Money story: Life after debt

Money story: Life after debt

This guest post from Marissa — a local woman I learned about last November — is part of the “money stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all stages of financial maturity. Today, Marissa (a.k.a. The Budgeting Wife) shares what she and her husband have decided to do after paying off $87,000 in debt.

Does life change after becoming debt-free? Yes! The freedom that you get from being debt-free is amazing, life-changing, and encouraging for the future.

But does your lifestyle have to change after becoming debt-free? Not necessarily. Here's my story.

Our Debt-Free Journey

I met my husband Jacob while we were both attending the same private university. When we got married in July 2015 (right after graduation), you bet that we had a ton of student loan debt — $87,000 of debt to be exact.

Having this much debt in our early twenties, while we were just starting our careers, was overwhelming! There were times where I thought we'd never be debt-free. But thanks to some planned sacrifice and lifestyle changes, we were able to pay it all off in about two-and-a-half years.

To meet our goals, we kept our lifestyle very simple.

Jacob and Marissa Lyda

We took public transportation to our entry-level jobs because our employer paid for it. We shopped at the cheapest grocery stores that we could find. We meal-planned every week! Eating out was a maybe once a month luxury to Chipotle. Our one-bedroom apartment, 700-square-foot apartment had plenty of room for the two of us. We didn't take vacations. Our date nights consisted of binge-watching a lot of Netflix.

For the last year of our debt-free journey, we even moved in with my parents. This allowed us to rent for less while really tackling our debt! Crazy, I know. We were twenty-somethings who had been married for one year… and moved back in with our parents! (Once we'd met our goals, we moved back out however.)

As difficult as those first few years were for us, it was completely worth it.

All of these sacrifices allowed us to put 70% of our income toward loans each month. We gave up a lot, but we gained even more. There's truly no better feeling than being debt-free.

Our Debt-Free Lifestyle

We became debt-free last October. Since then, our lifestyle hasn't changed a whole lot. But it has changed some.

Considering we were living at almost bare bones, we knew we wanted to increase our lifestyle a little bit. We celebrated becoming debt-free by going on a Caribbean cruise in October. That was an extravagance! And we officially moved out of my parents house and into our own modest apartment again in November. (We love our new place!)

But besides living in our own place again, our debt-free lifestyle hasn't really changed. I'm still driving my 1998 Camry and my husband drives his 2001 Tacoma. We cook most of our dinners at home, and pack our lunch to work every single day. Our evenings still consist of Netflix marathons and date nights are about once a month with a gift card that someone has given us.

The neat thing about completing a debt-free journey is that you grow comfortable living with daily sacrifices. And then those sacrifices don't seem that bad! For two-and-a-half years, we learned how to make life work with three-year-old clothing, twenty-year-old cars, and cooking our own meals. We learned that fun doesn't have to mean spending money, but that it can be found with the people you spend time with.

Leveraging Our Lifestyle to Reach New Goals

By maintaining a frugal lifestyle while having no debt to eat up our income, we have so much room in our budget to accomplish our next financial goals.

Since repaying our student loans, we've turned our attention to saving for the future — to building what J.D. calls a wealth snowball. Because we're no longer living with my parents (and we've relaxed our standards a little), we're no longer saving 70% of our income. But we are saving almost half.

We've been contributing to our retirement savings. We're also saving heavily for our emergency fund — first and foremost. It's been so much fun to watch our savings account go up!

After we finish saving a full emergency fund, we're going to start saving for a house. While we enjoy our time in our apartment, we can't wait to have a house of our own! Buying a home will be the biggest purchase of our lives, so we want to make sure that we're smart about it and can have a good down payment.

Oh, and those twenty-year-old cars we have? We'll probably have to get new ones soon… So add that to the savings list!

Maintaining the Debt-Free Lifestyle

When I meet people who are recently debt-free (or about to be), I encourage them to maintain the same budget and lifestyle they had when they were paying off debt. The debt-free journey is hard at first, but once you've become accustomed to the lifestyle, it's not so tough to maintain…if you make an effort.

When you maintain a simple lifestyle, every raise you receive has an immediate impact on your financial goals, which makes it that much easier for you to win with money!

If I could give people digging out of debt some advice, it would be to not stop once you're debt free. Don't change your habits. Keep the intensity. Stay focused on your next goal. Maintain the simple lifestyle that helped you succeed in the first place.

More about...Debt

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Rachel
Rachel
2 years ago

I just listened to this couple’s story on the His & Her Money Podcast and this article just came across my Facebook. Such an inspirational story! Thanks for sharing.

BusyMom
BusyMom
2 years ago

Congratulations!

Your story is very inspiring!

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

“Living Below Your Means” is truly the key to happiness.

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago

Congratulations on tackling your debt and winning! A well-written and inspirational story! As one who is on the other end of the Frugal Journey (FI long ago but still working for fun), I can tell you that living frugally is not only good for your financial life (obviously), but is its own reward. When not wasting your money becomes a habit, you then become more mindful of how you use all your resources—-time, for instance. Many people in our culture spend money without thinking, using it as a shortcut to gain some desired object or to appear more powerful and… Read more »

Marissa Lyda
Marissa Lyda
2 years ago

Thank you so much! And I love your advice. Looking forward to continuing our journey or saving.

Dr murali
Dr murali
2 years ago

Congratulations on your debt free status.
Now on, from being savers, start investing on financial products will help you attain financial freedom earlier in life.
All the best

Marissa Lyda
Marissa Lyda
2 years ago
Reply to  Dr murali

Great advice! Thanks so much.

lmoot
lmoot
2 years ago

Congrats! Obviously working towards the same goal as a team helps with the momentum, but I am sure that also comes with its own challenges. Bravo for being able to accomplish the goal together. You have given yourselves such an amazing start. I personally don’t agree with DR on certain things but I can’t deny that his methods are motivating for many, and sometimes that’s all some people need to get things going. As someone who uses debt as leverage, I hope you don’t become adverse to all debt in your future and instead learn to recognize an opportunity on… Read more »

BB
BB
2 years ago

It’s weird to me that this is a thing. Before buying our house, we paid off my $30,000 college loans or so while I was still attending grad school. I didn’t realize the normal thing was to piss away your money as soon as you got it, but the more I read about PF the more it becomes clear that there are a lot of people out there who just can’t help themselves. Sure, every now and again I will make a foolish purchase or buy something because it makes me feel good, but for the most part they are… Read more »

Lady Dividend
Lady Dividend
2 years ago

Congratulations on becoming debt free! Unlike so much of our cohort I’m glad that you “treated yourself” after you had done the hard work.

I am working on paying of $7000 on a LOC and when it’s done I plan to reward myself with a beautiful dress to wear to all the weddings I have this year.

Marissa Lyda
Marissa Lyda
2 years ago
Reply to  Lady Dividend

That’s a wonderful reward. It’s great to be working toward a little reward. 🙂 And than you for your encouragement!

Accidental FIRE
Accidental FIRE
2 years ago

Huge congrats Marissa – great job!

Marissa Lyda
Marissa Lyda
2 years ago

Thank you so much!

JoeHx
JoeHx
2 years ago

My wife and I are in a similar situation that you were – although we’re a little older and the student loan debt is technically mine. We’ve been rapidly paying it off, and it’s nice to know someone else has accomplished something similar, meaning that it is indeed possible!

Marissa Lyda
Marissa Lyda
2 years ago
Reply to  JoeHx

That’s awesome! It’s been fun to hear about other people going through the same journey.

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