One of the first conversations my husband and I had when we got engaged was the money talk.
We had already talked about finances before, but getting married meant it was 100% necessary that we get in sync and make sure we were on the same page when it came to financial goals.
And the biggest financial goal we talked about? Becoming debt-free.
We have a combined six figures of debt (around $150,000, actually). That debt is mostly in the form of student loans. I also have a car loan and some credit debt that I racked up during a particularly difficult time in my life.
If we were to pay the minimum payment on all of our debts every month, we would literally have this debt until we die. And we just weren’t okay with that.
2019 was the year we got married – It was also the year that we got serious about tackling debt and made a step-by-step, actionable plan to pay it off.
In this post, I’m sharing how exactly Brandon and I plan to pay off our six figures of debt – and how you can do it too!
2020 Update: Since writing this piece, Brandon and I have paid off all of our non-student loan debt. While saving for our RV, we were also able to pay off our car loan and credit card debt.
There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.
We figured out exactly how much debt we had
The very first step we had to take in order to make a plan to pay off our debt was first to figure out how much debt we actually had.
Prior to getting married, we had talked about roughly how much we had, but starting this project was the first time we really put it all down in one place.
When it came to gathering all of our debt accounts, we used a tool called Undebt.it. This tool allows you to enter all of your debts, including your total balance, interest rate, and minimum monthly payment. It tells you how much debt you have and when you can expect to pay it off if you make the minimum monthly payment on all of your debts.
If you have a lot of debt, this date will make you want to cry. I promise you’re not tied to that date, though!
Undebt.it is a great tool for this job because helping you to organize and pay off your debt is literally what it’s made for. I also love it because it syncs with the budgeting app we use, You Need a Budget.
If you’d rather not use Undebt.it, you can literally just do this step in a spreadsheet. Just have a column for each debt, the total balance, the minimum monthly payment, and the interest rate.
We took responsibility for our decisions
Figuring out how much debt we had and taking responsibility for the amount of debt we had were two very different steps.
You see, I spent a lot of time being pretty angry about my debt. I was angry that we have a system that resulted in us having six figures of student loan debt for two bachelor’s degrees. I was angry that my divorce put me in a situation where I had to live off credit cards to get back on my feet.
But at the end of the day, those are decisions that I made.
I chose to take out student loans rather than go to a two-year college or take a few more years to work before going to college. I chose to rack up credit card debt rather than move back home to save money or severely cut costs.
So yeah, taking responsibility for our debt decisions was a big step we had to take in actually taking the next step to pay that shit off.
Of course, I know there are structural and societal problems that lead to and perpetuate the problem of debt for many people. We should have a system where people have to go into crippling debt to pay for college. We shouldn’t have a national income disparity that makes it difficult for so many people to pay their bills.
But for the purposes of us actually addressing our debt, owning responsibility for it was actually helpful.
Refinanced our highest-interest student loans
Most of our debt is student loan debt, with a car loan and a bit of credit card debt on top of that. Most of our student loan debts were at a pretty low-interest rate. Unfortunately, there were a couple of private student loans that were at an astronomical interest rate (like, over 14%).
Yeah, it was bad. We knew we had to get that fixed ASAP.
If you’re shopping for a loan to refinance your student loans, I recommend Credible. You can see rates from more than a dozen different lenders to find the best loan for your situation.
Getting on a budget
Yep, we’re going to talk about the dreaded “B” word – budget.
I’ve had a bit of a rocky history with budgeting. I didn’t really create a budget until I was in my early twenties, but I didn’t really stick with it.
Then I got divorced at 27, and suddenly sticking to a budget became 100% necessary.
But then my husband and I met and suddenly had a two-income home. And if I’m being honest, sticking to a budget kind of fell by the wayside.
We knew that if we were going to get serious about paying off debt, we weren’t going to do it without a budget.
My favorite budgeting tool is the app You Need a Budget (aka YNAB) – that’s an affiliate link, but it will get you a free trial. Seriously, if there were one financial tool I would recommend to literally everyone, this is it.
Rather than other budgeting apps that just tell you how much you spent at the end of the money so you can feel bad about yourself, YNAB is a hands-on tool that forces you to be an active participant in your budgeting.
Using YNAB has completely changed the way to budget – is it weird if I say I actually enjoy it??
The other huge perk when it comes to paying off debt is that YNAB syncs with the debt payoff app I mentioned earlier, Undebt.it.
One of the most important parts of putting together our budget was that not only have we been able to limit the amount of money we spend on nonessentials, but it’s given us an idea of how much money we can put toward debt every month.
If budgeting is still a struggle for you, check out my guide on creating a monthly budget that you’ll actually stick to.
We made a plan
If you had asked me at any point over the past few years, I would have told you that, yes, paying off debt was a huge priority for me. And yet, I had no actual plan to pay off my debt and I was making the minimum monthly payments on all of my debts.
