January 22, 2014

How-To: Payoff $15,000 of Debt in 18 Months

Between my husband and me, I'm the more responsible one when it comes to money. I mean, I do splurge once in awhile on a Starbucks drink or a pedicure or I buy the kids extra toys or outfits, but overall, I know our budget and I'm better at sticking with it. So, I'm in charge of our household finances. I make sure the bills are paid, I know how much extra money we have each month, and I'm the one who makes sure we maintain our savings.
However, during Christmas and Black Friday last year, my husband and I both went a little overboard on our spending. We both ended up charging things to our credit cards with money we didn't have. Also, last year we bought a new home, so we splurged a lot of our savings on new furniture, appliances, home decor, etc. What we couldn't afford, we charged to our cards. So, because of that, we had accumulated over $10,000 of debt all in a course of 1 year!
Thankfully, we were able to get some extra money and were able to pay it down by the end of the year to about half that amount.
Okay, so now that we're left with $5,000, it doesn't sound too bad, BUT if you add that to the $10,000 of debt we ALREADY had... yeah... looking at over $15,000 of credit card debt is now a bit more daunting!
My husband and I were tired of spending almost $1,000 a month towards credit cards that seem never-ending. So, both of us sat down and came up with a plan together.
Now that it's 2014, we have to do some damage control to do!
The first step prior to establishing a budget is to cut back on your monthly expenses.

My husband and I already had minimized many of our expenses last year when we bought our second home, so we didn’t really have to cut back on any of our normal expenses. The biggest thing we had to cut back on was our excess spending on things we didn’t need and we had to stop using our credit cards.
However, to the left are ways you can cut costs for your family.
To help you earn some extra money, you can always sell your possessions that you don't use anymore. I do that with every season as my kids outgrow things and I also sold many of our old possessions before moving into our new house, so that's a great way to not necessarily cut costs, but to help put a little extra money in your pockets.
Shortly after the New Year, my husband and I sat down together and came up with a plan that we both agreed too. If you have a significant other, I highly recommend that you sit down with him or her before making any big decisions regarding money or changes in budgets. That way both of you are on the same page and are working together to reach the same goal.
Here are the steps we took to determine our monthly budget:
  1. We calculated our monthly income (after taxes).
  2. We made a list of all our FIXED expenses every month (such as, mortgage and car payments, credit cards, groceries, savings, etc). These are the expenses that are always the same every month and have to be paid every month.
  3. We then made a list of all our SEMI-VARIABLE expenses (such as cable, utilities, childcare, gas, etc). These are the costs that are typically within a $50 average variance every month. (Childcare for most people would be under FIXED expenses, but since my husband and I like to go on date nights, sometimes we have to shell out a little extra each month, so I categorized Childcare under semi-variable).
  4. Finally we made a list of all our HIGHLY-VARIABLE expenses (such as purchases, fun activities, restaurants, etc). These are for costs that are never the same every month and not a necessity.
Then I kept track of everything on an excel spreadsheet. Below is the template that I created for our family. You can easily modify it to fit your family’s needs:
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Once we finalized our monthly budget to the point where we actually were able to carryover a profit every month, we made a promise to not deviate from the budget, unless it was to actually spend LESS than what we budgeted for.
I know things do come up and sometimes you have to pay a little extra towards some expenses each month, but that is why you need to have a good enough buffer between your profit and extra monies from your envelopes and other categories where you actually were below budget.
Set your budget to a point where you are comfortable and not necessarily living paycheck-to-paycheck.
And don't forget to always contribute to your savings! Make sure to find a way to fit that in your monthly budget! I can't emphasize this enough. Even if you are only able to save $25 a week, do it because in one year, you'll be able to save over $1,200! A little bit can go a long way in case an emergency arises.
PLASTIC IS BAD. That is what a lot of my older co-workers would tell me and I never listened. I have finally come to the realization that CASH ONLY is my best bet.
In order to stay on track to pay down our debt, my husband and I decided that we are going to stop using not only our credit cards, but also our debit cards
So, for 2014, my husband I will only use our checking account to pay for our fixed expenses, like our utilities, childcare, mortgage, and car payments (either online or by check).
The rest of our expenses will be paid for in cash. Once we run out of cash, WE ARE OUT OF MONEY.
An easy way for us to keep track of our cash was to divide them into envelopes.
My envelope categories are as follows:
  1. Groceries
  2. Sam's Club
  3. Miscellaneous
  4. Allowance
Groceries: We budget our groceries at $80/week so since my husband and I get paid on opposite weeks, every time one of us gets paid, we go to the bank and withdraw $80. We then put that money in our envelope to be used for that week's groceries. Anything we don't use, we can add to our grocery budget the next week, deposit it into our savings, or we can transfer it to our miscellaneous envelope as a little reward to ourselves for being below our budget. For more advice on saving costs at the grocery store checkout my blog post: How-To: Cut Costs for Non-Couponers.
Sam's Club: We budget $120/month at Sam's Club. However, rather than take out a big amount at the end of the month to make our Sam's Club run, we withdraw $30/week at the bank and put it in our envelope. Once we reach $120, we then use it to stock up on our meats, cleaning products, snacks, diapers, wipes, etc. Anything leftover can be saved for the next month or transferred to another envelope.
Miscellaneous: This envelope is used to go out to eat or do something fun together. It can even be used towards unexpected expenses. I don't have a set budget for this envelope every month. I only go to the bank to withdraw funds for this envelope if we have extra money to spare and have planned for it in advance. If we have any leftover money from our Groceries or Sam's Club envelopes, we may add it here as well. If not, it will remain empty and we will have to just find some fun free things to do. Nothing wrong with that!
Allowance: My husband and I have our own his and her envelopes. We get either $15 or $20 each per week that we can use on lunch at work or we can save it up and he can buy a new video game or I can get a pedicure or buy a new outfit. Either way, that's our spending money that we can use on whatever we want. (I know some may think that it's kind of embarrassing to be adults with an "allowance", but in order for us to pay off our debt in a timely manner, we have agreed to make this sacrifice for a little while).

