Getting Started Paying Off Debt

Paying off debt can be daunting. It is very common for people who are in debt to feel extremely overwhelmed to start the process of getting out…or to even evaluate their current process and make changes. There are several methods people use to get out of debt and build wealth. The plan I follow and encourage anyone I know to follow is Dave Ramsey’s. The reason I trust this method is because it is simple, it makes sense to me, and there are no tricks or hacks. There are just 7 steps that he calls the Baby Steps. They have worked for millions of people. If you talk to someone over the age of 80 how they handled their finances, they will probably tell you similar things that Dave would like: “live on less than you make”, “pay off your home”, “pay with cash”, etc. 

Tip #1: Decide you will never accumulate more debt! 

Though we were working to pay off our debt since 2016, we were still accumulating student loan debt up until July 2019. When Tyler began graduate school, we decided that the only way he would be able to go through school would be to get student loans. We were doing “our plan”. Once I began listening to Dave’s podcast, I began trying to figure out how we could cash flow Tyler’s last semester of graduate school on a teacher income. We were already really good at saving, and I worked a few side hustles to bring in even more money. We were able to put together around 6500 to pay for his last semester and other school costs. So, in August 2019 we were no longer going into more debt. Unfortunately, I had not yet understood that student loans were avoidable. We could have made Tyler get a part-time job that would piece together with my income to pay cash for school. So, you can be ready to become debt free whenever you decide to STOP accumulating debt.

Tip #2: Develop your WHY

You have to have a “WHY”. A “WHY” is the reason as to why you are doing something? It is what will motivate you to become debt free. 

Here are some “why” examples.

 A working mother who would rather spend more time with her children might decide that she would like to be able to get to a financial position where she could cut back her working hours in order to make that happen. Getting to stay home with her kids could become a reality for her  if she and her husband sacrifice for a few years. This can look like downsizing their home, selling a car and purchasing a cheaper one with cash, choosing to go out to eat once a month instead of multiple times a week, all in the name of upsizing their dream.

Another example could be a young couple

Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

would like to have a paid for home before they bring children into the world in order to feel stable and free to make choices about vacations, schooling, etc. for their children that is not put to the side due to a mortgage.

A single lady who would like to travel freely and upgrade from her apartment to a home of her own might choose to make temporary sacrifices to live on half of her income and use the other half to pay off her debt and save for a home…

 A retired couple who are seeing that they have to continue working after they retired in order to fund their lifestyle might decide to sell their large home and buy something more suitable for their current dreams.

Photo by James Hose Jr on Unsplash

Whatever situation you are in, you can develop YOUR own PERSONAL to YOU why. 

Everyone needs their own why in order to be motivated to become debt free. Once you get the ball rolling, the debt is beginning to be paid off, and you can taste freedom…your why…your dreams become more and more detailed…more and more exquisit. 

Our why started out so that we would be able to buy a home and travel without fear of having enough money. Since beginning our payoff, our “why” has developed into this: We want options! We would like to pay cash for vacations/road trips/weekend getaways, upgrade from one car to two nicer cars, and have a huge down payment on our first home…or even pay cash! We both went to private, Christian schools, and we would like to have that as an option for our future children. We would like to eventually be able to pay for our own kid’s college, and being out of debt ourselves is essential for that to happen.

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We want to purchase a camper or van and travel around the country. We want to take time off or vacation from work and not bat an eye at our bank account. We want to retire in our fifties. And retire to live a life we love! We want to potentially purchase a vacation home or run an airbnb. We want to be free from owing others anything! We want to be able to give to our children, to tip the check, to support our favorite organizations and missions, to send others into the mission field, to potentially have a business.. So, to sum it up…WE WANT OPTIONS. There aren’t many options when you have payments every month. 

Dave has a YouTube channel Live Show every weekday where people from all over call in to ask Dave’s advice, to call and give their debt free scream, share stories of giving, etc. There is a show that he did in 2017 that is titled “How to Discover Your Why”. It is almost a 3 hour show, but there are a lot of opportunities to listen to this show during your day… while you do the dishes, as you drive to work, while you plan your grocery shopping, etc. He starts talking about this topic with Ken Coleman within the first 3 minutes. Related to this topic, Ken Coleman has a short blog on the Ramsey Solutions website titled “How to Find Your Passion”. This could also help you in discovering your WHY. 

Tip #3: Lay It All Out. 

This is the part where you will feel the most pain. It won’t be pretty. I suggest popping open a coke or pouring a coffee and playing some calming music as you do this. It is just a tough, bloody scene. 

This is the part where you write out all of your debts except for your home. The leased car, the financed couch, the credit card, the student loans, etc. Write them all out and put their stats beside them…total amount due, the minimum payments, the interest rate, and due date. Here is a little graph for your to print out and use. Click here to download Debt Snowball Graph

If you are following the Dave Ramsey plan, you should list out your debts smallest to largest, not even acknowledging the interest rates. Some want to try to figure out which has the highest interest rate and then begin chipping away at those.

