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How We Paid Off $125,000 of Debt

First, let me say THANK YOU for all of your sweet comments on our paying off $125,000 of debt announcement. You guys are the best.

As we were closing on our final goal, Brad looked at me one night and said, “I kind of can’t believe it. I always thought we’d be paying on my loans until I was almost 50.”

For years, Brad had accepted that this was our future. But being the fiery woman I am, I was all “Aww HELL NO!” when he’d start saying things like “It is what it is– I’ll be paying this off for decades.”

That’s what debt does to you though– it beats you into submission. But I think you have to get to the point where you’re pissed off.

You’re pissed that you can get a lower interest rate on a car than on higher education.

You’re pissed that you’re potentially going to give Sallie Mae $60,000 in interest in order for them to loan you $85,000. $85,000 that you needed to borrow so you could better yourself and your family.

You have to have an “Aww HELL NO” moment.

The final push to pay off the debt was back in August of 2013 Brad was laid off. Thankfully, the lay off lasted only 6-7 weeks, but it was still two months without a normal paycheck (because let’s be honest, unemployment doesn’t cut it when you have student loans, a mortgage, and all your other bills). This period in our life really scared us. And that was back before our now two-year-old was in the picture. I told Brad I never wanted to feel that helpless again. So we vowed that as soon as we were fully back on our feet, we’d really work on paying off the debt. And at this point there was the credit card debt and the student loan debt.

Alright, so here are the things that led us to paying off $125,000 in three years.

How we paid off $125,000 of debt (including $100,000 of student loan debt) in 3 years!

Need vs. Want

We didn’t really use a budget. Budgets stress me out. So we just went with the whole ‘Need vs. Want’ motto. If we didn’t need something, we didn’t buy it. Or if we really wanted something, we’d wait until Christmas or our birthdays when our families would hound us for gift ideas.

I will say that I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the wanting thing. It’s hard not to be envious when you see someone go out and buy a new $50,000 truck or a $600 handbag. But you don’t know their situation. They could be in debt up to their eyeballs.

Cut Back

We cut back on house projects. And I cut back on buying stuff for our house, which is why you haven’t seen many big DIYs or room makeovers for a while. Yes, one of the perks of this blogging thing is that I’m able to partner with sponsors. So we’ve thankfully gotten some home related items and projects done through said partnerships. We did splurge a little when we got our kitchen countertops a couple years ago, but even then we saved thousands by going with laminate instead of solid surface. And we added value to our house by updating the countertops.

Bought A House Within Our Means

When we went to our bank to get pre-approved for a mortgage back in 2009, we told them how much we wanted to pay a month with the mortgage, property taxes, and insurance. And that’s what we got pre-approved for–not “How much can we get approved for?”

The amount we got approved for was only $30 more a month than what we were paying for our 2 bedroom apartment. We also lucked out as buyers because this was right after the housing market crash of 2008, so house prices were very low, especially in our area. And we were able to take advantage of the first time home buyer tax credit, which was actually an $8,000 check made out to us. So, part of this was being smart and part of it was luck.

I feel like buying a house well within our means really helped us financially in the long run.

exterior of a one story house

Refinanced Our House

Back in 2013 the mortgage rates dropped so we took advantage of it and refinanced our house to a lower interest rate. There’s a few factors that go into refinancing, so consult with your lender about refinancing. We knew we’d have to stay in the house for at least a year and a half to two years in order to break even on the refinancing.

Location, Location, Location

I feel like I need to mention this: We live in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the cost of living is pretty affordable– especially in the housing department. Houses in our area are listed for around $85-$110 per square foot.



Worked While Going to Grad School

When Brad went back to school in late 2009 to get his Masters, he also worked full-time. I was also working full-time. I don’t want to imagine how much more student loan debt we would’ve taken on had he gone to school full-time and not worked or only worked part-time. He finished his program in 2.5 years, which was ahead of schedule because some semesters he was considered a full-time student.

Side/Freelance Work

A few years ago, I took on random freelance work for other bloggers in order to earn extra money. I also do freelance work for companies– like my partnerships with Oriental Trading Company and Better Homes and Gardens. So if you have the available time, look into extra ways to add to your income. To be clear, I’m talking about using one of your talents to make money on the side. Don’t sign up for these get quick rich/work from home things where you have to put down a bunch of money first. For example, Brad would work on friends’ cars for extra money. I know of people who are graphic designers by trade, but sell printables on Etsy to make extra income. I have some other friends who tutor on the side. A couple teacher friends of mine have side photography businesses. One of my friends cleans houses one day a week for added income.

