Living debt-free

I’m in the midst of a huge life transformation.

I’m learning how to be a single mom.  We’re finally “grown-ups.”  Joseph finally has a career, not just a job.  I’m now able to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.  And all that debt from law school?  It’s now time to pay that back.

One of the reasons why we chose the military path (there were numerous reasons) was because they have a very nice debt-repayment program.  It doesn’t cover all our debts, but a good majority of our student loans are going to be taken care of.  But there’s still some credit card debt from this past year when Joseph did not work.  You know, all the hiccups we had, like his career being stalled because he didn’t pass the bar the first time, things like that.

So we have debt.  And now we’re shedding it as fast as we can.  We decided we’re not okay with debt sticking around for 5, 10, 20 years.  No, like a parasite, we want it gone–asap.

Four years ago, before Joseph began law school we were in a great place financially.  We had no debts–at all.  Not even $200 on a credit card.  We had sold our first home & made a (unexpected) good chunk of money, lived with my parents for a year (oh the money you can save if your not paying rent/mortgage!), & Joseph had a great job during this time.   So we were able to put that money into a house, the house that we lived in during law school.

Paying for a law school wasn’t actually the biggest source of our debt for student loans.  Joseph was accepted to several prestigious law schools (Georgetown being one of them), but we decided with BYU in the end.

A big factor in that decision is that it is 1/4 the cost of the other schools we were looking at.  $10K a year in tuition for law school is almost unheard of.  But we had 3, then 4 kids & all the living expenses associated with that.  Even though I worked, we took out  the max amount we could get in financial aid.

I’ve been a fan of Dave Ramsey for quite some time, but for the past 4 years, we’ve not been a position to follow his program.  If you’re not familiar with Dave, his approach is quite similar (not identical, but similar) to the views of my faith, which is, debt=bad.

I am so ready for this stage of life.  I know debt is a shackle, & that there is so much truth in:  “the borrower is servant to the lender”  (Proverbs 22:7).

Getting out of debt is not easy.

Like losing weight it requires planning, sacrifice, & discipline.

I know a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about money.  I think that talking about finances openly is crucial to a healthy financial life.

So, I want to share with you now & then, some tid-bits from our journey towards a debt-free life.  I hope that’s okay with you.

Get on the debt-free boat


Have you ever gotten out of debt?  Any suggestions, insights?


  1. Melissa
    on October 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm said:

    At one point we had too many lines of credit (credit cards, store cards, etc) that we were figuratively drowning. Then husband quit working to be full time student and I knew drastic measures had to be made. We used Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, which (for us) was a perfect fit. Our interest rates were slashed to half on most, and we only had to make one monthly payment to CCCS, who (in turn) paid a pre-set amount to each of our creditors. I am not exaggerating when I say that (based on my own calculations) our lump-sum payment was LESS THAN HALF of what our minimum payments had been.
    If you have only a few lines of credit, you can do this on your own. Contact the company and explain that you would like to cancel the card and make arrangements to reduce your interest rate and have an agreed monthly payment to pay it off. (Keep in mind: it took us 4 years to pay off our debt, which was embarrassingly too high for me to acknowledge — it gets away from you fast!!) If you have several cards, you can use company’s like CCCS, and pay them a small monthly fee (i believe it was about $45, which came out of our monthly payment) and they negotiate with companies for you. The catch? You must cancel ALL credit cards, save one card “per household” (not per person), and cannot open any new lines of credit until entire debt is paid off. (This does not prevent you from buying a house or a car, which we did while on the program.)
    As far as student loans: I am grateful that we have ability (because husband is a public servant, aka teacher) to have income-based repayment plan on federal student loans, and after 120 consecutive payments, any remaining debt will be forgiven. At this rate, we will have paid back less than 10% of the total debt when it is forgiven. (Darn private grad school tuition!!)