As Dave says “if this was a math problem, you wouldn’t still be in this mess.”

Debt is a behavior problem. And paying off  your debts off from the smallest to the largest will give you the “wins” you need to motivate you to continue to pursue debt freedom! 

Tip #4: Begin the Baby Steps!  

To begin you will need to first get Baby Step 1 completed…This means it’s time to get “savings” down (or up in some people’s case) to just a $1,000 emergency fund. This will be used as defense against Murphy…because something is bound to go wrong. Your water heater breaking, AC going out, car needing maintenance…these are all valid reasons to use your emergency fund and then rebuild it. It is there to prevent you from ever going back into debt. Remember you said, “Never again!!”. Many people have several thousands in savings, but still carry debt that has interest accumulating. You may feel like your savings is a security blanket, but the problem is that savings doesn’t get used on emergencies…it gets used on Facebook clothing sales, a daughter’s bedroom makeover, your vacation to the beach… You need to get your savings down to just the $1,000 emergency fund so that you can feel the pressure…the high need to get out of debt. Once you complete this task, you are now on Baby Step #2: Paying off all debt except for your mortgage. 

And this is the toughest part. The part where you have to just put your head down and get after it. But, I believe in you! I want to cheer you on in your journey! I want to be your debt freedom friend! If you begin the process, I want to hear about it! Email me at

COMING SOON: How to plan Baby Step 2 for the step by step to calculate how long it will take for you to pay off your debt!

Let’s Budget in the Bathroom| Paying off student loans + money saving tips starting in bathroom



Let’s talk about student loan debt! My husband and I have been working to pay off our $100,000 student loan debt since 2016. This is all from Tyler’s undergrad and graduate schooling. When Tyler graduated from college in 2016, we were engaged. I knew about the debt he was going to have from college, and I knew the plans he had to go to graduate school. Knowing we would not be able to afford to cash flow each semester on just my teacher income, we took out loans. None of the zeros behind the one came as a surprise to me, but it definitely feels like a chain. I defintely feel bound by these loans. They are very inconvenient. They are not wanted in our house.

My dad has always listened to Dave Ramsey, and has taught me the principals throughout the years. If you are interested in Dave and his financial messages, I would go to his site and try out Financial Peace University. He has a free 14-day trial going on with it right now. Our pre-marital counselor also gave us financial advice that aligns with Dave’s plan.

Photo by Katie Harp

Before we got married, I had $18K in my savings. This was money I had saved during my 20 years of life whether it be from working my mom’s consignment, babysitting, selling jewelry, painting and selling furniture, dog-sitting, birthday/Christmas gift money, etc. That was what I had. Though this is not in alignment with Dave’s plan, I put $16K of that towards Tyler’s loans a month before we were married. If I had been listening to Dave, and any other sound advice, I would have waited a few more months to do this action after we were married, just to be safe. Thankfully Tyler held up his promise, and married me. But, I would not suggest giving that type of money to a boyfriend/girlfriend or even fiancé. Wait until after the wedding. Nevertheless, it has worked out.

The first five months of marriage, Tyler worked as many jobs as possible and I student taught. Even with him working three jobs, he was making less than $1,400 a month. He was working jobs that he hoped would help him get into graduate school. And we think that they really did help him get into graduate school at UAB. We joke that he could have made more working at Hobby Lobby or Walmart, but instead he worked as a patient care assistant, personal fitness coach, and direct care staff member at group home. He worked everyday of the week—well over 40 hours. In addition to working at a local farm hauling plants and prepping for pumpkin season, I also began tutoring students on the side. Tutoriing was a fun gig that paid me for doing what I really enjoyed doing—teaching kids. But, we lived on next to nothing.

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Photo by Vita Marija Murenaite on Unsplash

Our rent was only $445 a month and our grocery budget was $150. We lived near my parents and grandparents who fed us often. We were paying off student loans as much as we could squeeze out each month. I remember getting physically sick of Zaxby’s fried chicken, because we had so many coupons and giftcards for there, we would eat it multiple times a week. I was so exhausted from student teaching to cook/add to the dishes in the sink, so it was easy. Every Sunday we would bring our church bulletin and get a large Pizza for $5 from Papa Murphy’s. We had little hacks like this that we used every week to get by.

In July 2017, eight months after we got married, we moved to Birmingham for Tyler to go to graduate school at UAB. Looking back, we could have done a lot better financially. We got lax. We still lived as if we were broke, but we were not very intentional with ever dollar we spent. We deferred our loans since he was in school, and would just cash flow (this means paying with cash) what we could of graduate school expenses. We finally tightened up the last semester (August 2019) and paid for his the whole semester in full. That was exciting. No more loans!

