How We Paid Off $22,047 in 9 months

Don’t miss the details of how our family paid off over $20,000 in student loans in less than one year. Inside, you’ll learn how to become debt free, too.

Back when I first read about the concept of being “debt free” I immediately dismissed it. ‘Ya right, there’s absolutely no way we’ll be able to do that on one low-income with one little kid and another one on the way. That’s great for them, but they don’t know how much debt we have and how small our income is!

At that point, I had pretty much accepted the fact that my husband and I would finally pay off our student loans about the time our kids hit college.

There wasn’t even a tiny inkling of hope that our family would be debt free within ten years, let alone one! (In reality, we had about 6 years left on our loans, but I wasn’t even financially savvy enough to know that at the time.)

But that phrase “debt free” wouldn’t leave me alone

It seemed it was everywhere I looked around the internet and popped up in conversations with people we talked to at church and in my mommy groups.

Still skeptical, I picked up one of Dave Ramsey’s books at the library to find out what the buzz was all about. Inside I found stories of families like mine making extreme changes to their lifestyles and even getting second jobs or earning extra money from home, all for the goal of becoming debt free. 

It seemed to my husband and I that this was all more than mere coincidence and we felt the call to get out of debt ourselves. We had over $22,000 left in student loans, and it was time to do something about it.

In September 2013, we tentatively started our journey.

The first, and possibly most important, step I took was to finally learn how to budget the right way.

Even though the idea of becoming debt free seemed impossible, we sat down armed with a notepad, spreadsheets, and budgeting apps and tentatively started our journey to pay off our remaining $22,047.
Even though the idea of becoming debt free seemed impossible, we tentatively started our journey to pay off our remaining $22,047 — with a newborn, a toddler, and one income.

We planned to reduce our debt by making an extra payment of $39 each month

However, there seemed to be absolutely no wiggle room in our budget, so even that small amount felt like a huge step. The cool thing is, even paying a tiny bit extra towards loans can really accelerate your journey to debt free in more ways than one. 

After taking that first tiny step, God multiplied our efforts. Just 3 months later, we paid off the smallest of our student loans. Suddenly we were on track to have all of them paid off within just 25 months.

For the woman who thought she’d be paying off these loans for more than a decade, this in itself was amazing!

After paying off that first loan we were inspired to get even more extreme with our money saving measures to pay off our debt faster.

9 Crazy Things We Did to Be Debt Free

1. We cut our grocery budget in half

And then we cut it even more. For a few months at least, I had to let go of my fixation on only feeding my family organic foods for the sake of a bigger goal. But I developed a method to manage my grocery budget while still putting healthy, natural foods on the table.

2. We developed a habit of making do with what we had

When our french press broke, we brought our camping percolator in from the garage to make coffee on the stovetop instead of replacing it.

3. I did whatever I could to make money from home

Even though I had a newborn and toddler at the time, I gave up sleep to work at nap time and after the kids were in bed to grow my blog, market my book, and do some work in my ‘real’ career field as an architect. We’re blessed to live in a time where there are lots of opportunities for moms to earn extra money from home.

We also used every little bit of extra money that came our way to throw at our debt as soon as it came in.

4. We broke the habit of rushing to the store anytime we thought we “needed” something

When our bath mat unraveled in the laundry, instead of running to Target for a replacement, we just used an old towel instead.

5. When there was something we wanted, we saved up and shopped for great deals

When the immersion blender broke, we didn’t replace it. (After 5 years of marriage, apparently, everything you got at your wedding starts breaking.) Finally, we saved up our “home supplies” budget category and bought a $10 blender on a Black Friday sale.

6. We did No Spend Month(s)

In January 2014 we took the No Spend Month Challenge. I only spent $170 on groceries that whole month! (And no I didn’t overspend the next month to compensate.) All the money we saved went to making extra payments on our loans.

