Becoming Debt-Free

For two years now, I've been working on becoming debt-free. It has not been easy, but it has been so rewarding. We're not there yet, but we are getting closer. We are down to the house payment, the swimming pool payment, and student loans. In the last two years, we've paid off a Home Depot Commercial credit card ($9K), a Home Depot personal credit card ($3K), a Lowe's credit card ($1K), an appliance loan to Conn's ($2K), two Kohl's credit cards ($1K), a Dell computer loan ($4K), a JCPenney credit card ($1K), a furniture loan ($3K), a loan for braces for both boys ($6K), a Target credit card ($500), a Walmart credit card ($500), a gas credit card ($200), a Mastercard ($1K), two Visa cards ($4K), a Discover card ($3K), a mattress loan ($1500), a Sears credit card ($1K), a water softener loan ($4K), and I will add more as I think of them. Yes, it's true, it was that bad. I wasn't late on payments prior to paying everything off, but our incomes were mortgaged every month so that we barely had any cash in our pockets. I am definitely the shopper between my husband and myself. I loved to spend money, especially on credit. It felt like free money. When I finally sat down and realized how much I was spending in finance charges every month, I was horrified.

I started out by opening an excel worksheet and listing every debt we, as a couple, owed to someone. I listed the name of the company owed, the total balance owed, the minimum monthly payment, and the due date. I added a column to mark as paid monthly so I would know that I had paid the bill that month. As the statements came in each month, I would adjust down the total balance due or anything else that had changed. As each debt was paid off, I deleted it from the worksheet. This became the monthly budget sheet. It is still on my computer and I'm still using it. I also listed the sources of income with monthly amounts so we could see how much residual income was left over (on paper). It was not very large at all in the beginning. Generally this was the amount we were throwing away by spending $20 for lunch, $40 for a movie, etc. It was very clear we needed to make changes. That was in January 2009.

In March 2009, my husband got laid off from his job. The economy was tanking and it was clear that the whole country was in trouble, or headed there soon. Thankfully I work for myself, operating a highly-desirable home daycare program, so my income was more secure. By September 2009, it was clear his job situation wasn't going to change, so he came on board with me and I took in more children. At the beginning of 2010, I began to get pains all over my body, focusing mainly on my left shoulder but really bad all over. After many visits to doctors, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I started on pain medications and therapy, but nothing was helping and I was getting worse. We decided we needed to let go a couple of the children we were caring for, so that I could make my doctor appointments while my husband took care of the children. Several other parents bailed out on us at the same time, worried they would be next. I continued to see doctors and in May it was discovered that I had two herniated discs in my neck. We prayed it was the cause of all my pain, and surgery was scheduled immediately. Upon waking up in recovery, it was clear God healed me with one surgery. Fibromyalgia was a misdiagnosis and I was so thankful and thrilled.

By the middle of the summer, I was down to five daycare children, and my husband went on seeking a job while I taught the preschoolers. It wasn't until late fall that he finally secured employment, eighteen months after being laid off. Thankfully he was, and is, working on his bachelor's degree the whole time. He is getting very close to graduating. Throughout all of this, we were determined to keep paying off our debt, obviously more important as we struggled with health problems. (The summer of 2009 was challenging when my husband had two heart surgeries after almost dying on me.) There were so many reasons to keep working towards paying off our debt. I also have three teenage children, one in college and two in high school. Children are very expensive to raise! It seems we felt, as parents, that we needed to provide them with pretty much whatever they wanted. Looking back now, we know that was a mistake, but forward we go.

Reducing our debt meant changing our lifestyle too. We started eating more meals at home and less meals out. We went shopping only when we needed to buy something, no browsing and buying only what was on the list. We cut back on everything that we could. We stopped charging things on credit and cut up all the credit cards except one linked to our bank account. We learned to be happy with what we had and not yearn for every single new flashy thing that appeared on the market. We let our cell phone contracts run out and didn't renew them. We cut back to basic cable and basic internet connection. We started buying store brand foods. We turned the heat down three degrees and put on sweatshirts. Sweating in summertime meant swimming in the pool I thought I had to have when we purchased it on credit two years before. We even sold off the Dodge Charger at a $1000 loss, to get rid of a $347 per month payment.

The list of debts became my focus. The first thing I did was to pay off all the little credit cards one at a time, just to be able to delete them off the budget worksheet in excel. The smaller the list got, the more motivated I was to keep on. Once I got the little ones paid off, I started paying towards the ones with the highest interest rate. I always paid more than the minimum due on every debt every month, and paid much more toward the one with the highest interest rate. When that one was paid off, I turned to another one to pay that one off. Slowly, slowly, the debts were getting paid off. Every day, I opened the budget worksheet to look it over. Every day, I checked my bank account balance. Whenever extra money was there, I paid it towards something. I also had three role models I looked to during this time. I read whatever I could find by Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Clark Howard. I always made sure to watch them on television whenever I could catch them. I bookmarked their websites and read them regularly.

So, two years into this, I am happy to be down to just a house payment, pool payment, and two student loans (not counting my husband's student loan currently deferred). Shopping is not as much fun as it used to be and I find myself preferring not to buy things, just so I don't spend the money. I am much happier now though, as I've finally learned it's not owning stuff that makes me happy. And I love having money available to donate to my church and to support several causes I believe in. I thank God for giving us opportunities to work and earn more than enough to support ourselves.


Children's Picture Books written by Lisa Weidknecht

"Raindrop Dream" is a story that teaches perseverance and determination. Readers will also learn concepts about weather, seasons, and the water cycle. Most importantly, children will be inspired to dream big and follow their dreams. Published through AuthorHouse.

"E is for Emotions" will help your young child learn to recognize the multitude of feelings he or she experiences. Through the use of rhymes, one for each letter of the alphabet, this book helps to develop children's social and emotional skills. The story is told from a child's point of view and an example is given for each emotion. Sure to be a favorite alphabet book! Published through Authorhouse.

Both books also available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other fine booksellers.