Now that we had our monthly finances under control, we worked on our Debt Pay-Off Plan.

I have seen articles on Yahoo! about many people who have been able to lower greater amounts of debt in shorter amounts of time. However, 18 months is the time frame that my husband and I have decided is the most probable for us. We know our circumstances are not the same as everyone else's, so we made the best plan for our situation and I suggest you do the same as well.

While creating our plan we reached a few realizations:
We couldn't downsize to an apartment or lower our lease because we purchased our home so we were stuck making mortgage payments on it for awhile. We didn't want to just walk away.
We also couldn't sell our cars since we leased both of them and we don't have any investments or assets that we can sell or withdraw money from.

And even though I wish it were possible, neither of us could become stay-at-home parents and live off of a single income.
So, we are literally trying to pay down our debt with just our paychecks.
To help us do this, we have done the following:
  1. We locked away our credit cards and will not charge any more expenses on them.
  2. We created a FIXED dollar amount to pay towards our credit cards each month.
  3. We decided to pay off our high interest rate card first.
  4. We then started a snowball effect to ultimately pay-off all of our debt.
Lock away your credit cards:
Put them in a filing cabinet and hide the key. Or be like my co-worker and stick it in a bowl of water and put it in your freezer so if you ever did want to use it, the hassle of getting it out of ice might not be worth it. No matter how you do it, just find a place for your cards other than your purse or wallet!

Create a FIXED dollar amount to pay towards your credit cards each month:
To calculate this dollar amount, take a look at each credit card account. Write down how much you owe, the interest rate, the minimum payment due, and the due date. From there, you can determine how much you need to at least pay the minimum every month. Then look at your finances and determine how much ABOVE the minimum totals you can sacrifice each month towards your highest rate credit card. So, say your minimum payments equal $300, see if you can sacrifice $500/month towards your credit cards, so you can put the extra $200 towards your card with the highest interest rate to help pay it down quicker.

