Our Story – How We Went From Debt to $50,000 in 2.5 Years

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We got married in July of 2010. Jessica was 19 and Curtis was 22 – pretty young to be starting a home of our own, but we believed, and still do, that it was God’s will for us to get married. However, neither of us had a very good grasp on how to handle finances, despite having taken classes on financial management previously.

Fortunately for us, we were advised against buying a house with no down payment and instead found a cute duplex for rent in a nice neighborhood.

We entered our marriage with 3 different debts – around $300 left to pay for the engagement ring (charged to a credit card), approximately $1000 owed for Curtis’ car (to be paid to his parents), and another $300 or so to pay fees for our honeymoon (owed to Jessica’s parents). $1600 may not seem like a lot of debt, but for a young couple with hardly any money to their name, it was huge.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for common sense to kick in and we knew we didn’t want to live the way most Americans do – in debt. My dad was a huge advocate of Dave Ramsey and we started asking him for advice. He of course seconded the no-debt mindset as well as pushing us to create a budget. We wrote down all of our expenses, breaking them into weekly payments to come up with a budget for our 2-income-household.

Miracle of miracles, there was money left over from our checks that wasn’t needed for our living expenses. (We were bringing home around $850 combined per week.) We immediately started paying off our debts. The credit card was first to go – and it never got swiped again after buying that gorgeous ring. It wouldn’t take us long to pay off our debts but we started developing some serious wants in the meantime.

For starters, we were eating at a borrowed card table, driving 2 not-so-dependable cars, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. It would have been easy to rush out and buy all the things we wanted, but we also knew that being debt-free would be worth the few extra months of wobbly table legs. A few other things we restrained from buying were a TV (3.5 years later, we still don’t have one), life insurance, and decorations for our rented home.

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By taking charge of our money we were able to pay off our debts and save enough cash for a brand new dining room table and chairs. (Looking back, we would do it differently. Although we negotiated with the salesman and got a good deal, we paid more for the set than we’d be comfortable paying today, knowing what we do.)

Our momentum was now fully charged and being debt-free, we started saving as much as we could. (A small raise increased Curtis’ paychecks slightly, but we rarely made more than $900 in a week.) We started socking away money for a future baby, an emergency fund, a new-to-us car, and a few other smaller things we knew we would need eventually.

We found small ways to cut back and earn extra cash that built up to help us out a lot in the long run. We dabbled in extreme couponing (we don’t recommend this anymore as a huge money saver because of all the cut-backs stores have made recently); we rarely ate out; we didn’t buy junk food, including soda; and we found cheap ways to enjoy entertainment. Curtis also worked 6 days a week as often as he could, getting a lot of overtime; he delivered pizzas on the weekends (after having a baby, neither of these options were worth it to us anymore, but as a couple, they were a good way to earn extra); Jessica became a Scentsy consultant and made and sold diaper cakes (we no longer do either of these things as well).

Our first goal was to set up a fully-funded emergency fund. At this point we wanted to start with $5000. It was hard to put this cash in money market account and try to forget about it, but we knew it was necessary in order to have peace in the years ahead. This was one of the most important steps we took, because it gave us the freedom to save for other things without worrying about unforeseen emergencies that might set us back.

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Our annual income for 2011 was around $50,000. Toward the end of the year we had saved up $10,000 cash to buy a nice used car. We ended up negotiating and getting one for under $9000 after taxes and title were paid. After buying the car, we started putting our saved money (usually around $200 a week) toward a 20% down payment for a house. We estimated it taking us at least a year to save enough cash for a nice home (we wanted something for $100,000 or less), and we were ready for something of our own.

2012 was an exciting year for us. As we scraped and saved all we could for a down payment, our enthusiasm led us to tour many houses that were for sale to get an idea of what we liked and what we could afford. In July of that year (2 years after the wedding) we discovered we had a little one on the way! We were so excited, although there were also times we wondered if buying a house was still the right choice for us at the time.

We had previously decided that when we became pregnant, we would start setting aside all of our weekly savings for the baby. We estimated needing $10,000 and didn’t want to be in debt to the hospital. After a little figuring and refiguring, we found we could save a little more than we had been for the baby and still put the rest toward our house down payment. (We started saving $50 every week for a baby when we first started our budget so we already had a good head start.)

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In November of 2012, we found our dream house. It was exactly what we were looking for that entire year and after getting our offer accepted, we were told the closing would be at the end of January of the next year. That gave us 2 months to save the rest of our down payment. And on January 24, 2012 we bought our very first house with a $23,000 CASH down payment! (Our purchase price ended up being more than $100,000 but we made sure we could afford it first.)

