Monday, May 13, 2019

How We Got Out of Debt

D E B T — The four letter word that makes us all want to dry heave a little.

About ten years ago the only debt I had was a small mortgage (about $32,000) and a car payment. They were small monthly payments well within in my budget. My house eventually sold for a profit for me and my fiancé (now husband) to buy a home together.

Somewhere after marriage, though, larger debt came. We still had a mortgage, but it was within our range and was far less than rent would be in our town. The problem with debt came elsewhere. We had two car payments, had wiped out savings from me being sick and needing treatments and physical therapy and numerous doctor visits, and had huge unexpected expenses pop up like often happens in life (veterinarian expenses from having a sick dog and then having to put the dog to sleep, new HVAC for our home after it was vandalized, oven quit, washing machine quit after several DIY repairs, on and on). We had not been smart with our finances, and we racked up major debt, mainly because we had separate credit cards and weren’t communicating about what the other was spending. My husband came into the marriage with some debt, and we were slow to learn how to manage money as a couple. We weren’t trying to keep secrets, but we just didn’t have everything laid out and didn't have accounts merged to know what our spending really looked like. We each worked full-time jobs and should have been able to save up for emergencies and save for things like travel, remodeling our house, paying off cars, and so on. Instead, we were spending on stuff that was of no real value.

Then we also had a baby during this time. This is where you laugh if you’ve had a baby yourself and know how much that costs. We had NO IDEA what it costs to be pregnant and birth a baby. We had to pay quite a bit for prenatal care, then for me to have the baby by emergency c-section and for our baby to be in NICU for five days. The cost was overwhelming. [Side note: We negotiated our bills and had them reduced by about 70%. I called every office that sent us a bill and asked if they reduced bills based on financial need. We had about five different medical offices to pay, and only one office told me no. Other offices let me set up payment plans or let me apply for a discount. I had to submit our income and expenses to some of the offices who then gave us a small discount. We did have insurance, and all offices received payment from our insurance (we paid for our own insurance at the time since Colin’s employer at the time didn’t provide insurance). We were paying our insurance and paying the offices, but since medical costs are astronomical, we needed all the help we could get. Our total bill was still very large, but it became manageable monthly payments.]

Once we had Harlow, I was home full-time. I wanted to be home, but we also couldn’t afford daycare on what I was making at my boutique. We sat down and laid out every bill we had. Things got ugly. I cried a lot. Anxiety was high. Guilt was high. We had to forgive each other for some serious financial mistakes. We also asked God to forgive us for us not being faithful with what He had given us.

Then we buckled down. We made a real, on paper, line by line budget. We sold my new car and went to being a one car family. We cut everything that could be cut. We stopped eating out. We stopped shopping. We had to buy diapers and wipes, which meant not buying things for ourselves. The only fun things we did were free, like being outdoors. We went on a serious spending freeze. We sold everything we could online and at consignment stores. We sold clothes, shoes, furniture, instruments, golf clubs, decor— whatever we could sell, we did! I made and crafted things (from materials I already had or what people brought to me for commissioned projects) to sell for a little extra cash.


I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it was easy or that our stress immediately went away when we decided to pay off debt. It was harder to live like this. It was harder to pay off debt than it was to get ourselves into debt. We reaped what we sowed. We lived with worn out, ill-fitting clothes. We ate at home, and sometimes couldn’t even buy groceries when we ran out of food. We never went without food, but it meant eating what we could scrape together in the pantry and drinking only water. We said no to meeting up with friends, because we couldn’t afford a meal at a restaurant and couldn’t afford the gas to drive there.

We got into debt with two incomes. We got out of debt with one income and a baby.

Then the day came when we went to the bank and dropped off our last check that meant we were FREE of debt! We were giddy! We celebrated by going through the car wash— something our daughter loves and something we couldn’t freely do when we were in debt. Once you go through this journey, it doesn’t take much to excite you!

Today our only debt is our mortgage. We don’t have plans to pay it off early, but we do have our monthly payment divided into two payments a month, helping pay it down faster. That means we take our payment and pay half at the beginning of the month and half at the middle of the month, and it pays off our mortgage faster. I’ll put a link down below to this method if you don’t know about it.

I’m not saying we won’t have have debt again. If we have another child, there will be medical debt. Sickness could cause debt. We may buy a car that will come with debt. This isn’t a judgement on those who have debt, and this isn’t a declaration that we will never be in some kind of debt again. Our goal is to never be where we were again— unwise and foolish with finances.

This is an encouragement to get real about your finances. Whether you’re single or married, sit down and see what the reality is with your money. It may cause some tears. Cry it out. Then make a budget. AND STICK TO THE BUDGET. You’ll have to stop caring what people think. So what if you have to sell a car and drive something cheaper? So what if you have to tell your friends you can’t go out? Invite them over for a potluck. Tell them you’re trying to get out of debt. We feel shame about money, so we try to hide our situation. But being honest about it means they know why you’re saying no, and it might be the push they need to do the same thing.

