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Our Journey to Debt Freedom | by Ashley Craft | The Joyful Life Magazine

“We hated talking about money—until…”

There was a season during which we absolutely hated talking about money. It was depressing to look at our finances at all, let alone follow through on financial strategies that might one day put us ahead. All that changed when we started following Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program and began paying off our debt with wild gazelle intensity.

It changed our entire world—and it can change yours as well.

Perhaps money and debt are the last things you want to be reading about today. Maybe you’re considering turning the page—convinced that this isn’t for you. But before you do that, I want to ask you to consider something. What if I told you that even though this article appears to be about finances, it is more directly about your values, your dreams, and your legacy? Would you stay and read a little longer?

Grab your coffee, a cozy blanket, and make yourself comfortable while I share the details of our personal journey to debt-freedom as well as our top ten tips (plus a bonus) on how to pay off debt.

OUR STORY

Before I share about our debt-free journey, and the path my husband and I are on to change our family tree and future, I have to tell you a bit about where we started. We met, fell in love, and were married on a beautiful day in July of 2016. We both had debt, but in conversation, neither of us had been forthcoming about the details. We had spoken very vaguely about it before we got married. Each of us genuinely assumed when we got married and combined our incomes that our debt would naturally disappear. We were so naive.

When we got married, I loved spending money to make our house a home, and my husband quickly got to work remodeling our ancient bathroom due to mold. We ate out every night because that seemed easier with both of us working full-time jobs as newlyweds.

We had an incredible combined income, but at the end of every month, we were completely broke with no idea where all of our cash had gone.

One evening, my husband came home from a trip where he had been visiting family. When he walked in the door, he handed me a box full of paperwork and workbooks. It looked to me like homework and I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. Little did I know, it would change our entire world.

My husband unpacked his suitcase, and then sat me down to talk. He asked me if I was as tired of being broke every month as he was. I quickly responded with an emphatic ‘Heck yes!’. It was February 21, 2017, and on that night, we jumped in head-first and made the most significant decision we’ve made in our marriage to date.

Seventeen months later, we have grown tremendously in our understanding of what it takes to intentionally pursue financial peace. We have learned important things about each other, our money, our hearts, our idols, our future, and our dreams.

We had to learn to faithfully make small, consistent, daily choices to move forward toward our financial goals. We have learned how to be masters of our money, rather than slaves to our debt.

If you’re in debt and long for financial freedom, there is no other way forward than to own your journey and intentionally address your debt. In the words of Rachel Cruze (Dave Ramsey’s daughter), ‘Love your life, not theirs.’ No matter where you currently find yourself on this journey, I promise, if we can do this, so can you!

HOW WE DID IT

Ultimately, we followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program and started the debt snowball. I highly recommend his podcast, getting plugged into an FPU class, and simply starting where you’re at. However, there are ten simple tips that helped us stay on track and make the accelerated progress we have made over the past year and a half. We hope the habits we’ve developed will allow us to celebrate with our own personal ‘Debt-Free Scream’ at Ramsey Solutions—on air!

Our first tip for getting out of debt is the foundational step we built upon, for by it, everything else falls into place.

NUMBER 1: Dream really, REALLY big together

You have got to have a ‘why’ that is bigger, greater, and more powerful than the hard work, sacrifice, and deep perseverance you will experience on this debt-free journey. On the days when it is 10 pm and I am finishing up extra work, getting ready to wake up in just a few hours to go back to work, I recall our ‘why’, and my exhaustion fades in comparison to the victory we will feel when we reach our goal.

Not only must you have big dreams, but you need to talk about them. Talk about the why behind your desire to get out of debt often. This journey is far too difficult to walk through without a solid why to motivate you.

When I asked my husband for his thoughts on this, he said, “I know [my wife] already said this, but one of the best things we did together on this journey was dream and talk often about our why. We have dream dates where we will sit down over dinner, and do just that—dream. We will dream about the ways we will give, our future home, how we will raise our children to avoid debt, where we want to travel, where we want to go on mission trips, what new fun toys we want to buy, and everything in between. Then, we will hop in the car, leave our money at home, and go to one of our three favorite furniture stores (Arhaus, Pottery Barn, and World Market), and we will dream there (as we test out the furniture!) about how we will serve guests in our home and give life to gathering spaces in the home we hope to build one day. Dreaming sessions can look very different for you, but we couldn’t have done this without being reminded of what we are working toward and where we are going.”

