Our Debt Free Journey Part 1: The First Step and Changing Your Habits

We started documenting our marriage in polaroids for our wedding guest book, + use them for the milestones in our marriage. Our Debt Free Journey is no exception + has made this journey just a little more fun!

We started documenting our marriage in polaroids for our wedding guest book, + use them for the milestones in our marriage. Our Debt Free Journey is no exception + has made this journey just a little more fun!

Welcome to Part 1 of the Craft Debt Free Journey. Part 2, “Our Debt Free Journey Part 2: Making Extra Income + Finding Your Why”, will be posted tomorrow evening, + will solely be on what we have done to earn extra money, + a final charge on how to keep the fire burning to persevere!

I have a feeling most of you are coming to this post to hear something inspirational + empowering, + while paying off $42,000 in debt in 10 months is truly incredible, there is a lot of very uninspiring things behind the scenes. I am probably going to tell you things that may look good on paper, but are really, really hard to do every single day, month in + month out. You will not want to miss part two, as it holds some of my dearest memories, jobs we picked up (truly, WEIRD!), + the best tip, number ten! I want you to know that this journey has changed us, + we are eternally grateful. It has not come without its struggles, hardships, sacrifices, + a lot of hard work. Never compare your journey to ours, DELIGHT in the process, not JUST the final product, be exceptionally creative, + stay really, really humble.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
— Maya Angelou

How did you even begin this journey, Ash?

Josh + I were married on July 2, 2016. We both made really good salaries, + before we got married, we thought we would just magically pay off debt when we combined our incomes + it didn’t really concern us too much. But then, we got married. We fought about finances, we were stressed about always seeing our money just disappear (Am I right? How does money just fly away?), + never sat down to do a budget. Finally, on February 21st, 2017, 8 months into our marriage, Josh came home with Dave Ramsey’s ‘Financial Peace University’ kit that his Dad gave to us out of excess. Josh sat me down, asked if I was just as sick + tired of being sick + tired as he was with money, + we hit the ground HARD on making big changes in our lives by following the debt snowball outlined in this program. We drive to Maryville, Tennessee very often to see both of our families who live there, + we BLEW through thirteen weeks of material in TWO car trips to Tennessee. Josh would drive, I would put in CD after CD, + I would take notes in the workbook provided in the kit. We would pause to talk about what we heard + communicate about how we could accomplish it. This is where it ALL began.

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Here is a sneak into where we started, where we are, + what we have left to accomplish:

Starting Debt: $140,000 (Credit Cards, 2 student loans, 2 cars)

Remaining Debt: $98,000 (Student loans + 1 Car)

2017 Debt Pay Off: $42,000

2018 Debt Pay Off Goal: $60,000

Total Debt Pay Off Target Date: Before our 3rd wedding anniversary, July 2, 2019.

This is simply our journey. It may look very different for you + your family, but one thing I have learned over the past 10 months is that paying off debt takes great discipline, + it is 80% habit, + only 20% head knowledge. I hope that this post inspires you to not just have some of the head knowledge + inspiration to move towards the debt free life, but that it gives you some of the tactile habits + mind habits to persevere through this hard journey. (Please look into Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for the specifics on how to do the Debt Snowball!). We We live in a world that wants everything, right NOW, + we don't like to wait. We don’t think about things. We just buy that thing or go on that vacation or impulse buy that shirt in the swipe up link on Instagram Stories that is 75% off (you know what I am talking about!) But this journey is SO counter cultural + will change you from the inside out if you truly dive in head first.

Without further adieu, the first five of ten tips we have for you that have helped us to pay off $42,000 in less than 10 months are finally here:

1- IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS: One of the very first things Josh + I did was to write down every single piece of debt we had to our names.  This didn’t mean picking + choosing which ones are ‘socially acceptable debts’, (cue student loans, cars, + financed cell phones, which for some reason, people don’t usually count as debt, + assume they will just have those their whole lives, but that is NOT truth.), but writing EVERY SINGLE ONE down on paper.  In Gods word, he clearly says:

The rich rule over the poor + the borrower is slave to the lender.
— Proverbs 22:7

You see, we were living as slaves to our debt, + we didn’t even know it. It had made SO many decisions for us; how much money we need to make, where we need to work, what time we wake up due to work, how much stress we have, where we can travel to, when we have kids, how we are able to give, etc. We were sick of it. To truly begin this debt free journey, you have to know where you are beginning. This is both the easiest, + the hardest step of this process. That is probably because it exposes habits + belief systems, as well as attacks your pride, because if we are honest, no one is really proud of the debt they have. It brings a certain level of shame, at least that’s how it made us feel, + it is not something to be proud of. If you are like us, the debt number was WAY more than we thought it would be when we actually wrote it all down. But here's the thing: this is where YOU have the choice. You can choose to be normal, + always live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to live a life of financial freedom...OR, you can choose to change your family tree, + live like no one else is. I challenge you to not choose normal. 

