Back in January 2014, My wife and I just got married and were floating on cloud 9. One of the arrangements we discussed was that after we said “I do”, we were going to merge our bank accounts and begin paying our bills out of a joint account.
After heading to Bank of America, we merged our accounts, paid off the remainder of the wedding bills, and we were stuck with this snapshot of our financial future:
Bank Account (Checking and Savings): $1,500
Accumulated Debt (Student Loans): (-$55,000)
Net Worth: (-$53,500)
We both knew we had $55,000 of debt (student loans) to deal with. But, the problem wasn’t the debt. It was the fact that we never discussed how we were going to pay off the debt prior to getting married. Since we had both been successful before getting married, we figured we would be fine, financially. But shortly before we got married, I quit my job. Between starting my new business (The Bean Counter) and paying for the wedding, we were broke!
Little did we realize that we were on the verge of being completely broke with no plan on how to get out of the debt, let alone save.
After realizing that we were sitting on a negative net worth, we both looked at each other and knew that we needed to get things together if we wanted to have a successful and healthy financial future.
I picked up a Dave Ramsey podcast, and after a few short hours of learning his “Baby Steps”, I brought home the idea of zero-based budgeting and cutting expenses to my wife. This conversation was not as encouraging as I hoped and we both knew our lifestyle was going to change drastically.
There were the obvious things we did to try and get out of debt quickly. Get on a budget, cut expenses, find new ways of making income, etc. But, what you don’t know is the insane things we decided to implement, that allowed us to knock out $55,000 of student loans in just under 14 months.
Those moments are what I want to share with you today. Here is the real snapshot of what it looked like for two CPAs trying to get out of debt:
1. No Room in the Budget for a Couch
Right as we began a budget, we moved to another city for a business I was starting, to be closer to my business partner. During our move from Miami to Orlando, we set up a separate budget of what we needed to purchase for our new place and what we were willing to sacrifice on.
The sacrifice? Purchasing a couch.
I bet your next question was, “Was it worth it?”
The truth: Absolutely not.
Dropping $300 bucks for a new couch would have not had a significant impact on our willingness and ability to get out of debt.
But, it was that same sacrificing mindset that allowed my wife and I to avoid additional expenses, any chance we got. Including the comfort of owning a couch.
2. Sundays = All Day Cooking Fest
One of the first areas we cut when jumping onto a zero-based budget was restaurants. On any given week, we would spend roughly 7-10 meals eating out and dropping $20-$35 bucks on each meal.
This added up quickly and we began to realize that our biggest expense each month, outside of rent, was our grocery and restaurant spending habits.
So what did we do to change our behavior?
We cut out all restaurants…cold turkey.
During this time, my wife was working full-time as a CPA and I was kickstarting my new business as an entrepreneur. We were both working crazy hours and still needed to find time to cook those meals.
This is where the crazy set in.
Every Sunday, my wife and I would plan out our meals for the entire week. We would head to the grocery store, spend less than $100 on groceries that week (for the both of us) and proceed to spend the next 12 hours in the kitchen.
At the end of the 12 hours, each Sunday, we would have a packed fridge full of soups, entrees, salads, and even desserts to help maintain our sweet tooths (cakes, cookies, brownies, etc.).
Then, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we would head to the fridge and pull out our meals and take them to work. No additional spending on food was necessary and I began to really enjoy a good leftover soup.
3. Lived in an Airbnb Private Room for 3 Months
In early 2015, we received a call from an old boss asking us if we would be interested in working as an accounting contractors for 3 months in Miami. Since it was for only 3 months, we decided it would be a great way to increase our income and said “yes”.
At the time, we were locked into a lease in Orlando, so we decided to rent out our apartment and book an Airbnb rental in Miami for that time period.
However, the prices in South Florida skyrocket from January-March and, therefore, the only place we could book within our budget was a private room with a private bathroom, inside the home of a single mom with 2 kids.
As a newlywed couple, we decided we could sacrifice the privacy of living alone and booked the Airbnb rental.