Pay off your high interest rate card first:
The idea behind paying the cards with the highest interest rates first is so that you pay less back to the bank. Therefore, put whatever extra money you can afford every month towards that one specific credit card and just pay minimums on the rest.

The Snowball Effect:
Once you pay off your card with the highest interest rate, shuffle the dollar amount you used to pay towards that card into your 2nd highest card. The idea is that eventually you will pay them all down quickly by creating a "snowball effect." For example, per the scenario I created above take the $200 extra you were paying PLUS the original minimum payments, you can now pay it all towards your 2nd highest card. Once that is paid, you can then add the total you were paying on that prior card, towards the 3rd highest rated card and so on and so forth. *But remember, as you transfer the dollar amounts between cards as you pay them off, continue to pay the minimum towards your other cards!* Eventually, if you continue with this process, you will pay everything off quicker and quicker creating a "snowball effect."

To help us keep track of how my payments versus my interest rates are holding up, I use a spreadsheet I found on the internet. You can download it here: TT18: Credit Card Repayment Spreadsheet.

The most important step in making this whole "plan" work is for my husband and I to make this sacrifice together. Cutting back on many things we used to enjoy will be a tough. We won't be able to hangout with our friends as often, birthdays won't be as extravagant, family trips will need to be cut back, and date nights will have to become a little more creative, but we must make sacrifices to attain our goal.

Through the sacrifices, we need to make sure we stay committed and dedicated to our cause. It'll definitely be tough at first, but we need to keep seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We hope together we can be each other's beacon as we go through this journey. I wish all of you who are trying to pay down your debt the best of luck and hopefully we all can finally overcome our burdens of debt and be able to breath again!

This is something that my husband and I are currently trying to do. We have not yet proven that this plan is fool-proof. However, based off many internet articles, first-hand stories from friends and family, and the success we've had in the past few weeks, these are the steps that our family will be taking to hopefully eliminate our debt in the next 18 months! I would love everyone's input to help us reach our goal and if you would like to take on this journey with us, go right ahead! Good luck!
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  1. It feels so good to finally be out of debt ! I did it a few years ago and your plan seems like your goal is attainable ! Good luck !

  2. Good strategy. The snowball effect is more or less how I got rid of our $12k debt in 8 months. It's pretty awesome.

    With not using credit cards, just make sure to keep an eye on your score. A long-term lull in credit usage will take a toll; since you're a homeowner and likely paying a mortgage, though, this might not affect it too much.

    1. That is actually a great point! I think we might consider using our credit cards to pay for gas and just pay it off in full every month! I do know that not using your cards completely can ding your credit, so we may still use it from time to time. Just need to remember to pay it back in full! lol. I appreciate your input!

  3. The whole allowance thing is what my husband and I do too! We call it our Fun Fund. That way when he wants to buy all his tech gizmos he can, and doesn't have to check in with me. And I can buy clothes and other stuff he doesn't necessarily care for out of mine.

    1. That's great! So far my husband and I have actually loved the fact that we have our own money that we can control without having to "check in" with each other. I wish we had done it sooner!

  4. Great tips! I'll keep this saved for future reference. :)

    1. Thank you! But hopefully you won't need it! lol

  5. Thanks for sharing. I plan to share this with my husband to see if we can commit to something like this

  6. Wow! Reading your post just showed how perseverance in achieving something can make all things possible, even if we think it wouldn't happen. Thank you for sharing us your knowledge not just on how to pay our debts, but also on how to budget money and eliminate out the wrong ways of spending money. That is so inspiring, Mabby! All the best to your lovely family! :)

    Audrey Butler @ A Good Blatt