The feeling when you give someone a check for that much money is hard to explain. We were overwhelmed at being in the exact place we knew God wanted us to be, and a little sad to give away all that hard earned money. (After a year of living in our house, we’re not sad anymore!) Less than 2 months later Bronx Remington was born during an emergency C-section. We worried that the surgery would cause us to spend more than we had planned on, but after all the bills were received, we had way more than enough.

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In those 2.5 years we learned so much about money and about each other, and we’re nowhere near done learning yet. We can’t wait until the time we can start teaching our children about handling money correctly and are excited about this new direction God is leading us in to help others with their own finances. If you’d like to learn more about how to apply these same principles in your life, consider joining our private Facebook group, created for people like you. We are dedicated to leading you to your own financial freedom.

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3 Simple Steps to Securing Your Financial Freedom

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These 3 steps are simple, but they do take commitment. We recommend committing to this plan for 90 days and if you haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel by then, you’re welcome to quit. We’re sure you’ll be enjoying your new-found freedom so much by then that the thought of quitting will be repulsive!

1. Get Out of Debt & Stay Out

It completely goes against the American lifestyle but we promise it will make the hugest difference in your life. If you truly want to get ahead, dumping debt is the way to get there. Follow these 3 steps to completely remove debt from your life.

>> Get rid of the credit cards.

>> Start paying off the debt you currently have.

>> Tell yourself you will never go into debt again.

By combining these 3 steps, you will hopefully have turned your back on debt for good.

2. Use a Cash Flow Plan

You can also call this a budget, but we’ve found that people tend to despise that term. By using a cash flow plan you decide on paper where your money is going to go. Don’t say you don’t have enough money to budget – that just means you don’t have enough money to take control of it and that’s never the case.

Write down your monthly expenses and subtract that from your monthly income. If you have more expenses than income, consider eliminating a few of them to free up more room in your budget. Maybe you can go out to eat once a month instead of every week. Canceling a magazine subscription would give you a little bit extra each month to pay the bills. Find ways to make it work.

3. Save, Save, Save

Saving is basically paying yourself. You should set aside money every month, no matter how small the amount, that is solely for saving. We recommend saving $1000 right off the bat as an emergency fund. Set this money aside and don’t touch it unless you have an emergency, such as the car breaking down, medical bills, etc. After you have that tucked away, start saving to pay off your debt.

When you are debt free, it’s time to start saving big amounts of money. Save 3 – 6 months of expenses in a savings account or money market account as a fully funded emergency fund. You never know when Murphy’s Law will strike. Then you can start saving for fun things, like retirement, a vacation, college tuition, etc. The possibilities are endless.

We’ve written an eBook that further expounds on these 3 steps. It’s free for you to download if you would like to learn more. Congratulations on taking steps to your financial freedom!

Necessity Vs. Want

American lives are centered around stuff.

The latest technology, the fastest car, the newest house. A closet full of clothes, a bookcase full of DVDs, a kitchen full of dishes. We are surrounded by all of these things we think we can’t live without.

Have you ever stopped to evaluate how much of those things you really NEED? Do you have to upgrade your iPhone just because the newest version was just released? Do you have to get a loan for a new gas-guzzling SUV just because your car is 5 years old? Is it necessary to move to a brand new house you can’t afford just because you had a baby and want more room?

None of these things are evil. They all sound like a lot of fun. But the questions you need to ask yourself before you rush out to buy the latest and the greatest are this: Can I afford it? If the answer is no, don’t move any further. If you go ahead and buy something you cannot afford, you will only move further and further from financial freedom. If you can afford it, ask yourself if it’s crucial in your life, or if you’d be better off using that money for something else and freeing up a little space in your life.

Too often we get so bogged down with clutter that we can’t see straight. Take some time and reflect on the starving people in third world countries when you find yourself with stuffitis. After that, curb your desire to buy something by sorting through the things you already own. Pitch the useless things, sell or donate the ones you no longer need or want, and enjoy your extra space – in your house and in your mind.

Spending money is not wrong in itself. It’s what’s in the heart that matters. If you are buying things to fill a void in your heart, you’d be better off investing in Jesus Christ. He’ll fill that void like nothing else ever could. If you shop to bring happiness into your life, we challenge you to spend that money bringing happiness into someone else’s life. Buy a bouquet of flowers for an elderly neighbor. Treat a couple kids to ice cream cones. Help a single mom buy groceries. We promise those things will bring more happiness into your life than any number of shoes ever could.

Start asking yourself today what you need and what you can do without.

We wrote an eBook called 3 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom. As our gift to you, we’re offering it for free, hoping the 3 steps will enrich your life the way they have ours. Join our email list for your free download.

