December 3, 2019.  No one was born or married or promoted but it will be a day for popping champagne.  It will be a day for high fives and remembering a journey.  December 3, 2019 is the day we scratched off the final action item on the “Pay off all debt” list.  It was the day we gave the credit union the final $1,456 payment.  It was the day we found ourselves completely debt free.  We pressed submit on the electronic payment together.

We started our financial journey when we made $36K between us. We were throwing money out the door as fast as we could earn it.  Our money wanted to be spent at the bar, eating out and random trips to the store.  Our lifestyle created a deficit.  We also had an income problem. We knew both but weren’t willing to take responsibility for it right away.  Let’s be honest, spending money is fun! New things, new experiences, new restaurants, etc.  It’s one thing to talk about saving money and another to actually live it.   

When we made our first budget, it was to pay off credit card debit, chisel away at student loans and save enough to pay for our wedding in cash. We had about $6K in credit card debit, $25K in student loans and another $5K we needed to save for wedding necessities.  I worked for a nonprofit, and Denny was in AmeriCorps (also at a nonprofit) so neither of us brought in large incomes. We knew we made enough on paper to meet our daily expenses and our credit card goals. We just needed to rearrange how we spent our money.   However in order to meet our wedding needs with less than a five month countdown, we needed to rev up our income.

With a lofty goal of paying for the remainder of our wedding costs and honeymoon in cash, it was inevitable that we needed to increase our income. We both got second jobs.  My day started early at 4:30am and ended at 6:30pm. Job #1 was from 4:30am-8:30am and job #2 was from 10am-6:30pm. Opening the doors every day at the YMCA still to this day is probably one of my favorite experiences.   Despite the lack of sleep and the copious amounts of coffee, the amazing people I met really changed me.  Like me, they too were trying to meet a goal of their own.  The support and laughs I had with my early morning gym squad is like no other I have had since.  Goal minded people really understand the highs and lows.  Fitness goals and finance goals are really similar!  Daily consistency will win the race.

Denny had more traditional hours in his primary job and was able to get a second job waiting tables.  His day started at 8am and depending on his shift, ended at 1am.  It was difficult because I went to bed early and he was up late.  We became passing ships but nothing can take away that feeling when we paid off a credit card and added money to our savings. We literally had a drawer full of cash where Denny would throw his tips into each night.  Denny’s AmeriCorp term ended and he was promoted at the non-profit, along with a raise…and health insurance!  We saw our financial momentum starting to pick up.  In one month, if we could pay off or save $2,000 that means next month we will be able to put more towards the other debt.   

When we started our journey into debt free living, we had to find ways of finding joy while tackling our bills.  We learned to master the $5 date (frozen pizza, library movies and $2 wine).   When an unexpected $700 medical bill for unplanned stitches wiped out our savings, we almost gave up.   It was like getting kicked in the chest but after lots of tears and days to process, we got back up.  We clipped coupons, sold unnecessary things, bought second hand, including used hotel furniture; all in an effort to build back up our savings and stay on track.  We fell off the “financial bus” over the years…surprisingly (or not) once we started making “real money” at traditional jobs, we spent more. Keeping up with the Jones is real… even if you lie to yourself about it! It really is easy to justify in your mind things you don’t need.  

Since that day in December, it was like the culture noise to always spend was put down to volume 1.  Suddenly, things that seemed necessary just months earlier, like an expansion on our house, or a fancy vacation to “get away,”  just no longer seemed interesting.  Spending time with each other and the kids, and yes, having frozen pizza and boxed wine, are fun again. Now that we have savings, we don’t feel the urge to spend.  I can’t explain it, and you may feel differently, but the feeling is real – embrace it!

Love yourself the way you are, and Embrace Your Means!