7. We lived in a 730 square foot single-wide with very affordable rent

We had no idea at the time we moved in how living in a small house would play into God’s plan for us in so many ways. At the time, it was simply all we could afford.

When the baby decided she needed her own room at about 7 months old, we moved our bed into the living room. That made it just a little awkward to have company! 

Oh and did I mention, there was no dishwasher?

8. We were a one-car family

Every time I needed to go shopping or take the kids to a doctors appointment, I had to load them up in the car, drop my husband off at the park-and-ride at 6:45 in the morning. Then I’d go back home, go to my appointment, get dinner ready, load the kids back up (rain or snow or nap time) and pick my husband up after work.

With nothing in walking distance except wheat fields and a fire station, we didn’t get out much during this time. It was tough, but it was worth it!

9. We stuck close to home

We didn’t travel more than 40 miles from home for 22+ months while we worked on paying off our debt and then building our emergency fund.

Of course, this is just a sampling of all the things we did to get out of debt.

When we were done, we had paid off $22,047 (and 93 cents to be exact) in debt…

…on a household income that (at the time we started) fit under the government’s low-income category for a family of four.

And we did it all in 9 months.

Since God is a brilliant storyteller, he just couldn’t let the chance pass to make His point with a flourish. We were able to make that last payment and be debt free exactly one year to the date that we lost our old home in a short sale. We could do nothing but stand in wonder at how far He had brought us both spiritually and financially in just one year.

Faster than I can even believe, we cut 5 years off our debt repayment, and along the way, we have achieved a huge new sense of joy and freedom.

Our family enjoying a post-debt vacation together.
Our family enjoying a post-debt vacation together.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘this is great, but it would never be possible for me,’ remember, that’s exactly what I thought when I first heard the concept of being debt free.

But here’s the hard truth.

As long as the story you tell yourself is ‘I can’t do this because I don’t make enough money,’ or ‘it’s impossible because the cost of living here is too high’ (I’m talking to you Southern California) you won’t be able to.

In fact, when I share the story of my debt pay off and the amazing results of my students paying off $5,000, $10,000 or $30,000 in a matter of months, the reaction I get most often is, “wow, they must make a lot of money”.

For most though, that’s not the case. Our take-home pay when we started was only $3,000 per month. We did everything we could along the way to increase our income, of course. But even with the small changes we made at the beginning, we were on track to pay off our loans in just over 2 years. Once we saw the success we were having, we wanted to do everything we could to get it done faster.

Our story isn’t unique

There are thousands of families in the Affording Motherhood Community taking control of their finances. And just like us, they are determined to get out of debt no matter what it takes.

If you’re staring down what seems like a mountain of debt and a budget that already doesn’t add up, I’ve been there.

And I can tell you that by far, the biggest mistake you can make is simply not believing it’s possible to get out of debt.

What I hope you’ll do instead is get started right now

You’ve already taken the important first step of opening up your mind to the possibility of living debt free.

Next, it’s time to face your fears. Yep, take a look at your debt. Find out exactly how much you owe and how long it will take you to pay it off if you keep paying the minimum.

Then, decide on some small changes you can make to pay it off faster.

As you can see from our story, paying off debt is really a series of smaller steps that all add up to something amazing. I’d love to help you get started.

You can take this 3-minute diagnostic quiz to see exactly how to best tackle your debt. It will give you an action plan based on your personal values, lifestyle, and financial situation.

And if you’re completely determined to pay off your debt once and for all, I’ll lead you through how to begin to dump the debt in my 30-day workshop.

Whatever you do, start now.

Don’t allow your debt to continue to grow and control your family for one more day. You can do this!

shannon Clark, LIFE & FINANCIAL Coach

As a mom, I know what it's like to feel exhausted, overwhelmed by life, and inadequate to meet my children's needs. But I also know you don't have to stay there.

As an author and coach, I've had the joy of encouraging more than 9.1 million moms to find forward motion with their faith, family, and finances — without the frenzy.

Will you be next?