The Worst (or Best) Salesman Ever

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We’ve all experienced the super-annoying salesman trying to sell us the next big thing. Just for fun, we’ll share our most appalling salesman ever story:

A man showed up at our door while we were in the middle of eating dinner. Curtis answered the door and the guy wanted to show him how great the cleaner that he was selling was. They went out to the car parked in the driveway so he could demonstrate this oh-so-magnificent cleaner on the windshield.

He rambled on and on, trying to sell Curt on all the fine points of this $40 cleaner, while inside his dinner was getting cold and his wife was getting irritated. Finally in a moment of desperation, Curt went back inside “to ask his wife” about purchasing. We talked about and decided the only way to get the guy to leave would probably be to buy the stuff even though we didn’t really need it. ßVery bad decision on our part.

When Curt went back outside with the cash, thinking he was finally sending the guy away for good, this already-super-annoying salesman kicks it up a few notches. Our windows were open because the weather was nice and this guy got a whiff of our now-cold dinner on the breeze.

“Hey, is that BBQ I smell?”

Curt: “Yeah, it sure is.”

“Mmm, that smells good. Your wife must be a really good cook. Do you think maybe she’d fix a plate of that for me?”

(We should’ve sent the guy away at this point but unfortunately the story only gets worse.)

Curt: “Uh, I guess I can ask her.”

He goes inside and relates the story and I (Jessica) rolled my eyes and dumped a serving a BBQ pork on a DISPOSABLE plate, hoping that he would just leave!

It wasn’t to be.

Salesman: “Ah man, that looks so good! Hey, you don’t happen to have any bread or sandwich buns on hand to go with this do you? This would make such a good sandwich!”

Curt goes back in and comes out with the bread, wishing we hadn’t bought the stupid cleaner.

Still not good enough.

Salesman: “Thank you, thank you! Hey I hate to be a bother (too late!) but could I trouble you for some hot sauce and maybe some pepper too?”

The guy seriously had no shame. He got everything he asked for, sold us the cleaner, and walked away with a smile on his face. Needless to say, we learned a lot about salesmen that night and are definitely more cautious now.

Ugh. Do you have any crazy salesman stories?

10 Ways to Save By Sharing

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Sometimes you can save a bunch of money in a year’s time simply by sharing with someone else. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Magazines

If you find you can’t live without a certain magazine subscription, find someone else with the same problem and split the cost.

2. Wi-Fi

Your neighbors already have Wi-Fi set up and you don’t have enough room in your budget for another $25 a month. Ask if they’d be willing to give you their password in exchange for paying half their monthly fee.

3. Car Pooling

An oldie but a goodie. Think about getting to work, taking the kids to school, or making a long shopping trip and find someone willing to alternate with you.

4. Phone Plan

If you know of someone with only one or two people on their family phone plan, ask if you could join them and split the base fee. This would help them out as well.

5. Services

This would work the best with neighbors but could also be done with family and friends. Think of a few services you could offer someone – carpentry, sewing, lawn maintenance, child care – and ask if they’d be interested in an exchange of services. In return you might get babysitting on a date night, computer classes, or a week’s worth of cookies for free.

6. Vacations

We all know it’s expensive to travel, especially if you want to stay for a week or more. Consider going with friends or family and sharing on housing costs, gas, and even entertainment.

7. Photographer

If you’re wanting to take family pictures but are intimidated by the high costs photographers are charging these days, ask if they’d be open to photographing two families in one sitting fee. If they agree, make sure you are considerate of their time. If you’re sharing a one hour sitting with another family, make sure you are finished by the time your half hour is up.

8. Food

It can be hard to grow a garden, especially if you live in town and don’t have much space. Someone else probably has the same problem as you and they might be interested in exchanging crops. You could fill your plot with sweet corn and they could grow the green beans. Another way to share would be to split bulk purchases, such as 50# of flour or a beef cow.

9. Machine Rentals

Before you rush out and rent a lawn roller or power washer, ask your neighbors if they have a need for one as well. If you get lucky, you can each have a half day’s use for half the price of the rental.

10. Storage Unit

While we don’t recommend having enough stuff to justify renting a storage unit, sometimes it is unavoidable, especially when you have to temporarily downsize living space. Check with your acquaintances – someone may already be renting one and isn’t using all the space. Or you might find someone who needs to rent one and they’d be willing to go half and half with you.

We’re sure you can come up with even more ways to save by sharing. If you think of something, please share in the comments so others may benefit as well.

Have you downloaded our FREE eBook yet?

Fallen Short

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I have fallen short.

