How My Wife and I Paid Off $20,000 of Debt in 6 Months — as College Students

(Originally Published February 9th, 2018)

“Mikayla, I’m in debt.”

It was two months before we were going to be married. I was in my second to last semester of college.

“What?” My fiancé looked surprised.

Yeah, I owe about $7500 in student loans, $6500 on my car, and a couple thousand on other things.”

It turns out I had definitely portrayed a different image. I was running a small digital marketing business, which payed the bills but it wasn’t even bringing in full-time job money. I took us out to eat all the time and acted like money wasn’t a problem.

Mikayla thought I was loaded. Turns out I was a pretty good actor.

We discussed it briefly, but as most people nowadays, shrugged our shoulders and called the “typical debts” normal and expected.

The problem was that it was much worse then a little student debt. I was living dangerously (financially). I’d found out a way to live off of credit cards by paying credit cards off with other credit cards — I thought it was ingenius.

One day, I surmised, when my “ship came in” I would pay off the total balance which was quickly rising. I was doomed, “eventually”. I was convinced I would be making hundreds of thousands of dollars by the end of 2017.

About 1 month into our marriage we had to actually acknowledge the problem. My problem. We sat down to budget.

According to my memory it went like this:

Mikayla: “Let’s budget, this is is going to be fun!”

Dan: “Okay.” Thinks to himself, “Can’t wait till she sees my brilliant financial plan.”

Mikayla: “So what’s the situation on your debt?”

Dan: “We’re doing great! I’ve read all of these financial and business books and basically that makes me an expert. We can handle it.”

Mikayla: “Dan, how much debt are we in?”

Dan: “$20,000 dollars.”

Mikayla: “Hmhmm. How much money are we making per month?”

Dan: “A lotttt less than that but soon that’s going to change because of blah blah blah blah.”

Mikayla: “Dan, how have you been paying for things up until now?”

Boom. That was when I told her. Deep down I knew it wasn’t right, but seeing the look in her eyes when she heard me describe my brilliant credit card system confirmed every doubt I’d had about my habits.

I wish I could say I apologized and changed my ways, but I was stubborn. I was convinced I was going to make us millions. And soon. So why change?

That conversation ended in an intensive discussion, with no clear winner but clearly hurt feelings.

Off to a great start! We had very little income, a huge debt, and two very different perspectives on money.

I didn’t want to pay off our debt, but I eventually conceded to taking almost all the wedding money we’d received as gifts and paid off my student debt with it.

Mikayla felt like we had to start saving for everything — retirement, babies, a house, another car, vacations, emergency funds, etc. How were we supposed to actually save a sizable amount in our current situation, for each item? Everything seemed so important but we didn’t know where to start.

In July, we drove out to a good friend’s wedding in Sacramento. On the 8 hour car trip home, we listened to a financial program that outlined some starting points for us.

It became clear that we needed to pay off our debt first.

We started with my cell phone. (Yes, if you make monthly payments on your cell phone you are in debt.) I owed about $135.

We paid it.

And it felt soooooo good.

We got hooked. We did the math, and realized that if we continued down the same path we would be debt free sometime at the end of 2018. That was a year and a half away!

So we went crazy. Literally cray cray.

Look at what we did:

  • Sold $1000 worth of stuff
  • Sold My iPad ($900)
  • Worked extra custodial jobs that required us to get up at 4:30 a.m. every day in the summer (Extra $900/mo)
  • Mikayla started a child’s cooking camp ($400)
  • We worked together on my digital marketing business ($6000)
  • FAFSA ($5000)
  • Cut our living expenses by $300/mo (3600/year)
  • Moved to a smaller apartment ($200/mo savings) ($2400/year)

On our six month anniversary, to the day, we went together to pay our last car payment. It was one of the best feelings I’d ever felt.

After, we literally had $1.25 in our bank account, but we were debt free.

To celebrate, we bought sparkling cider with left over quarters from our coin-operated laundry.

Two months later we had our six months worth of savings.

I’m not writing this to brag, or rub it in, but because we invested in our financial knowledge and acted, we are reaping the rewards. It’s amazing how fast money accumulates when you’re not paying most of it to debt payments.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain

If everyone is in debt, how can you not be? What can you do to start today on those baby steps? We all need money, and life is a lot easier when one isn’t worried about it.

You can do this. You can be debt free in a short amount of time. Even if it takes longer than a year or two years— you can do it. If you’re married, do it together.

“Just do it.” -Nike

Have the courage to start the journey to financial peace.

I promise you it’s a journey you’ll never regret.


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