81 thoughts on “How We Paid Off $22,047 in 9 months”

  1. My husband and I are just starting our journey with Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. We are on step 2 and have about 50,000 to pay off. We just sat down last week and figured out how we are going to be out of debt by December 2016! We are also a one income family and both of us are in school. We plan to save up and pay for school one semester at a time!

    • This great to hear. My wife and I are debating on paying off all our debt just curious how much did your credit score go up. Did it constanly go up over time or immediately?

      • Sorry, Nathan! Sorry, but I honestly have no idea what my credit score was. That’s not something I usually track. After all, if you’re not in debt who cares what it is? That said when we get ready to buy a house, I’ll probably be paying closer attention. Best wishes on your debt pay off. I can say now almost four years later, it has been very worth the effort.

    • I enjoy reading debt-payoff stories like these. I also started with the debt snowball method and paid off my student loans in 3 years. (No husband, no kids, still living at home). Now, I have a mortgage, a new car (big mistake) and a boyfriend. I’m trying to pay off my mortgage as fast as possible, but it’s so hard to determine where your money should go each month ie: emergency savings, debt, or retirement accounts.
      Thank you and keep blogging!

  2. Excellent pointers! Being debt free is so important to us as well and we hope to pass this to our children and all future generations.

      • I’m being sued for $15,500 plus every year it goes up 5% I’m so lost. Will I ever finish paying it off and how soon can I pay it off? Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you

      • Hi Angie, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. This is really no different than having a debt for $15k with 5% interest. There’s always hope to get out of debt. You’ll find lots of tips here on Affording Motherhood to help you get started.

  3. Wow! This is such an awesome story — how great that you reached your goals even sooner than anticipated! We use Dave Ramsey’s personal finance for kids curriculum in our homeschool — good stuff!

  4. Congrats to you! My husband is all about Dave Ramsey too and we live Debt free. We payed off $70k in about a year and a half. He worked ridiculous hours to get it done. Felt so good to pay that off!

    • My husband works 3 jobs and I stay home with our kids. We are working hard to pay off $16,000 and then we want to tackle paying off our house. It’s HARD but totally worth it when you see one by one bills being paid OFF.

      • Hey Brianna I just read your comment from a while ago and just wondering how the last few years went paying off debt. Have you guys made any progress?

    • Not, being nosey…but how much do you allm ake annually to pay off so much in a short time? I’m just trying to see is this realistic?

      • Hi Ericka, When I share my debt pay off story and those of my students, the response is always, “oh wow, they must make a lot of money”. And I can totally understand that reaction because we were able to do it so quickly. However, our take-home pay when we started was actually only $3,000 per month (considered low income for a family of 4). We did everything we could along the way to increase that to pay off our loans faster, of course. But I really believe if we could do it, then anyone can.

  5. We have a budget but need improvement. We have one income which doesn’t even cover monthly bills at the moment so we are making cuts where we can and I’m trying to find something to do from home. I know we will get there one day.

  6. Congratulations, Shannon! Thank you so much for sharing your story to encourage others. I am literally writing a post right now (I saw your email come in and got distracted) about *crazy* ways to make the paycheck stretch as long as the month. My husband and I worked hard to get out of major credit card debt back before we had children. Now all we have is our mortgage, but we want that gone desperately. We have one, low income so that makes it difficult. Stories like yours give me new energy, however. I will be linking your site in my post for my readers. Thanks, again, Shannon! And CONGRATULATIONS!

    • What an awful thing to say. If you don’t believe in the power of God and what he can do…I can only imagine how depressing your life must be. I will be praying for you!

    • I am praying for you, as well. I can’t imagine living life without the hope of Christ. I pray that you will come to know the One true living God.

      My question for you would be… what is going to happen to you when you die? I hope you will consider that this year.

      My heart hurts for you. Please know that I will be praying for you to come to know the truth of the God who created you, loves you, and desires to have a relationship with you.


