Would you like to have a debt-free marriage? Does it seem possible?
I can tell you from experience that it is not easy. But it is so worth it.
There have been several events in our life lately that have caused us to reflect on our own journey to financial freedom and all that it has meant to our family and our marriage.
I am excited to share our story with you with the hope that you will find some information and motivation that will help you wherever you may be in your own financial life.
The Debt-Laden Duo
When Bethany and I got married in 2001, we already had a fair amount of debt under our belts. It was nothing extreme by any means, and we were probably on the low end compared to many of our friends. We didn’t even have any credit card debt at that point, just a car loan and good ole student loans from college.
I even had a pretty decent understanding of personal finance thanks in large part to a co-worker who shared his copy of Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey with me on the eve of our wedding. I really loved reading that book, and it gave me an appreciation for Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and the promise of living a debt-free lifestyle. Unfortunately, the pull of “stuffitis” and all the things that seemed like “needs” in our early years together caused us to look past this wisdom and pile up the debt!
After a year of marriage, we decided it was time to buy our first house. And with that came new furniture and appliances. And a new car. And then another new car. And more stuff.
We peaked out in 2004 at $54,500 of non-mortgage debt. Wow. That’s a big number, but we frankly didn’t feel much pain from it because the payments were never a big strain for us. We were a long way from a debt-free marriage, but it didn’t bother us much.
If you can make the payments, everything is fine, right? Wrong.
The Wake-Up Call: A Positive Test
It was around this same time that we decided it was time to start trying to grow our family. Through God’s grace and our discovery of Natural Family Planning at this same point in our marriage, we were to find out that Bethany was pregnant with our son. (As an aside, I can now see in hindsight just how incredibly transformative these couple of months were in our lives in so many ways.)
That did it. It was the realization that we had another human to care for that really got our attention. Sure, we were doing okay with our finances, but we were certainly not being the wise stewards that we could be. And we were not planning for the future the way that we should be as parents.
Welcome, Gazelle Intensity!
Once we decided it was time to clean up our mess and start taking our financial stewardship very seriously, all we needed was a plan to follow. Fortunately, I remembered back to that Financial Peace guy I had pseudo-studied a few years earlier. And he had a new book!
It was our reading of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness that provided us with a clear plan for “what” to do along with many inspiring stories of families that have used the same principles to achieve financial freedom. If you are looking to improve your financial life, I cannot recommend this book enough.
That said, the information it contains is far from rocket science. His seven baby steps are pretty simplistic, actually. The magic is in the focused intensity that Dave preaches, and the idea of “gazelle intensity” wherein you treat your debt like a hungry cheetah that’s chasing you (a fleeing gazelle) down. Run!
It takes passion, energy and commitment to pay off a large amount of debt. And it takes a lot of hard work. There’s really no substitute for effort if you want to make a major change in your financial future and live a debt-free marriage.
For us, this meant a firm commitment to incurring no additional debt and a new mindset focused first-and-foremost on paying off our stupid debts. Practically speaking, the real key for us was building and strictly following a family budget that reduced our spending on things like shopping and eating out at restaurants. We didn’t take vacations and we kept our entertainment on the simple side. In a word, we got frugal.
I also worked a LOT, and we used any small amount of money we could come up with to pay off the next debt in our debt snowball. There weren’t many big moments of major progress. Instead, it was all about being consistent and maintaining our intensity over the course of several years.
We’re Debt Free!!!
Once we got fired up and determined, it took us approximately 3 1/2 years to pay off our $54,500 of non-mortgage debt. The day that we actually went to the credit union and paid off our SUV (our last debt) was surreal.
I called Dave Ramsey on behalf of my family that same day and got to scream “I’M DEBT FREE!” live on the air on his radio show. That was 2/29/2008 (hour two of the show that day), and that has become a very important date for our family.
Since then, our debt-free lifestyle has honestly become a routine. It just seems like the only logical way to live now, and I can’t imagine having so much of our income tied up in payments. I know making payments is the “normal” way of doing things in our culture, but this is another area where I have learned that normal sucks.
Debt-Free Marriage for Life
We’re still very proud of our accomplishments and excited about what it is setting us up to do in the future. Each day without payments is a day that adds to our savings and investments and, ultimately, enhances our family’s financial freedom.
Like I mentioned above, the fact that we’ve been debt-free (other than our house) for two years now has really started to pay off (pun intended) recently. I look forward to sharing the specifics in future posts, but suffice it to say that we love our debt-free marriage.
I strongly encourage you to consider adopting a debt-free lifestyle. The rewards are fantastic and worth the effort. If you need some help, check out our section on Debt Freedom and Money Management for lots of great tips.
I really want to hear from you on this topic. Do you have a debt-free marriage? Do you think it’s possible? Where do you need help to make it happen?
Photos by alancleaver_2000