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.
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.