We’re Debt Free!!!

This post is a little late. By a little, I mean nearly 2 years.  We reached our goal May 2018. I remember the day so well, it was late when we made the call. The last payment to my student loan company.  I don’t recall the exact amount but I do remember the glorious feeling when she said “Congratulations you have paid off your student loan!”.  It was amazing.  Our long journey, completed, one month before I turned 31. I was officially debt free by 30.

So why didn’t I post?  Why didn’t I scream it from the rooftops?  We had a lot going on at the time.  My dad was diagnosed with cancer the same month.  At the time, it was hard to understand that just when things should have been easier, we were faced with this terrifying news. He underwent treatments over the next year and was soon in “remission”. Even though that year was hard on him, and me, we made it through. I am thankful that because of our journey I was able to focus solely on him and didn’t have to fear missing work, or a payment.  I learned that being out of debt didn’t mean you were free from trials.  It simply made those times less stressful.

We have went through many trials since then.  In fact, 2019 proved to be a tough year for us all.  I honestly feel that now that we are “financially stable”, God has placed new areas of my life in the spotlight, showing me things I need to work on.  I am a planner by nature and God’s plan and my plan didn’t match up.  The plan every second and every dollar Emily, was thrown into a whirl wind of unpredictability and adventure.  I am still paddling here in the seas of precariousness, but I am learning to lean on him with every wave. He got us here, and he has a plan for what’s next. Bring on 2020!


Into the New Year!

Well 2017 is definitely gone, bringing all the dreams and promises of a new year.  Topping our list of goals this year is  getting out of consumer debt.  We didn’t hit our mark, to completely be out of debt by the new year, but we hope to hit it before my birthday!  We started this year with about 16,000 in student loan debt.  We have been pretty aggressive selling the boat and working a ton of overtime.  As of March 1st, we owe a little over 5,000.

The decision to sell the boat was a tough one!  We really enjoyed our weekends on the lake, and we know that we will want to replace it.  But stretching out Baby Step 2 another 6 months was not worth it to us.  We wanted something faster and bigger anyways, so that will be on the list in the next year or two to purchase.

Getting this close to being out of debt brings up so many fun ideas for the next year.  There are several improvements we need to make to the house, so after saving our 3-6 month emergency fund, we will cash flow those.  It is so unbelievably freeing to be this close to our goal.  I can’t explain the feeling, but I highly recommend it!

How is your debt journey going? I would love to hear from you!  What lessons have you learned along the way?  I know I have learned that sometimes we need to take a step down off the gazelle train and live a little. There were several times we just needed to breathe, to spend quality time together. As long as you budget and don’t increase your debt during those times you need a break,  you’ll be just fine!

The gift they NEED to get.

I was once told that when you give someone a gift, you shouldn’t buy something they “need”.  Gifts should be fun, something you wouldn’t splurge on yourself…

I strongly disagree.

Sometimes, people don’t realize they need something, until they are gifted it.  For instance, my aunt bought me some knives as a housewarming gift.  I didn’t have any idea how bad I needed these knives.  I was making do without them, but as I look back over the last 5 years, I realize she knew I needed them.  They make life so much easier! Who wants to spend an extra 15 minutes cutting veggies with a cheap dull knife?  And now, I think of her every time I cut potatoes!

These are the kind of gifts I like to give, something that will leave a long impression, and hopefully improve someone’s lifestyle.  It’s wedding and graduation season, and people are spending a ton on gifts.  Personalized this and that, much of which will be stored in a memory box, and possibly never ever used. I love these gifts, but many times they won’t get used.

So how do we avoid this?  Let me tell you, if I could give every new couple, and new graduate some really good advice, I would tell them about living debt free.  I might buy them the Total Money Makeover book, and stick some cash inside (just in case they read it).   I would explain how fast life happens, how easily most people get in over their heads, and how we lose our sense of financial responsibility the first time we test drive a new car, or go house hunting!  Can you imagine how far ahead we would be if we had learned this way of life upon graduation?  Or at the beginning of our marriage?

Your gift could really change their lives! They are starting with a fresh slate (usually).  Maybe they will never be in debt because of you, able to invest and travel as they please. Or maybe they will spend a year or two paying of their student loans, and then never owe anyone anything again!  Maybe your gift will allow them to pay cash for their first home, or car, or even an adoption!  Being free from the chains of debt can really open someone up to a world of possibilities, and it is possible.

If you are searching for the perfect gift this season, check out The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.  You might change someones life!

The Beauty in The Feast

Working like crazy this month has got me wanting to eat out!  That is not in the budget guys! I find myself contemplating it, especially on those late nights packed with activities with the kids.  I have been able to resist so far, and here is how…

Keeping easy options on hand

It’s a lot less tempting to spend a ton eating out if you have easy things to fix at home.  Pizza, cold meat sandwiches, chili dogs.  I would say I plan easy meals like this at least twice a week, and if I don’t use them, no big deal.