  2. Joya
    on October 17, 2012 at 7:56 am said:

    I’m totally with you on striving to be debt-free. That verse from the Bible is in my head all the time – I don’t want to be a slave to the lender!!!:0) It’s hard, especially when you like to spend (like I do) but it’s like losing weight, you have to be focused on the goal all the time or you forget why you’re sacrificing at the moment.
    We have student loan debt like so many others, and that’s the big thing hanging over our heads but we WILL CONQUER!!! hehe. It’s encouraging to hear other’s stories for sure and to see that we’re not the only ones!!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm said:

      “but it’s like losing weight, you have to be focused on the goal all the time or you forget why you’re sacrificing at the moment.” Yes, SO true, Joya. & no, you’re definitely not alone in this endeavor to bid rid of the weighty student loans!

  3. Katie
    on October 17, 2012 at 12:26 am said:

    I love talking about finances! It’s so taboo, but it’s how I learn almost all of my financial information. I tried the envelope system and wrote about it on my blog a few months back. There are plenty of pros and cons! I am in the process of trying a new budget and think it might work even better. I’ll keep you posted.

    Right now we are debt free except the mortgage, and are almost done building up our 6 month reserve. I feel like the next step is the trickiest. Add more for investing? Pay off mortgage? I want to have a great retirement, but my husband and I HATE debt. What is your logic behind it? Thanks for opening up about this!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm said:

      Hmmm…I’m not sure what I’d do, but my gut feeling would be to get rid of the mortgage while paying minimum towards retirement & then when the mortgage is paid off (you will save a lot of $$ in interest the sooner you pay off) you can double up on stashing away for retirement. I’m not sure what Dave Ramsey would say about this (I’m not even close to that point!). What’s your blog, btw? I’d love to check out your post on your experience with the envelope system.

  4. Sabrina
    on October 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm said:

    We love Dave Ramsey at our house and I love that he is evangelizing the save now, buy later, debt free lifestyle. So refreshing in a world obsessed with consumption. I had a great example from my parents in frugality and avoiding or paying off debt quickly so I’ve always been deathly afraid of it. We just refinanced our house to a 15 yr mortgage so we are trying to get that knocked out as quickly as possible. I can’t imagine the lifted burden we’d feel to be completely debt free. I wish you all the best in your journey to financial freedom.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm said:

      We’re looking into refinancing our home (now a rental home) to a 15 year fixed. Interest rates are so crazy low we can refinance from a 30 to a 15 year & our payment will stay the same! Crazy, huh?

      You are lucky to have been taught by great parents.

  5. Alissa N
    on October 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm said:

    We are trying to get ourselves out of debt too. When we bought our house a few years ago, we had some unexpected expenses that came up, and we are working on paying those off now. I love that you are sharing your journey, such a relevant topic to me!!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm said:

      “we had some unexpected expenses that came up”

      This is what frightens me the most. With four kids, I just KNOW in the coming years ahead (especially as they become teenagers & start doing crazy things), I just have a feeling we’re going to have a lot of “unexpected expenses.” This is one of my driving motivations for getting out of debt quickly so we can build up savings so these unexpected events don’t kill us.

      Good for you for working at getting those debts paid off. Not easy, but I know you’ll be proud when you can say you’ve paid them all off! (& think of the extra money you’ll have each month once those debts are no longer there 🙂 )

  6. Teresa
    on October 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm said:

    I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and it has been a blessing for me to read. We are on week 3 of a mostly vegan diet and I just finished reading Dave Ramsey’s book yesterday. I feel a great responsibility to get out of debt and take care of my family’s health. I appreciate your posts and it’s nice to know there are people with the same goals out there 🙂

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm said:

      Awesome, isn’t in nice how Dave preaches “beans & rice, rice & beans” while getting out of debt? A healthy diet & a healthy financial life CAN go hand in hand! I’m glad you commented so now I know who you are. Nice to “meet” you, Teresa!