Bought A Better Car

Okay, I know this is going to sound crazy. But we bought a car in December, 2013 when we first started paying off our debt. Before you start thinking “Uhhhh, you were doing it wrong…” let me explain. Both of our cars were paid off at the time. But Brad was constantly having to fix his Trailblazer. And these were expensive fixes– I’m talking $300-350 a month so it was like we were still making payments on the car. They were also time-consuming fixes since Brad does the majority of the maintenance on our vehicles. He’d spend most weekends and some weeknights out in the garage working on the Trailblazer. We finally decided it was best to cut it loose and for Brad to get a dependable, gas-efficient car since he commutes 32 miles roundtrip to work everyday. After pricing out Toyota Camry’s in our area and other areas, we found that it was cheaper to get one in Brad’s hometown three hours south of here. We ended up buying a 2012 Camry with 36,000 miles. We’ve had it for almost 3 years (it now has 80,000 miles on it), and we haven’t had any issues with it– just new tires.

In case you’re wondering about my car, it’s a 2007 that I bought in 2008. And I paid it off in 2012.

DIY Car and House Maintenance

Like I said above, Brad does almost all of our car maintenance. A couple months ago I did have to take my car to a dealership to have the transmission system flushed (it hit 100,000 miles) but that was because they use a special machine to do that. Brad can do other bigger fixes like replacing brakes and pads, tie rods, shocks, struts, etc. We’ve saved thousands by having Brad maintain our vehicles.

We also try to DIY a lot of our house maintenance and any issues that arise. This summer we were having some drain issues, so Brad borrowed his dad’s snake and snaked the line which fixed the issue. We do pay our HVAC guy to come out and perform routine maintenance on our heat pump system twice a year.


To save money on furniture, I would find stuff on Craigslist and spruce them up– like the $50 Craigslist dresser I turned into a TV stand. I also bought a 7-piece dining set off of Craigslist and revamped it with paint and new set cushions. My mom helped me sew the curtains in our living room and Owen’s nursery. And we still have a lot of hand-me-down furniture.

We also hit up IKEA for a lot of the furniture in our house. My office workstation is from IKEA. Owen’s nursery dresser and closet shelving unit are also from IKEA. We live 2 hours from the nearest IKEA so we would make big trips every other year.

Found People To Do Work On the Side

We found our HVAC guy through a friend. He does side work so instead of paying more to go through a company, we go directly through him. When our heat pump went out in the middle of winter two years ago, he gave us a good rate but he gave us an even better rate when we offered him cash. So if you can, find people who practice their profession on the side (car mechanics, HVAC, plumber, etc.) and offer them cash for a better price.

Sold Body Parts

JK. We never got to that point.

Called Around for Lower Rates

In order to get our monthly bills down, we called companies to see about getting lower rates. We just went through the list and called everyone– home insurance, car insurance, cellular, internet, cable. The whole threatening, in a polite manner, to take our business somewhere else always seemed to work.

Said ‘No’ A Lot

 It wasn’t always easy, but we said ‘no’ a lot. Our group of friends typically go on nice getaways when someone turns 30. We’ve passed up trips to Vegas, Turks and Caicos, Austin, Cancun, Breckinridge… They also like to go on annual ski trips. But we just could never bring ourselves to put a couple thousand dollars on our credit cards for each trip. It wasn’t worth it. So we were always those friends saying “Sorry, we can’t make it.” Trust me, it stung when they’d come back and talk about how much fun they had. But we had to remind ourselves that the memories weren’t worth putting ourselves further in debt.

Treated Ourselves Once In A While

Once in a while we would treat ourselves to something nice, whether it was a movie and dinner or a nice dinner for a friend’s birthday. We felt like if we never had a little fun we’d be miserable, so we decided that from time to time we’d spend some money on ourselves. But I will say, it really stunk when we’d shell out $100 for a meal and it was awful. See photo below.


