Unlike most college grads who enter the workforce already saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, Ja’Net Adams walked away from school with $10,000 in savings. Unfortunately, her high school sweetheart and soon-to-be husband, Jon, hadn’t fared so well. Just one year of college left him with $25,000 in student loans.
Nevertheless, a combined salary of $75,000 per year had the newlyweds feeling financially comfortable—so comfortable, in fact, that they took out a $23,000 loan for a new Chrysler 300 when Jon’s car was on the fritz. Ja’Net admits that they likely would have continued taking on debt, but she was laid off from her job, temporarily slashing their income to an annual salary of $20,000.
Times got tough, but two and a half years later, Ja’Net and Jon were completely debt-free. We found out how:
Money Living: What was your total debt?
Jon and Ja’Net: $45,000
ML: How long did it take to pay off?
J&J: Two and a half years.
ML: How did you do it?
J&J: We started cutting back on everything. We cut our cable back to basic; we also chose cheaper cell phone plans with less minutes. I went to free cooking classes to learn how to cook basic dishes so that we could stop eating out.
We also looked for ways to bring in more money. Jon started basketball training on the side (making $25/hr per kid), and I learned how to sell on eBay to make extra money. We had yard sales in the summer and sold children’s clothes at church consignment sales. We also sold extra TVs at the pawn shop and took gold to the jewelry shop. On average, we were able to put at least $500 a month toward debt through cutting back and selling things.
ML: How did you stay motivated during the process?
J&J: We stayed motivated because we wrote down our goals before starting. We had 1-, 5- and 10- to 15-year goals (short-term, intermediate and long-term). Whenever I felt like buying a new pair of shoes, I would think back to the goals and realize that they were more important than a pair of shoes. We never thought about quitting, because it was motivating to see the debt going down every month!
Couples have to decide on their goals together so that both partners are able to put their dreams down on paper and work together for those dreams to become reality. Without both people cooperating, getting out of debt will be almost impossible.
ML: What is the best part about being debt free?
J&J: The peace of mind it brings to know that the money that we were earning is now working for us and not the bank. We sleep a lot better at night. We also can now do what we want as long as we save for it. This past summer we paid for all six members of my family (myself, Jon, our two kids, my mother, and my mother-in-law) to go to Costa Rica for seven days.
ML: What advice do you have for others who want to get out of debt?
J&J: Start with writing out 1-, 5- and 10-year goals, and then keep that piece of paper out so that everyone in the household can see the goals each and every day. This will keep everyone focused on the reason that they are sacrificing to get out of debt. Also, write down where every penny is going each month, and if there is more month than money, it’s time to cut back or find extra income.