You have been there before. Sitting at home, head in your hands, feeling the weight of tens of thousands of dollars of debt bearing down on you.
It can be overwhelming, and it can be very hard to see any hope in the midst of such despair.
But there is good news. It is possible to get out from under the money that you owe. We paid off nearly sixty-thousand dollars of debt in less than eight months. And in the process, we both quit our jobs, started working at home, and are now making over six figures yearly.
We achieved financial independence, and it’s possible that you can too.
Our Background Story
We are your typical couple. We have been married for 9 years, have two dogs, Reggie and Gus, and our first child will be here in a few months.
Brittany has her B.A. in Christian Ministry with a focus on personal training. She has spent the last 10 years working in gyms, college admissions, as a teacher, and finally, as a work at home freelancer and entrepreneur.
I have my B.A. in Humanities and have worked as a teacher for the last 8 years, and only just this year have started working at home on our own business.
For years, I was happy with the way things were. We both had degrees, we had fulfilling jobs, we were making a combined eighty-thousand dollars a year, we had benefits. Life seemed great.
There was only one problem. Even though we had spent years in school, and were making over the median average income, we were running out of money at the end of every month.
In fact, in some months, especially around vacations and the holiday, we were losing money. Between the two of us, we had roughly sixty-thousand dollars of debt to pay, and no idea how we were going to pay off our debt.
In fact, it felt so overwhelming that it seemed like the best option was to ignore the problem, avoid checking our bank balance, and hope that no disasters struck us.
Then we had a wake-up call. One day, during a routine medical checkup, Brittany had an abnormality in her results. After further investigation, she was told she had cancer. I distinctly remember that moment, worrying about my wife, about the future, and about how we were going to sustain ourselves financially.
Rather than thinking about the best treatment option, Brittany was worried about which we could afford. Fortunately, the doctor had misdiagnosed the cancer, and Brittany was able to solve the problem with only one minor surgery.
Brittany still feels anxious going to the doctor now, but she’ll tell you herself that she’s so thankful for that misdiagnosis. Not only did it make us appreciate the gift of health that we had been blessed with, but it forced us to completely shift our money mindset.
We realized that we had no excuses for living the way that we did with money, and decided to start making simple, yet life-altering changes to the way we handled money.
The Mistakes We Made
I want to start off by confronting the common excuses I hear from people who are making no progress paying off debt. If you are saying or have said any of the following things, you are headed down the road of financial slavery and need to make some kind of money mindset change.
We should know. We had been making the same excuses for years. Do not let yourself waste as much time as we did. Make a change.
1) I am comfortable with being in debt.
If you are in debt, then another entity, whether it is a person or a company, is in control of part of your life, your earnings, and your future. Progress and comfort do not mix.
If you want to pay off your debt, you must make yourself decidedly uncomfortable with your situation, because it’s in those moments of discomfort that change can take place.
2) I don’t have the time to learn how to pay off debt.
Time is fluid, and most people have a lot more of it than they realize. You make time for what is important to you.
If paying off debt is important to you, then you will find the time for it. Yes, you might have to cut out the latest episode of This Is Us, but becoming debt-free is worth it.
3) Everyone else is in debt, so it is okay for me to be in debt.
The average personal debt in America is almost forty-thousand dollars, not including the mortgage. Do not follow the crowd on this one. Debt can cripple your future, push back your retirement, and limit your happiness.
Being out of debt — and making it a priority — has given us our money and our freedom back.
Rather than lining the pockets of another entity because we are paying so much in interest alone, we’re getting to keep all of that money and use it as we wish — to travel, to give, and to eat delicious food.
4) I cannot afford to pay off debt.
You cannot afford not to pay off your debt. If you are at the point where you literally cannot begin paying back debt, you need to make major changes to your life, or that debt is going to spiral out of control.
Below I’ve outlined the five steps we took to pay off over sixty thousand of our debt in less than a year. I hope it inspires you and encourages you — it’s possible to pay off debt!
The Road From 60K in Debt to Financial Freedom in 5 Simple Steps
1) Adjust your money mindset
The first change we made was the most important, and hardest of all the steps we took on our journey to financial freedom.
We had to adjust our mindset, not only about how money should be used but also about what money is. And this took time. Here is what we learned.
Money is a tool.
Just like a tool, you have to spend time and effort learning how to use it correctly. If you don’t, you will end up in the same boat we were in: sixty-thousand dollars in debt with no prospects.
But if you master this tool, you can create amazing things.
Money is good.
I grew up hearing the phrase “money is the root of all evil.” I believed that rich people are the worst, the 1% is out to get us, and that there was a certain nobility in being broke. We learned from experience that these were statements made by people who are broke to justify the constant state of stress that they are in and the lack of effort they are putting in to rise above their current station.
I constantly used those very same statements to rationalize my lack of effort. Luckily for me, my wife did not.
