This story comes to us from reader EmJay. EmJay's story is the epitome of getting rich slowly, and readers can learn from her effort. This post is part of the Reader Stories series. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
Although we didn't declare it to be at the outset, 2012 was The Year We Slayed Our Debt. We refinanced our house in late 2011 to get a shorter interest rate and term, and when we got that magical 10-year mortgage (which will even be a bit shorter than that using a biweekly payment schedule!!), something clicked for me.
All of a sudden, there was light at the end of the tunnel. If we could pay off our house in 10 years, we could debt-free by 40! And if we could pay off our house, what else could we pay off? What else could we do with all that money that would be available? This was really exciting!
I became obsessed—in a good, healthy, and (mostly) sane sort of way. I read Get Rich Slowly and other blogs, borrowed books on frugality from the library, and listened to personal finance podcasts to keep my motivation up. I recorded our spending more regularly than before and compared it with previous years' spending to see where we had incrementally and unintentionally inflated our lifestyle over time. And then I slowly deflated it.
We paid off my student loans, his vehicle, and then his loans to get rid of our debt, and then built up our emergency fund. This was all in a year, and faster than my original estimate of about 18 months.
On to phase two
My husband and I recently spent an evening planning our next steps toward financial independence. We have more money available now that we're not making extra debt or savings payments. I was actually really looking forward to this conversation — partly because I'm a nerd and it meant more number crunching, but more importantly, it was an opportunity to plan out what we want our future to look like.
First, we looked back over the last several months of expenses to see how much money we were really talking about. This ends up being about $2,400 per month, which seems like an incredible sum since I started this snowball with $500 per month from a pay raise in late 2011. Huzzah to the debt slayers!
We knew that increasing our retirement contributions would be one of our next steps, so we then calculated 15 percent of our gross income to see how much we should be putting in each year. We are currently putting in a little (to make sure we get that match), so we'll be increasing that about $850 per month.
We then talked about and prioritized our other goals to decide what to do with the remaining $1,550. We decided to increase our charitable donations by $200 per month. We also put high-priority on saving up for new (used) vehicles. We hope to get two more years from my car and four years from his truck. Since we're not sure how much longer my car will actually last, however, we're going to save a lot for future vehicles this year—about $1,100 per month. The rest will go to our medium-term goal of paying off the house.
Over the next few years, our monthly “car payment to ourselves” will gradually decrease to a more reasonable amount as we build that savings up, and then we'll making increasingly large extra payments on the house. We also identified longer-term goals for traveling and buying recreational forest land but are not funding these this year.
So we have our new plan and are in the process of implementing it. We've visited our financial planner to decide our best options for funding retirement and have started identifying organizations to which we'll donate. It's been really thrilling to see our progress so far, and this is itself incredibly motivating as we move ahead. We've started to turn our debt snowball into a savings snowball. And someday we'll roll it into a giant snowball for having fun and helping others.