      • That personeneedsto understand that things are possible through god.I truly believe in the lord and glad to have him in my life.

  7. I just finished step one today. It took only 2 months as a single mother making 35,000 a year. I’d been trying to budget for years. It never clicked until I got on a cash budget.

  8. I loved your post! It was so inspiring. My husband and I have been on our journey to financial freedom for 2 months now and we are hoping to be debt free by April 2015. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  9. Wow! Amazing! My husband and I have started the Dave Ramsay program more than a couple of times. We always get a good start and then fall to old habits. We are now starting from scratch yet again, but I feel like this time we are both so motivated to get it done. Your story motivates me! Thank you.

  10. My husband and I love making up numbers and seeing how we will get out of debt. It’s so funny because he is only in school year 3 of at least 8. So, we are anticipating much debt to be accumulated YET. But his schooling will bring a very well-paying job, so we are excited about the testimony we could have when school and a house quickly get paid off… even other people in my husband’s future profession act like they have NO money! Trust me, we live on less than 15k, so the anticipated increase of AT LEAST 100x will definitely be enough – despite what the worldly people say!

  11. While I know that we (my family) will not be paying off all of our debt in 9 months. I have finally gotten my husband on the bandwagon. Anyway, after 4 months of unemployment there is finally the realization of debt and the toll it’s taking on the family. I am happy to say that today, we have paid off our first credit card! We still have 6 more to go, plus student loans, but you gotta start somewhere. Thanks for the encouragement!

  12. We are constantly learning to make big sacrifices if we want to reap big rewards! Reading your story and surrounding ourselves with people that also think this way can be the fuel for the fire. We are moving in with my dad to get out of debt this coming year. Praying for strength and a gracious heart as we make this transition. We’re excited to pay off the rest of our student loans! God has blessed us and I hope we can bless Him in return for His love and generosity! Thank you for sharing and congratulations!

  13. This is inspiring and totally possible for me… with one obstacle. My husband is totally not on tge same page at all and has no desire to be debt free.

  14. Truly inspiring.

    This really makes us consider more options (loans) and it opened our eyes towards a great repayment plan. I usually am scared on taking up loans cause I am not sure on how to handle it, but seeing your made me have that confidence.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

  15. so you are saying let’s say $1,857.24 a month income. i should be able to get out of debt. im still not convince. please enlighten me

    • I hope you’ll read this with all the grace and kindness I intend, because I really believe being debt free is crucial for any of us to have a positive financial future. Even more than I am saying that anyone can pay off debt, I’m saying that you almost have to find a way. If you don’t, what’s the future look like? More debt? Constant financial stress? I would love to have you sign up for my free Family Budget Challenge that’s going on right now. I’m going step by step exactly how to create financial goals, a budget, and achieve your goals. But for now, I would say if you feel your income is too small, then the next step would be finding a way to earn more, right? Dave Ramsey’s book is full of stories about people getting second jobs delivering pizza or whatever to earn more to pay off debt faster. Another great Dave quote one of my readers pointed out to me yesterday was to sell so much of your stuff to get cash quick to “make the kids think they’re next”!

  16. Being debt free can be done! We are almost there (we have around 4K left) and paid off 32K in less than 2 years WITH unemployment. The key is wanting to do it, and then making it happen (just like Shannon said).

    For me, I believed in the debt snowball plan, but switching to cash envelopes drove me crazy. It really does help your budget though! Congratulations!!

    • Congrats! That is a huge accomplishment! I know sometimes people start to feel discouraged when they read our story, feeling like they can’t do what we did. But there are so many other stories out there like ours where people are getting out of debt even on a small income. Thanks for sharing your story!!

      • Your welcome! I think the discouragement comes from people not realizing it takes only one step. Just one to make a difference. It seems so out of reach, but in reality it’s not. I really think it is a matter of a few small changes adding up over time. Excited this article got the traffic it has gotten. Congratulations on becoming debt free….and crashing your server ;)

      • What book is everyone learning from and what is the snowball effect! I believe I can come out of this debt nightmare!!

