My story of debt freedom

Steve MoneyPlanSOS StewartHave you heard my story of debt freedom? A fan asked me to share my family's journey to our life without debt by answering a these questions. I hope you enjoy it.

How long ago did you becoming debt free?

We became debt free except for our mortgage when we paid off my wife's SUV thirteen months after buying it. That was back in January 2006, not quite in time for Christmas but sooner than the 48 months the loan was scheduled for.

How much money have you paid off?

That loan was for $12,000. That's not a lot when you consider it was a car but it is a lot if your goal is to be debt free.

What was the single largest debt?

Again, it was the SUV. However, if we hadn't paid it off early then we certainly wouldn't have even considered paying cash for our $18,000 kitchen remodel in 2009. We probably would have put the cabinets on payments, the accessories on credit cards, and some sort of finance agreement with the installer. I'm certain we wouldn't have been disciplined enough to save up and pay for it if we hadn't made the choice to be branded as “debt free” folks, that's for sure.

What was the biggest sacrifice you and your family made?

Saying “no” to our wants was, and still is, the biggest sacrifice. But you know what? I found out that I love reaching savings goals. Every year we spend a week at some vacation getaway and I love pre-paying for the hotel or arguing with the rental car agent because my plastic has the word “Debit” on it. I know they are just following company policy but rental car companies have never turned down my money because I didn't deliver it to them in the form of a stupid credit card (click to tweet).

Did you read books or attend classes that helped with this process?

No way – I wasn't much of a reader. I found that if you forced me to sit down and be quite for any amount of time then my body was convinced that it was nap time. However, I did enjoy listening to long-time radio host Bruce Williams. He had a common-sensical way of explaining how money really works and I respected him for that.

That lead the way for Dave Ramsey to get into my psyche, and in a matter of months it was all over. Dave would say things that were unconventional, unpopular, and often ridiculous. I had to prove him wrong! So I did my research every time he said something that didn't agree with all the other “financial gurus” that were promoting credit scores and keeping a mortgage for the tax deduction. You know what? I found out that Dave Ramsey was right – about everything! Well, everything except his distain for Apple Computer products. (It's not that he's wrong, he's just mistaken).

That uncovered my passion for teaching others. I have been certified by Dave Ramsey's group to teach Financial Peace University's Workplace Edition to businesses that want to offer much needed financial literacy classes and had completed Dave Ramsey's Counselor Training in 2009. I don't know of anyone else who has that level of training within a hundred miles of the St. Louis Arch, so I guess you could say I'm the regional expert for the Gateway To The West.

Unrelated, but fun: Dave Ramsey read my post “10 Things We Say That Keep Us Broke” on his radio show in June 2010

How long have you been working your plan?

Wait, can you be more specific with the question please? Did you mean whatever plan we had or “our current plan”? There is a huge difference because what we used to think was a financial plan in the early 2000's was more like a thought bubble that came out of our heads where we imagined what it would be like to have savings and take nice vacations. Once we got onto a budget (around 2005) we really started making headway.

Was doing the first budget hard?  How long did it take to get the hang of it?

Doing EVERY budget it hard. Humans aren't naturally wired to be disciplined and want to postpone pleasure in order to pay cash for stuff. I am under no illusion that people hate budgets because they feel restricting. I've just found the real truth: It isn't the budget that is restricting us, it is our level of income (click to tweet).

Funny story: My wife drew up a budget after we got married (in 2000). I stood there and agreed with her: “Yes honey, we should be able to save more money than we currently are. Your budget proves it. This should be easy” I said. A few years later I learned how money really works and saw the benefit of begin on a budget. Now I'm the one maintaining the budget.

Do you have any good money-saving tips you can share?

Ugh. I hate “clipping coupons” and shopping for the best deals on everyday items. Life is too short.

Let me put a Steve Stewart twist on this question: My favorite money-saving tip is to control spending so that you spend less than you make and do something smart with the difference. Savings of any kind is better than being in debt. A savings account making .8% is better than a credit card with 12.99% rate and having a little bit of money going into a 401k is better than buying a house that soaks up too much of your paycheck.

What’s been the easiest part? How does it feel to finally be debt free?

Easy? You got to be kidding. This getting out of debt stuff is a pain in the butt. Staying out of debt is even harder. You have to say “No” to going into debt every single time the opportunity arises or you fall back into the debt trap. The best part is looking back on what we have accomplished in the past 5-6 years and seeing how much our savings and investments have grown. I secretly get excited when doing our tax return and seeing how much money we've given to our church. It's kinda cool seeing a charitable giving number that is greater than the amount of interest paid on a mortgage.

What advice would you give to someone who is beginning their journey to become debt free?

The only way to become debt free and stay debt free is to start. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The same applies to eliminating debt for good – it begins with one extra dollar that isn't spent being applied to debt reduction and then repeating that action over and over.

I would also suggest people examine the advice they get with a critical eye. I hear great salesmen disguised as financial experts promoting debt as a tool and leading people down the wrong path. For example: One of the best known financial experts on the internet advised the father of a college graduate that had $8,000 in savings, a good job, and no debt to use her credit cards more and get a small consignment loan in order to build up her credit score! I'm sorry, the goal here is to build assets and buy things – not build up a stupid 3-digit number that is juxtaposed to building wealth!

Don't retire with 20 years left on a 30 year mortgage because someone said you should harvest the equity of your home in order to make improvements or that student loans are a form of good debt. Car payments and credit cards are not the only way to buy things, no matter what the commercials say.

Please pay attention, not interest.

If It Ain't New, Don't Replace It
The dos and don'ts of helping aging parents who don't want help

4 Comments

  • MrJoshuaBrown

    Reply Reply May 22, 2013

    Thank you for sharing your store with us!

  • Andrea

    Reply Reply November 9, 2013

    Hi Steve,

    I came across your website purely by chance, when Googling “i’ve paid off a credit card am i better to close the account or keep it open”, and select the article on “http://debtmovement.com/should-i-close-my-old-credit-card-account/”.

    When I read your second comment, “I can’t remain silent. This site is dedicated to eliminating debt, so why are we promoting the idea of keeping credit cards around?”, I was compelled to visit your site.

    Very glad I did, as I now feel excited about clearing my debt, and ensuring I make clear plans on how to do that!

    Just wanted to say thank you so much!!

    • Steve Stewart

      Reply Reply November 11, 2013

      Andrea. I’m really glad you found hope from visiting my site. I hope this website and the message within gives you encouragement while fighting your way out of debt. You can do this!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field