Why We Choose to Live Debt Free

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We’re weird.  I’m okay with that.  No, really, I mean it.  I’m glad we’re weird.  It is one of the big reasons you check us out every day and have made Stacy Makes Cents as popular as it is.  But why are we that way?  Why do we choose to look at “normal” and go the other way?  Why do we drive older cars, do most of our own construction projects, shop at yard sales and thrift stores and do other things “normal” people don’t do?  Today, I’ll fill you in.

I want to start with three ways we got where we are – the HOW.  I believe we have to start there for you to understand the why.  First, we made the choice as a couple to live debt free.  With very few exceptions, the people who are debt free got there because they made it a priority.  We made paying off debt a big priority and avoiding it thereafter an even bigger priority.  I’m not going to lie – I want expensive stuff.  I have a thing for nice pens and watches.  I lust after a beautiful Mont Blanc when I see it and I would love to have a nice Breitling or Rolex.  You probably didn’t know that, considering I write with whatever pen is handy and my fanciest way to figure out the time is with a Seiko I bought on a trip to Russia years ago.  No matter how much I like really fancy things, I just can’t make myself buy them.  They’re really nice and if you want to buy me one, I wouldn’t complain and would even write a nice thank-you note (insert subliminal hint here).  But I’m not going to spend my cash on such things.  We made living debt-free a priority and these luxury items don’t fit (for now) in the scheme of our priorities.

Second, we educated ourselves.  Why do I love Dave Ramsey so much?  He is all about educating people and helping them LEARN about freedom from debt.  He motivates people and gives them the information they need to succeed.  When I grow up, I hope I can be just like him.  Through Dave’s books and Financial Peace University, Stacy and I learned a lot about communicating with one another about money and setting accurate priorities.  Even though we both have a good head on our shoulders about money, Dave (and others) gave us a lot of good information to be equipped to handle personal financial issues.

Third, we sought out mentors.  Some of the best money you can spend is on buying the right person/people lunch.  If there is someone who has done life in a way you believe, ask them to lunch.  Tell them you are impressed by how they live their lives and you want to buy them lunch so you can learn from them.  It is a valuable investment in yourself and it gives them a chance to be a mentor (more on that in a second).  If you don’t have at least one mentor in your life, get one – TODAY.

So there’s some of the HOW we did it.  Let’s talk about the WHY.

  • I talk to people who are divorced because they couldn’t agree about money and their marriage fell apart.
  • I talk to people who have to choose between buying groceries and paying their Visa bill and discover (no pun intended) they make more money than I do!
  • I talk to people who “can’t save for retirement” because they have a $600/month car payment.
  • I talk to people who can’t make ends meet but refuse to do a budget because it “is too restricting.”
  • I talk to elderly folks who are getting collections calls daily because they can’t pay a credit card bill on their small fixed income and can’t work to earn extra money.
  • I talk to people who can’t tell me how much income they need to pay their bills each month because it is too overwhelming to face the mess.
  • I talk to families who bought an extravagant house in 2007, financing it 100%, and now owe $40,000 more than it is worth.
  • I talk to moms and dads who want to save for their kids’ college but have too many bills to make it possible.

How many of those issues still exist when you live on a budget and live debt free?  ZERO.  That’s why we choose to live debt free.  Is it hard to get there? Yes.  Is there sacrifice involved? Yes.  Are there times when you’ll just want to buy something fun and blow a bunch of cash? Yes.  But are there times when you can help a friend in need?  Yes.  Are there times when you can support a cause you believe in? Yes.  Are there times when you can joyfully give an offering to God through His church and see His kingdom grow?  Yes.  Would I ever want to live with debt again? NEVER.

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.  I Timothy 6:17-19

Want to learn more?  Buy my eBook, From Debtor to Better: The Details of Debt and How to Get Out!  and learn how you can gain freedom from the bondage of debt.