  17. I am excited for you, but I didn’t really see any “how we did it” tips really. Just that you started paying off the debt and then nine months later you were done. I tried to click on the “9 crazy things…” link but got an error message. I would like to know more like what you actually did to have the extra money to pay when you said you could barely afford the extra $39 a month in the beginning. I see people say they can do this…but typically it’s only if you have something large you can sell, like your car or a house. Not for normal people.

    • Hi Sarah! We have been having a huge influx of traffic to the blog, and we’ve seen a few server crashes in the last couple of days. We are up and running again, so I encourage you to head up and check out the 9 crazy things included in the psot above. We didn’t sell anything of large value like that. Just a few little things that we didn’t need anymore. We also used most of the techniques in the 97 Easy Ways to Save Money post. Also increasing our earning through doing side jobs, which I list in my 60 Real Jobs for Stay at Home Moms. It’s hard to sum up all in one article, but I am more than happy to share more or answer any questions you might have. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. It’s because of our own journey learning to save money in hard times I started Frugal Living Mom to help people find things that they could get for free and put “frugal strategies” into their everyday lives. And I get even more inspired when I read stories such as this. Awesome!

  19. Just when I think I can’t do it, along comes stories like this one to keep me motivated! You can’t see it, but I have tears running down my face, because I felt like i was sinking, but this really encouraged me yet again! I love this story!!!

  20. Hi Shannon, I’m just starting my journey to being debt-free and blogging along the way. I get so motivated reading about your success in such a short period. Your blog is awesome and I can’t wait to read more from your site. Great read!

  21. It’s so awesome to find another Dave Ramsey enthusiast! My husband and I started our marriage off with a $12,000 car loan (My old car broke down 2 months before our wedding and almost all of our money was tied up in that!) We made the payments for 4 months until Christmas and then we decided that the car would be paid off in another 6, that we would own it exactly a year after we bought it! Not only did we succeed we also saved our entire 6 month emergency fund in another 6 months! :) This whole year has been used for starting a house down payment fund, and finally upgrading a few smaller household things! Debt free is so worth it! :)

    • Congratulations Rebecca! I think your story just goes to show how having the determination to do it is so powerful. And once you start to taste success, your progress becomes even faster. No doubt you’ll be settling into your new home soon.

  22. hi I just stumbled across your post on Pinterest and was sharing your story with my husband and we where wondering what state you live in? He seems to think us being in Southern California it will not work

    • For sure, we had the benefit of living in an area with relatively low cost of living (North of Spokane, Wa at the time). However, we all face our unique challenge when trying to pay off debt, and in those situations, I’d encourage you to think outside the box. I’ve known families who move in with in-laws, or do any number of crazy things to get out of debt. Don’t rule anything out. Take each of your budget items and ask yourself what would we have to do to radically reduce this expense. And remember, it’s only temporary. The faster you get out of debt, the sooner you can start living a financially free life and intentionally spend in the areas that are really important to your family.

  23. I am in my mid-twenties and single, do you have any tips for relieving debt on a $31,000 income? I have over $25,000 in debt. I am very interested in what you have to say! Please, and thank you!

    • You might not like my answer, but if you can move back in with your family and put as much of your income toward debt as possible. It’ll only be for a short time, and being debt free will prepare you well for all that’s ahead in your life, whether a family and kids, a home, or retirement. My recommendation would be to get it done as quickly as possible and set the foundation for your financial future.

  24. My husband and I paid off 16,000 in 8 months. It was hard, but it helped to get back to our farming roots and save money by growing our own food and reusing everything we possibly could! It’s tough but so worth it!

  25. This is a great story and I am glad you and your family are debt free, don’t get me wrong… but this doesn’t really explain at all how you repaid off that whopping $22k of debt off, besides crediting God and paying $39 extra the first round. Just some feed back. this just seems like a personal story to me.