If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.
— Maya Angelou

Choose to face your debt head on. Write it down. Get mad at it, like, really mad at how it is ruling your life (yes, it really is), + DO something about it, friend. THAT was our very first step.

2- BUDGET: Once Josh + I wrote down every single piece of debt we have, we downloaded the ‘Every Dollar’ App designed by Dave Ramsey’s team, + began to look at each month at the beginning of every month to give every dollar a name. THIS is how you will finally KNOW where your money is going, + not just wonder where it went at the end of the month. You have to be the one to tell your money where to go, or it will disappear, + fast! (Can I get an amen?) You will have to do this every single month, + it will eventually become easier, but those first few may be more difficult than you expect! Josh + I call a budget meeting every month, we sit down, talk about our month, figure out what we have going on in the next 30 days, + then we plan accordingly with how much each event/bill/project will cost. This will allow you to truly live inside your means each month, +the budget is the cornerstone of how we have paid off debt.

3- BE ON THE SAME PAGE AS YOUR SPOUSE: If you are married, this will ONLY work if you are BOTH on the same page, fighting for one unified goal.

Taking on the world as a unified, fortified duo is not just a romantic notion, it’s a powder keg. Together, you can set the world on fire.
— Chip Gaines

If you are single, you will want to find someone who will have hard conversations with you about your finances, + help you to stay accountable (Find someone who is actually winning with money, is older than you are, + isn't afraid to hurt your feelings). When Josh + I started, we began to talk about every purchase we made, especially if it was something we wanted to purchase that was not already in the budget we set for each month. (I mean, we talk about $2 coke purchases, or $5 gas station purchases...we talk about EVERY dollar...literally.) Due to how much we began communicating, it has completely changed how we speak to each, how we communicate about money + life, + it has strengthened our marriage in ways I truly can't write about in a blog post. The unity we have experienced as we forge this trail together is something that I will tell our grandchildren about someday, + a gift we are overwhelmingly thankful for. After seeing just how much progress we had made, + how much it had changed our marriage, Josh + I decided to host a Dave Ramsey FPU Class in our home. It lasted 9 weeks, + we had one couple even become debt free in those 9 weeks! (Hello, that's INCREDIBLE!) It is a totally different level of accountability to stay on this journey when you are the ones HOSTING the class + facilitating it. It sparked sweet new friendships, + we were thankful to have people in our home for 9 weeks every Tuesday evening.


During the FPU Class, Josh + I hit a milestone of paying off $30,000. We got all dressed up, (Any excuse to get in heels + dress!) + went out to dinner with a gift card to Red Robin that we still had from our wedding gifts. We talked about how we have seen each other change the most over those first few months, + it reminded us to never stop pursuing each other. We AREN'T the same people we each married, + it hit us that we have to be intentional to continue to date our spouse to continue to get to know the new person they are becoming! It was so special to share it with our class that next week + give them a glimpse of hope that this CAN be done. We finished our class the week of Thanksgiving, so we ended with a 'Friendsgiving' where we each brought a meal, potluck style, + shared our last class together talking about the BIG picture. I am really sentimental, so at the very end, I gifted each couple/individual with a mug I hand design to remind them that 'The Best is Yet to Come!' with the date their class started. I designed one for Josh + I as well with our start date: February 21, 2017. I truly believe you have to celebrate the milestones, + keep them forefront in your daily routine to be inspired to keep going! (Who DOESN'T drink coffee every morning? I thought it was perfect!)

