ for these websites?? (BTW Craig is Dutch and its true what they say-haha)

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shel February 18, 2011 at 6:50 am

jim and i are debt free and always have been. houses and cars bought in cash, credit card paid off in full monthly etc. my husband was raised by a very frugal school teacher, cum millionaire. the man worked odd jobs, never threw a thing away and was obsessive about saving money. he drilled it into jim that what the bible says is true: debt is slavery. it is a millstone around your neck. and i couldn’t agree more. while my F-I-L takes it waay too far, to the point of obsession, jim and i have chosen to forgo unnecessary items like cable tv, movie rentals, fancy vacations, home telephone… even texting (our one indulgence is high speed internet). when the car goes, we have cash money available to buy new ones. we bought and sold distressed properties that we fixed up with our own sweat and tears, and moved every year. my husband bought rental property…became a realtor… all things he could do while still working as an electrician. i watched other people’s kids, and shopped at discount stores. i learned to cook, and cook well. i don’t hire baby sitters, but lean on my family for help. and most importantly, we give. give give give. the one place in the bible where God challenges us to “test Him” is in the area of giving. he says this,”Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’ there is no way you can out give God. we give to our church, a widow and her small children, numerous charities and we are generous with our time and energy. jim is always willing to help out, and put others ahead of himself and God has opened the floodgates on us so many times, i can’t count them.

whatever your belief is, the purpose of living is not “you”. it’s not so you can have more crap, and have fancier vacations and die comfortably. we should all do our part to help the corner of the world that we inhabit – that is the point. watch as the floodgates of blessing are opened on your family.

i have written you a novel. i am very pleased that for you that the noose of debt has been loosened, and cannot wait until the day when you can slip it over your head and walk away. we wish you all the best on your journey!

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Jason February 18, 2011 at 7:03 am

Well-said Shel! Debt really is a killer. It limits your freedom to make decisions. Unfortunately, most people do not recognize it until they are forced to make unsavory choices due to their accumulated debt.

Unfortunately we live in a society that creates the illusion that debt is necessary or even an advantage.

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