debt snowball update + getting real with a budget

It’s been awhile since I gave an update on how our debt snowball is going.

But first, can I show you some pictures of my latest crush?

Tyndale is almost 3 months.

(My how he’s grown.)






If you’re wondering what I do all day, the answer is: Yes, I gaze into those blue, blue eyes. Yes, I hold Tyndale every second I can get & kiss his fat checks. Yes, I adore this little man.

I’ve had four babies before, but this has to be the funnest I’ve ever had with a baby. If he’s slept for too long, I get kinda sad & want him to wake up just so I can smile & coo & cuddle with him. He is the sweetest, most chill baby I’ve had. We all love him. So much.


About that debt. 


We’re about half way through our good-riddance-debt process. It all began about October 2012 when Joseph got his first real paycheck, from his hard earned real, *grown-up* career post law school.

In the 18 months since then, we’ve paid a lot towards our debts–somewhere around $26K, but not nearly the amount I would have liked.

The good news is, we’ve had additional money come our way, so yes, it’s a let down we haven’t bulldozed through as planned, but we have made great strides. Progress, though not perfect, is to be celebrated.


What have I learned since we’ve started?

Mainly, I need to strike a balance between ambitions & reality. Especially with things like the grocery budget. I thought we could be consistently below $500 a month. Maybe a stronger person than I could do that, but Joseph & I agreed recently that $900 was not only realistic, but totally do-able.

I also realized I don’t like have a separate household budget. So groceries count food & any household items, including birthday gifts for that month.

And Christmas! Boy, as much as I like the *idea* of a minimal Christmas, the truth is, in practice, I LOVE giving gifts! So, a reasonable Christmas budget for our family of 7 is $1,000. This includes a lot of necessities like clothes & shoes.

Another thing that I hadn’t budgeted for is back to school shopping. I did all of my shopping this last year at Goodwill & the clearance rack at the Gap Outlet & still spent a little over $300.

More “unexpected” expenses:

1. A trip to Washington for a family reunion last summer. Gas & food for 5 weeks away from home turned out to be much more than anticipated. We spent about $2K on the trip.
Note to self: traveling is *always* more expensive than you anticipate, so plan accordingly. 

2. Pregnancy. Though we didn’t have to pay a cent for medical bills (one of the perks of military life), we did spend about $1,000 more than usual during my first trimester on food. Because, as you know, during that nauseating time I can’t cook & all I want to eat is crap. (It’s true.)

2. Car repairs. Our car door fell off. $350 to fix.

3. Joseph got a traffic ticket. $200.

4. Lawn mower broke. Need a new, used one. Hope to get one on craigslist for under $50.

And then there are yearly expenses like eye exams & contacts, & car registration & licensing fees, which run around $400 total. I figured all of these yearly incidentals for now, will be paid every year around March, when we get our tax return.

It’s really important to review your budget & your debt snowball every few months & make needed adjustments to reality. It’s a lot better to live honestly about your needs (& wants), rather than to have crazy unrealistic ambitions that aren’t sustainable (like my crazy idea to just live on rice & beans!).


About the student loans…

This past month, aside from getting a larger than anticipated tax return (which went mostly towards debt–yay!), our AF loan repayment payments went through, which means, we no longer have to make payments towards our student loans, freeing up more money to go towards other debt.

It’s a three year process & they only pay a chunk on your loans once a year. But over the course of three years they pay $65K (a big reason why we decided to go with the AF) which covers most of our student loans.

The rest is covered under the public servant loan repayment program which is income based, & based on our family size & income, we currently don’t have to pay anything each month. This is another reason we choose the AF.

Between the two programs, we don’t have to worry about student loans for another two years, at which point we’ll have to pay off the remaining balances (somewhere around $4K) that wasn’t covered under the AF loan repayment plan.