Comment Policy: I love hearing your thoughts and input on what I write. Since I write about what works at my house, what pleases my handsome hubby and darling children; I'm sure we'll disagree sometimes. In those cases, do what's right for you and yours. As with any form of communication, please only post comments that move the discussion in a positive direction.

About Barry

Barry is the husband half of the Stacy Makes Cents team, responsible for all the marketing, website development, sanity management and taste testing. Barry writes about personal finance issues, helping people get out of debt, live on a budget and make the most of every cent that comes into their hands. He is the author of From Debtor to Better: The Details of Debt and How to Get Out! and writes periodically on his own site, Debtor to Better.

Speak Your Mind

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Comments

  1. Mark and I got married pretty young and the biggest issue we had with our immaturity (I in no way think it was a mistake to get married young, but yes, we were immature) was in money. We choose not to seek advice, I had a REALLY warped view on submission, and neither of us had ever even handled money (or been taught/learned the first thing about it). We bought a 20,000 car- thinking about the really good job Mark was /about/ to start.

    I feel blessed to have learned about the words “security” and “debt”, and look forward to teaching them to anyone who will listen. First though, I really want to get rid of the debt (long story how virtually none of it is gone right now) because I think our story is only beginning.

    Also, we now know that handling finances will a major part of teaching our children at home!

    • We were VERY blessed to see good examples of handling money and we hope Annie and Andy grow up as weird as we are!

      • That is our dream too- just more focused on OUR kids of course. Already planning ways to actively teach them about money.

        I hope we can take Christopher to the store today so he can buy his first ever item with money he has earned. It will have to be about a $0.15 piece of candy…

  2. Thank you for posting this. We are on the same path, only closer to the beginning part. I wouldn’t call us weird (other people do, but I don’t haha) I would call us counter-cultural. Personally, I think it’s weird to consistantly spend more than you make to buy things that you don’t need, and deal with the stress EVERY day and think it’s normal. Society (who are “they” anyway??) has us believing that we deserve to get more “stuff” to be happy. What not so long ago was considered a luxury (like a tv with more than a couple channels) is now considered a necessity. We wonder why our kids appreciate nothing-because they have everything by the age of 6! I’ve watched birthdays and holidays turn into major shopping sprees where parents buy gifts with only their kids’ “happiness” in mind but no budget. I know, I used to be one of them. A budget has freed us from guilt purchases because if we buy something now on impulse, we do so knowing that it will mean cutting back somewhere else. Even though it’s hard work and can be viewed as tedious, it’s MUCH better than dealing with the mess of not being able to pay our bills. We still worry about that due to just being in the beginning of getting out of debt, but we aren’t adding to the problem and that has enabled us to begin paying down our debt. Yes it’s hard work, but so is anything else worth having. I only wish we would’ve learned this earlier but we are raising our kids with this way of thinking. Never to early to begin that, kids are bombarded every day with toy commercials and start to think they “need” these toys to be happy. I refuse to let them grow up in such a way that they would never know contentment. C’mon, swim upstream with us! It’s very rewarding once you get started.

    • Good encouragement for us all. People tell me how hard it will be if they have to live on a budget and how they won’t get to buy any good stuff any more. My response is usually along the lines of a discourse on how much fun it is to sleep at night knowing you don’t have a collector after you and that you can buy all the fun stuff you want…as long as you can pay for it. A Ferrari is not evil, just expensive. ;0)

  3. My much younger cousin got debt free following Dave Ramsey. We have been working on it for 2 years. The first year our HVAC had to be replaced so that set us back and still has a payment for another year. We did however pay off 2 high amount monthly bills. We took a 6 month break and will get back on it the first of the year after we find out how much our taxes and healthcare will cost. It feels great to have a couple bills paid off so we cant wait to see how it feels to be debt free with the exception of our mortgage.