    • I thought the same thing! There really is no useful tips here, just her saying “I did it so you can to” but not HOW she did it. Also, if you paid off $22k in 9 months, then your “single low income” looks a LOT different than my single low income. Because $22k is about what we would MAKE in that amount of time. So obviously that would be impossible for us and for most people.

      • Exactly. I’m a single 20-something working full-time and that’s about what I make a year, before taxes. :|

  26. Congratulations… I know I’m late to the commenting party but something like this is never not worth celebrating.

    My wife and I went through the Ramsey plan and the snowball is kinda addictive… I love killing off the little debts and building momentum for the bigger ones.

    We achieved non-mortgage debt freedom and it was great. We’ve slipped a bit but we’re working the plan again… it always works.

    Thanks for the timeless encouragement.

  27. I am a disabled veteran that had to medically retire in 2012 after 28 years of service. I am in debt for $76500 and some high interest that I am paying. I have no mortgage note, own my home paid cash for it and paying one of my bills $935 a month which I owe 2 more years on it. My house got damaged in the storm 2 weeks ago and I have no insurance. I have not been late on any payments which I pay about $3175 in bills every month and it leaves me with $186 to last until next payment. I can’t get a consolidation loan because my debt to ratio is too high. Because my house is under renovation no one will give me an equity or loan against my house until the damages are fixed and I can move into it.

  28. Hey, I really enjoyed reading this blog post. I am already building my list to see where my money is going and adding up my debts to start the snow ball effect.
    I am only 22 years young already in debt. I was married and divorced already, homeless, pregnant(which ended in termination=() and sitting on debt. It has been so overwhelming for me but I am so determined to make my new year which is Nov 23 the year of financial freedom! I am tired of being consumed with debt, a horrible credit score and the stress it causes me. I also have a blog and want to start gaining income from it. I’ve been reading up on ways to gain traffic so that I can lead affiliates my way and ads to boost some monetary gains. Although I know this journey will be tough and Ill need to be extremely fugal, I am excited to share with the world that it is possible to be debt free, especially if I can do it!

    THANK you growingslower, you have come right on time for me to have crossed your path. Very insightful and really opened my eyes to the fact that I am capable of being debt FREE!

  29. I had to write a comment for the fact that I think God is so Good,he lead me to your this website. It’s almost 11pm and my husband and I just wrapped up our budget meeting ( month 3 of EveryDollar Dave Ramsey) and I wasn’t content with the grocery dollar amount:$800 family of 5. I knew as a mother I could get that line item down. So I Googled “Family of 5 Grocery budget” and here I am. As I was reading your post and before you mentioned Mr.Ramsey I said to myself she sounds like Dave..just had scroll down more to confirm my suspicion.
    So happy to have found you. Keep fighting the good fight and spreading hope.

  30. HI…so glad to know that becoming debt free is really possible. I always maintained a budget & was debt free except for our mortgage. Then we close our eyes and did things that were plan dumb. Allowed our children in incurred hefty student loans, took out an equity loan and paid the minimum due for years. And then to our surprise, my husband lost his job. We owe so much and really don’t know which way to turn. I took the Dave Ramsey course years ago but it was hard to get the family members to take it seriously. Now I am paying high interest rates on credit cards and can only pay the minimum balance. Charging on credit cards prescription medicines because of no insurance. I have lost hope. God I need a miracle.

    • I am so sorry you are going through this! Debt really is an ugly and painful thing. I pray that you will be able to get back on track quickly and easily. To be certain we worked hard to be debt free, but God truly did work a miracle and put things in place so that we could get out of debt so much faster. I hope the same will be true for you!

  31. Hi Shannon, what a great story! Congratulations on getting out of debt in such a short amount of time. The Snowball method definitely works, even if it doesn’t exactly make sense mathematically.

  32. This is so great!! My wife and i were in debt and we took similar approach. We received free guidance from Kwak Brothers.


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