Yes, it's a been a long time coming (six years and seven months), but we are finally debt-free, except for the house.
To recap, we took Financial Peace University at our church in Tuscaloosa in February of 2008. That's when we were introduced to Dave Ramsey's biblical money-handling ministry. We were young (I was 27, Eli 26). We thought we were doing pretty well financially as far as how we were handling things and paying back our debt, but I had always been interested in personal finance, so I dragged Eli to the class. By the third week of FPU, he was on board. Boy, did we have a lot to learn. Shortly after we graduated, I lost my job, and Eli found a job in Opelika, so we moved.
Fast forward three and a half years to the fall of 2011. We had two kids and house. We were still paying faithfully on our debts, but our snowball got derailed by daycare for two children. We had paid off the smaller amounts--a vehicle, credit cards, my student loans--and were faced with two MASSIVE student loans for Eli's undergrad and law school. It was daunting, to say the least.
I took to the discussion forums at mytotalmoneymakeover.com for some advice and encouragement, and someone mentioned creating mini thermometers, breaking the large number up into more manageable chunks and so that's what I did. I looked at what we had left after paying for 3.5 years--approximately $52,000--and borrowed a fundraising thermometer from a friend's adoption blog, and posted those bad boys one by one, $10,000 at a time, at the side of the blog for all to see, starting October 1, 2011.
- Debt Thermometer 1, $10,000, October 1, 2011 - April 28, 2012 (7 months)
- Debt Thermometer 2, $10,000, May 1, 2012 - December 30, 2012 (7.5 months)
- Debt Thermometer 3, $10,000, January 1, 2013 - September 23, 2013 (8 months)
- Debt Thermometer 4, $10,000, September 24, 2013 - April 17, 2014 (6 months)
- Debt Thermometer 5, $10,000, April 17, 2014 - August 11, 2014 (4.5 months)
- Debt Thermometer 6, $3,596, August 11, 2014 - September 24, 2014 (1.5 months)
Looking at the numbers and the timeline over the last almost-three years, we paid off half of that debt in one year! It seems surreal. We worked our buns off, Eli particularly so, and it happened more and more quickly.
Somehow, it all seems both invigorating and anticlimactic, haha. We still have work to do. Lots of work. Remember the Baby Steps? Well, we just finished Baby Step 2 of SEVEN. So, we keep moving forward. Baby Step 3 is to save up three to six months of expenses, so the ideal plan is to spend the next year and three months throwing money at our emergency fund so that my "security gland" is satiated.
But, mostly, I can't believe that we're done with the debt part. There were times that it seemed to be interminable, that the progress was slow-going. Knowing that I felt like that has helped to frame some of the best lessons along the way.
Here are some things I learned while becoming debt-free.
- We can't make progress if we don't begin.
- Seems like common sense, right? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and all that. Start. Now. Otherwise, precious time is lost.
- I ran a marathon in San Francisco in October 2007. The last five miles were a long, straight, stretch of highway along the Pacific coast, but it was peppered with traffic signals. While I knew I had to go the entire five miles to finish, I still had to challenge myself to get to each of those traffic signals--microgoals, if you will. Knowing I could achieve those little goals gave enough small boosts of confidence to spur me on. That's what the debt thermometers were for me--traffic signals on the road to the finish line.
- This is where I say that I am thankful for the grace lavished on me by my Lord and Savior that I do not have to be perfect. We stumbled. We made mistakes. I lost all the money for the month--twice. We stopped and splurged (but paid cash!) on things when the money could have been going toward debt. We still took trips (but paid cash!) to see friends and family. Unlike the Pacific highway, our path was not perfectly straight. But we kept correcting to get back on track.
- Runners often hit a wall--it's both a mental and physical block. But we have to keep moving, even if we're taking trudging steps forward. There were times when it felt like this would never end, that we would never be out of debt (and I use never in the most melodramatic way I can drum up). I wanted to have a toddler tantrum greater than any I've witnessed from my children. But then I would look forward, toward what the end might look like. I blogged about it a few times actually. I talked with Eli and close friends about it. I tried to celebrate the progress, however small. And look...here we are at the end of it.
- You will have to forgive me as I one more time brag on Eli. He has worked so hard. He joined the Army both because it was something he wanted to do and also to bring additional income to help pay down the loans. He's had more than his share of days away from us over the last four years--the sacrifice has been great. So, we've kept each other on track as best we can and moving forward. When others have commented that we're wasting our children's childhood by not spending money on things like dance and soccer, we've stuck to our guns, together. We've planned together, we've dreamed together, and we've worked together. I LOVE THIS MAN!
There's a bulletin board at the school where I work that has a great quote, and this is what I want to share with you if you are thinking about becoming debt-free, or are anywhere on the continuum.
It totally is.