4- WRITE DOWN YOUR VALUES: Speaking of changing our marriage, we have seen our values be more + more clearly defined by this debt free journey. When Josh + I started, + as we continue on this journey, we had to sit down, + write out our values, + what was really important to us. When you spend money, + you agree about where you are spending your money, what you are REALLY agreeing upon are your VALUES together. One of the biggest things Josh + I like to do is host people in our home, + give. Because of that, we have added places in our budget to DIY things in our home each month to make it a safe place for people to come, do life, + live well in our home with us. One of the ways we did that on a budget was to build our own shelving. Shelves can change a room REALLY quick. With our family being from Tennessee, + us loving to go to Antique shops, we found this gorgeous old barn wood at an Antique store down there called 'Red Roof Antiques', + we find the barn wood at a GREAT price, + then buy the brackets from Lowes. Each 5 foot shelf total costs $16! (What? Thats insane!) To buy the types of shelves we build would be easier, but it is just one way to cut money, make it a fun day date, but still continue to build a safe home for others on a budget.

It has also afforded us to give peacefully, not stressfully, because we know exactly how much we have set aside, we have communicated about that giving, + we are doing it living inside our means, not outside. I think you will be shocked when you do your first budget to see how much you actually spend on certain areas of your life. From there, you will find what you value.

For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.
— Matthew 6:21

5- IT REALLY IS OK TO SAY NO!: I think with this one that Josh + I continually asked the question: “Are we content with what we have?” I also believe that this hits so many areas of life, not just the debt free journey. (There are so many places in our lives where we need to learn to say 'no' so that we can say our 'best yes'!)

We need much less than we think we need.
— Maya Angelou

During these past 10 months, Josh + I have learned so much about what a need is + what a want is. We have had to say 'no' to A LOT of things that others would deem ‘important’ or ‘valuable’. When you say 'no' to something, it is NOT limiting your life, but it is MAKING ROOM for something so much greater. One of the phrases that Dave has basically coined is “Live like no one else now, so that later, you can live + give like no one else in the future.” I find this so true, + if I could give you the ‘Craft version’ of this coined phrase, I would say “Say 'no' to your desires + wants now, so that later, you can say your 'best yes' to your desires + wants in the future, giving more than you could ever imagine.” With this, communication with your spouse or accountability partner is crucial. Let me give you an example.  Five months into this debt free journey, Josh + I had our one year wedding anniversary. Pretty big deal, right? Since we have been communicating about every single purchase, Josh let me know that before we started Dave’s program, he purchased a weekend away at ‘The Oliver’: a 35-room boutique hotel in Knoxville, TN where we spent our honeymoon night. It is attached to a ‘Tupelo Honey Café’, + it was the SWEETEST surprise. But, Josh told me because he wanted us to make this decision together, that we should talk about cancelling it. We talked about it, realized we had bigger dreams, + that weekend would end up costing well over $800. So, we decided to cancel it. However, this ‘no’ turned into a really sweet weekend where we cooked dinner on the back porch under tea lights, went mini-golfing (with our $20 ‘fun budget’ that we had allowed ourselves each month!), I beat him at go-carts, we went for a walk around Cherokee talking about everything we were thankful for so far in our marriage, hung out with our local family, + we ended the evening with lighting sparklers from our wedding exit on our 2'x2' cement front porch. That ‘no’ turned into a weekend I would say 'yes' to over + over again. We realized that saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean we aren’t living well or missing out on the important things. In fact, it has given us SO much perspective + JOY in the creativity we have gained to enjoy each other. We now find creative ways to have date nights, spend time with people, + experience life. Saying ‘no’ to these things now simply means we get to say 'yes' to them in the future, but it hasn’t robbed us of anything; in fact, it is enriched our lives deeply.

These are the first five tips that have helped us to pay off $42,000 of debt in 10 months. Tomorrow, I will be sharing the last five tips, + you won't want to miss them. I pray that you are encouraged, laughing, inspired, really mad at your debt, + excited to journey this with someone you love + trust!

CHALLENGE: If you have debt + are wanting to choose a different life + change your family tree by the way you handle money, then I challenge you to simply start with step 1 this week. Sit down with your spouse or accountability partner, write down every single debt you have; look it square in the face, accept it, + breathe in the humility to begin to attack it. I promise you, you will be changed even more than your finances will be, + you will be on the journey to change your family tree! It will be a refining journey, but isn't that how we grow? I promise you, even amidst trials + struggle, the BEST is yet to come!

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For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.
— Psalm 66:10-12


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