When I found out I was expecting, I already had the whole parenting thing all figured out. I had read stacks of books on the subject and knew EXACTLY which things I was going to implement and which I wasn’t. I entered motherhood like a team enters a football game – plan in hand, ready to tackle this latest challenge.

Since then, I have fallen short of my own expectations about 1.5 million times.

That picture above is a good example.

I was NOT going to have a child resistant to cuddling, kisses, etc.

I was NOT going to raise a child who throws a fit when he’s told “no.”

I was NOT going to rely on food or technology to calm my fussy kid, EVER.

I was NOT going to allow an entire wall of the living room to be dedicated to gaudy toys.

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My kids were NOT going to spend the day in their footie pajamas. (what style!)

I was NEVER going to get frustrated or upset, because I would be in control. (and my kids wouldn’t misbehave. ever.)

I was NOT going to allow my kids to smudge the windows with their dirty hands. (and if they did, I certainly wouldn’t leave the prints there for weeks.)

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I was NOT going to put my child in a position where he could fall off the kitchen counter. (and I definitely wouldn’t do it more than once.)

I was NOT going to send my son into the bathroom while his dad takes a shower every.single.night. just so I can cook dinner in peace.

I was NOT going to fill my cart with cans of formula every time I go to WalMart because I would be breastfeeding of course.

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I was NOT going to come home from the hospital with an ugly scar because they had to cut me open to get my baby out.

I was NOT going to sigh in relief every time I put my baby to bed because I finally had some time to myself.

I was definitely NOT going to *quietly* leap for joy every minute he slept past his normal nap time.

I was NOT going to be one of those frazzled moms who barely has time to put her makeup on before leaving the house because she’s too busy wiping snotty noses, filling sippy cups, and putting socks on bare feet AGAIN.

That wasn’t going to be me because I had it figured out.

And then this little guy came along and turned all of that upside down.

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He wasn’t what I expected.

He was so much more.

He isn’t the perfect cookie cutter I had always envisioned; he has his own vibrant personality. He makes me so frustrated at times that I want to pull out my hair, but I love him more than my own life. My house isn’t as spotless as I want it to be, or as clutter-free, or as trendy, but it shows all the love that goes on here day after day.

So to those of you who struggle with these same fallen expectations – don’t. It’s not worth it. Those little rugrats are the most priceless gift God could have given us. Let’s just be thankful that He did.

And to those of you who have made comments about my house looking so clean and uncluttered, my body looking so good after a baby, and my son acting so calm and well-behaved – THIS is the truth. What you see is only a small part of what actually happens here. We’re not so different from you. We’re probably even worse.

And that’s okay.

Why We Don’t Have a TV

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We’re weird. That would be the short answer. If you would peek inside most American homes on any given night of the week you would without a doubt see the glow of a big screen TV.

Let’s just say ours isn’t your typical American home.

The first reason we didn’t buy a TV to become a permanent piece of furniture in our living room was because we didn’t want to spend the money on one when we had so many other things we were saving for – like getting out of debt, buying a new car, and making a down payment on a house.

The second reason is a little more complicated than that. After living for almost four years without one, we really don’t even think about it, let alone wish for one. (Insert interior design advice here: Jessica thinks a TV makes a living room look less pulled together, even though there are ways to make them less in-your-face-ish.)

We just think spending a lot of time in front of the TV can be detrimental to a family, especially a busy family. You’re at work or school all day, grab a quick bite to eat, and plop in front of the big screen for the next three hours. Not exactly family-promoting in our opinion.

We also know that TV shows can be hard habits to break. Growing up, neither of us watched a lot of TV and of course as kids we thought it was terrible, but looking back we’re glad our parents had different viewpoints. Throw in all the shows that are becoming more and more inappropriate and we just don’t want to watch that stuff all the time, nor do we want our kids growing up with it.

Now we do have to admit one thing: we have a laptop that we use to watch movies. And we watch a lot of movies, sometimes way more than we should. There are definitely inappropriate movies out there right along with the TV shows, but we feel that it’s easier to monitor movies than actual TV, especially when you factor commercials into the mix.

We are not saying that you shouldn’t watch TV or shouldn’t own a TV, or not let your kids watch any shows. That’s your call. We are only explaining where we stand. And who knows, maybe in the future we’ll get a TV. (As our family gets bigger it would be harder to squeeze around a laptop for family movie nights.) At this point we don’t have plans to get DISH, but we won’t say never.

No cable bills sure makes this an even sweeter decision for us.

What do you think? Do TVs have a hidden bonus we’re not aware of?

