Well…another year older and another year better. I pulled a muscle at Pure Barre last night, so I am feeling the older part. I told my husband this week that even numbered years are never my best. I went all the way back to 2008 to better explain why my odd years in life are always better. He wasn’t buying it. He once again brought me back down to Earth and made me realize that each year brings growth.
In looking back at the last year, one of my proudest accomplishments is paying off all of our family debt and finally growing our wealth. Our family (which consists of me, my wonderful husband, and our fabulous dog Oscar) worked hard over the last year to be better equipped to handle our money. This was a long journey that started on our honeymoon three years ago.
On this birthday, I feel smarter/stronger and part of that is looking back over the last year and seeing all of the financial savviness that we have accomplished together as a team. Every day, I am so lucky to spend life with my best friend. The older I get, the more I learn to be so grateful for the people that matter most. We tackled our debt together, and we were “all in” to making it happen for each other and ourselves. It wasn’t always easy, but we did it together.
Here’s our story (the good, the bad, and the ugly)
Ironically, we mapped out our debt in Paris. Telling, to say the least (why were we in Paris when we owed money?). It was the first night of our honeymoon and we started chatting about our future. Money became the topic of conversation. It was that night that we started keeping track of all we owed. Cumulatively, we had over $85,000 in debt. Yes, you read that number right. This included student loans, credit cards, car payments, and the hotels we still needed for the remainder of our two-week European honeymoon.
I am an honest person, and I feel so vulnerable talking about this story…even now. It was the first night of our honeymoon, and I felt so much anxiety. How could we have gotten this far in debt and not have noticed? How could we have dated for 10 years and not have known how much we each owed in student loans? Like I said, this was the ugly side of our beautiful story.
Don’t fret…we still had an amazing honeymoon. However, when we got home we hit the ground running. We promised each other we would make money a priority…together. Even if I wasn’t married, I would have done this alone. Being financially savvy is the best trait you can have as an individual. As a woman, I feel empowered to know that if anything happens I can support myself and pay my bills. I was lucky and got to do this with a supporting spouse, but I think these easy steps can be tackled individually.
Here’s the good side of our story. This is the execution piece, and how we came out on top.
Step One: Read Dave Ramsey
Dave Ramsey believes in tackling baby steps to paying off debt and controlling your money. I flew from Germany to Rome, still on our honeymoon, listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast, plotting out how we were going to pay off $85,000.
Here are his steps
- BABY STEP 1 – Save $1,000 to start an emergency fund
- BABY STEP 2 – Pay off all debt using the debt snowball method
- BABY STEP 3 – Save 3 to 6 months of expenses for emergencies
- BABY STEP 4 – Invest 15% of your household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement funds
- BABY STEP 5 – Save for your children’s college fund
- BABY STEP 6 – Pay off your home early
- BABY STEP 7 – Build wealth and give
Step Two – Debt Snow Ball Spreadsheet
We took step two of Dave Ramsey and turned it into a model that worked for us when we got home. We started our family spreadsheet system. We took our debt and listed it by smallest to largest. We both decided that each of us would focus on our personal accounts first. Each pay week since July 1, 2016 we complete this spreadsheet. I told you my even years are always the worst!
At the beginning, we listed all of our debts by account from smallest to largest on the spreadsheet. Each pay week, we put in our spreadsheet how much we brought home after taxes. We each took out $400 for spending and money to pay our bills that were due during the pay period. Whatever was left over, we would put toward our debt.
The $400 we took out each two weeks for spending covered everything outside of bills. We used this on gas, groceries, entertainment…everything. If we ran out of money, then tough luck.
We started tackling the lower debt accounts first. This helped motivate us. When you pay one account off, it is such a powerful feeling. It gives you the motivation to continue the success.
Step Three – Pizza Delivery Time
That’s right…we both got part time jobs. I had a Master’s Degree and served champagne at a high-end bridal salon in Buckhead on the weekends (it was awesome!). My husband was a Director of Operations and worked delivering pizzas on the side. People would always give us grief about working at these part time jobs. Our response was always, “get over yourselves.” I don’t care how many degrees you have; a job is a job. Money will always be money. Look, until you come home every day to a stacked savings account and no debt, any job is worth it.
I also looked at these part-time opportunities as growth experiences. How many times in my life would I get to work at a bridal salon? I worked with fantastic women, who truly were hustlers in their field. I learned every fabric swatch and detail of picking out the perfect wedding dress. I was exhausted working full time then working every Saturday and Sunday, but it was a growth experience and I made money doing it. Great money at that.
Don’t be ashamed to hustle. Make money anyway you can. Don’t listen to anyone who says they are below a part time job. Most of them are probably broke anyway. You are never too good to make money and work hard.
Step Four – Being Diligent
There will always be set-backs. Looking back to our first year of this journey, I can remember how hard it was living in Atlanta on $400 each two weeks. We were working all the time and exhausted that first year. It would be a Wednesday and the last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner. How easy is it to go blow $40 at a restaurant? I deserved it, right? NO. Get into the mindset that you don’t deserve anything when you owe people money.
Although AMEX isn’t a person, you still owe the company money. You aren’t rich if you owe the bank. Be diligent. That is the hardest part of the process.
Set a goal on what you will do once everything is paid off. For me, that was a trip. Is that $40 meal at a restaurant when you have food in the fridge worth it? Or is a trip to Greece better?
Don’t be hard on yourself, but be diligent about accomplishing your initial goal. You don’t end up in debt because you are good with money. You have to train yourself to say no, and stay the course. Setting monetary goals will help with that.
Step Five – Ask for the Raise and Pretend You Never Got One
Between the age of 25 – 35, the average professional will increase their pay by 20%. In some cases, you have to be bold and ask for the raise. In 2016, I was working fulltime as a fundraiser while also working my part time job at the bridal shop. That year, I hit my fundraising goal for my fulltime job by 216% – this was the second year in a row I crushed my goal. In my end of year review, I presented my worth to the team and organization. I humbly listed out my annual account growth rate and the dollars I brought in for the team. I asked for a raise and got one.
My boss was the best, and she rewarded me by a significant raise annually. At this point, I had paid off almost all of my debt. I was moving into the Dave Ramsey step of building wealth. I could have easily upped my budget on the original $400 that I gave myself for spending, but I didn’t. I pretended that I never got the raise.
Instead of upping my spending money, I upped my 401(k).
If you don’t get a raise, then always ask why. Ask your manager what things you would need to accomplish to get the raise you want. Always ask if you can re-approach the topic six months from now after accomplishing the goals given to you. If they say no, then they sound like a terrible person and you should look for another employer.
Final Step – Building and Staying the Course
We are finally moving into the building wealth stage. It took three years, but I can finally see the fruits of our labor. We aren’t perfect, but we stay the course. On my birthday this year, I am thankful for this journey. It’s not always perfect, no one’s life is, but this is the year I feel great about our finances.
We just bought a home, so paying that off is my next goal. We would like to use it as a rental property down the road.
This is our story, but everyone has their own. Maybe this is more difficult, because you have kids. Maybe you have over $200,000 in debt. I know it can seem like a mountain to climb. I promise you can do this. Set small goals and stay the course. Don’t be ashamed to have four jobs and hustle on the side. Once you pay everything off, don’t be ashamed to also go and buy that Chanel bag you dreamed of. You deserve it, if you can pay for it in cash.
Happy Birthday to me! Cheers to another great year of challenge, growth, and wealth building.