Welcome to the Debt-Free Life: How We Crushed Debt as Millenials
Save Money. Cut Expenses. Enjoy the Journey. Live Free.
I’ve waited too long “finding” the perfect blog startup subject. What encapsulated the Present Tense concept? Is the first real post significant? Where do I start?
Here. This is where I’m starting because managing money differently for my first 2.5 years of marriage has paid off.
When I wake up tomorrow, I can live differently because today, and all those previous “todays,” were spent living in the present tense. I don’t mean living like there wasn’t a tomorrow. But living like tomorrow’s self would transform into my present self.
And here she is, ready to live debt-free!
My husband and I married on the snowy January 7th, 2017—and started marriage with around $52,000 in debt. All student loans. Not unusual for a couple, as the average student loan debt in NC is about half that.
But we didn’t want to live a usual lifestyle—we wanted the FREEDOM lifestyle. That one where you manage your own schedule, can give a donation without sweating, and not stress about rainy days.
So we sat down (a couple of times) and made a plan. Were there really money-saving strategies for young adults (one still a college student) that would work? We really believed it was possible to live as debt-free Millenials. And we figured it out.
Here are the top strategies we used to crush debt:
We discussed important issues before getting married.
Money. Religion. Kids. We talked long and hard to see if we even could be on the same page with those. And after that, we talked about the lifestyle we wanted and were willing to share. What were each other’s expectations on eating out? Having car payments? Having children? Buying a house? What were each other’s set-in-stone values, and where could we be flexible?
We had a low-cost wedding.
The average wedding in NC cost just under $28,000. We squished it into around $10,000. Our engagement was only three months, so pulling together the minimum was a necessity. The biggest cost-cutting factors were:
- Off-season discounts
- Appetizers w/no alcohol reception
- A second-hand (but still my dream) wedding dress
- Cutting out lots of low-value wedding details.
We’ve never had car payments.
You can scrimp, save, and clip coupons all you want. But for high-impact debt-crushing, you have to trim the real money leeches. And the average car payment in America is now over $500 a month. Making payments for a used car isn’t much better: an average of just under $400.
Yeah. No. Our cars are not folding our laundry or doing our taxes. We found no good reason to be shelling out $400+ a month. Especially with nice, functional alternatives.
Driving used cars without a monthly payment burden significantly helped us keep up. We purchased our 2 used cars, in full, with cash. Repairs have been very few, and never more than what 3 months of a (used) car payment would have been.
We utilized the help of family & friends.
While family/friends didn’t give us money to help with debt per se, some generous loved ones helped us avoid some costly services.
My bother-in-law has graciously given us a lot of car mechanic help. We are SO grateful for the rent discount my parents provided us (they own the townhouse we rent). Stephen’s parents offered us a free week vacation in their Florida timeshare, which we thoroughly enjoyed. A family friend gifted us a free stay in their luxury cabins for our honeymoon.
These were some of the most helpful examples—but many others offered their services and graciously complied with our low-cost lifestyle. I can’t express just how thankful I am for them all!
We did lots of services ourselves, at home.
We cut each other’s hair. Stephen fixed a lot of electronics. I made a lot of sack lunches. And we definitely didn’t hire services for home cleaning, cooking, shopping, delivering, taxes, dry cleaning, or home maintenance.
Plus, we learned some cool skills along the way! Like how to clean “dry clean only” stuff at home, or how to fix an electric can opener.
We adjusted our lifestyle to cut out many accessory costs.
During the time we shoveled money into the debt hole, we chose what not include in our current lifestyle. No pre-work coffee run, and we saved alcoholic drinks for special occasions. We also invited friends over for dinner rather than going out to eat when we could. I committed to a pretty basic hairstyle and products, and bought fewer clothes. And no hair, nail, or massage salon visits. Ok, one single massage.
We started using generic brand, home-made, & reusable alternatives
Goodby Colgate, hello 88¢ Aim! For laundry, we switched to home-made laundry powder and wool dryer balls. I saved a ton on disposable (and really, not that healthy) feminine hygiene products with a menstrual cup. Also, shout-out to Aldi’s for their low-cost everything.
Debt-crushing also fostered a new, free decorating hobby: wildflower picking!
We wore second-hand & hand-me-down clothes.
I’ll admit, this was not a total sacrifice: I love thrifting. Nothing gives me a high like snagging a 100% cashmere J. Crew sweater for $3. Plus, many of Stephen’s clothes are from his brother-in-law, Stephen Locker. Our running joke is that my husband’s favorite store is Stephen’s Locker. Ha. Ha.
We decorated with second-hand, hand-me-down, and discounted furniture.
In our first year, the house was fully furnished, even if it was with faded, mismatched hand-me-downs. But we didn’t have to sacrifice style during our whole debt-crushing journey. About a year later (still paying off debt), we were able to replace it with quality, matching furniture. Our best steals:
- A leather L-couch ($300)
- A full dining table w/six chairs ($199)
- A glass coffee table with two matching side tables ($50)
- A nice brown pull-out couch ($70)
- A leather sofa (free)
Stephen waited to start his Master’s degree
Undergrad school costs hurt. And graduate school steps up the cost. Instead of jumping right into continuing his education, Stephen waited until he was hired and worked his job for a year. He then qualified for company reimbursement on continuing ed, and is now halfway through his Master’s—at no cost to us!
We are actively saving several thousand dollars a year just from pushing back start time by a single year.
Conclusion? I believe you can live that extra lifestyle you dream of, even as a millennial in the world we’re in. It’s frustrating. It takes strategy. And not those old strategies from past decades.
I want you to live with hope and excitement for the future! That’s why I created this blog. I’d like to inspire you with things I’ve learned along the way.
Friends, I am still in the thick of figuring stuff out. I haven’t mastered life.
Let’s figure things out together.