April 28, 2012

My Journey to Debt Freedom

The Book That Changed My Life

My journey to debt freedom began when I received the book My Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey as a college graduation present from my aunt in May of 2010. I read the book within a number of days and with each sentence I read, everything I thought I ever knew about debt and money was proven wrong. Credit cards, car payments, student loans and the like are not a way of life; both myself and the majority of our society seemed to have been convinced at some point that this is the way we should live. 90% of people in our culture buy things they can't afford. 90%! This number should be shocking, it was to me, along with everything else in the Total Money Makeover. Dave's "financial fitness plan" teaches you why this isn't "the way to live" and more importantly, he teaches you how to pay off debt and how to never go into debt ever again. Sounds too good to be true? Here's my little secretit's not. I know from my own experience that it's not too good to be true and that if you set your mind to it, you can literally change your life by following Dave's plan.

Dave says that personal finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge. I've always considered myself to be "good" with money. I never thought I "deserved" large shopping sprees or to go out to eat all of the time or that I "needed" a vacation several times a year. I had a credit card throughout college but only used it to "build" my credit every once in a while and would pay it off immediately. I took out as few student loans as possible by earning scholarships and working part-time throughout high school and college, yet, I still managed to take out upwards of $20,000 in subsidized and unsubsidized loans throughout my 4 years. So, I guess I wasn't that good with money. But after reading My Total Money Makeover, it wasn't difficult for me to understand how to be good with money and how to get out of debt and stay out. Just like anything, losing weight for example, you know what to doeat right and exerciseyou just have to set your mind to it. I completely set my mind to eliminating my student loans in as little of time as possible. I was actually excited about it! Empowered! I couldn't wait to kick those student loans out of my house for good. And I really couldn't wait to look at my diploma knowing that it was completely paid forthat I would no longer have a monthly payment of $250 for the next ten or more years of my life. But I had to live like no one else in order to live like no one else later, that meant no iPhone, no big trips or vacations, no eating out a lot, and a whole lot of other no's.

Why I Started This Journey

If you read the Total Money Makeover, you'll soon learn why you want to be debt free. For me, it was a combination of things. The first being it made sense. It almost seemed like it was common sense everyone forgot about. Why do do I need a car payment each month when I can just save up for a car in a few months? Why do I need a credit score aka debt score? Why should I take ten or more years to pay off my student loans? This book answered all of those questions for me and more. It even offers a large number of stories, like mine, of real people who got of debt and how it enabled them to build wealth, avoid money fights with their spouses, establish security, and more!

Something that really resonated with me, was Dave's advice on car payments. He writes:
The Federal Reserve notes that the average car payment is $495 over sixty-four months. Most people get a car payment and keep it throughout their lives. As soon as a car is paid off, they get another payment because they "need" a new car. If you keep a $495 car payment throughout your life, which is "normal," you miss the opportunity to save that money. If you invested $495 per month from age 25 to age 65, a normal working lifetime, in the average mutual fund averaging 12 percent (the eighty-year stock market average), you would have $5,881,799.14 at age sixty-five. Hope you like the car!
All I can say is read this book. It changed my life, and it just might change yours.

How I Became DEBT FREE in 17 Months

Since I read The Total Money Makeover as soon as I graduated from college, I still had that six month grace period that they give you before your loans go into repayment. That meant I had six months to save as much money as I could to throw at my student loans as soon as I got the first bill.

According to Dave's financial fitness plan, the very first thing you must do every month is create a zero budget. That means you know where every single dollar is spent. For the first twelve months, I budgeted on my iMac's sticky notes, typing every dollar out. But then I discovered mint.com and eagerly started budgeting using their free online tools that allow you to connect all of your accounts to their system, as well as manually enter data.

Dave has a seven Baby Step plan to get you out of debt and to build wealth. Here are Dave's first three Baby Steps:

1. $1,000 to start an emergency fund (credit cards are not 
2. Pay off your debt using the Debt Snow Ball 
3. Three to six months of expenses in savings (your fully-funded emergency fund)

I was quickly able to accomplish baby step 1 since I already had a decent amount of savings for a college grad (and since I had those six months to save even more).

So before each month started, I would budget all of my necessities (rent, groceries, gas, utilities, phone bill, internet, car insurance, toiletries and whatever else that month might throw at me (eg: a medical bill, oil change)) I would also budget in my measly $100 for fun money (shopping, restaurants, coffee etc). Since I was a recent college grad, I was used to living off hardly nothing and continued living off of very little.

So after I budgeted for the month, following the debt snowball, I then payed the minimum on each of my student loans, except for the smallest one, which at the beginning for me, was from Direct Loans. Each month until it was paid off, I put every extra dollar towards that loan.

I was actually able to pay off the Direct Loans in my very first month, December of 2010$3,889.70! I'll admit, the first month was the hardest. Most of the money I had saved was for my dream trip to Europe. But I knew that that Europe trip would be a lot more enjoyable if it was cash-flowed, and if I didn't have any student loans with my name on them back home. So I went for it and boy did it feel good. I also put $500 towards my Wells Fargo student loan that month. That means I paid off almost a quarter of my loans in the very first month they were in repayment!

Each month I continued budgeting, living frugally and putting every extra dollar towards the smallest loan until it was paid off. Some months I had $1,000 to put towards a loan, and some months I had nothing extra. I have an irregular income because I'm a self-employed graphic and web designer, (if you didn't already know!) so any extra money I had varied.

Today, 17 months and $21,230.83 later (to be exact), I paid off my very last student loan and it's one of the best feelings in the world. I truly feel free. I'm onto Baby Step number three and then I'm so excited to begin saving for that Europe trip again, as well as for a U.S. Road trip, my wedding next summer and a Honeymoon! I'm also going to begin building wealth by following baby steps 4-7!

FREEEEEEDOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

Oh Sarah,
This is just AMAZING. You make me cry. AMAZING. You are such an intelligent, kind, beautiful woman. How did you come from me?? (well, besides the beautiful part...;) )
Do you follow Dave on twitter? You REALLY need to tweet this link to him!!!!
I love you and am so incredibly proud of you!!!!!!!!!!
Love, Mommy

Jaden Allred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaden Allred said...

"Act your wage" - Don't live beyond your means, because it's the main reason why people usually accumulate thousands of credit card debts. You paid all your student loan in a span of 17 months? That's freaking awesome! I can't believe that anyone could possibly do that. I'm pretty sure that being debt-free after 17 months is such a relief. I paid off my student loan after 3 years and I hope that I've read your blog sooner! Jaden Allred