In 2006, I graduated with a degree in graphic design from Iowa State University, and a cool $45,000 in student loan debt. Since my husband and I were feeling like super grownups, it was only fitting we deserved a brand new, grown-up car, adding an additional $25,000 of debt to our lives in a matter of an hour at the car dealership.
Five years later, we had our first baby, had made minimum payments the entire time, and my dream of being a stay at home/work at home mom seemed impossible at best. Around that same time, some relatives introduced us to Dave Ramsey, and his book The Total Money Makeover. In a nutshell, this step-by-step plan shows you how to get out of debt, save money, and build wealth. The plan is different from other money-management plans in that it goes beyond simply treating the symptoms of money problems like debt and lack of savings, and focuses on changing your behavior for the long haul.
This plan works if you’ll let it.
It worked for us.
When my son turned one, I resigned my assistant art director job to stay home full-time. We sold our car for a more modest, higher mileage SUV, and paid off my student loans in record time while earning near half the income we were used to.
How We Got Out of Debt
We wrote a budget and stuck to it.
While documenting where every dollar was being spent, we threw literally every spare penny we could find at our debt.
We were debt free; no payments, no credit cards!
I wish I could say that this was it, the golden ticket to financial freedom. But I can’t.
We were slow starters, often moving two steps forward one step back month after month, year after year.
After welcoming our second child in 2013, we wanted to start camping as a family. And not just any camper would do. So, we went and financed a brand spanking new camper. And what’s a shiny new camper without a shiny truck to haul it with? Cue another terrible decision.
That brand-new camper did not equal peacefully sleeping nights with our two small children like we thought it would. Plus, the guilt that we carried with it definitely didn’t give us peace either.
After one summer, we started to right that wrong and sold the camper, we put our heads down and paid off the truck. Now, we’re back to debt freedom, and it feels so much better than anything shiny and new ever could.
So, what’s different this time around?
Well, for starters we took the Dave Ramsey endorsed class, Financial Peace University at our church. We started sharing our goals and our practices with other people to hold us accountable. We also started an Instagram account @HustleHousehold for accountability and support from thousands of other people with goals and dreams like us.
We have set goals that excite us and motivate us to stay true to our priorities; paying off our mortgage and retiring early being the biggest. We also take our kids on as many vacations as we can. We plan ahead, pay cash for everything, and don’t have the guilt or burden of vacations following us home in the form of a pile of credit card debt.
We spent 10 days this summer covering 10 states from the Gulf to the Smokies. Showing our children the beauty of this country, and someday the world definitely motivates us to stay dedicated to our goals.
These lessons didn’t come without, quite literally, years of sacrifice, and hard work, and keeping a close eye on our priorities. It means saying no a lot times we want to say yes.
How We Stay Debt Free
I drive a 2006 Honda with 200,000 miles on it and rust in more places than I care to admit. But, it’s paid for, and it carried us safely on that 10-day road trip.
We don’t spend a lot of time in restaurants and the majority of our clothes are from places like Target or Walmart.
We’ve chosen to stay in our modest, but amazing home that has a modest mortgage and allows us the freedom to travel and make extra house payments.
Where we are and what we have has little to do with luck, but with hard work, constantly preparing for our goals, and when opportunities arise, we’re ready for them.
What does financial freedom look like to you?
It can mean a hundred different ideas to any given person.
We believe money cannot buy happiness, but it can give peace of mind and the ability to live the life we want to, instead of the life we have to. In our lives, it’s about being able to go where we want, when we want.
We want to show our children the world and continue to instill in them the belief of experiences over things. It will someday allow them to not carry the same burden of student loans like I did. It also allows us the freedom to give freely, without worrying about a bottom line or how it will affect our grocery budget. Lastly, and probably most importantly, we pray our financial freedom will allow us to open our children’s hearts and minds to the need that exists in the world, and how they can leave a mark here in some positive way.
You’ll find Kate in Ankeny chasing her two kids around a restored brick ranch with big shade trees. She and her firefighter-paramedic husband, Dave, favor experiences over things and love hanging out in the mountains or traveling to unexpected places with their two kids. Kate left the corporate world to become a freelance graphic designer and also loves creating spaces that are full of beauty, comfort, function, and fun. She’s also a former athlete who thinks she is still fit enough for running and Crossfit. Her latest adventure? Sharing her family’s journey on the road to financial freedom. Find her on Instagram at @HustleHousehold.