  7. Corinne
    on October 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm said:

    Thank you so much for writing this! Money is a tough subject for me. Lots of emotional baggage. I just paid off my credit card, but I still have loans hanging over my head. I’m finally spending some $ on clothing, after about three years of barely buying anything new and I have guilt about it. Lots of guilt when I buy things, even for my kid–new clothes and toys. It is super helpful just to hear your story. Thanks! Xo

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm said:

      Thanks Corinne. Oh, you are NOT alone! I think there’s so much shame & guilt with women & money (just as much as there is with weight/eating). I want to be a small part in changing that. It doesn’t matter how much you make, money has to be dealt with, & 99% of the population has money issues. I think having an open dialogue about the struggles, issues, & dilemmas is part of coming to a better place, financially. Thank you for sharing, & being open & honest. Love that.

  8. Kristi
    on October 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm said:

    I quit my job in March to be a full time SAHM. It has been difficult because I had been really good at stocking up our savings account and it seems like it has just drained away at a ridiculous rate since I quit. The worst part, I have our monthly expenditures under what my husband brings home and we still spent like I was working! I think my husband finally *sees* it now.

    We only have our mortgage, and I waffle between paying it off early and paying just over the minimum. We do not want to live here once my husband retires, so why pay it off in this kind of real estate market?? And he only has 10 years to go until retirement (from the police dept anyway).

    Money is an issue for almost everyone. The key is to not let it become a burden/shackle and the focus of your life. Sounds like you and Joseph don’t have that problem at all!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm said:

      Congrats on staying at home. It’s definitely a decision that every family must weigh carefully, but in the end, when you take into account work expenses, childcare (if applicable), taxes, & time away from home (so more eating out, maid service, lawn service, paying for things that you could do if you’re at home), & see that the actual take home pay is not all that significant (for a lot of women). I figure I can “earn” my family a lot more money in savings by staying home than I could if I were to go out & work (at this stage in our life).

      Figuring out spending/budget is something that I think every couple has their moments with. In fact, I think money can be one of the biggest roadblocks in a marriage. Sounds like you & your husband are figuring things out. I hope that you can work it out, so that you can continue to stay at home (if that’s what you want to do). Good luck, Kristi!

  9. Sandra
    on October 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm said:

    Money must be the LAST thing that people are comfortable talking about. I think it’s like food – there are ALL sorts of emotional attachments to it beyond what it actually “is”. Lots of satisfying that “hungry ghost” and lots of shame when we end up in debt. And even more looking away and ignoring.

    Good for you for writing about it here!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm said:

      You’re right Sandra. Money is up there with politics (maybe worse, because it’s so personal). I sometimes wonder if I’m crazy for talking about my life so openly, but I hope that my honesty will encourage others to be honest & introspective, too. & I love the idea of opening myself up so that others will share their experiences with me.

  10. lfwfv
    on October 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm said:

    Yup, we hate debt too. We managed to pay off our student loan debt (minimal) within our first year of marriage, and have never had credit card debt. We have been fortunate to both have steady employment, and my husband had worked for 5 years before we were married, so had already saved up quite a bit of money. We live frugally as well….spend almost nothing on entertainment or eating out, and try to buy “needs” vs. “wants”. Our biggest expense is gasoline and quality fruits, veggies, grains, and spices.

    Currently, our only debt is our mortgage. Even with that though, we are both committed to paying it off as quickly as possible. We both have a serious aversion to debt!!

    We do use credit cards, but we always pay them off in advance and use them for flight points, rather than as “free money”.

    I am so glad you are at a point in your life where you are able to be in a position to pay off the debt weighing you down. It does sound like it was all “necessary” debt though, and i’m sure you will be in the clear before you know it since you guys are obviously very good at being frugal and responsible with your money. I personally look forward to reading about your journey to debt-free living…

    • Janae Wise
      on October 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm said:

      Tanya, why am I not surprised that you have it totally all together?! My brother-in-law & his wife also do what you guys do–they use credit cards & only spend what they have & pay it off every month & rack up the miles. I think that approach can work for many, especially if they have a history of good financial behavior & self-discipline (which you have plenty of that).

      Personally, I want to live as simply as possible & I think the cash-only approach will work best for us. That said, I’m brand new to it so not sure if I CAN do it, but something that research has shown, is that even with a debit card vs. cash, people tend to spend more on average with a debit card than they do with cold hard cash. So, for the time being, as we’re watching EVERY penny, I think this approach is best.