Finally, we realized that if wen wanted to get our debt paid off in our lifetime, we would need to sit down and make a plan.
The first step to making a plan was creating our budget and deciding how much money we wanted to put toward debt every month. At this point, we’re allocating $2,000 per month toward debt (that number will go up with side hustle profit and as our incomes increase).
Once we knew how much to put toward debt every month, we had to figure out what to do with it.
There are two primary strategies to use for paying off debt: the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.
The debt snowball is where you pay the minimum monthly payment on all of your debts except for the smallest one. You put all of the extra money you have to put toward debt toward that smallest debt.
Then, once your smallest debt is paid off, you take all the money you were putting toward that one and start putting it toward your new smallest debt.
The benefits of the debt snowball are largely psychological because you’re paying off debts soon it. But it doesn’t actually provide you with the most savings, which is why I prefer the debt avalanche.
The debt avalanche is where, instead of prioritizing your smallest debt, you prioritize the debt with the highest interest rate. Over the long run, the debt avalanche provides the most savings because you’re eliminating the debts that are earning the most interest.
We used Undebt.it to sort our debts in order of highest interest to lowest. The tool shows you when each of your debts will be paid off and how much interest you’ll pay over the life of all of your loans. I love that Undebt.it syncs with YNAB, so I don’t have to manually update our accounts each month!
We’ve increased our income
I get that $2,000 is a lot to put toward debt each month. We’re incredibly lucky that we’re able to afford that much. That’s definitely one of the benefits of a two-income house with no kids.
But that $2,000 per month debt payment maxes out our budget, and we have a lot of other financial goals we want to reach before our debt is paid off.
In order to reach those other financial goals, we had to bring in income in other ways.
Luckily, we both already had a side income. Brandon bartends a couple of nights per week after his full-time job, and I’ve been running my blog for years now.
Once we decided to start really going after our debt, I worked really hard to increase my income so that we could still reach our other financial goals – specifically, our goal to buy an RV and travel full-time starting later in 2020!
I completely rebranded my blog, increased my affiliate marketing efforts, and went all-in on freelance writing.
Because of putting in so much extra effort last year, I was able to 10x my monthly side hustle income in 2019. A big part of that has been growing my freelance writing business big-time.
I’ll be working on increasing my business income even more this year since traveling full-time will require leaving my full-time and running my business full-time.
We looked for other opportunities to save money
Even though we’ve worked our debt payoff into our budget and are bringing in side income to pay for our other financial goals, we’re still always on the lookout for other ways to save money.
Some of these tactics have been no extra work at all. In fact, some of them have actually saved us work. For example, did you know that some student loan companies will give you a small discount on your interest rate if you set up autopay?
We also take advantage of cash rewards on our credit cards. We have two primary credit cards we use – one is a cashback card, and one is a travel rewards card. We pay them off in full every month.
Finally, we use cashback apps to save a few dollars here and there. One of my favorite cashback sites is Rakuten (formerly Ebates), which gives you cashback for shopping at certain retailers.
The other cashback apps I love are Fetch Rewards and Ibotta, which give you cash back on select grocery items. I use them for our grocery shopping every week and always find a few dollars in savings.
We’ll adjust our plan as our income increases
According to our current debt payoff plan, we will have our $150,000 of debt paid off in about seven years. But in my mind, this is kind of a worst-case scenario plan.
As our income increases over the next few years (which I fully expect that it will), we will plan to put more money toward paying off our debt. We can also use small windfalls such as tax returns, gifts, and any other bonus money we bring in.
It’s impossible to say exactly what our life will look like for the next seven years – I fully expect we’ll go through a lot of changes! We’re going to remain flexible and hope that we can increase our debt payoff above and beyond our current plan.
We’re striving for balance
As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I have other financial goals we want to hit over the next few years. And as much as I’m looking forward to being debt-free, I’m not willing to put the rest of our lives on hold until that happens.
For that reason, we’re striving for balance rather than putting every last spare penny we have toward debt.
We still go out to eat and buy tickets to concerts (our two favorite hobbies). We’re still putting aside money for other financial goals, and we’re still saving for retirement.
I think it’s incredible when I read stories about people who pay off six figures of debt in just a couple of years – those people are rock stars!
But at the same time, neither my husband nor I want to sacrifice that much. We might change our minds at some point, but right now our goal is balance.
Making a plan to pay off our six figures of debt has been an emotional ride. When we would look at the big picture, it would always seem like a completely daunting situation that we’ll never get out of.
Breaking it down into small steps and actually putting dates to everything took this incredibly scary number and made it seem so much more manageable.
We’re still early in the process, and I fully expect it to be an emotional roller coaster, but at this point, we both feel so confident in our plan and excited for the day we are debt-free!
I’ll continue to share more updates as we go, as well as some of the lessons we’ve learned so that others who are paying off a large amount of debt can learn from our journey.