Making Sense of Our Debt // Plan + Numbers

>> Thursday, January 19, 2017

Have you ever had one of those crazy Ah-HA! moments? Like, you've been doing it all wrong this whole time? Yeah. This post is about one of those.

Warning: I'm going to get a little TMI. A little taboo . . . and I'm going to share a few details about our financial situation. Honestly, it's embarrassing. But at the same time, I've learned so much from other bloggers and vloggers who have done the same (one of my favorites is Pennies Into Pearls). 

And -- really -- this is only the beginning of what I am hoping will be a major success story.

Also: I'm not subscribing to any particular school of thought with budget matters. I know there are some big names in this area with detailed plans to boot. The whole snowball debt thing is even taken directly from Dave Ramsey -- but I don't agree with all of his practices. 

So, much all of my adult life, I've been saddled with debt. Like, a lot. Stephen and I both have been. Student loans for private liberal arts education are killer, you guys. I think I brought something like $33K to the table when we got married. That was after my parents generously paid half my way. I worked a lot (two jobs) during college as well. I also got a nice grant. Still, I was $33K in debt by age 21.

Stephen also brought his graduate school loans which amounted to about the same. We've dutifully paid the minimum of these loans since we graduated school. We've picked up a few cars along the way. And then there are things like when you furnace or air conditioning dies or you want new carpet in your basement, etc. Thankfully, we never really got into credit cards.

The thing is, I've always just paid minimums. Seemed manageable enough. Try not to think about interest. Break it down monthly, and those gigantic numbers didn't seem so frightening. Keep the interest rate a vague number so you don't think about how much you're throwing away in the long run. It was a system that worked. It works for many people. Not all debt has to be bad. But when it starts to mount, it's not something that makes it easy to sleep at night.

Anyway, I had more compelling financial things to take my attention. Like saving 3 to 6 months of our monthly budget to have in our bank account. My focus has been entirely on building this number for so long. We did have 6 months at one point right when I had left my full-time job. In those last five years, life has happened. We've had to dip in for various reasons. We have about 3 months of our budget in savings currently. I am not thrilled it's only 3 . . . but also not saddened by that number. It's solid.

Then, I had this moment. I found out that my interest rate on my student loans went up very minimally when the feds increased the prime rate. It prompted me to take a look into my account beyond just paying my bill. I started to think we could do better. Maybe we SHOULD try to pay off some of this debt faster. I mean, we can't have TOO much more, right? So, in the new year -- I set this as a goal. At least to LOOK at how much we still owe and think about tackling it a bit faster.

At age 33, our family is carrying about $34K in debt.


Almost half of this amount is in student loans. There is an amount we had to take out to pay for our air conditioner that broke on one of the hottest days of summer last year when Eloise was a few days old. There's a bit left over on a 0% financing deal for when we moved and got new carpeting in the basement (worth every penny we are paying, IMO). And the rest is the worst of all -- debt on two used cars (UGH! We have the worst luck with cars, too). One of the loans (I'm looking at you, van) is higher than either of our student loans if you break them out.


So, $34K. That sounds super overwhelming, especially considering all the interest we're thrown away in the last decade just paying minimums. I maybe even feel some judgement from those of you who are smarter with your money. It could be worse, but the more I read into it . . . we probably could have paid off all of this YEARS ago if we had been smart. If we had buckled down and spent less. If we had just paid attention at all.

And that's what I think we're going to do in 2017.

There's no how-to in today's post. This is just my declaration that we are committed to using the snowball technique to pay down this debt as quickly as possible. Thing is, I do not want to deplete what we have in the bank to do it, which I think deviates from Dave Ramsey. It might not make the best financial sense, but I do want to retain a large cushion because my income is somewhat volatile.

That being said, we are going to try our hardest to live on Stephen's salary alone and use all my freelance money to pitch toward the debt. As much as possible.

If we start in February -- in just a week and a half -- with our smallest car loan and progress by using my freelance income + minimums, etc., we could potentially be debt-free (OK, not counting our mortgage) in just 15 months! Fifteen months! That's just over a year. Holy moly. Now, I know Ramsey says to pay off the smallest debt first, but we aren't going to do that. Our smallest debt is also our smallest monthly payment with 0%. We'll let that one wait.

Instead, we're hoping to do them in this order. This list takes into account paying minimums on all loans each month BUT adding my freelance money to the first loan, and then adding the minimum money we put toward the FIRST loan PLUS my freelancing income PLUS the money for the second loan toward the second loan, and so on.

Does that make sense?

  • Car (3 months)
  • Van (7 months)
  • Stephen loan (2.5 months)
  • Ashley loan (1 month)
  • Air conditioner (1 months)
  • Carpet (will basically be paid off)

= 15 months total

Without this plan, we wouldn't be totally out of debt for like 78 months. How many years is that? Oh, it's 6.5 years. I'll have an almost 12-year-old Ada by then. Now, that isn't the norm. On average, the length we have left on our loans if we just pay the minimums is 36 months. Our student loans don't have terrible interest, but it's just darned silly to be paying long loans on used cars. We did what we had to do, but it's something I don't ever want to do again moving forward.

The best part of all of this is that when we're done, we'll be freeing up $1,100 a month that we currently have built into our budget to pay off all this debt. That is SO much money to us. And it's that kind of stuff that makes the whole having-a-third-child conversation less scary.

Obviously there's more to this conversation. How will we modify our budget to live on just Stephen's income? What will we be giving up? What happens if we feel we can't be this aggressive? There are many more things I'd like to cover another day. But I feel good getting this out there. Motivated. I sort of don't care if people judge us. We have a plan. The debt is what it is. There's no changing it at this point.

In the wise words of Hamilton's Aaron Burr: "I am the one thing in life I can control."

(BTW: My brother-in-law and sister-in-law saw Hamilton on Broadway last night. I'm green with envy. Hamilton tickets, though. That's definitely one thing I will NOT be purchasing in the next 15 months!)

Image credits here and here

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