      Kudos to you for being in such an awesome place financially, especially at such a young age & before you even have kids. You’ve really set up a home/life that is uber ideal for your little one–way to go!

  11. Angela S
    on October 16, 2012 at 9:45 am said:

    We’ve done it a few times…in college after each car purchase, then after college after paying down our very small student loans (only like 3K). But then in 2009 I got sick and a vehicle died and our savings (was up to about 8k) was wiped out and we ended up with 10k in debt by the end of that year. It only took 6 months of KILLER cutbacks and hard work but we got that paid off FAST! It was awesome. But honestly harder than getting out of debt for us is building that 3-6 months expenses and saving to pay cash for a car. We’re almost 3/4 to a fully funded emergency fund. THEN we still need to save up for a second vehicle since we’re a one car family and have been all this year thanks to a wreck. Thankfully my husband carpools to his far away job and with the current carpool I can have the car a few days a week. But its still tough. We are looking at hopefully paying cash for another van next year around May but its hard.

    I’ll tell you the best budgeting software has been We’ve used it since November 2009 and that 10k of debt should have taken us at least 11 months to pay off with our budget we’d set up. But mvelopes allowed us to budget, then FUND those “envelopes” and then spend it. It made all the difference in budgeting for me and we paid it all off in just under 6 months. Back when we started using it, they didn’t have a free account so we paid a monthly subscription before paying for a lifetime membership. It seems crazy but we paid $400 to have it “forever” and I’ll tell you we saved that money easily in how quickly our debt was paid off. I’d pay that all over again but you won’t have to since they have a free account. In 2011 when we fostered a large sibling group we had to go buy a full size van and since we had 3 days notice we bought it new. Thanks to mvelopes we were able to really watch our $$$ and when it was totaled 10 months later we’d paid down that loan from 32k down to 8k and we weren’t stressed about the insurance settlement…or as stressed as we could have been. Since we’d paid it down so much we were able to take the rest of the insurance settlement after the loan and finish renovating our home. We’re awesome at getting out of debt…its the starting to deal with money right that is hard. We’ve used quicken and looked at mint but after talking to a friend using mvelopes we realized it was right for us. Check it out.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm said:

      Angela, wow. You are such a sweetie for sharing so much information. Thank you! You’ve done it & I’m impressed. People like you really inspire me & help me know that we CAN do this! Honestly, I’ve never had success doing an envelope system just because it seems so cumbersome to deal with cash (I know, how 21st century spoiled am I?). I like the convenience of a debit card & the fact that I can track everything through mint. But I will definitely look into mvelopes. Do you know how their program is different from Dave Ramsey’s envelope system?

      We too are sooo committed to buying cars in cash. That’s one area that I feel we’ve always done well in. We’ve always driven used cars (& always managed to get great deals on each one). We now need a 2nd car (not excited about the 2nd insurance payment & registration) but have to have for Joseph’s work. I think used cars are no-brainers, but it does take some planning & self-discipline to save money & I have to say I have been tempted at times by the low interest rates these dealerships advertise. But in the end, I KNOW it’s always a better deal to buy in cash, used.

      Again, THANK YOU for so much great info!

  12. Adina | Gluten Free Travelette
    on October 16, 2012 at 9:14 am said:

    I’m so very much looking forward to you sharing your journey towards being debt-free! That topic has being weighing heavily on my mind as we keep working to pay down our own school debt – sometimes it feels like a neverending up hill battle.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm said:

      Adina, you’re back! So glad to hear from you, Ms. world-traveler. I know, student-debt can be such a heavy burden. I was fortunate to not have any from my undergraduate, & neither did Joseph. Funny, if we only had $10K in student loans I would hardly bat an eye. But we have $100K+ from law school–yikes! I’m sure yours is no where near that vicinity. I know so many, many people who are struggling with debt (especially student loan debt), your not the only one. My hope in talking about this openly is that more people will feel encouraged to tackle it rather than let it stick around, FOREVER.