  4. It’s really hard to start a budget when you have absolutely no control over spending-ie buying coffee, soda, chips etc every time you stop for gas rather than doing a little prep work and bringing your own. Once I made the adjustment of my thinking I was deprived since I would have to do the prep work, it was actually fun to find ways to still include my splurges as cheaply as possible because I knew that everywhere I saved money, I could put towards something else I really wanted and would enjoy far longer than that coffee, etc. For the first time ever, we were able to get our kids a big ticket gift (a beautiful wooden playhouse/swingset-rather than a bunch of little gifts) that they really enjoy and that feeling of happiness as a parent is worth every little sacrifice that we made to be able to do that! By managing our money, it’s actually enabled us to spend more in other areas and still stay on budget. I was surprised by that. If you can stick with a budget for just one month, I promise that you will see the benefits. You will be astounded at how much “extra” money you actually have that you can find a much better way to spend. Oh, and still pay down on debt in the process. It doesn’t have to mean every penny goes to pay off debt, but once you get started it is addicting.

    • You’re absolutely right – it is all about mindset. Once you decide to change (and don’t just “think about it”), it is MUCH easier after that.

  5. For us, the key to getting out of debt has been to put the focus on God, and the fact that our money is part of His kingdom resources. It’s not really even about how good it feels to be debt free…it’s about realizing we were selfishly tying up all of His resources that would have come through us to our children and to others. It has been such a great joy and a blessing to be able to finally help others and bless our children. We don’t take it for granted and give all the credit to our amazing God, who has helped two very selfish people gain control over spending and show some self-control at long last! If we can do it – with 6 kids, 2 of whom went through private school and now 4 in college at one time, and two layoffs in 5 years – anyone, with God’s help, can do it’ too. To God be the glory!

  6. Stacy, I’m glad that you and Barry do such a good job at encouraging others to be debt free. I don’t think of it as being weird but that’s the result of having made the changes some years ago and living a debt-free lifestyle for some time now. It truly is liberating. It really is about the mindset and becomes a way of life. There are three households in my immediate family within a 7 mile radius and we all live debt-free so there’s a lot of reinforcement on a daily basis. My grandson’s favorite store is the Salvation Army thrift shop. He’s 3 1/2 yrs old and knows where all the “departments” are in the store :-)
    I had an experience today at Home Depot that reminded me of how our mindset is so different from most folks. I was looking for a lighting solution to a badly lit bathroom. I found sconce lights that would work but are overpriced because they’re from the decorative line that carries a famous person’s name. I was looking to spend in the area of $19-24 each but these lights are $59.97 each… argh!! When I said the lights were nice but the price was out of my budget, the salesman started explaining to me how they’re worth the investment and I should consider putting them “on the card” and paying them off over the next 3-6 months, and since I wouldn’t have to pay now, I could add the $99 installation that they could provide. Wow! What a deal… NOT
    I started to tell him that I don’t make those kind of financial decisions because I choose to live debt-free. He told me that he’s heard about that and he doesn’t see the sense in it. I could have purchased the lights for cash today if I chose to go off my budget but that’s not how I do things. Oh, well. My bad lighting doesn’t have a solution yet but I’m still smiling and will be watching for a good lighting sale!! After all, the money within my control is a blessing from God. It’s not my money, it’s His and it’s my responsibility to be a good steward of the funds.
    For all those working to get debt-free, Yes – it’s worth the effort and you’ll feel great and be so glad when you get there.

  7. Four years ago, we were at a point in our financial disaster that we were 2 weeks away from loosing EVERYTHING. I had been hurt at work, my husband (who owned his own truck and trailer), never came home, because he was trying his best to stay ahead of the banks. During this time I was struggling with physio therepy and learning to walk pretty much all over again. Once I literally got my feet under me it took 1 hour to walk 1 mile. Yes, I was moving on my own. I then got to the point that I was speed walking, I would not call my efforts heroic, but down right stubborn. I was ready to go to work and I packed up my stuff, boarded a plane and went 5,500 Kilometers from home, not knowing when I would see my hard working husband, and went to the Northwest Territories for work. Three months later, my husband appeared out of nowhere. I was making more than he was, he was working just as hard, so he sold truck and trailer and joined me. In just over a year, we got rid of $40,000.00 of debt, put a whole roof on the house, bought a 2nd vehicle with cash and we now have only 7 more payments left on the first one. Its really comical, when we were struggling, the banks didnt want to help, now they do. Go figure. Its wonderful being almost to the point that we are debt free. And to think that this started with listening to Dave Ramsey. It is possible to be thrifty and live a wonderful life.

