On Monday we did something so exciting!! I have been looking forward to this moment for MONTHS (18 to be exact). When the time came to hit the submit button I was OVERJOYED because this online click represents a year of changes, struggles, anxiety, pain, joy, and pride. This past Monday we PAID OFF MY CAR!!! We are on our way to financial freedom having paid off almost all our debt (still working on student loans) and I’m thrilled with our progress!
This time last year we were living on one paycheck and felt like we were in a HOLE that we couldn’t get out of. Two humans, two dogs, too high of a rent payment – one paycheck. We were stressed, emotional, trying to keep up with the same lifestyle we had just a few months before and realizing that we needed a change.
The backstory of all of this can be read here: Part 1 & Part 2 but the long and the short of it is that in February/March of last year Sterling left his job. We were left with one paycheck, all the same bills and a rent that was too high for our current status. We also had student loan payments, and credit card payments. We felt totally hopeless.
And then I realized that other families do this all the time, they live off one paycheck and far less than what we have. There were people coming out of debt and finding a manageable lifestyle within their means that I could look to as an example. So I started looking up budget solutions because I felt like there had to be a book or something that could help us figure out how to do this. Then one night we were in Barnes and Nobel and I asked Sterling if we could go to the financial section and SMACK. Right in front of us was Dave Ramsey’s whole collection of books including “The Total Money Makeover – A proven plan for financial fitness“. I thought well geez looks interesting so we sat down in the aisle of Barnes and Nobel and skimmed it.
The book is funny! And honest! And it gave real step by step plans for how to live in our means, get out of debt and save for our future to live like no-one else. I looked to Sterling and said – “I think this could really help us – I think we should buy this, both read it and try his plan”. He was a little hesitant at first because Sterling doesn’t like gimmicks and neither of us was sure if what Dave Ramsey said would really work, but we thought – “Well… it can’t hurt” and we bought the book.
This decision has changed our lives.
I don’t really mean to be dramatic but I seriously know that this book, this plan and this moment in Barnes and Nobel was an answered prayer and one that has changed not only the past year, but our future. Why? Because we have a plan. A plan for how to save, how to use our money down to the penny, how to get out of debt and make money work for us. It hasn’t been perfect but it’s been good. The best, and I mean BEST part about this has been the peace of mind that this has made us feel.
Dave Ramsey’s plan taught us simple little truths and challenged our lifestyle so that we could pay off our wedding ring payment, two credit cards, a $25000 car loan and make long term plans for student loans and retirement. Here’s some basics of how this happened for us but for the whole Dave Ramsey plan I HIGHLY recommend reading his book.
FIRST: We reviewed past statements
The first step for us was going through and looking at old bank statements to see where we were spending money and what things we could cut. This also helped us see where we were wasting money and what kind of budget we needed for things like food. We realized we were spending and wasting a lot of money on eating out and food when we could have been making food at home.
SECOND: We downsized
Soon after starting this path we knew we could not afford our current rent and needed to downsize. So we went to the leasing office and changed our lease over to a one bedroom. Our new tiny (but affordable) space didn’t have enough room for our things so we had to make cuts. We gave away a good 1/3 of our stuff to Goodwill, packed and stored another third in friends and families attics, basements and sheds and moved into a teeny tiny (but affordable) space. This step was hard because we had to change from a lifestyle of saying yes to fun things with friends and things we wanted to only working with things we needed. Our friends were amazing and people who knew the story were really supportive but it was hard explaining our choices to people on the periphery. I actually had someone, after telling them we were downsizing, look at me and go “What are you BROKE or something?!” Ow. If you’re choosing to get financial freedom and make good decisions for your family, these comments might/probably will happen but don’t let it get to you. While last year that comment really hurt my feelings, now I can shrug it off because we’re in a much better place!
THIRD: Mapped out a CASH budget
After we looked at the old statements we sat down with a google spreadsheet and mapped out all the money coming in, all the money that HAD to go out for bills, food etc. and then what was left over. We cut our food budget down to $75 a week which meant we couldn’t eat out like we used to. As per Dave Ramsey’s suggestion, we would sit down together each month and make the budget together with honest conversations about what we needed, wanted and could live without. We took out CASH for each of these budgets and put them in envelopes for each week. This helped a TON because we had to use only that amount of cash and when it was gone – it was gone. We started grocery shopping at discount places like ALDI and Lidl and found that we saved SO MUCH money and the food was just as good! We started seeing that this strict budget was actually not as uncomfortable as we thought and we still had a fine lifestyle – we could have even sacrificed more.
FOURTH: DUMPED into Debt!
All the rest of the money that was left over after our cash budget and bills, we DUMPED into our debt. Last spring when we just had one paycheck had nothing extra and could only pay minimum payments. But when we moved up to Baltimore and transitioned back to two paychecks we kept our same strict budget from before and had a lot left over to dump into debt. This is what helped us pay off our credit cards, ring payments, and our car in just 18 months. When our income shifted back to a higher rate – we could have easily increased our fun but being on the strict Dave Ramsey plan taught us that we really didn’t need to – we still had plenty of fun living in our means while dumping down on our debt. Last year before reading Dave Ramsey’s book – I never would have imagined that we could pay off all this debt so quickly. NEVER. I never would have believed that we had excess to put towards debt. But we did. We just never realized it because we didn’t force ourselves to make sacrifices and live within our means.
So where are we now!? Now we are at a place where we only have student loans left (which we are kind of treating like a mortgage) and are able to save for a down payment for a house one day and any other emergencies that might come up. We feel way more in control over our money and where it’s going in our future. Just the freedom of feeling more in control over our money has made a HUGE difference in our lives. We feel so blessed and are so grateful to be moving forward in the Dave Ramsey plan! We are moving on to baby step 3 and are SO EXCITED!
If you’re in a place like we were last year I highly recommend checking out Dave Ramsey’s resources. The reality is though that there are a lot of resources out there can help. Dave Ramsey really helped us but in all honesty, it was US that had to do the hard work. Just mapping out our budget, telling our money where to go and taking out cash was a huge step forward for us. Then when we started cutting things we didn’t need – it started to change our mindset, we didn’t need all this stuff. Here is a blank copy of the spreadsheet we use to budget – feel free to make a copy of it and adapt it if you want. If it doesn’t make any sense you can always reach out and I’ll explain how I formulated everything – sometimes it takes a little tweaking. 🙂