Sunday, May 19, 2013 is a big day for my family.

It marks the two year anniversary of us being debt free.

Two years ago I wrote the post Today We Are Debt Free: $75,000+ Paid Off in 31 Months. In that post I chronicled our journey of wanting to become debt free. It was a journey because my wife and I started fostering a dream of one day becoming debt free so that we would have the money to purchase a house and so she could stay home full-time — a dream she had at the birth of our first child. But ultimately, we believed that not having debt allowed us to live with more freedom (and it has).

It has been quite the  journey for us. As I wrote in that first post, in June of 2008 we found ourselves under water.

  • our Pasadena home had just sold for $40,000 less than we had bought it 3 years earlier
  • we had $55,000 in graduate student loans
  • and we racked up $20,000 in credit card debt months leading up to the move

Needless to say, $115,000 in debt was super overwhelming.

So for one of the first times in our lives, my wife and I decided that we were tired of being limited by our debt.

Debt means limited opportunities.

Debt means limited freedom.

Debt means limited choices.

Debt means stress, worry and fear.

So we became very intentional. 

  • First, we used all the savings we had…$40,000 to be exact…and paid off what we owed on the house when we sold it. Now we owed $75,000.
  • Second, we moved to Dallas in August of 2008. We rented a house knowing that we didn’t need any more debt. Oh, and I had no full-time job since I resigned my ministry job in LA in June.
  • Third, in October of 2008 we sat down at our kitchen table and began working through Dave Ramsey’s workbook The Total Money Makeover as we simultaneously listen to the audio cd’s.

I had been listening to Ramsey on the local Dallas affiliate day in and day out…and I became inspired, especially on Fridays as couples called in to talk about their journey to become debt free and scream “freedom.” Because of their stories my wife and I started believing, “Why can’t we do this!”

How We Intentionally Became Debt Free

In chapter 6 of my book The Anxious Christian I share about some of the things my wife and I started becoming intentional about:

  • we stopped eating out (except for a cheap meal every 2-3 weeks)
  • we stopped buying clothes
  • we drastically cut entertainment (less than 10 movies in 31 months); stopped buying any music
  • we cut all magazine subscriptions
  • we cut cable
  • we didn’t buy any new electronic gadgets (no phones, computers, pads, etc.)
  • we stopped going to coffee shops and made our own coffee
  • i stopped eating lunch out and took my lunch to work everyday
  • we drew names at Christmas and Heather and I limited our gift amount for each other to $25
  • we took only one vacation (a free vacation–that unfortunately was paid for using points we racked up with credit card debt)
  • we kept driving our 9 and 12 year old cars because they were paid off — and they got us from point A to B

So between October 2008 and March 2010 we paid off $20,000 which we felt pretty good about. Especially since we were living only off Heather’s income since I was making very little money doing my practicum hours as a therapist and some part-time work at a church. Anything I made went to debt, but we were still not very strict with what Heather was making.

But in March of 2010 we saw Dave Ramsey live in Dallas and that was the kick in the pants we needed. We were lacking his “gazelle intensity” that he talks about.

So we came home more motivated, got on a tight budget and started using the cash envelope system that he talks about.

And from March of 2010 to May 19, 2011 we paid off the remaining $55,000.

I won’t lie. This was one of the hardest things we have ever done. But it is also one of the best things we have ever done in our life…and it has absolutely transformed many areas of our life.

It has transformed our marriage. (as you know, money issues are the biggest cause of conflict and divorce in a relationship)

It has transformed our ability to help others.

It has transformed how our kid’s view money.

It has transformed our ability to pursue our passions.

Two Years Later…

I would like to tell you that since we have become debt-free life has gotten easier. Well, it has in MANY ways. But it’s still hard because we have to everyday make intentional choices not to take on debt. I still drive that 12 year old car — now 14 years old. (We were able to buy a new/used car for cash though and replace the other — no auto-fleecing for us as Ramsey calls it).

Though our desire to have many things has incredibly waned, we still want things. We still get caught up in what our friends or neighbors have. That’s to be expected. But we have to keep reminding ourselves of our goals (short and long term) and what the freedom of debt free living brings us.

In May of 2012 we bought a home in McKinney, TX after renting for the first 4 years in Texas. That is the one debt we took on and felt good about since it fits into the parameters of the Ramsey program we were following.

And at the end of June 2012, my wife’s dream came true and she quit her job to stay home full-time. Losing her income (she had always been the “bread winner” in our relationship) had a huge impact on us, but we were ready to make the sacrifices to make it happen since we had no debt.

All of the ways that I listed above for how we got out of debt…we still do.

What keeps us focused I believe is that we continually remind ourselves that there is always a trade off in life. When you say YES to one thing, you automatically say NO to something else.

If we say YES to leasing a new car, bringing back cable, eating out more…then we say NO to my wife having the freedom to stay home.

So saying NO to many things has allowed us to say YES to the freedom of not feeling strapped down by debt; to not feeling stressed at night; to not having to overwork to make ends meet.

Ultimately, saying NO to debt has allowed us to say YES to our passions and freely follow God in the directions we believe he is calling us.

You Can Do It

If you are reading this and you have been on a similar journey as us to get debt free, then I know you know that feeling.

But if you are reading this and are struggling with debt, I want to encourage you. I want you to know that you can do it. You can pay it off and move into the freedom of not worrying about debt, and of constantly worrying about all the wants that incessantly have us chasing after them. If I can recommend two pieces of advice for you it would be this: a) Get on a plan. Something like Dave Ramsey. b) Surround yourself with others who are on the same journey and who have already accomplished it. They will keep you motivated.

If you are debt free, how did you go about doing it? And what does it feel like?

If you are in debt, what is keeping you from moving out of debt?