  8. We are in the first year of attempting to be debt free. We were always careful about living “on a budget” but honestly we thought living on a budget meant being able to pay all the bills (virtually NO savings) and not using credit cards.

    Our eye-opening moment – we simply realized we never had any money to do what we WANTED to do because it was all wrapped up in bills. My husband and I together make 6 figures but it’s never enough; there’s always something we don’t have the money for (in 18 years of marriage we have never had enough money to take a vacation). We don’t live elaborately (expensive cars, jewelry, watches, clothes, etc…) and we don’t buy everything we want; literally our money is wrapped up in necessities – food, shelter, utilities, cars, insurance, childcare.

    We are 40-ish. We both work full-time. We have two children, both in daycare/after-school care, I have $40K in student loan debt, our morgage is $218K, we have 2 car payments (each at $350/mth), we tithe, we buy health insurance, we pay for life insurance, and we both have retirement savings through work.

    We are making strides (we have “freed-up” $400 each month), but it honestly doesn’t feel like we will ever be debt free within our lifetime. I am tryly envious of those of you that have been able to accomplish this!

    We are following Dave Ramsey and we have taken advantage of some free personal finance courses offered by Wells Fargo. In three years, both of our children will be in school and we will have approximately $1000 to re-distribute – any advice on small changes with big gains until then?

    • Hey Mary,

      Way to go on committing to live debt free! It will be a tough road but you can do it – I promise! Dave Ramsey’s stuff is always good material, so keep using it. I also wrote a book, which I’ve sent you via .pdf as a small way I can hopefully provide some encouragement and help. Beyond that, the tried and true methods to boost your debt reduction will apply. They include: doing a strict budget that “spends every dollar on paper” before you get paid, discussing every expense as a couple and eliminating and/or reducing all possible, selling a car and driving cheaper for a while, maximizing your income by reducing deductions and minimizing retirement savings TEMPORARILY (very short-term), and using cash for any of those budget categories that are struggles for you (places where you overspend). In my book I spend a lot of time on these and hope that will give you some direction. Feel free to reply to the email I just sent with any questions you might have. YOU CAN DO IT!

  9. Stacy and Barry,

    I would like to thank you for your championing of this lifestyle! This post is perfectly timed for us. My husband and I are so excited about the strides we have made toward being debt free, but unfortunately those closest to us are struggling right now so it is not something we feel we can talk about too often. This month we will make our last payment on our furniture and we started paying extra on my car. We hope to have the car paid off in May leaving us with just two sources of debt, his motorcycle and our home. The car and the motorcycle were foolish debt acquired before we met…oops ;) We received a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book as a wedding present when we were married in June of last year and almost immediately started changing our ways. We are learning how to work together with our money instead of letting it become a sore subject in our marriage and we couldn’t be happier. Not having many mentors in this area around us, I come here and gain hope from your posts and comments. Thank you guys! And congratulations on living your life in all the ways you feel are best! God bless!

  10. My husband and I have been on Dave’s baby steps plan since we got married in April 2009. In June 2012 we became debt free and last month we finished our fully funded emergency fund. We’re now saving for the down payment on a house. We’re really excited about the progress we are making and very hopeful about our future. But what I would really love to hear about from you and Stacy, is how do you handle relationships with close family who you see making bad money choices? Both sets of our parents and each of our younger brothers are constantly struggling with money and making poor money choices. They all know how we feel about debt and budgeting and dealing with money and are impressed with our money progress but continue down their own paths. So, I know we can’t change their behavior. We can only share what has helped us and then let them make their own decisions. So when those decisions continue to be bad, how do you emotionally and relationally deal with that? Debt free living is so freeing it hurts to see our family in bondage with no desire for freedom. How can we accept this without living under a cloud of sadness because of their wasted potential?