In August 2019, I started listening to The Dave Ramsey show everyday. That is about three hours of Dave a day. He is now a part of my coping methods when I get stressed. If I feel sad or overwhelmed about something, I’ll go turn on Dave. Tyler can attest to this strategy. Not sure how healthy that is; however, we took a four day vacation to Florida for $900 whenever I got on this Dave kick fully. Our $900 included food, gas, stay, etc. We stayed at an amazing AirBnB near Seaside/Rosmary area. We were able to bike, kayak, swim, walk to the beach–the WORKS! This place even had a dreamy outdoor shower. I really need to write a blog post about this trip!! I love eating seafood and eating ice cream while at the beach, so we found creative ways to include these things, too! It was so much fun and it was just the boost we needed to keep the course during his last semester of graduate school. We really buckled down, and was able to squeeze out several big payments! My goal was to be at less than 70K by 2020. We did it!

Since the beginning of our journey, we have paid off a total of $32,000 on a less than $30,000 annual take-home pay. I feel like that is extremely commendable. As we planned our move to Alaska, we knew our increased income would help us be able to pay off our debt even sooner. Though the cost of living is about 20% higher here, the salary for pediatric occupational therapists was much more than 20% higher than what Tyler could find in the lower 48.

In this blog series, I just want to give you light-hearted money-saving tips. Just ways you can adjust your mindset and your spending in order to save a little. These methods are not going to have you saving hundreds a month, unless you are spending hundreds a month on nonsense.

Since we are Dave fans, I will always suggest that people listen to Dave no matter if you have $100,000 in debt or $1,000,000 in assets. He gives incredible advice in all directions. If you read his book or listen to his show, you will learn things like: live on less than you make, make a plan for your money (aka budget), debt is dumb, pay cash for everything (or use debit), etc.
I do not want to just repeat things I have learned from him, but I want to let you in on some money saving tips. These are tips I definitely suggest for someone who is trying to get out of debt as well as those who are trying to build your savings. These are sacrifices I don’t think everyone should have to make (if you are out of debt especially!). But, they work for us as we are trying to pay off $68K in the next year.

Each day this week I will take you through different parts of our house and life where we have found ways to save money. Today I will go ahead and give you my money saving tips for the bathroom.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Repeat after me, “You are not a product tester!”

Baby girl, you are trying to pay off debt or save money for an emergency fund. You do not have the ability to try out every new dry shampoo or mascara you see your favorite influencer use.

Here is my suggestion is whenever you see an influencer post about a product they love or something they suggest for someone “just like you”: write down the product you would like and how much it cost. When your mascara runs out and it is time to buy a new one, THEN you can consider the one your favorite influencer suggested. But until then, you will use what you already have.

If you go look in the cabinet of any girl’s bathroom, you will see a million-ba-gillion partially used products. Don’t tell me this is not true! I know. I have been that girl before.

This strategy goes for all the products: hairspray, lotion, moisterizer, lipstick, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. If I see a type I would like to try, I remind myself that whenever mine runs out, then I can try this new kind. Now, I understand that makeup is different for everyone. But, as much as you can limit your spending on makeup, the better. I personally do not wear much/understand it, so it is easier for me to say limit your lipstick shades. But, again, just don’t be a product tester.

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When I go to purchase deoderant, shampoo, soap type items, I will buy double packs if I can. This not only saves you a little bit of money per item on the front end, but this also limits the amount of times you have to go to the store and walk down an aisle packed full of options. Limit the amount of times you are advertsised to about buying new products. People get paid way more than you do to “sell you” on items via facebook, instagram, amazon, and in the store! When you see all of the new scents and new designs, you may (most likely) be lured in to spending more money.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

I attempt to stretch bathroom items as far as they can go—while still being hygienic of course. Whenever you buy a new product, write the date on it with a sharpie. See how long you can make it last. I made a set of shampoo and conditioner last from July until February. I’m not trying to rub it in, but I am just saying that is just like $2 a month on shampoo/conditioner. I bought a huge pump bottle of each, plus I bought a name brand. I don’t always suggest to buy name brand, but some off brand shampoos and conditioners do not feel like I get clean, and I end up using more of the product each time trying to get my hair clean. (I use Aussie btw. I have used it off and on since high school, and I like it.) Just be cautious of the money you are spending on these type items.

So, to help you out, I have made a Toiletry and Make-Up Budgeting tool for you to use. It will help you calculate how much you are spending in these two categories per month and how long your items are going to last you.

This can help you visualize your needs and wants as well as how much they cost each month.

Click here to download: Bathroom Budgeting

Hope this helps you as you are tackling your debt! Tomorrow we will talk about budgeting in the kitchen! I would love to hear where you are at on your debt-free journey whether you are about to be debt free or you are just getting started! Let me know in the comments below.

That Teacher Wife