Keep snacks in your car

I am always grabbing some bananas or granola bars on my way out the door. I have even been known to have a pack of waters in the back, just in case.  Kids will be kids, and you don’t want to be 20 minutes from home with 3 hungry kiddos.

Keep your eyes on the prize

When your hangry, nothing else matters.  Sometimes I have to eat a snack, turn on a finance podcast, and reconsider.  No loaded stromboli or milkshake is going to taste as sweet as total debt freedom.

Reflect on success

Look at how far you’ve come! It’s too late to turn back now.  Even if you have only started, making the commitment to becoming debt free is serious business.  Now you can say you know better, and a little planning ahead will keep you on track!



Jessica Howell

To celebrate a full month of blogging I am giving away my own copy of Total Money Makeover!

This book was life changing for me and I can not wait to share it with whoever wins!

Step 1- Follow our blog, click the plus sign in lower right corner and enter your email!

Step 2-Like and comment on this post via Facebook!



Winner will be chosen March 31st! Good luck!

Fabulous February

February came and went.  It was a pretty decent month.  We missed our original goal by 38 dollars.

I can handle that.

The best part of this month was going to the bank to make that big payment.  It’s actually ironic, because this was the annoying part of last month.  This is because I pay everything online, and I like it that way. It’s easy and fast.  Unfortunately, US bank only takes principal payments in cash, at the bank. Which is sort of ridiculous because this is the 21st century people, everybody takes a card.  But the only way they accept a card, is if you have a checking account with them.  I was pretty perturbed about this last month, but I have to say, handing over that cash in person, was liberating.  It was like, take that interest! Bam!



Unfortunately the first day of March brought a big storm, dropping a tree on our beloved pontoon. While this isn’t an “emergency”, we plan to cash flow repairs. We are hoping it won’t be too bad (fingers crossed).  The nice thing about this plan is being in a place where this won’t be catastrophic financially. I am just thankful it didn’t land on the house and no one was injured! We were able to get most of the tree cleaned up today. The whole family worked together and we got the job done! Abram supervised from the four-wheeler.

I am hoping March won’t be a total fail.  I am going to be optimistic and say with some OT and a prayer we can still meet our goals!


Saving and Giving

You have put in the work, and now it’s time to save, save, save!

Baby step 3 is saving 3-6 months expenses.  Once this step is complete, the other steps can be combined and executed somewhat simultaneously.

Baby step 4 is upping your investments to 15%, that is in addition to any employer contributions. An example account would be a 401k or a Roth IRA.  Dave recommends getting someone to assist you with your investing that you trust, and that doesn’t just tell you what to do with your money, but actually teaches you about investing. He has a recommendations for people via his website, listed under smartvestors.

Step 5 is saving for college for your kiddos. There are a lot of options for this, we have a ESA. But you can also use a Education IRA or 529 plan.

Step 6 is paying off your home early.  He has a really neat mortgage calculator on his website that you can play with.  It will tell you when your mortgage will be paid in full, depending on how much extra you want to throw at it. I love plugging in different numbers to see how fast we could be completely debt free ( I know, I’m a nerd!).

Step 7 is to build wealth and give!  This is my ultimate goal. What could you do without any debt? Turn the interest you owe, into interest you make. I believe you can do it! Just think of how many lives you could bless!

Now for some fun! Check out this video by Sarah on how Dave Ramsey ruined her life!


Building Your Budget

Are you still with me?  It’s time to talk about baby step 2.  To begin, you’ll want to list your debts smallest to largest.  This includes all debt.  Even if  you owe it to your grandma.

Ok, did you do that?


Now you need to create your budget! Make a column for each payday, and then start listing things you need to pay out of that check.  Make sure you include things like groceries and gas, and spending money. These areas will take the most adjusting at first.  Because a lot of times we don’t realize how much we actually need for these categories.  Now if you have money left after everything is written down, send all that extra money to your smallest debt. This is called a zero-based budget. There are 0 dollars left. You told every dollar what to do.

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Envelopes.  Get some envelopes.  Now drive to the bank (please don’t drive to the bank while reading this). Write on the front of your first envelope, GAS.  Fill the envelope with your allotted gas money for that week. Then on envelope 2, write FOOD.  Fill this envelope with the money you plan to spend on food for this week. The same goes for spending, or anything else you can pay with cash. Dave actually recommends you pay everything this way.

Honestly, you probably should.

We pay all our bills online, and then draw out the rest and fill our envelopes. It does take time to get used to, but it really helps you stick to your budget.  Sometimes it is just too easy to swipe your card when you want to buy something, but when the cash is gone, it’s gone. So overspending isn’t an option. Swiper, noooo swiping!!!

Baby step 2 isn’t over until all the debts on your list are paid in full.  During this time you are making minimum payments to everything on the list, and paying extra to the smallest debt. Once it is paid in full, your debt snowball (the money you are paying towards debt) just grew!  You now have that original amount plus whatever your minimum payment on the first debt was. Now take that and apply it to the next thing on your list.

