I know how crazy it is to look at Rob and my success at paying off our debt, to watch the video of our Debt Free Scream on the Dave Ramsey show, and to listen to us talk about how we paid off $250,000 worth of debt in 13 months time. I also know how easy it is to look at our success and think “yeah, but they have Maria’s blog and TpT store. That’s a really nice story, but I could never accomplish that. No normal, middle-class person could ever pay off that much debt in 13 months time. It’s just not possible.”
I actually agree whole-heartedly for everyone that has read our blog posts and had those thoughts. I know that the average normal, middle-class person (or family) probably can’t pay off $250,000 worth of debt in 13 months. But would you agree that it could be possible over the course of 8 years time? Because that’s really how far back our story goes.
Let me take you on a walk way back in time. In the fall of 2007, while Rob was hitting the books in law school and beginning to amass a substantial amount of student loan debt, I was in my mid-twenties earning a meager income as a Catholic school teacher. I was living at home, hoping to finish my masters degree and get an apartment of my own. I was also terrified of how I would ever survive on my teaching salary.
Fortunately, my very good friend, Kristy, recommended that I look into Dave Ramsey and figure out a plan for how to make it all work. At that point I had no idea who Dave Ramsey was or why he was a big deal, but I was happy to receive any advice that could help me stand on my own two feet. I borrowed Kristy’s Financial Peace University DVDs and was hooked. For several weeks, I would come home, check all of my students’ assignments, then curl up in my twin size bed watching those videos on my 15″ TV.
I was so thankful for the recommendation. I took Dave’s advice to heart and instantly became a “Dave Ramsey person.” I made a budget, vowed to pay off the remainder of my car loan, and started saving aggressively. Moving out on my own was going to be expensive, too, so I capitalized on the fact that I was living at home with very few expenses. I paid cash to finish my master’s degree as quickly as I could, paid off the car within a few months and started saving for a deposit on my apartment.
Back then, my budget was tight. I looked on my computer for a budget from that time of my life, and the farthest back I could find was November 2010. It was a typical budget for me during that stage of my life. I was living on my own, paying $600 in rent each month and was fortunate enough to find an apartment complex that offered free heat, which was a saving grace for my personal finances. I often budgeted only $10 for clothes and if I wanted to spend more, I had to save for a few months or I had to sell something. Gift giving was small (I spent less than $350 on Christmas gifts that year) because I was broke. Despite that, I managed to save 15% of my income for retirement, give some money to the church, save for a new-to-me car and put some money away toward replacing my computer. And I did it all without going into debt.
So there I was, saving as much as I could. At some point, I began to save for a new house (sometimes all I could afford to set aside was $20 a month). In 2012, I started Kinder Craze. Not because I wanted to make thousands of dollars selling educational resources on TpT. Quite the opposite, in fact. I already had a TpT store (which I opened in 2008) which was literally only earning pennies. I started Kinder Craze because I had so much passion for my classroom that I really wanted to share with other educators. Blogging sounded like a fun idea so I sort of started it on a whim one day.
After a few months of blogging, I began to add some small items to my TpT store (and was overjoyed when people actually bought them.) In September, 2012 -- a mere 6 months after starting the Kinder Craze blog, I earned just shy of $1,000 in only one month on TpT. It felt like I had won the lottery! I couldn’t believe it and, when I look back at my sales data, it still takes my breath away.
For the first time, I felt like I had a chance to live comfortably like everyone else and spend more than $10 on clothes each month. I still lived frugally, but I could finally begin to save and dream about what my future might become outside of my 600 square foot apartment.
I continued to share fresh ideas from my kindergarten classroom on Kinder Craze, and poured every ounce of my free time and energy into the blog and my TpT store. While other people were going out with friends or kicking up their feet to relax for the night, I would get home from a long day at school and gear up for a late night of work on my second job. I loved every moment of my time, but it was a lot of hard work and late nights. The hard work paid off as I found ways to monetize Kinder Craze and create new teaching resources that generated more income. With each passing year, I was able to gain stronger control of my finances and really start to save.
If you are currently working to dig yourself out of debt, please don’t be discouraged by our 13-month success story. The more accurate story is we have an 8-year success story. It took eight years of good financial management for that $250,000 debt to be paid off. Rob just didn’t know it for the first seven years. When I asked Rob to keep an open mind as we worked through Financial Peace University together, he was on board and it became our success story.
Just like you, I am no stranger to sacrifice. I have felt the strains of a limited income and had to find ways to live within my means. And, after several years of diligently saving for a house (even when I was only able to save $20 in a month), I also felt the pain of delaying that dream I had worked so tirelessly for. I took all $110,000 of my savings for a new house and gave it to the bank as payment toward Rob’s student loan debt.
Was it hard? Absolutely.
Do I regret it? Not even for a moment.
Rob has also made his share of sacrifices. When we first started dating, he spent his evenings playing video games and his weekends sleeping in. He is now one of the hardest working men I know. He puts in long days at his law firm, comes home, makes dinner, then proceeds to work behind the scenes on maintaining the blogs. It’s not uncommon for Rob to keep working, even after I go to bed for the night.
If you are doing the Dave Ramsey thing and are slowly working your way through Baby Step #2, keep at it! Stay strong. I was broke too and I am living proof that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work and stick to the plan. It may not be easy and it could take 8 years (or longer) to finally get out of debt and get your finances on track, but you can do it.
The sacrifice is worth it in the end.
Stay On Track with Our Debt Free Chart
If you’re anything like me, you need to visualize your progress toward a goal. If you’re working toward your own dream of being debt-free, I created an editable On Our Way to Debt Free chart so you can see how far you have progressed toward being free of debt. You can download your own copy by clicking on the image below.