Not in debt? Great! Stay that way! Make a budget now, and stick to it so you can stay out of debt!

So what is our family doing now that we’re not in debt? We are saving up to do work on our home that was built in 1945. We worked on it with money we saved before we got in debt. Then once we were in debt and digging our way out, we couldn’t afford any more remodeling. We are now trying to catch up on projects that need to be done to care for our house and to keep and increase its value. We also have been able to say yes to eating out again. We still have a very strict budget we stick to, but that budget includes eating out and doing fun things that might cost a little bit of money. I’m not saying we have go to Disney World or Paris money (but maybe one day!!!), but we can buy clothes that fit and go grab an ice cream every once in awhile. We are also contributing to retirement since neither of us are in jobs that do that for us. We are also saving for emergencies that we didn’t save for before (who knows when our 20-year-old clothes dryer might go out!).

We still say no to things. Since we live on one income and stick to a strict budget, there are still things we can’t afford to do. We can’t eat out every time we are asked. We can’t go on expensive trips. We simply can’t live outside of the budget. There are things that need to be taken care of (like our house so it doesn’t go into disrepair), so that means having to say no to other things. You will never stop having to say no. So get used to that word. Saying “no” can be very financially freeing, which can result in mental and emotional freedom!

It took a couple years to pay off our debt. The biggest feelings we dealt with were guilt. We could have done so much with the money we blew. We weren’t responsible with what God gave us, and we learned some big, hard lessons. If this is a journey you have to take, don’t stop giving to God. Don’t stop tithing. If you never tithed before, start immediately. We tithed throughout our debt journey, and trusted that God was going to keep supplying. God didn’t get us into debt. We were the ones to mismanage where the money went. So if God didn’t get us into the mess and was instead the Giver of all good things, why in the world would we not give to him through it all? Not tithing is taking from God, and not tithing is not something we can afford to do.

I am far from being a financial expert. I can tell you what we did, but I can’t tell you how to do it for yourself. There are experts out there, though, that can walk you step-by-step through the process. I’ll link down below to some of the resources we used and are still using. I still watch videos and read articles that remind me and push me and teach me to make smart money decisions!

Take a deep breath. Tackling debt is tough, but it's doable!


Finding Your Worth

•Finding Your Worth•

I recently had an interaction with a stranger who asked me, “What do you do?” I know that phrase usually implies that you describe your job or how you spend your days. I felt like my full answer was complicated and too time consuming for the situation I was in, so I simply said that I was a stay-at-home mom. Now, don’t stop reading if you work outside the home or don’t have kids. This isn’t a discussion of work-from-home vs. work-outside-the-home. Aren’t we all a little tired of that discussion by now?

When I answered with that, I received a look of disgust, and the woman immediately walked away. For all I know, she could have instantly had a stomachache come over her and the need to flee to the bathroom, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case. Her look and immediate departure translated to me that it wasn’t worth her time to talk to me. I wasn’t worth getting to know.

Don’t worry; I’m not about to have a pity party— quite the opposite.

There was a time where I defined myself by “what I did” and the career I had. I had a job I loved, and I loved talking about it. I found pride in it. I felt accomplished, fortunate, and talented. I later had my own business, and it gave me happiness and, again, pride.

Then I decided at 8 months pregnant to walk away from it and to be a stay-at-home mother. It’s another post for another day why I made that decision for our family (with no pressure but full support and a bit of surprise from my husband). Walking away from a career and a business meant I lost those things that had once defined me.

Now, I know mothers who are defined by their children. Their children are their lives. The children come before everything else, and the children are where they find their pride and identity and worth.

Here’s the thing: everything can be lost. You can lose a job. You can lose a career. The world changes. You can change. You can lose your passion and interests. You can lose physical and mental abilities. You can lose a child, and while a child is a life of worth, they are not where you find your worth. If you find your worth based on something that can be lost, then that means you’re holding on to something that is fleeting and, well, worthless.

I bring this up to encourage you not to look down on those who don’t have what you see as a valuable career. Don’t look down on the mother who stays home. Don’t look down on the mother who works outside the home. Don’t look down on the person who doesn’t have children. Most importantly, find your worth in something that isn’t fleeting, something that can’t be lost. I find my worth in knowing I’m a child of God. I will never lose Him, because He is constant and is holding on to me. He will never let go of me, even when everything else in this world would drop me in an instant. My worth is found in Jesus and in who He is. I know all too well that you can lose your physical abilities and you can walk away from jobs and careers and businesses. And though I pray it never happens, I know you can lose a child. But through all that, I cannot lose my worth in Christ. What a relief! Now, maybe that’s how I should have answered that woman’s question.

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