Here’s a breakdown of the rest of our debt: 


I have to say the reason why we have so much credit card debt is because for nearly a year & a half between Joseph’s law school graduation & him actually starting his career as a JAG, we lived on our credit cards. I worked (actually had a great job, but it was only part-time) & Joseph was a stay-at-home dad & studied for the bar exam (he had to take it twice). It was rough having to live essentially on credit cards, but it got us through, & for that we’re thankful.

Our interest rates for our credit cards are so low because they’re covered under SCRA for military members. Essentially, all credit cards opened up before military service are covered under SCRA, which means credit card companies have to lower the interest rate below 6%. Chase lowered ours to 4%, Kohl’s & Citi to 0%. The rates are good for as long as we’re in the service. Nice perk, for sure!

So, we’ve adjusted our budget as well as our debt snowball to reflect reality as well as an increase in income that we’ll get in August due to an increase in rents (from our rental property) + a raise for Joseph. Though we’re still living on essentially one income, I’ve begun bringing in some revenue from bring joy, which is awesome, but I’m not counting this as reliable income (yet). Anything I make will automatically go towards debt & will just be icing on the cake. Hopefully that income will help us get out of debt that much sooner. For now, the projected debt-free (not counting the mortgage on our rental property or the remaining balances on our student loans, which we don’t have to worry about–see above) date is August 2015. The original goal was January 2015, or thereabouts, but as long as we get there sometime in 2015, I’ll be happy.

Our first big loan will be paid off this August, followed by our car in December, if all goes as planned. It’s really exciting to see those numbers go down each month.

If you have a mountain of debt before you, there is hope.

Keep your eye on the prize, which is a debt-free life, & believe that that debt-free day will come. With intense focus on the ultimate goal, you can achieve it. I know this, because we’re doing it–slowly but surely, we’re getting there. And this is exciting.


Out of debt: 5 steps
Should you continue to tithe when getting out of debt? 
What to do about kid’s extra-curriculars when getting out of debt? 
Distinguishing between needs & wants

What’s your experience with reality & budgets?
Do you stick to a budget every month or is it more of a nice ideal for you?
What things do you do to help you stick with your budget?
Are you on the get-out-of-debt-boat too? 

Please share!



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  1. Pingback: how to create an abundance mindset {no matter your income} | bring joy

  2. Natashia M
    on April 9, 2014 at 5:56 pm said:

    Such a cutie pie! And those eyes… those eyes are dangerous! It’s fun to see your journey to being debt free! Great job! We paid off two credit cards with our tax return and our medical bills from Nora. So we are pretty excited to be under $5 K in cc debt!

  3. Jennifer @Sterling Sweets
    on April 9, 2014 at 2:51 pm said:

    Your little ones are absolutely beautiful!

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey to financial freedom. I’ve been trying to whittle away at my massive student loans and it sometimes seems impossible. It’s inspiring to see that it is indeed possible to pay it all down.

  4. Emma
    on April 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm said:

    Tyndale is just the sweetest little thing! I don’t blame you for wanting to stare at him all day long.
    You sound like you’re doing great on the money side of things. I’m glad you’re being realistic about things as setting too high expectations of ourselves usually ends up in disappointment and frustration.

  5. janae wise
    on April 9, 2014 at 11:11 am said:

    This is a post where I talk more about why we don’t do Dave’s plan.

  6. Dawn
    on April 9, 2014 at 8:23 am said:

    Hi, I am a military wife also. My husband and I have no kids but our total debt consumer debt, car loans and student loans totaled about $170,000. I’m happy to say we have paid off about half!! Our consumer debt is gone, we own all three of our vehicles out right (a motorcycle, truck and Jeep Liberty) and all we have left to pay is $80,000 worth of student loans. We rent, when we are debt free we will build a house. We’ve done this using the “Dave Ramsey’s” Method of budgeting and paying off debt. He has a step by step method for getting out of debt. Looking at your plan I don’t understand why you are leaving the smallest amount of $950.00 go to for awhile. The best way to pay off things is the lowest to the highest. Good Luck!

    • janae wise
      on April 9, 2014 at 11:08 am said:

      Hi Dawn! Congrats on paying off so much of your debt. Can I ask how long you’ve been working at it?

