Inside: Wondering what it takes to get a paid off credit card? Here’s what our family did to claw out of debt and what we learned from our journey.
In early 2016, my Hubby and I sat down to set our family goals for the year, when we realized that our credit card debt was worse than we thought. In fact, it was so obnoxious that the best we could do was go round and round in circles. Pay down the balance… watch it go back up.
Too much of our money was going towards that debt, but somehow the balances never seemed to get any smaller.
Why should hundreds of our dollars be handed to a credit card company every single month for the privilege of…what? Owing more money? We weren’t getting anything out of this deal.
Our #YearofNo Is Born
That’s when our #yearofno was born. We knuckled down as a family. We stopped all of our wasteful spending. Habits like eating fast food and stopping at convenience stores died quickly. Our pizza delivery shop wondered what had happened to us.
The kids adjusted to not buying from every book order at school and fewer trips to the concession stand at ball games.
We parents learned to use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. The house projects we desperately hoped to get done were put off even longer. I tried to avoid eye contact with my ugly unpainted walls and kitchen cabinets that were chipping apart.
But it was all worth it when I made that final payment. Now we can proudly brag that we have a paid off credit card. Tomorrow, we get right back to it and attack card #2.
How We Paid Off Credit Card Debt
When we first began our journey to debt freedom, I searched for debt free blogs. I wanted to find someone else with goals like mine….to pay off debt while raising a family.
Now, you can find some exceptional stories of people who paid off huge amounts of debt in a short period of time. But many of those people have no kids (or maybe a couple of very young kids). Others were paying off debt on a big salary.
Our family, on the other hand, had to keep raising 5 kids ages (at the time) 2 to 12 years old. We were living on my Hubby’s salary, which admittedly is a bit higher than the national average (don’t worry, it’s not 6 figures). But then again, so is our family size.
I’ve talked about our goals in monthly check ins. But just in case there are others out there like me who want to see how a real life family pays off a giant load of credit card debt (thousandS$$), I’m going to tell more of our story.
Here are some of the questions I had about how families paid off debt. Today, I’ll answer them from our perspective.
How Did We Decide Where to Start?
The hope was that our #yearofno would result in a paid off credit card. While we owed money to three different cards, it was important to focus on just one at a time. We chose to start with the biggest one, for a few reasons.
- I’d cut up that card long ago and didn’t have a replacement. That meant we couldn’t spend on it even if we wanted to.
- I hated that card and wanted to be done with it.
- We decided that if we killed the scariest card first, there’s nothing we couldn’t do.
We called this goal a BHAG (a big, hairy, audacious goal) because it was kind of crazy. We were trying to pay off a card that amounted to nearly 17% of my Hubby’s bring home pay while juggling the other debts we had and raising 5 kids. It was kind of nuts to dream that big.
And we didn’t meet that goal. It took us 3 extra months to get there. But how can we be disappointed with that? We’re free from that crushing mound of debt. And now we have the motivation we need to cut through the other two cards.
What Rules Did We Use?
The #yearofno hashtag might sound like we had a no spend year, but that was never our intention. Instead, we carefully weighed all of our spending. We started with a default “no” and had to talk ourselves into a yes.
Teaching our kids to swim was a solid yes, even though it meant spending more than usual on a YMCA membership we haven’t had in years.
Stopping for drinks was a no, even though it cost only $1.
Making the adjustment was tough in a lot of ways. Teaching your kids to choose purchases carefully is hard work. Avoiding purchases that are closer to needs than wants isn’t fun.
Best of all, once we made the adjustment, we realized that we weren’t missing out on nearly as much as we expected to. How many new books do the kids need? We already have a house full and access to a great public library. Brand new clothes are nice, but thrift store clothes keep us covered just fine.
What Advice Did You Use? Or Not Use?
Cut Spending/Increase Income
Paying off credit cards comes down to some combination of cutting your spending and increasing your income. It’s important to try for both of those things, and we did that. But we learned that this simple idea leaves out an important aspect that cannot be ignored.
If you don’t change your entire mindset, you’re doomed. Put your heart and soul into fighting debt. Get inspired. Get mad. Do whatever it takes to claw your way out of debt.
We sometimes get this idea that getting out of debt should be neat and clean. Pay this amount of money each month and you’ll reach your goal on that date.
But then the first time life happens and you can’t make a full payment, you give up the whole game. It’s too hard!
Look, life isn’t a pretty Pinterest account. You’ll have bad months, but you’ll also have good months. The line we made to pay off this credit card wasn’t neat and tidy.
I set out to pay something like 8.3% each month. Then life laughed at us. Instead, we paid10% some months. Other months, I was lucky to make it to 1%.
But when we got to 100%, I really didn’t care what the leaps looked like as long as they got me there.
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible. ~St. Francis of Assisi
I think the reason so many Americans don’t even know how much they owe is due to fear. It’s much easier to stick your head in the sand and make minimum payments for decades than to change your life.
All I can say is that I’m enjoying the change. It’s worth the struggle. Sure, I’m sending most of our paycheck to these credit card companies. But every payment to them is a payment I’ll be able to make to myself soon. Just imagine if you were putting that same amount of cash into a savings account.
What life changes could you make for your family?
If you’re considering taking that first step towards paying off debt, stop considering. Do it now.
Tomorrow we start handing our money to the next credit card company. But soon, the privilege will be ours…we’ll be banking our money for ourselves.
Looking for motivation? 14 Ways to Stay Motivated When Paying Down Debt
Are you fighting against debt? Where are you in your journey?