Dave recommends that this process should be completed within 2 years. If you calculate it out and it doesn’t look possible, it may be time to sell. For example, Dave recommends that all the things you own, that have a motor in them, when combined, should not exceed 50% of your annual income. This is because cars depreciate! Quickly! But cars aren’t the only things you can sell to get your snowball rolling.  Look around the house, what items do you have that you don’t need? Maybe you could have a yard sale!

The other thing that could hold you back is your house payment. Your house payment should be approximately 25% of your take home pay, or less. If your payment is higher, it could hold you back from effectively getting out of debt, or saving in the future.  If that is the case, your options would be to increase your income, or sell the house and get more affordable living accommodations.

This is a hard step, but it is the most important. It isn’t possible to save money, if all of it is going out in payments and interest.  Once the debt is gone, you can get serious about saving, and change your family tree!

Do you have questions? Email me or message me on Facebook! Hit the plus sign in the lower right corner to below to be notified when the next post in this series is published. Happy saving!

How do I start?

Are you considering starting your own debt free journey?

Keep reading!

Since many of you have expressed interest, I thought I would go into more detail on the steps you can take to become debt free. Maybe you have felt the struggle of making payments, and you’ve become really tired. Your tired of bills, tired of not getting ahead, and tired of working for “nothing”.

When you reach this point, that my friend, is when you have to make a decision. Do you want to continue living this way? Will you be happy in 10, 15, or 20 years down the road if nothing changes? If the answer is no, then you’re ready.  The very first step is drawing a line.  Committing yourself whole heartedly to not borrowing money, for anything, ever again.

The concept really sounds crazy at first, but it can be done. Millions of people have followed Dave’s program, and other similar programs and became debt free.  No matter the situation, it isn’t going to get better if you allow yourself to keep using those credit cards. So cut those suckers up, or put them in the freezer, in a bag of water.

If you have gotten this far, great! Now we are ready for the real baby step 1.  In Dave Ramsey’s program he lays out basic baby steps to follow. They are simple, and to the point.

Baby step 1 is saving 1000.00 for your emergency fund. This fund is to be in savings or cash in your house, to be used in true emergencies ( a flat tire, medical emergency, or preventing foreclosure, etc.).  This fund is not to be used when you need new shoes, or you want to go out to eat.

Dave recommends that if you have more savings than 1000.00 (in a checking or savings account) you should use all but 1000.00 to get  your debt paid down, then you will increase your savings again during baby step 3. This does not apply to retirement savings, do not cash out your retirement to pay off debt.

Stay tuned, Monday we will go over baby step 2 in detail.  Hit the follow button so you don’t miss it! If you have questions, please, feel free to get in touch with me via Facebook or the blog! Happy saving!

The Interview

I interviewed a woman on baby step 7, and this is what she had to say…

Tell me your story, how did you get out of debt and how much did you make at that time?

I got myself into significant debt before getting married. ($115,000 … student loan, car, credit cards) …. plus a mortgage on a condo. My salary ranged from $42,000 to about $52,000 while I tackled the credit cards (first) and then went to work on the car/student loans. When I got married, we sold my condo which let me finish paying off the car and made a sizable dent in the student loans. Just as soon as the student loans were paid off, then we could by a home together. (It took me years and years of pretty frugal living to get those credit cards paid off … after minimum payments and living expenses, there just wasn’t a whole lot left over for snowballing. Since I couldn’t get a second job, that meant slashing expenses. I didn’t spend any money on any extras for at least 3-4 years. No cell phone. No computer. No internet. No cable. No eating out.

What is the key to getting out of debt?

For me, the key to getting out of debt was the willingness to be as gazelle intense as possible, for as long as possible. (Short term sacrifice for long-term gain!) I hated that when my car needed a new battery, it was a crisis. When I needed to pay for a plumber, it was a crisis. I hated having to turn down all sorts of social events because they cost money … but I was also pretty desperate to escape the bondage of debt.
Paying off our house let me quit working at a high-stress job that I’d come to dread and gate. My wonderful husband is active duty military (and we’re stationed in fairly high cost of living California), but I no longer need to work for a salary just to help keep bills paid. This has allowed me to volunteer full-time for a local non-profit doing what I love without worrying about how we will pay the power bill or afford a car repair.

What has reaching baby step 7 afforded you to do, that you couldn’t have done otherwise?

We drive 2 cars we paid cash for … mine is 11 years old and my wonderful DH’s is 15 years old. We still follow a budget, and we’re socking away money for retirement as well as sinking funds for home/car repairs and the vet. We’re cash-flowing updates for our home. And we donate enough to charity that it makes itemizing our taxes worthwhile even without the mortgage interest deduction.

I absolutely love her story. She didn’t have a lot starting out, but through hard work and dedication, she made it to the other side.  To an amazing place without financial worries.  I absolutely can not wait to get there!