6 Ways to Save on Your Vacation

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We’d all love to be hanging out on that beach right now, but let’s face it – vacations are expensive. While this post isn’t going to tell you how to travel for cheap, we do have a few ways you can save some of that hard-earned cash.

1. Shop around for the best deal on lodging.

We almost always book our hotels through Expedia.com. They sometimes have discounted rates for booking through their site. You can also check out Hotwire.com and Hotels.com if you don’t mind booking with less information about the hotel available. For extended stays of a week or more, we recommend checking out a site called VRBO.com. They offer owner-rented condos, cottages, town homes, and a variety of other options all over the country. You can often find something no matter what your price range is.

2. Look for deals on restaurants.

Before you leave, make sure to visit Restaurant.com, where gift certificates are offered for many different dining options, usually at half their value. Small cities tend to have a limited selection however. Groupon.com also has deals on restaurants occasionally, so sign up for deals in your destination well in advance.

3. Find free or inexpensive entertainment.

Check your destination’s website for a calendar of events. You might be able to catch a free concert or festival. We were able to catch a movie at an old-fashioned theater one year and paid less than $5 a ticket. Sometimes dinner-and-show companies will offer discounts, so make sure to join their newsletter mailings well in advance.

4. Prepare your own meals.

If you are lodging where you have access to a kitchen, preparing a few of your own meals can save a lot of money. If you are heading to a popular tourist destination where prices are higher, consider taking some of your own ingredients to save even more money.

5. Check for free breakfasts.

Many hotels offer a complimentary breakfast for guests, so always see if it’s available before booking because you might find a better deal elsewhere.

6. Search for hotels near airports.

Downtown hotels often have higher prices, in addition to having limited parking for which you have to pay. If you are taking your own car, check the prices of hotels close to the airport. They are usually lower and often offer free parking.

What tips have you implemented to save money on your vacations?

You’re Just Not Good Enough

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How many times have you told yourself those very words?

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably been about 80,000 times.

What if someone told you they weren’t true? Would you believe them? What if the Creator of the universe Himself told you? I hope you’d at least believe Him. Truth is, He did tell you. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

You can do ALL THINGS through Christ.

What promise. What potential.

How often we believe the lies that it’s up to our own potential, our own “goodness,” to create results, when really, that’s insulting God. He created us to NEED Him. We really can’t do it on our own. We’re NOT good enough without Him.

But through Him, we are capable of doing ANYTHING He leads us to!

Isn’t that an awesome feeling? God is able to do anything through you!

Think about all those things you’ve shoved aside because you didn’t think you could do it?

What if God helped you…

…climb a mountain peak?

…master another language?

…get that degree you’ve always wanted?

…publish a book?

…start your own business?

…get out of debt?

…learn about computers?

…become organized?

…enjoy reading?

…get your GED?

…spend more time with Him?

God is limitless. And through Him, you are limitless too! Stop believing the lies that you’re not good enough,  because through Him, you are the highest level of potential possible!

10 Inexpensive Date Nights

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Heading out for Valentine’s Day? You don’t have to spend a ton of money to enjoy a romantic date with your Valentine. Here are some ideas for under $30.

1. Movie + Ice Cream

Average Cost: $26

Skip the popcorn and drinks at the theater and treat yourselves to hot fudge sundaes after the show.

2. Fast Food Progressive Dinner

Average Cost: $25

Choose 3 – 4 fast food restaurants and order one item at each stop.

3. Hot Chocolate + Ice/Roller Skating

Average Cost: $18

Make sure to hold hands while skating!

4. Bookstore Browsing + Coffee

Average Cost: $6

You don’t have to pay to read books at a bookstore so choose an interesting title and curl up in a loveseat together.

5. Dinner

Average Cost: $30

Choose a restaurant with lower prices, then take your time over your meal.

6. Pizza + Dessert

Average Cost: $23

Split a large pizza and indulge in decadent desserts afterwards.

7. Star-gazing + Milkshakes

Average Cost: $9

Sip on a chocolate malt while watching the gorgeous display in the sky. Maybe you’ll get lucky and spot a falling star…

8. House to Yourselves

Average Cost: $15

Send the kids to the babysitter’s house and cook a romantic dinner together. Don’t forget the wine and a romantic comedy!

9. Laser Tag + Fast Food

Average Cost: $27

If you feel adventurous, try a few games of laser tag. Grab a burger afterwards.

10. Guess the Favorites

Average Cost: $20

Order for each other at your favorite fast food restaurant, then take turns guessing each other’s favorite movies, artists, foods, etc.

Have you gone on another inexpensive date that wasn’t listed? Share in the comments.

For more on achieving financial freedom, download our FREE eBook!