 No Childcare Needed

Because I’m self-employed, I can set my own hours. This means that we’ve never had to pay for daycare, which has saved us thousands. It’s actually worked out perfectly for me because I always wanted to be able to stay home with my kid(s), but I also wanted a career. (I’m not lying when I say blogging is my dream job. Again, thank you!) Since Owen was born, I’ve been with him during the day, and I work while he naps. Then after we put him to bed at night, I get some more work done. I’m usually up until midnight or 1AM working. I also get a lot of work done on the weekends when Brad is here to help me wrangle Owen. I’ll add that Owen started preschool in August. He goes a couple days a week for a few hours (but it still only adds up to 8 hours a week). I know our situation isn’t possible for most people, and trust me, I feel for you because I know how much childcare costs.

Credit Cards

I know there are some people out there who practice the cash method (only pay cash for things, never debit or credit cards), but we couldn’t go that far. Yes, we still have credit cards, BUT we pay the balance off every month. I’ve done this since I was 18. It’s something my mom instilled in me and it stuck. There were a few months back when we were super broke that I carried a balance, and it made me feel awful and stressed out. So once you pay off your credit cards, pay off the balance every month.

One way I have saved money is by having an Old Navy/Gap credit card. Cardholders get certain promotions, and it’s how I end up saving a lot of money on my clothes and Owen’s clothes. But like I said, I always pay off the balance. Especially with store cards because they have crazy high interest rates.

Gift Cards

For Christmas and birthdays we’d ask family members for restaurant and store gift cards. We’d ask for Amazon and Target gift cards and use them for food, clothes, diapers, random household items, etc. I’d also ask for Sephora gift cards so I could buy makeup without feeling guilty.

In Conclusion

That pretty much sums up the things we did to save money so we could live on one income.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the order that we paid things off: credit cards, car, student loans. We started with the lowest amount owed and worked our way up to the biggest, while still making the minimum payments on the other stuff.

We did the math, and we ended up paying $13,000 in interest on the $87,500 in student loans. Had it taken us the full 25 years paying the minimum, it would’ve been an estimated $72,500 in interest. That means we would’ve paid a total of $160,000 instead of $100,472.54.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take giving Sallie Mae $13,000 over $72,500.

And in all actuality, Brad paid even more. When he went back to grad school he deferred his undergrad loans, but the interest still incurred, making what he had paid for 2 years, between undergrad and grad school, basically null and void.

Like I said, students loans are a sonuva.

As you can imagine, this wasn’t easy. We made a lot of sacrifices. But it was SO worth it. The biggest burden you can imagine has been lifted off our shoulders. Now we can focus on our retirements, giving to our favorite charities and non-profit organizations, and putting money in Owen’s 529 college savings account.

Some of you have said we should do something special to celebrate our accomplishment. And I’m happy to say that we’re going to New Orleans in January over my birthday weekend. I fell in love with the city when I went a few years ago with some of my closest college sorority sisters. Brad has never been so he’s excited to take in The Big Easy.

How we paid off $100,000 of student loans in 3 years! Great tips and advice!

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  1. Great job you guys, and thanks for sharing how you did it! Isn’t it too bad that we don’t have free college education in this country?

    1. Thanks, Deb! Yeah, I don’t know if we’ll ever see free college education, but at least make it more affordable for people.

    2. Thank you so much for sharing your great ideas on how to save money and get out of debt your blog was wonderful first time of ever Reddit keep up the good writing you made me feel like I can take it on!!!!

  2. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment. I was also laid off in 2013, but managed to survive somehow by calling all companies and lowering rates. I got a new job 4 months later. My husband lost his job this past June, but has taken advantage of the time off by finishing his degree. Work, school, and a 14 month old does not help him to be successful. Graduation is in a month and we can’t wait! Btw, besides being a Mr. Fixit, what does Brad do?

    1. Thank you! It sounds like you guys have been on quite the rollercoaster but you’re on the upswing now. So congrats on your husband finishing his degree! One thing I will say is that these hardships give a lot of perspective. In terms of his day job? Brad works as a finance manager– he basically manages a $1 billion budget. That’s the best way to describe it. 🙂

  3. You have done an amazing job and should travel the U.S. speaking to seniors in high school!

  4. Kristin Sapperstein says:

    First off, CONGRATS!! My husband and I paid off about $60,000 in debt as soon as we got out of college (took 2 years) and it was HARD. The hardest thing for us after paying off debt was what to do with our new ‘disposable’ income. We did end up going on a big vacation, to Disney!!, but now we are saving for a house!! Unlucky for us…we live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, Washington D.C. Anywhooo love your blog and again congrats on this huge accomplishment!! Best, Kristin

    1. Congrats, Kristin! That’s awesome! A big trip to Disney sounds like a great way to celebrate and spend some of your new-found disposable income. Best of luck saving for a house. I feel for people who live in crazy expensive markets.

  5. Woohoo! Congrats! My hubby and I are weeks away from being debt free, so I completely understand the feeling! I had a goal of being done with student loans before I turned 30 (which is next summer) and my hubby’s favorite phrase right now is “debt free in 2016”! In 2 years we have paid off over $30,000 in student loans! Because of the expensive housing market in our area and our desire to own a home soon, we decided to live off one income and then split the other between paying off the student loans and simultaneously saving $30,000+ for a house down payment.

    1. Congrats, Sam! That’s wonderful, especially getting it done before your initial goal date! Best of luck with your house search when you’re ready!

  6. Your a true inspiration!

  7. This is so amazing! We have law school loans and slowly work on them every month. My husband always says we could have a lake house if he didn’t go to law school, ha!

    Would you recommend the Old Navy card? Does it require buying a lot to get the perks or do they send them out regardless? I hadn’t thought about a store card like that but it makes sense if you can get kids clothes on the cheap.

    1. Hah! We joke that we could have two really sweet cars if we didn’t have his loans.

      Yeah, I like the Old Navy card. Cardholders get certain perks in terms of coupons and once in a while I’ll get a $10 credit to use.

  8. Frannie zinsli says:

    Really inspiring, thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Congratulations Chelsea, this is such a huge accomplishment! It’s so exciting to see other people succeeding in this way- it gives me hope that my husband’s student loans won’t be a burden on us forever 🙂 I think even more exciting than a celebratory trip or fancy dinner is the feeling that comes with every paycheck now that “hey, we get to keep all this!”

    1. Thanks, Jen! I know– too bad we’ll be putting the money toward a down payment on a house. We figure we might as well keep the momentum going.

      Best of luck with the student loans!

  10. How do you handle gift-giving situations? Every month it’s something – a birthday, baptism, shower, etc. Did you cut back on giving gifts to others?

    1. You have a busier social calendar than me! Hah! We don’t have a lot of family around so we don’t attend a lot of birthdays and such. We did cut back on gifts though. Last year for Christmas, I told Brad’s cousin Owen didn’t need anything, so she and I decided not to get gifts for each others’ kids because her kids didn’t need more toys either. If one of Owen’s friends has a birthday the moms in our playdate group pitch in about $10 each and we get the kiddo a bigger gift. Brad and I cut back on gifts for one another. We’d basically use one of our more expensive dinners as a present to the other person. In terms of baby showers, if I find cute stuff that’s on sale I’ll buy a few of them and add it to my hoard. I also make those DIY burp cloths with my mom– people love them and they’re relatively inexpensive to make.

  11. Congrats! That is awesome!

    I would love to see a post with suggestions of freelance type work … I’m sitting here trying to think what could I do to make some extra money, with the skills I have and I am blank. I am assuming you do blog design or guest articles but do you have any suggestions for those of us who don’t blog? Thanks!

  12. I am so inspired. I was a lot like Brad, and for years I just felt like paying off student loan debt is just the way it is and I just accepted it. This fall though something has happened to me and I am just so pissed about it all. We have $56,000 to pay off. We started at $80,000 and that was 8 years ago. I can’t do this my whole life.

    Actually, the student loan debt is down to $50,000. The extra $6,000 is medical bills. We just discovered you can apply for medical grants, of which we received one for my daughter’s surgery she had to have this fall. We have also discovered you can apply for forgiveness directly to the hospital. We are trying that next.

    Thank you for inspiring me. My family has some hard work ahead, but I really really want to write something like this someday soon! I have a feeling when it gets tough, I will be coming back to read this again and again. Congratulations!!!

  13. Congrats! Such a huge accomplishment! I paid off my student loans last year (they were only about $28,000 to start), but I paid them off 4 years early, so I was super happy about that. So many more fun things I could have been doing, but being able to put that money straight in to our savings accounts now is the best. Now we have to work on my husband’s student loans. Those are a lot more than mine were 🙂

    Enjoy your vacation in January, you earned it!!!

  14. Haha! Your fancy restaurant picture made me smile 🙂 As a dietitian you would think I could appreciate fancy places, but I just can’t do it. The only place I genuinely like any more is Taco Bell, and even that is a rare treat. What can I say? My husband and I are good cooks. And I like my plate full =D

    It was quite an inspiration to hear your story, as well as the story of Brad being laid off. My husband and I are definitely in the career-hasn’t-taken-off-yet phase, which we are hoping will end soon. I have family members who have had everything handed to them, and yet they are worse off than me. It reminds me that everyone is dealt a different set of cards, and it makes all the difference what you do with them. We may not have been given all the breaks in life, but we are fired up and determined to make our lives better.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share your story; it is both encouraging and inspiring. I hope someday soon you can be reading my “paid off every penny” post! =D

  15. Jessica Strayer says:

    I love New Orleans! I tell everyone to make sure to eat at Mother’s! It’s awesome.

  16. Thanks for the sharing how you paid off your debt. It’s great info to have. I’m hoping we will be there soon.

  17. Congrats! Didn’t realize you lived in Indy. Hi neighbor, I’m in Indy too.

    I can’t imagine how good that feels. Hubby and I joke that we pay for a really nice sports car every month in student loans. We are working to pay everything down.

    1. Hey, Tisha! I love ‘running into’ other Indy people! I just stalked your blog and noticed you and I were in the same place at the same time on Jan. 21. 😉 And yeah, I told Brad we could have TWO hella nice cars right now. Keep in touch!

  18. Wow, congratulations! It takes a lot of dedication to meet a goal that big. My husband and I haven’t had any debt until a month ago when we bought our first house – after spending the first 4.5 years of our marriage saving for a large down payment while also having two kids and another on the way. It is hard but also healthy and extremely effective to be able to identify between those needs and wants!

  19. We have some debt to pay off too, but none for school thankfully! My husband is set to finish his bachelor’s this spring with no school debt. We have 3 kids and live in Maryland. My husband is originally from Indiana.Cheaper and less regulated than here it seems. Gets frustrating not making much headway on our loan for our double-wide but hopefully will be better when he finishes school.

  20. I love this. We’re going to pay off our home early (that’s our only remaining loan), and that will be saving us around $70,000 in interest. We aren’t independently wealthy, but we budget and try to save money wherever we can. Our goal is to pay off the mortgage 14 years early so we can help our kids get through college, maybe debt free! Check out online amortization calculators to see how you can save some money there. It’s very encouraging to see how little changes can make a big impact. And yeah, both of our paid off vehicles have 100,000+ miles and run great!

  21. I love reading stories of how people paid off their debt. So inspiring! I live around Indy and I wondered if you would mind giving out the contact info for your HVAC guy. The past few years our heat pump has been making a weird ringing sound in the winter. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off but we should really get it fixed. Yay, homeownership!

    1. Hey Olivia! Sorry I’m just now seeing your comment. Let me know if you still want our HVAC guy’s number. But you may not need it now that it’s 60 in February. Hah! 🙂

  22. Congratulations on paying off your debt. It must have been hard at times but in the end well worth it.

  23. Linda Lukac says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas. I am 63 years old with lots of medical bills due to no insurance. I am up to my neck in credit card debt. I am self employed with a couple slow months ,January and February. Then again in July and September. I have decided (after reading your story) to contact my credit card companies and hopefully drop my interest rates . Starting with the smallest I owe and working towards the highest. Thanks for your inspiration!

  24. Can you give an idea of how much your monthly payment on the loans was? Or did you send lump sums?

    1. The minimum monthly payment was around $600 a month. But we’d pay a minimum of $1000 every month. We sent in lump sums a few times a year because I’m a really cautious person with money. So we’d let money accumulate, and then send in the bigger amounts of money. It almost felt like a competition doing it that way– like ‘how much will we be able to save up and send in?’ if that makes sense. I will add, when we sent in the lump sums, we’d make sure we left a good amount in savings for our emergency fund.

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