Proof That It’s Possible To Pay Off Student Loans and Live Debt-Free

How We Became Completely Debt Free In One Year

Wanna know how we paid off all our debt in just one year?! We started off with $42,000 in student loans plus a wedding to pay for.  My hope is that you see how ridiculous and worth it the journey was – and that it may inspire you to do the same!


Maybe you feel like you’re always going to carry this debt around… pay it off in 30 years…. maybe by then the government will forgive you of it by then? It is highly unlikely the government will pay off your student loans, by the way – just get it done yourself and be proud of it!

You may be thinking: yeah, easy for you to say! You already have your debt paid off! I bet they make more money than me, or yeah, they have two people working on it because they’re married so they’re at an advantage.

That’s a bunch of fooie.

Don’t make excuses for yourself and get to work if it’s something you’re excited about!

Paying of a lot of debt requires a ton of hard work and dedication. Looking back though, I am so grateful for that year that we cracked down and did it! It was certainly worth every sacrifice.

Now we enjoy owning our things with our money, and having minimal bills every month.

Why It All Started

When my husband and I were dating, he was the kind of guy to blow his entire paycheck on crazy stuff. For example, in one week he bought a real Minnesota Wild hockey jersey that was $370 – the same week he bought us tickets to a Wild game for $500. He was seriously blowing money left and right.

To be honest, I was kind of worried about our future finances because he never even saved any of his money. I was always diligent about saving since I started working when I was 15. We always had a ton of fun though, with this crazy money spending of his, so I just let it slide for awhile. 😉

My husband (then boyfriend) became suddenly obsessed with this guy named Dave Ramsey. What got him on the Dave Ramsey train was actually a friend at work, who showed him this video after my husband told him he was thinking about buying a brand new Jeep:

My then – boyfriend proceeded to read The Total Money Makeover. He started chopping up his credit cards with scissors and we stopped going on these super expensive dates all the time.

I didn’t know what the heck was going on!!

I was very impressed (and weirded out) about it. He even paid off $18,000 of credit card and car debt all on his own!


Once we were married, Joe still wouldn’t stop talking about Dave Ramsey

(Like, seriously, the obsession was so real that his parents bought him a cake with Dave Ramsey’s face on it for his birthday…).

Proof of Dave Ramsey Cake

I mean, he did marry into my $42,000 of student loans, but still. All I could think was “….no.  I don’t like reading about money, it is so not my thing.” Just the mere thought of reading a book on the subject of money and budgeting made me cringe.

My plan was always to put a ton of money towards my student loans to pay them off as soon as possible, but I didn’t really know how to go about it.  Eventually, I caved and read the Total Money Makeover and realized that we really could pay off these student loans, and fast (and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be)!

How We Did It

Dave Ramsey’s First Two Baby Steps:

  1. You save 1,000 dollars into a savings account for an “emergency fund”
  2. Pay off all debt using “the debt snowball” – pay off the smallest to the largest debts, in that order.

Now that we had a clear plan, we were ready.  We did pay off some extra credit card debt from the wedding we had at the very beginning of this journey which was about $7,000 in total.

Then we saved $1,000 in our savings, which was to use for emergencies. If we had to use any money from our emergency fund, then we’d fill it back up to $1,000 before continuing to pay off any more debt.

When it came to The Debt Snowball, we did a little different than Dave says to do. We paid off the student loans with the highest interest rates first, not necessarily in the recommended smallest to largest fashion.  This was because we didn’t want to have a loan accumulating interest at 6.9% while we’re paying off a loan with interest at 4%. It just made sense for us.

I’d like to highlight that the point of the debt snowball is not to analyze the crap out of it and tinker with what would be best to pay off first. The important part is that you take action – and start paying stuff off right away!

Making The Most Of Our Money

Budget

We made a budget for every single thing – groceries, gas, rent, haircuts, etc. Here’s a picture of us when we were in the middle of this year, in front of our super-detailed budget along with our debt progress chart. Ridiculous? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.

This chart was right on the wall next to our dining room table, so all of our friends got to come over and see this eyesore. Most likely thinking we were even more nuts than they already thought. Dave does say that people will think you’ve joined a cult, I have found this to be true. 🙂

What we do now instead of writing out ten billion categories, we choose to just use a cash budget for everything because it’s much more simple for us.

This way of budgeting was a TON of consistent work but certainly worth it at the time!

We Made No Purchases That Would Put Us Deeper Into Debt

We obviously did not purchase a house, although we were pressured to by a lot of people.  You get married, you buy a house and pop out a kid right!?! 😉

We rented an apartment, relied on Costco for bulk items (such as rice, beans, frozen veggies and fruit), did not go out to eat much at all, utilized these methods to furnish our apartment, and went on very inexpensive dates (such as hiking, or staying in and having a movie night).

Then, my car completely stopped working. Joe was deployed at the time so having only one car was no big deal.  When he came back, though, we made it work with one car and actually still only have one car today. We didn’t have the money to buy a new car at the time, so we just made it work.

We now still make it work with one car because we want to use our money for other things. 😉

Deployment

My husband was deployed for five months of the twelve that we were paying off debt. This had its advantages and disadvantages. He made more money and spent next to $0 because he had all of his meals paid for and he basically worked every day. He didn’t really have time to spend money.