Brittany began to ravenously read personal development and finance books from all sorts of authors. She became very intentional about not only her attitude about money but also about her career path.
She shared her knowledge with me, and I shifted my thinking about money. Not only is money not a bad thing, but it is also one of the keys to living a happy life.
Brittany also likes to say that earning money is a moral obligation. It doesn’t help anybody if you’re poor, but with more wealth comes the ability to help enact change and help others on a larger scale.
We had to examine our relationship with money and re-think a lot of our deep-seated beliefs about money in order to start earning more.
If you don’t think you’re worthy of it, or that it’s evil, or that you’ll become evil by having it, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to get it.
2) Educate yourself
The best weapon against debt is knowledge. There are so many great resources out there that can show you your best path to a debt-free life. So make sure you are learning. And do not stop.
When it comes to your financial future, you can never know too much. We’ve utilized some tools from Dave Ramsey, the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, and the book I will Teach You to be Rich.
3) Use discipline
This one can be tough, especially if you have bad spending habits already. But if you want to get out of debt, you have to be in control of your money. That means you need to know how much you bring in, how much you spend, and how much you save.
Once you know those numbers, then you have to set strong boundaries on those numbers. If you set aside a certain amount to spend, you cannot let yourself exceed that number. If you set aside a certain amount to save, you must force yourself to meet that number.
It sounded really scary at first, but after a while, it became like a game. Someone gave Brittany the advice “the days are long but the months are short” and I couldn’t agree more.
The days — especially the first days — of making these changes and being disciplined with our money were hard.
Brittany vividly remembers being annoyed that we weren’t going out to eat as much or we couldn’t just spend whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. But looking back, we’re both so glad we decided to become more disciplined with our money.
4) Spend less
It comes down to simple math. The less you spend, the more money you have to pay off debt. While we did not live off of rice and beans during our payoff period, we did limit spending in several key areas.
For us, those key areas were restaurants, shopping, and vacations. For you, it might look different. And don’t get confused — we still ate at restaurants, went shopping, and took vacations, but we were much more intentional about when and how we did those things.
This allowed us to allocate large amounts of money to debt that we would not otherwise have been able to.
5) Earn more
For us, this was the key to paying off our debt in less than a year. We had taken all the classes on spending less, and made drastic changes to our budgeting and lifestyle, and were on track to pay off our debt in about three to four years.
But no matter how much spending you whittle down and luxuries you cut out, on a teacher’s salary, there will always be a limit to how quickly one can pay off debt.
Our breakthrough came when my wife and one of her mentors were discussing our journey to pay off debt. She told him about the steps we were taking. And he made this groundbreaking, life-altering suggestion.
“Why don’t you just make more money? You could pay off your debt much faster if you earn more.” When my wife told me, I laughed. We can’t just earn more. Teachers make forty thousand a year, with very little prospect of improving it without twenty or more years of experience.
I brushed his comment off. “If it was possible for me to make money, I would be doing it already,” I told myself.
Luckily for me, my wife did not listen. She took his advice to heart and started committing herself to pursue a side hustle in digital marketing.
In less than three months, she was making the same amount as her teacher’s salary. Not long after, she was making over six figures, had quit teaching, and started her own business helping burned-out teachers leave teaching in addition to her work in digital marketing.
During this time of explosive income growth, we were able to speed up our debt payoff, and finished paying off our car and the rest of our student loans — over sixty thousand in less than a year!
How Paying Off Debt Has Changed Our Lives
Being debt-free has radically changed my life. It feels like a one hundred pound weight has been lifted off my chest. I no longer have to live with the quiet, nagging despair that tens of thousands of dollars owed caused me.
My health and mental attitude have improved, and I have since quit teaching, and work from the comfort of home, full-time, on our own projects.
None of these things would have been possible if we had not taken the actions I listed above. We educated ourselves. We adjusted our mindset. We practiced discipline. We spent less, and we earned more.
And the great news is you can accomplish the same feat.
There really isn’t anything all that spectacular or special about us. Our degrees don’t have anything to do with what we’re doing now. We didn’t have family members helping us pay off the debt or the inheritance of a long-lost rich uncle.
There will always be naysayers. People who say that our journey was a fluke and that no one can replicate the kind of success we had getting out of debt. It is a lot easier to hate on the success of others than to take action in oneself.
But the truth is — anyone can become debt-free.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, or what income level you are at, if you willingly and wholeheartedly throw yourself into those five steps, you will be able to pay off your debt.
Brittany and Zachary Long are former teachers who broke free from their 9 to 5’s and are now living their best lives working at home. They are the owners of Life After Teaching, a passion project designed to help educators find success in careers outside of teaching. They are also working on a new business, Learn to Build Funnels, that teaches freelancers and business owners how to build wildly successful funnels that convert.