NUMBER 2: Ignorance is Not Bliss

That first night, when we sat down to make our preliminary budget, the first thing we did was write down every single debt we each had. This didn’t mean picking and choosing which ones are ‘socially acceptable debts’, (student loans, cars, and even financed cell phones) but rather writing every single one down on paper so we could look our debt square in the eye, and start attacking it. We were slaves to our debt and we didn’t even know it. This is both the easiest and the hardest part of the journey, and this is why: completing this exercise means you have to get really honest with yourself, your mistakes, own your foolish purchases, and truthfully acknowledge where you are right now—today. Lay down your pride and shame, because at the end of the day, those two things will hold you back if you let them. Take a peek at what we wrote down as a starting point that first night. This was our greatest wake-up call to change:

Debt Free Journey Start Date
February 21, 2017

Starting Debt
$147,582 ($230,582 if you include our $83,000 mortgage)

A Detailed Breakdown of our Debt

Credit Cards
$43,656

Car Loans
$23,000

Student Loans
$79,826

Debt Paid Off to Date
$98,756 ($181,756 including the sale of our home)

Total Debt Remaining
$48,826

Target Debt Free Payoff Date
December 23, 2018 (my aggressive goal), but more realistically, July 1, 2019, the day before our 3rd wedding anniversary (my husband’s more realistic goal).

NUMBER 3: Set Up Your Budget

Once we knew every bit of debt we had, as well as what the monthly payments were, we took a deep look into each month on the first day of every month. We still do this. During this monthly meeting, we discussed everything on the plan and set our budget. We gave every single dollar of revenue coming into our household a name using the Every Dollar Budgeting App and wrote out our first budget. We chose the version of the app in which you pay a monthly subscription to automatically pull over information from all of your connected accounts and transactions. This made the process very streamlined and easy!

Most people think that budgeting is a boring, restrictive chore, but in reality, the budget gives you the freedom to spend because you have already assigned those dollars to specific categories. This allows you to spend the allotted amount confidently, without stress. This will be one of your greatest tools. To know where you are going, you have to assess where you are right now.

NUMBER 4: Be United in Your Goal

Fighting over finances and money is one of the top reasons for divorce in America, so one of the best things you can do for your marriage is get on the same page with your spouse regarding finances. Fighting together to get out of debt beats fighting with each other over financial pressures. I think Chip Gaines says it best, “Taking on the world as a unified, fortified duo is not just a romantic notion, it’s a powder keg. Together, you can set the world on fire.” My husband and I began to set our world on fire when we started the debt snowball, and our marriage burns brighter as a result. We discussed every purchase, and our marriage completely transformed because of our strong communication and our focus on a single goal.

NUMBER 5: Write Down Your Values

When you agree on money, you are not agreeing only on money—you are aligning your values. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

When we decided that we would stop eating out in order to save money, we decided that regularly patronizing restaurants was not a value. However, we also agreed that sharing meals with people was a core value we wanted to live by. To enflesh this value, we decided that we would be intentional to invite people to our home at least twice a month to host them, cook with them, and play games with them around the kitchen table. This allowed us to live out our values, while also staying on track with our debt snowball plan and avoiding the overspending we had previously done while eating out all the time.

Every decision you make with money will reveal a value, and when you define your values in advance, you can make more intentional choices about how you spend your money to conform to those values. There is a deep, soul-level unity in the practice of that discipline.

