Virginia Wedding Photographer – How we paid off our 85,000 debt in 2 years

My husband, Mitch, and I began our marriage with $85,000 of debt. The number was suffocating and depressing. But it had to be paid off… and we did it! Here’s our story. :)

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Mitch and I met when he was 14, I was 17. We dated for 5.5 years, all through his college career (I’ve got long distance relationship advice, too!) and in July of 2010 we finally got engaged. December 2010, Mitch was offered a job in Virginia. It took A LOT of prayer. We were going to be newlyweds, away from our parents and in a state where we knew no one. But we really felt like that’s where the Lord was leading us so we accepted the job. Jeremiah 29:11 (my favorite verse) says, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We felt so much comfort from that verse.

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Wedding images by Alex M.

We were married on June 11, 2011, and moved from Texas to Virginia right after we got back from the honeymoon. Within a month, Mitch graduated from college, we got married, honeymooned, came back and packed up our lives, moved across the country and Mitch started his ‘real world’ job, all within a month.

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When we moved, Mitch had his job, but I didn’t have one. I taught for 2 years in Texas and did photography on the side (not full-time – not a reliable source of income. And especially with moving to a different state, I had to rebuild my client base from zero.) On the way to Virginia, I received a call for an interview for a teaching position. I interviewed the first week we got there, got the job and the summer ended with us knowing we would have two incomes. I also picked up a side business as an AdvoCare Distributor… that also helped make some supplemental income.

We followed what Dave Ramsey teaches in his Financial Peace series, which has been instrumental in helping us eliminate our debt. There were some things that he taught that didn’t apply to us (like having multiple credit cards that were maxed out)… and that’s ok! We took what applied to our lives and made it happen. We highly recommend going through Dave’s classes!

Set a budget and STICK TO IT. