Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How we paid off $22,047 in debt in less than 9 months (plus 9 Crazy Things We Did to Be Debt Free)

Back when I first read about the concept of being "debt free" I immediately dismissed it. Ya right, there's absolutely no way we'll be able to do that on one low-income with one little kid and another one on the way. That's great for them, but they don't know how much debt we have and how small our income is! 

At that point, I had pretty much accepted the fact that my husband and I would finally be paying off our student loans about the time our kids hit college age. There wasn't even a tiny inkling of hope that our family would be debt free within ten years, let alone one! (In reality, we had about 6 years left on our loans, but I wasn't even financially savvy enough to know that at the time.)

But that phrase, "debt free," wouldn't leave me alone. It seemed it was everywhere I looked around the internet. It popped up in conversations with people we talked to at church. Still skeptical, I picked up one of Dave Ramsey's books (this one to be exact) at the library to find out what the buzz was all about. 

The story of how one family paid off over $20k ($22,047.93 to be exact!) in less than 9 months on one income, plus 9 crazy things they did to be debt free. www.growingslower.com #debtfree #frugalliving

(This post contains affiliate links.)


Throughout the book, there were stories of families making extreme changes to their lifestyles and even getting second jobs, all for the goal of becoming debt free. 

Around this time, my husband and I both felt the call to get out of debt. We had over $22,000 left in student loans, and it was time to do something about it. In September 2013, we tentatively started our journey to becoming debt free. We planned to reduce our debt by making an extra payment of $39 each month.

There seemed to be absolutely no wiggle room in our budget, so even that small amount felt like a huge step. The cool thing is, even paying a tiny bit extra towards loans can really accelerate your journey to debt free in more ways than one.

After taking that first tiny step, God multiplied our efforts. Just 3 months later, we paid off the smallest of our student loans. Suddenly we were on track to have all of them paid off within 25 months. For the woman who thought she'd be paying off these loans for more than a decade, this in itself was amazing!

Being a total math nerd, I had always been a critic of the "debt snowball" method of paying off debt. It doesn't make since to pay off a loan with a lower interest rate first! That would be the first of many times I was humbled in this whole experience. 

After paying off that first loan we were inspired to get even more extreme with our money saving measures to pay off our debt faster.

When we're done, we had paid off $22,047 (and 93 cents to be exact) in debt on a household income that (at the time we started) fit under the government's low-income category for a family of four. And we did it all in 9 months.

So how did we do it? Here are 10 crazy things we did to go debt free...

(Before I start, I feel a need to say that I realize that most of the world would consider our "crazy" sacrifices to be a complete life of luxury. Without this financial transformation, I might never have known the deep seeded sense of entitlement I held. I'm so thankful for this fresh perspective and for our new-found "abundance" that allows us to give to those who really are in need.)

9 Crazy Things We Did to Go Debt Free!


1. We cut the grocery budget in half.  And then we cut it even more. For a few months at least, I had to let go of my fixation on only feeding my family organic foods for the sake of a bigger goal.

2. When our french press broke, we brought our camping percolator in from the garage to make coffee on the stove top instead of replacing it.

3. I did whatever I could to make money from home. Even though I had a newborn at the time, I gave up sleep to work at nap time and after the kids were in bed to grow my blog, market my book, and do some work in my 'real' career field of architecture.

4. When our bath mat unraveled in the laundry, instead of running to Target for a replacement, we just used an old towel instead.

5. When the immersion blender broke, we didn't replace it. (After 5 years of marriage, apparently everything you got at your wedding starts breaking.) Finally we saved up our "home supplies" budget, and bought a $10 blender on Black Friday. 

6. In January 2014 we took the No Spend Month Challenge. I only spent $170 on groceries that whole month! All the money we saved went to making extra payments on our loans.

7. We lived in a 730 sf home with our family of four with very affordable rent. (We had no idea at the time we moved there how directly it would play into God's plan for us in so many ways!) When the baby decided she needed her own room at about 7 months old, we moved our bed into the living room where it stayed until we finally moved 5 months later. That made it just a little awkward to have company!

8. We were a one-car family. Every time I needed to go shopping or take the kids to a doctor appointment, I had to load the kids in the car, drop my husband off at the park and ride at about 6:45 in the morning, then go back home, go to my appointment, get dinner ready, then load the kids back up (rain or snow) and pick him up. With nothing in walking distance except wheat fields and a fire station, so we didn't get out much during this time. It was tough, but it was worth it!

9. We didn't travel more than 40 miles from home for 22 months (and counting).

I wish I could recount for you all the miraculous ways that God provided for us despite these relatively small sacrifices during this time, but at the risk of making this too long, I will finish our story.

After all that, and just 9 months after starting our journey to debt free, we made our very last student loan payment. 

Since God is a brilliant storyteller, he just couldn't let the chance pass to make his point with a flourish. We were able to make that last payment and be debt free exactly one year to the date that we had to sell our old home in a short sale. We could do nothing but stand in wonder at how far He had brought us both spiritually and financially in just one year.

Faster than I can even believe, we cut 5 years off our debt repayment, and along the way we have achieved a huge new sense of joy and freedom.

Our story isn't unique. There are thousands of families across the country taking control of their finances. Just like us, they are determined to get out of debt no matter what it takes.

If you're staring down what seems like a mountain of debt and a budget that already doesn't add up, not believing that getting out of debt is even a remote possibility, I've been there.

Despite all odds, we did it, and I really believe that you can do it too. I hope our story of paying off over $22,000 in debt in just 9 months has been an encouragement to you. I challenge you to take that first step to becoming debt free! Every small step gets you a little closer to financial freedom.

What was your first thought when you heard the idea of going "debt free"? Are you working on getting out of debt? Or just getting started? Share your story in the comments!

Friday, September 19, 2014

DIY Gift Ideas You Can Finish in Under an Hour

We've all been there: short on money and even shorter on time with Christmas right around the corner. This year, I'm determined to stay ahead of the game with these DIY gift ideas you can finish in under an hour.

Make this the year that you stay on budget and out of debt! Check out the whole budget Christmas series. For more easy DIY Gift Ideas, follow me on pinterest.

DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy

DIY Gifts for the Kitchen


  • Homemade Spice Blends - There are many ideas and recipes for making your own spice mixes to give as gifts. If you have a special secret ingredient or flavor you love to use in your cooking, this gift would be especially personal and fun.
  • 10 Easy Ways to Turn a Canning Jar into a Christmas Present - I especially adore the first idea on the list. I might have to make some for myself! All of these would be really cheap and easy to make. (Not all of these are for the kitchen.)
  • Edible Gift Ideas - Continuing with the jar theme, there are lots of ideas for edible Christmas gifts, which are not only yummy but also tend to disappear quickly. Love the layered cookie mix! So cute!
  • Homemade Infused Cooking Oils and Vinegar - Add yummy flavors to oils and vinegar. Anyone who loves to cook will enjoy this one!
  • Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix - I love these ideas for spicing up cocoa mix. It'd be fun to give a couple of different varieties as a gift. Yum! 
  • Homemade Vanilla Extract - I actually received this as a gift last year, and I loved it! It's really great because it's consumable, so it doesn't any clutter to your home. 



DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (Homemade Vanilla Extract) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Homemade Vanilla Extract picture used with permission from Pistachio Project.

DIY Gift Ideas for Kids


  • Natural Christmas Playdough - This post includes instructions for making Christmas colored and scented play dough for kids. I am so delighted by the idea of adding yummy smells to play dough for a more sensory experience. This would be extremely cheap and easy to make, and any kid will love it!


DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (homemade scented Christmas play dough) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Image used with permission from Pistachio Project


  • 21 easy gifts you can make for kids - These are all really cute ideas that are easy to make, and many have links to tutorials for exactly how to make them. I especially love the idea of making a hand puppet for my kids. I have always wanted to do that!
  • DIY Lip Balm Kit - Little girls will love making their own natural lip gloss with this gift. They'll also love spending time with you as you help them use it. What a great excuse to spend time with your favorite little ones.


DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (DIY Lipbalm Kit) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Image used with permission from Learning & Yearning.

DIY Gift Ideas for Babies



DIY Gift Ideas for Friends & Neighbors


  • 8 Gift Ideas for Families - It can really save money and time to give one family gift instead of a separate present for each person. For anyone that you give one family gift, especially neighbors, check out these ideas. The fifth one would be really really cute, and incredibly simple!
  • 7 Gift Ideas for Book Lovers - This one includes links to lots of tutorials. I love the idea of the ring-bound journal. It would be so easy to make, and so cute!

DIY Gift Ideas for Women


  • Moisturizing Honey Vanilla Body Polish - Pamper your loved ones with this lovely body scrub recipe. It only has four ingredients, and would be extremely affordable and quick to make. Put it in a lovely jar and it will be a great gift.
  • 14 DIY Gift Ideas for Women - Check this out for all things girly from chocolate to fancy bath products, including tutorials for each one.
  • 15 DIY Gift Ideas for Crafters - As a knitter, I would love to get the handmade stitch markers in this post. I have always admired these on Etsy, but have never quite gotten around to making them for myself. There are lots of other ideas for gifts related to just about any other craft, and chances are any crafter will really appreciate a handmade gift.


DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (Honey Vanilla Body Polish) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Image used with permission from richlyrooted.com

DIY Gift Ideas for Men


  • 9 DIY Gift Ideas for Men - There are some super classy and some totally fun gift ideas for the men in your life. Not all of these could be done in an hour, but still some great ideas here!

DIY Stocking Stuffer Ideas


  • 28 DIY Stocking Stuffer Ideas - All of these ideas are really simple to make, and there is a link to instructions on how to do them all. There are also ideas for including them in a DIY gift basket.


DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (DIY Advent Calendar Activity) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Image used with permission from Pistachio Project

DIY Gift Wrap Ideas



DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. (DIY Recycled Paper Bows) The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy

DIY Christmas Decoration Ideas


  • Activity Based Advent Calendar - I absolutely love this take on an Advent activity calendar for kids. Not only is it a really fun tradition for the kids, but you'll love how it looks decorating your house too!


DIY Gift Ideas you can make in Under an Hour. The list includes gifts for kids, babies, women, men, and even stocking stuffers, gift wrap, and Christmas decorations.  www.growingslower.com #cheapgift #easydiy
Image used with permission from ecokaren.




What is your go-to DIY gift? Share your ideas in the comments! Then stop by and read the next post in the debt-free Christmas series.


Recent Posts