Don’t miss the details of how our family paid off over $20000 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 be paying 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. It popped up in conversations with people we talked to at church.

Still skeptical, I picked up one of Dave Ramsey’s books, The Total Money Makeover, at the library to find out what the buzz was all about. 

Throughout the book, there were stories of families 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. 

Around this time, my husband and I both felt the call to get out of debt. 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 to be debt free.

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.

We planned to reduce our debt by making an extra payment of $39 each month. 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 25 months. For the woman who thought she’d be paying off these loans for more than a decade, this in itself was amazing!

Being a total math nerd, I had always been a critic of the “debt snowball” method of paying off debt. It doesn’t make sense to pay off a loan with a lower interest rate first! That would be the first of many times I was humbled in this whole experience. 

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 only 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 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 of architecture. We’re blessed to live in a time where there are lots of opportunities for moms to work from home.

4. And 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, and bought this $10 blender on Black Friday.

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! All the money we saved went to making extra payments on our loans.

7. We lived in a 730 sf single wide with very affordable rent. 

We had no idea at the time we moved there how living in a small house would play into God’s plan for us in so many ways! 

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

Oh and did I mention, there was no dishwasher? (First world problems, I know.)

8. We were a one-car family.

Every time I needed to go shopping or take the kids to a doctor appointment, I had to load the kids in the car, drop my husband off at the park and ride at about 6:45 in the morning, then go back home, go to my appointment, get dinner ready, then load the kids back up (rain or snow) and pick my husband up again.

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 (and counting).

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

Next Step Resource: 97 More Ways to Save Money and Pay Off Debt

Despite the temporary sacrifices (like forgoing family vacations) everything we did to help us become debt free was completely worth it.
Despite the temporary sacrifices, everything we did to help us become debt free was completely worth it.

We are Debt Free!

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.

I wish I could recount for you all the miraculous ways that God provided for us despite our relatively small sacrifices during this time, but at the risk of making this too long, I will finish our story.

After all that, and just 9 months after starting our journey to debt free, we made our very last student loan payment. 

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.

Next Step Resource: 10 Amazing Stories of Other Families Becoming Debt Free

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

What does this mean for you?

Our story isn’t unique. There are thousands of families across the country taking control of their finances. 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, not believing that getting out of debt is even a remote possibility, I’ve been there.

Despite all odds, we did it, and I really believe that you can do it too. I hope our story of paying off over $22,000 in debt in just 9 months has been an encouragement to you. I challenge you to take that first step to becoming debt free. Every small step gets you a little closer to financial freedom.

If you need some help getting started, I’ve put together a free mini-course that helps you avoid some common mistakes when you’re making a budget and paying off debt and shows you what to do instead.

Free Course: 6 Budget Myths that Keep You Stuck
Send Me Lesson #1
Free Budgeting Course
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