Hey Savvy readers. We are so extremely excited and blessed to be able to share this incredible story! I grew up with Joe and he has been one of my best friends since high school. His debt free journey was something we always admired and appreciated. So we asked him to share it with our readers.
If you are struggling with paying off your student loans and taking control of your finances this story should be very motivating for you. We all screw up with our finances from time to time. The important part is getting back on track and not letting the bad mistakes compound on each other. So without further ado here is Joe and Ali’s epic debt free journey.
When I was growing up, I had big goals. I dreamed of playing college football and going to the NFL. One of those dreams came true with 5 years of college football.
I wanted to play for a good football program at a private school – which tend to be pricey. Since I wasn’t a top draft pick coming out of Taylor University, I had to start fulfilling real-life responsibilities.
Responsibilities of Student Loans
With life, comes responsibility. During my junior year, I began thinking about the responsibilities of debt, more specifically, my student loans.
For over a week, all I could think about was the burden of debt I was bringing my future family. This deeply troubled me. After lots of prayers, I made myself a promise.
During my senior year, I began listening to Dave Ramsey. I was fascinated by the confidence that Dave gave his listeners, but I didn’t realize how much of a mountain I had to climb.
When I graduated college, I wanted to pay off all of my student loans in 3 years. I made this promise to myself before I actually knew how much debt I had accumulated.
Understanding My Mountain of Debt
I went online on August 28, 2013, created a username and password for all the websites that held my loans. I began writing down my loan balances in an excel document. $2,250…$4,776…$3,500, $5,000.
After adding all of the debts, I had over $35,000 because some of my loans had already started accumulating interest. I was determined and overwhelmed.
I just graduated college, got married, and moved to Colorado for a teaching job. How was I going to reach my goal of paying off my loans in 3 years?
Time to Take Action
I set up all of my accounts for automatic payments starting September 1, 2013. It was a funny feeling. This is a beginning of a long, long, long, process!
I began my payments at $1,000 a month. Doing a little basic math ($1000 x 36 months = $36,000), I would easily reach my goal! I was encouraged!
Reality Sunk In
I wanted to beat my goal, though. After talking with my wife, we increased the payments to $1,500/month and made some extra payments here and there. I was determined to be debt free!
My wife and I were frugal people. It was a game for us. We wanted to WIN! After 1.5 years of payments, I only had $15,000 left.
In the back of my mind, I knew my dad took out loans for me. I always told myself, he could pay them off. He made twice as much as I did. In reality, they took out the loans for me and I needed to honor my parents.
After receiving the news that my mom was sick on January 6, 2014. I thought long and hard and decided to pay off the loans my parents took out for me. That March, I went home for spring break and was curious to see how much my parents took out for me to go to college. I grabbed one of the loan balance statements. Reality set in….
The Hard Truth
I was appalled and angry, not at my parents, but at myself. The balance added up to $24,008. Unfortunately, the loans were growing in size, so by the time I started paying them off, they were $32,000!
I Needed Advice
I called Dave Ramsey on his radio station to get advice. He gave me a few different scenarios to pay off the loans. My stubbornness wanted to still fulfill my original promise. Was it even possible anymore?
Sticking to the Promise
I calculated that I had approximately $47,000 remaining in student loans. If I paid $2,500/month, I would pay off my loans in 18 months.
My wife, Ali, and I created several different budgets with different payment amounts. Paying $2,500/month towards loans was a big deal because I would be contributing $200 more than my total monthly paycheck.
We remade our budget and both agreed. Back on track!
A Year Later
My loans were down to $12,000! I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
But then…my wife started feeling nauseous and was more emotional than normal. I had no idea what was going on.
Finally, I got a clue when she started craving Burger King. I talked Ali into getting a pregnancy test. Both tests came back positive. WE ARE HAVING A BABY?!?!
What About Our Debt Free Journey?
With a baby coming along, I was stuck again. Ali and I had enough money saved up to technically pay off the loans but we needed a good saving just in case anything happened during the pregnancy or birth.
I called Dave Ramsey again for some needed advice. He told me to put my payments for my student loans on hold and save as much money as possible. Once Baby and Mom got back home safely, we could do a lump sum payment for the total balance of the loans.
This was a tough situation because the baby was born September 5, which was after my 3-year goal mark.
Doing What Was Right
My wife and I chose to take Dave Ramsey’s advice. We began paying the minimum payments. It was hard to think that I was going to be done on August 1, but it was worth being prepared for the worst.
Luckily, we chose to save money for the baby because my wife ended up being in labor for 56 hours. This was the hardest 3 days of my life, and I didn’t even go through labor!
On September 3, 2016, our baby boy Judah was born. I planned that our hospital bill would be our full out of pocket max, which was $5,000. It ended up being just under $4,000.
Understanding Delayed Satisfaction
On October 1, 2016, 37 months after I began paying off my student loans, I was officially debt free! We paid off $68,000 in student loan debt off of 2 teachers’ paychecks!
It was a journey that had plenty of ups and downs, twists and turns. Together we kept our eye on the prize and stayed focused no matter what was thrown our way.
My hope is that I can help others become debt free. There were 3 things that helped keep us on track during this process.
- Having your spouse on the same page.
- Creating a zero-based budget where every dollar is going somewhere.
- Fulfilling that budget and constantly reviewing that system.
I highly recommend you organize your finances and understand the different debt repayment strategies. Find a strategy that will work for you and stick to it! It will be a long difficult journey but freedom gained at the end of the journey is worth everything!
If you are looking for a community of individuals all working towards a debt-free life please join our Live Life Better community on Facebook. It’s a judgment-free place to share your thoughts on personal finance and get motivated with others to live a financially free life.
How much student loan debt did you start with?
How much do you have left on your student loan debt?