Woman sitting in bed stretching her arms in the air.

This is the post I have been dreaming about writing since I decided I was going to start a blog.  I didn’t want to share this story in detail until we had paid off the very last cent of our personal debts (except for our mortgage). 

Partly because I didn’t want to jinx it and partly because I didn’t want to share the whole story until it was complete and I could share every detail.

As I shared in our Debt Story Part 1  &  Part 2, we made the life-changing decision to start taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at a local church at the end of January.

We began paying off our debt the first week of February 2017, and we made our last payment in September 2018!

I think I’m still a bit in shock that we actually did it!  It seemed so SO impossible that we would be here today.  

We worked so very hard the past 20 months…we scrimped and saved. Struggled and sacrificed.  

And it paid off (pun intended)!

I want to share the specific steps we took with you in the hopes that you can use some of these suggestions to improve your current financial situation.  

Two main things got us here » Debt-free, except for our mortgage…two things: hard work and blessings on blessings (wait..is that 3)?

When we began this journey, our state of mind was fragile. 

Stressed out was an understatement.

We were blessed and truly grateful for everything we had, but we weren’t being faithful to what we were given, and I believe that is why we couldn’t find any peace, financial or otherwise. 

We were able to change our lives by finally breaking the debt cycle we had been in for well over a decade.

If you, too, are struggling, I’ve poured every single thing I learned along the way into my signature money course, so I can share all the tips and tricks I used to completely transform our finances!


We Made a Strict Budget

We made a tight budget. Like, crazy tight. This totally sucked.  

It wasn’t easy, and it sure as hell wasn’t fun, but we did it.  

And minus some periodic whining, a smidgen of regret, and a couple of mistakes, we stuck to that tight, sucky budget!  

New to budgeting? My 5-day Begin to Budget Mini-Course will walk you through the entire process…and it’s free. GET STARTED NOW.

It gave us a plan, and it kept us on task. That budget was our roadmap to our goals. And speaking of goals…

Woman with a pile of paperwork and credit cards with text that reads: How we paid off $54,500 of debt in 20 months

We Set Aggressive Goals

We set some serious goals.  

Not wimpy goals like “We will pay off all our debt,” but goals like “We will pay off our Chase credit card in the amount of $4500.00 by March 31, 2017.”

Your goals need to be very specific. They need to be measurable, and you need to spell them out in detail.

I set very aggressive goals. I remember being so pumped after our first class.  

We went to bed, and I couldn’t sleep. I had all these numbers and dates going through my mind, so I typed them out in the notes section on my phone.

My husband woke up for a minute (probably because I accidentally kicked him on purpose), and I quickly told him all the goals I had set for us to pay off our debt and save money through Spring of the following year.  

I had an 18-month plan. He laughed at me and told me I was crazy.  

I laughed back at him and told him he would see…

We hit every. single. one. of those goals…early and the final payoff on the exact date we set! But more importantly, I get to remind him every day that I was right (obviously.)

We Stopped Using Credit Cards

This was tough. Like, really tough.

We used our cards and paid them off each month and for a long time, and this served us well. 

Unfortunately, it caught up with us, and “emergency” after “emergency” happened, and before we knew it, we were in a big hole.

We didn’t realize how much we were spending because we just swiped and signed and didn’t feel the purchases.

This left us constantly wondering how our bills were so high when we thought we were barely spending any money.

Instead of just “not using them,” we went a step further by cutting them up and closing the accounts. We cut up all of our personal credit cards except for our one main card.  

Currently, we only use that card for the few bills we have set to auto-pay and to pay for our gas because who the heck has the time to go inside the store to pay?

We used to pay for nearly everything with our credit cards.  

Changing this one major habit not only made a huge impact on our bottom line but it allowed us to stick to our budget since we had a better handle on our spending.

We Cashed in Our Whole Life Policies

This was a tough decision for me particularly.  

My Mother was in the insurance industry for 20+ years (not as an agent), and she believed in this product very much.

She generously got a policy for me when I was in high school, and so when my husband and I got married, we figured we should get one for him as well.

After much discussion, we decided to cancel the policies.

We had adequate term insurance already in place and felt confident that this was the best decision for us at this time.  

Between both of our policies, the cash value amounts refunded to us totaled over $12,000!  That was almost 35% of our total debt.

Note: Do NOT leave yourself uninsured. If you do not have current term life insurance, do not cancel any policies! Remember, this blog is not intended as financial advise as I am not a licensed financial professional and am only sharing our personal experiences. What worked for us may not necessarily work for you; please consult with your financial professional.

We Hustled

My husband signed up for overtime and made it a goal to have “something extra” in every pay period.

Whether that was a holiday or an overtime shift, he tried to schedule it accordingly so that no paycheck included only his base pay.

I requested extra hours at my job, worked to sell some of the extra stuff we no longer needed, and started my own side hustle.

READ MORE: The Most Effective Methods for Getting Out of Debt

We Signed Up for VA Benefits

I mean, technically, this was all my husband since he is a Veteran.  

I know this won’t be an option for a lot of people, but it paid a large chunk of our debt off.  

This was one of our major blessings through this process.  

A few years back, my husband had filed for VA benefits for some health issues he has related to serving in the Marine Corps.

It was a long process; initially, he was denied, and his case sat in appeals for a few years.  One day a letter showed up in the mail letting him know one out of his three claims was approved.  

While it’s only a small amount of money each month, when your case is finally approved, you get paid retroactively to the date you filed.

He received a few thousand dollars in back benefits, and it was a huge surprise. I truly believe that God kept his claim from being approved until he knew we wouldn’t waste the money.

If you are a Veteran and you have a service-related disability, this website can help you see if you are eligible to file a claim for benefits. And we thank you for your service!

We Used Our Tax Return

I guess this is kind of a no-brainer.  

If you receive a refund from your tax return and you have debt, it’s a great opportunity to really make a dent in your debt.  

I hope this will be the last year we get a refund.  We’ve always kept it this way because we “needed the money” come tax time.

It feels like you’re getting a bonus, even though you’ve really just given the US Government an interest-free loan for the year.  

We were always terrified of having to pay in and never knowing how we would come up with the money to do so. Now we are planning on adjusting our withholding so we (hopefully) come out even next year.

I realize some of these may not be possible for everyone, but I wanted to share them in case some people could utilize these options.

I encourage you to come up with a plan.  

A great first step is to download my Financial Inventory Worksheet for free to get a good picture of your current financial situation.

Next, create a budget and get to work.  

As thrilled and grateful as we are to have gotten where we are, there is one thing I regret: that we didn’t start earlier.

Had we begun this journey a year ago, where would we be? Five years? What about you? If you start today, right this minute, what might your life look like a year from now?

I promise you the missed birthday parties, vacations, and nights out with friends are FAR outweighed by the security and peace you will feel once you get your debt paid off because no THING feels as good as being debt-free.

If you’re ready to begin a debt-free journey, check out my new Budget Better Spreadsheet Bundle – a collection of digital spreadsheets to help you confidently and consistently manage your money.

Kristin Stones is the owner of Cents + Purpose, an online community dedicated to sharing practical personal finance content. Her mission is to equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge to take back control of their money and live a more purposeful life. She creates actionable content to help her audience achieve financial wellness using her simple approach to managing money - all learned through her personal experience of paying off almost $55,000 of debt in under two years.

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