NUMBER 6: It’s OK to Say No

This two-letter word will be your greatest asset toward paying off debt: ‘NO’! My husband and I have had to say no to a lot of good things over these past 17 months because we have a great thing waiting for us at the end. The hardest things we have had to say no to have been celebrating our first and second anniversaries lavishly. For both years, we originally had big, extravagant trips planned. Both years, mere days before the trip, we sat down, talked about our dreams and our goals on this journey, and realized it was wise to say no to these trips so we could continue paying off debt. Instead, we ended up going mini-golfing and enjoying dinner on our back porch together. We had more fun doing simple things to celebrate our anniversaries in our home than we ever thought possible. We would never change those days spent together, unified, and both agreeing upon one end goal. We have said no to trips with friends, new clothes, new cars, eating out, new furniture, new bedding, and so many other fun things. You have to learn the power of saying no in order to be successful on your own personal debt-free journey. You can do it, I promise—and it gets easier with time.

NUMBER 7: Stop Eating Out

If you want to create room in your budget quickly, the easiest way you can do that is to stop eating out. We cut our food budget from $1200 each month eating out to $400 eating in. We have had to get creative with recipes, find ways to make dinner a fun experience, and savor the moments where we share home-cooked meals together. This will be one of the most substantial and practical ways to cut your budget down.

NUMBER 8: Work Really Hard

Nothing will work unless YOU do.’—Maya Angelou

This journey may sound all fun and games, but the reality is, we had to get down to the nitty-gritty of working extremely hard. My husband and I have picked up numerous extra jobs throughout the past 17 months, with all the additional income going directly toward paying off our debt. The rubber starts to meet the road when you find yourself picking up any extra work you can. We have worked with the Canadian coin exchange, part-time as a valet, in Amazon fulfillment centers, and more—on top of both of our full-time jobs. This has meant saying no to a lot of fun activities, but as Dave Ramsey always says ‘A good place to go when you are in debt is to work.’ So when we aren’t working, we are working!

NUMBER 9: Sell Items Around Your Home

Once we started to see the debt snowball picking up momentum, I have to admit, we became addicted. Every quarter, we started going through our home to find things we could sell on places like Facebook Marketplace, Let Go, and Offer Up. We sold road bikes, furniture, wedding décor, clothes, and everything in between. This is a great way to not only spring clean and purge your home with intentionality, but also make those fun extra payments on your debt. I bet you can find at least ONE thing today in your home that you can sell! Try it!

NUMBER 10: Start a Small Business

This one was the most rewarding, successful, and fruitful adventures that came out of our debt-free journey. I started Letter and Knot Co., where I preserve meaningful stories and moments through calligraphy and design. This has now become an official LLC, is highly profitable, and gives me an incredible sense of ownership and passion after long days in the corporate office. Do you have a small business in mind? Perhaps you have a talent or gift that you can use to bring in extra income for your debt snowball? What are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose by trying!

BONUS QUESTION: What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?

Last, but not least, outside of talking about your dreams and your why, I truly believe that at some point, you must start talking about the legacy you want to leave for your family and that will represent your life. This debt-free journey will (and already has) significantly changed our lives, but we cannot yet fathom how this will impact our family for generations to come. Our hearts burst at the thought of being grandparents, sitting on the front steps of our forever home one day, watching our grandchildren play in the front yard, talking with our grown children, and knowing that we made deliberate choices to bless them with a legacy of financial freedom. We strongly encourage talking often and dreaming often about the legacy you want to leave your loved ones. Don’t dream small here.

I pray that the Lord gives you a deep desire to steward well the blessings and abundance He has given to you, and that by sharing our story, you are inspired to begin right now. This one decision can change your entire future. What are you waiting for?

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Our Journey to Debt Freedom | by Ashley Craft | The Joyful Life Magazine
Our Journey to Debt Freedom | by Ashley Craft | The Joyful Life Magazine
Our Journey to Debt Freedom | by Ashley Craft | The Joyful Life Magazine
2 comments
  1. God used FPU to change our lives, too! So much of what you shared resonated with me and the journey the Lord has us on. I thought being debt-free was just not possible for us. So thankful the Lord isn’t limited by my lack of vision. Blessings on your continued journey – thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow, I love your story! My husband and I are doing the same thing, and we have made many sacrifices (including moving across the country for a better job last year) in order to pursue our goal. God is rewarding your efforts, and I appreciate your encouragement.

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