We had to live out of a mini-fridge and a tiny room during those long 3 months.
Plus, remember when I mentioned that we would cook all day Sunday and have those as our meals for the week?
We somehow ninja’ed our way into fitting every single meal inside that mini fridge.
4. Only Went Window Shopping For Clothes
New clothes were no longer an option for us to purchase. We decided that the clothes we had would be good enough to last for years which left no room in the budget for “shopping”.
However, our budget didn’t stop us from going to those malls…to window shop.
As a young couple on a budget, we turned the typical “window shopping” into a very entertaining free activity we could do on the weekends.
We DID want to purchase the items we tried on. But, we made a pact that we were not going to be spending any of the money we were making. Saving money turned into a game of “Can We Go An Entire Day Without Spending A Dime?”
The answer: Yep!
5. Limited Alcohol Consumption to $2 Beers/$4 Wine
There were times when we wanted to treat ourselves, maybe after a long workweek or a successful entrepreneurial adventure that occurred. But we were still on a budget and recognized that a celebration was not going to be the same as it was in the past.
So, when those little events occurred, and we felt like it was an opportunity to treat ourselves, we headed to one of two places:
- Publix for a $2 beer, or
- Walmart for a Lucky Duck $3.97 bottle of wine
I know, crap beer and wine. Sounds like a real treat, right?
When I say we were committed to getting out of debt, as soon as possible, we somehow turned our delusions into thinking a $4 bottle of wine actually tasted good. Crazy… I know.
6. No More Gifts…Period
When you are on a budget, it doesn’t mean all of your friends and family understand what that really means.
So, what do you do when your wife’s sister’s birthday is coming up and you don’t want to shell out a few hundred bucks on a gift for her (like we did every year)?
We gifted her with our time…not our money.
My wife got a brilliant idea of creating a website for her sister. Her sister was moving to a new town, and wanted to know some of the cool places in the area to eat, go out, work out of, etc.
My wife researched the best places in Nashville to visit, plus additional information that would help make her sister’s move go smoothly. Then she turned that research into a website that she could visit at any time. Here was the final product:
As for the gifts between my wife and I (birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.), we both decided on not purchasing any gifts for those events. Instead, we used our time to take off for the day.
Go window shopping, bake a cake together, go on a car ride together…if it was a free activity, we did it.
7. Sold Everything We Owned On eBay/Craigslist
After our Orlando lease ended, we decided that we did not want to lock ourselves into another lease.
Instead, we decided to sell everything we owned (except our laptops and clothes) and began living our lives completely through Airbnb.com.
We took to eBay for the electronics and Craigslist for the furniture, and sold our bed, iPads, desks, kitchenware, lamps, mirror, and anything else we felt like we didn’t need.
After a week of posting all of the items we owned, we sold 100% of the items listed which turned into thousands of additional dollars we used to put towards the debt.
Now, we are living completely out of our suitcases and decided to use the new freedom to travel the world. We rent out entire homes on Airbnb (no more private rooms) and have already visited North Carolina, Virginia and Costa Rica, and are leaving for Spain, Portugal and Italy later this month for the remainder of the year.
Looking back now, my wife and I definitely leaned a little more on the “crazy” side of life trying whatever we could to get out of debt.
We spent 14 months budgeting, saving, increasing income and cutting expenses to where we are now 100% debt-free!
Our next goals are to continue to increase our income, save 30-50% of our monthly income each month and prepare to purchase our first home with cash only. It will probably take us about 2-3 years but we are definitely looking forward to see what we are able to accomplish during those years to hit our goals.
But, no matter what, we are going to purchase a new couch wherever we decide to settle down.
Mark my words. :)
About the author: Andrew is the founder of The Bean Counter – a site that helps people build successful careers in accounting. You can read more of the lessons he learned during this debt repayment period on his blog. This post originally appeared on Millennial Money Man.[Want to submit a guest article to Rockstar Finance? Shoot us a note with your ideas!]