As newlyweds in 2018, we started our life together with a combined $100,000 in student loan debt. In the years leading up to our marriage, we had rarely discussed finances and didn’t have a clear plan or understanding of ways to effectively manage our money.

Along with student loans, we had two car payments, lived in an 800 sq. ft. “luxury” apartment and spent our money as fast as we earned it. We were burnt out and overwhelmed- working long hours at jobs that made us unhappy and kept us away from each other.

Want to eliminate your debt for good? Use our House Hacking Quick Start Guide to slash your expenses and tackle your debt. 

Solutions For An Unacceptable Situation

We knew that we needed to make a radical change and that we didn’t want to live the same way for the next thirty years. We also knew that the choices and behaviors that put us in this position would not be the same ones that would get us out.

We researched, read and organized all of our finances. For the first time, we took a deep look at our financial situation using an online wealth calculator from Personal Capital. Not only did we have little to no money in savings, in reality we had less than no money due to all of our debts. We were always aware of our debt, but it really hit us when we saw the numbers on the

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screen: every dollar that we worked so hard to make, and would make for the foreseeable future, was not ours-it was the bank’s money. 

6 Steps to Paying Down Debt

This moment was a wake-up call for us. In two years, we paid off $50,000 in student loans, bought two rental properties and invested $10,000 in the stock market. We used six steps to pay down debt and invest:

  1. Organize Finances: We took our heads out of the sand, gathered all of our financial information, created a budget and started having real conversations about money. Whether in a spreadsheet or an online service like Mint, the goal is to get a bird's eye view of earnings, savings and total debt. This was a game-changer and woke us up to the problem we had.
  2. Seek Knowledge: We began to seek education and guidance on personal finance. We started our financial education with a book called “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. It taught us the basic fundamentals of budgeting, money management and debt pay-down. After a few months of following this approach, we didn’t feel like this program was the best fit for us, so we continued to search. It was then that we discovered the Financial Independence community and Bigger Pockets. From there, we steadily gained more knowledge and resources needed to accelerate our goals. We finally had found a community of like-minded people with larger than life goals- and we were hooked!
  3. Reduce Expenses: This may seem obvious, but we’re going to say it: spend less money. As we learned to budget, we worked to steadily reduce our spending. We prioritized spending on things that we valued and cut aggressively everywhere else. We bought a duplex which cut our housing payments in half. [You can listen to their podcast episode about house hacking here] We also got rid of our car payments and bought a used car for cash.
  4. Increase Income: We steadily began to earn more money. This can be easier said than done: but as we developed our skills, we worked towards earning more money. As our financial position continued to improve, so did our confidence to pursue raises and higher paying opportunities. We felt confident to take chances on these opportunities because we had more wiggle room in our budget and were less leveraged.
  5. Trust the Process: It’s important to stay focused, consistent and most of all: patient. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how far away the finish line is. From what we’ve experienced, the greatest things in life take time, energy and hard work to accomplish. Debt pay-down is a marathon, not a sprint.
  6. Stay Sharp: Every day we continue to educate ourselves using books, podcasts, videos and connecting with people on similar paths. This helps hold us accountable to ourselves and our goals.

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Breathing Easier

Paying off $50,000, buying two rental properties and investing $10,000 in index funds in a span of two years has not been glamorous or easy. It took hard work and daily dedication. Through debt pay-down, we feel like we can begin to breathe again and already have so much more freedom. We are able to work on projects that excite us, spend more time doing what we enjoy and worry less about how we will pay our bills.

A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step; our financial journey started with one decision: look inside. Whether it was looking inside our wallets or ourselves, we had to recognize the problems and behaviors that come with being in debt. Living a life in debt does not need to be the status quo and it is our mission to normalize building a life by design and not by default.

House hacking is an effective way to cut your expenses and pay down your debt quickly. Use our House Hacking Quick Start Guide to start your journey.

Josh & Ali are The FI Couple. They blog about their journey to financial independence.