      I have read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, in fact we followed it for a few years prior to law school. Though we are doing a debt snowball we are not following his plan. When we were following his plan, I cancelled all of our credit cards, & then when we went to buy our 2nd home, I was shocked to discover because I no longer had credit cards or used credit, my credit score was zero, so I was unable to be on the loan with my husband (who for some weird reason still had a credit score). We don’t do the cash system (we use cc or debit) & we’re paying loans off by interest rate (though in the case of the first debt on the list, we had no choice but to pay it off in 2 years if we wanted the low interest rate). Dave’s plan works, but he has a lot of technicalities that I don’ t think are across the board right for everyone. Debt-free is the way to go– that much I can agree on! Good luck with the rest of your debt. Very inspiring!

  7. Laurie
    on April 9, 2014 at 6:09 am said:

    “…avoid student loans like the plague”
    Yes, yes, yes! It breaks my heart to see other librarians–not a traditionally high earning occupation–with mountains of student loan debt. Actually, anyone with so much student loan debt tugs at my heart strings.

    There’s a piece online somewhere by Tucker Max about why people should not go to law school. Although his books and other writing are rather juvenile, maybe misogynistic, and I wouldn’t recommend them, that essay seemed spot on and rather funny. I read it aloud to my husband who did go to law school many years ago when in-state tuition was low, so so low, and he agreed. And the main reason not to go to law school is law school debt because very few lawyers make the big bucks and certainly never right out of school.

    • Laurie
      on April 9, 2014 at 6:11 am said:

      Oh, gee, I meant this to be a reply to your reply….oh, well!

  8. April
    on April 8, 2014 at 9:31 pm said:

    Our student loan (hubbys) has hung over his head for FOURTEEN years and our married heads for nearly NINE. We are so excited to know that it will be paid off in 9 mos give or take a month. The plan is to snowball that into the van loan and be done w/in 2 yrs. Leaving only a mortgage. We feel so fortunate that we have never had CC debit -not even one single month.

  9. Laurie
    on April 8, 2014 at 8:04 pm said:

    I somehow made it through college and grad school without student loan debt–I feel very lucky for that and think that it’s given me a sense of freedom that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I’ve had a budget for several years, but I’m always tweaking it. Right now I’m trying to focus on socking away some money in savings. With a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned I have to allow myself at least a little “mad money” to spend on anything I want. Otherwise, I feel too restricted and more likely to blow my budget. Automating my savings deposits so that money just seems to disappear from my account each payday has really helped me. I also use multiple banks–checking and savings at different banks–so that my savings is not really easy to just transfer into my checking.

    I’ve also finally started to get better at recognizing a lot of my “needs” are actually “wants.”

    • Janae Wise
      on April 8, 2014 at 8:24 pm said:

      “Automating my savings deposits so that money just seems to disappear from my account each payday has really helped me. I also use multiple banks–checking and savings at different banks–so that my savings is not really easy to just transfer into my checking.”
      Laurie, this is genius! Where not yet to the point of saving for anything (that’s the super-lame part of having debt!), but when we do, I’m stealing this technique. I know in the past when savings & checkings are at the same back, you’re right, it’s so easy to just transfer when you need extra cash for those “needs” & then before you know it, you’re savings has dwindled. Great tip!

      I too, was fortunate to go through school without debt. And Joseph was able to do undergrad with small student loans that we paid off just after he graduated. It was law school w/ 4 kids that killed us! But…the end is in sight 🙂

      My one piece of advice for anyone going to college is–avoid student loans like the plague, at least for under grad. There’s such low earning potential for undergrad degrees (it seems so many jobs need at least an M.A.), acquiring $40K in debt only to get a job that pays $30K a year is not worth it. And many folks, even those with grad degrees can’t find employment, let alone a low paying job. We even took a pretty big risk going to law school & going into debt for it. There are plenty of lawyers who aren’t able to pay their student loans these days.