    • Congratulations on becoming debt free!!! Way to go! I would love to say I have a good answer for your question of convincing others to make good money choices, but I don’t. For years, I watched many of my family members make extremely poor money choices and only recently, after seeing Stacy and I pay cash for this house and my father’s death, have a few of them started to ask me for input. I wrote about this a little using Dave Ramsey’s term for it: Powdered Butt Syndrome (http://www.stacymakescents.com/powdered-butt-syndrome). So take heart – when I wrote that post a little less than two years ago, I thought it was hopeless that my parents (or anyone in the family) would listen to my input about money. But over time, I’m seeing that change. Remember this: it isn’t your responsibility to change them, but know they’re watching. When you live a life that displays financial success (without boasting), people will pay attention.

  11. I am so glad that you are weird. I follow Dave Ramsey’s teachings and am weird myself. I am debt free, and it is the only way to be. I was doing research on A Walt Disney vacation and was brought to your site. You are extremely helpful. I have already applied for a quote thru The Magic for Less. Best of luck. Keep sharing your knowledge!

  12. Janet Kiessling :

    Awesome! We are Dave Ramesy Followers, too! We have just paid off the second car! Praise the Lord! Credit ards are paid off! No more mortgages……..one more loan to go……a student loan! Then we are DEBT-FREE!!!!!!! I love your life style…..gives inspiritation to others!

  13. Jillian Dicosimo :

    I hopped over from Raising Arrows and this post caught my eye. If only people knew how much freedom they’d have being debt free. My husband and I sat through a 20 wk seminar 9 years ago about becoming debt free and the principles that we learned then completely changed our lives. We were never big spenders before, but we have a much clearer vision now when it comes to finances. We are a family of 10 living in Long Island, NY. Living expenses are very high here, yet God willing we are on course to pay off our house (our only debt) in two years! We only bought the house 9 years ago, so this is pretty rare. I wish more couples would realize how much freedom they’d have if they weren’t in bondage to the credit card. It’s very hard to get out of debt, but so worth it. Thanks for sharing your story. :)

  14. How much debt you pay off is always based on what you’re bringing in. Someone who makes more can always pay things off faster…and while you might make less, you can still make a huge dent in your debt. It might take a bit longer, but it’s still worth it. The tortoise always wins the race. :-) Slow and steady…you’ll get there.

  15. The old saying applies here that I think Henry Cloud has summed up best: “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

    Seems to me your spouse doesn’t see it as the issue you do because he doesn’t think “scraping by” is a big problem. Help him see your perspective. Pray for him to change. Pray that God will help him see how important it is to you. Don’t nag, but encourage.

    As a financial counselor, I get people trying to justify poor financial choices to me all the time. Worst part is – THEY KNOW THEY’RE MAKING BAD CHOICES and choose to do it anyway.

  16. Hi Barry! I loved this article! Unfortunately, it seems so unobtainable for people like my husband and I. He and I both studied at more than inexpensive universities with him going on to the most expensive graduate school in our state. The thought of living debt free is mouthwatering but impossible when we’re paying our mortgage AND $1200/mo. in student loans. I would love any advise that you have for someone in a situation like ours. Our mortgage is chump change compared to our student debt and haven’t even been able to think about having a family, yet! Thanks and I look forward to reading the rest of your work!

    • Just because you have a lot of debt doesn’t mean you can’t pay it off! I would never encourage someone to go to the most expensive schools unless they had fantastic financial incentives to do so. That being said, that’s your past and we need to look forward. First and foremost, I’d encourage you to live on a budget that puts you in charge of your money and not the other way around. Also recognize that every little bit now can make a lot of difference later. I don’t know what you studied in school, but make sure you’re using that education to maximize your income earning potential. The biggest advice I can give is that as long as you keep digging, you’ll eventually work your way out. Don’t give up and don’t assume it is impossible. There are literally millions who have done it before – you can do it too!