I, on the other hand, was a newly married woman who had never lived alone, and I hadn’t been out of college too long.  Therefore I had no roomies and no hobbies, which left me kind of lost. I did pick up a lot of extra shifts at work during this time but I also spent a lot of money, too.  Going out with friends, buying unnecessary stuff to decorate the apartment… let’s just say I wasn’t the best at saving money during this time.

Then, after my husband was back from deployment, we took an AMAZING road trip from Minnesota down to Utah and Zion National Park, up to Colorado to Rocky Mountain National Park.  For this trip, we put our loan payments on hold because we desperately needed the time together and to get away. We didn’t regret it one bit.

When You Get Off Track, Get Right Back On

Just like when we took our trip, we got off track countless times during the year.  Sometimes we would go way over on our budget and get overwhelmed, then forget about the budget until we got paid again. We were bad influences on each other at times and we’d justify why spending more money than planned was okay.

One of the most important things to remember when paying off debt is that it won’t be perfect.  You’re going to mess up. You need to get back on track as soon as possible, and you will succeed. Keep your goals in mind and don’t give up on it! Have a crystal clear vision of what your life will look like without debt!

Above all, be kind and forgiving to yourself and to your significant other (if that applies!).

Staying Inspired

As easy as it is to get off track, you really do need inspiration quite often to keep yourself motivated. Paying off your debt is some seriously hard work, that comes with a ton of sacrifices. It seems like it takes absolutely forever while you’re doing it. You need to stay patient and disciplined for what seems like a very long time.

Some things that help:

  1. Have a progress chart in a common area where you can see it and be reminded of it every day.
  2. Plan a trip or something awesome to celebrate when you are officially out of debt
  3. Read inspirational books, such as A Simple Path To Wealth, and Total Money Makeover
  4. Talk with/make some friends that have similar goals. It’s really fun to get your friends on the plan and you can motivate each other to reach debt-free status. It also helps because you can plan really inexpensive hangouts together.
  5. Listen to money Podcasts.
  6. Hearing other people’s success stories.

Find what motivates you and make sure you engage in that often!!

Another thing that helped us keep up the motivation was to watch the Financial Peace University videos together. This is Dave Ramsey’s video series where he walks you through the Baby Steps in great detail.

It’s a big motivator because it teaches you how to pay off your debt and why, but it goes beyond that in how this is going to contribute to your future and how you’re truly creating a new path for your future generations.

It’s Possible!!!

Paying off our debt was a super exciting way to kick off our marriage and I highly recommend it, no matter who you are.  

It gives you freedom as your bills are minimal and that lurking stress of owing so much money disappears. If you have a ton of debt and don’t know where to start, I suggest reading the Total Money Makeover or even going through Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. From there, you can make your decision. It’s a grind that takes a ton of patience, but it’s totally worth it!

It is possible to pay off your debt. It seems a little crazy in today’s world, but that’s why we’re staying on this Peculiar Path and doing some things that aren’t necessarily normal. 😉

Let me know how you paid off your debt in the comments below!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Disclosure: some of the links are affiliate links, which means at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click them and make a purchase.

2 Replies to “Proof That It’s Possible To Pay Off Student Loans and Live Debt-Free”

  1. I love this post! It resonates with me so much. Maybe it’s because Mikey (now him & I) have some major student loan debt, more than double the amount you had in student loans, which is nuts! Because we own a home, we almost need to have more in our savings account just in case the furnace goes out, fridge stops working, or any other major issue that can go wrong with owning a home. I also did my research and it says to have at least 3-6 months of living expenses saved up if you or your spouse were laid off or lost their job. So I figured for 6 mos we would need 14K just to pay for the mortgage, groceries, gas, etc. and that might be over estimating but better safe than sorry, right? And then I figured we probably needed more than that just to cover one-off or unexpected expenses… like our dog running into a barbed wire fence.

    This post made me consider how much we really needed in savings. I really liked the idea of the $1000 in savings and then everything above that goes towards loans. Mikey and I need to sit down and figure out that $X amount and then anything above that can go towards loans and if it goes below that $X amount we can start to put it back into our savings. I think that would really help us in staying consistent and paying it all off in a reasonable amount of time.

    During the summer, Mikey works for the city since he is a teacher. People always give him crap because he’s working during the summer and he could technically have it off and relax (I feel like people think I make him or something). But what people don’t realize is that we use all that money made during the summer as extra money, on top of what we already pay, to pay off his loans. If he needs to take time off or doesn’t want to work a random Friday, we don’t feel bad about it because it’s just his loan paying job. Once he has his loans paid off he won’t need to work in the summer if he doesn’t want to – although he said that once he pays all the loans off the summer money will go towards his retirement 😊

    Sorry for the long reply, but I think this is a great idea and will need to talk to Mikey about reading that book. Staying motivated is key!

    1. Right on!!! You may want a bigger emergency fund just because you do have a destructive dog 😉 but really, do what you’re comfortable with for your emergency fund but don’t make it too much. You want to throw as much money as possible to get rid of the loans as fast as possible! I know you guys are great at saving so paying this off actually won’t take as long as you think.

      After you have paid off ALL debt, then save 3-6 months of living expenses. Our goal is around $13,000 which we are currently working on.

      It is exciting to think about cranking out more at retirement, isn’t it!! Definitely is important to stay motivated when you’re paying off the debt though, it seems to be never-ending. Make clear goals and get excited when you crush them!!

      I’m excited to see your guys’ plan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *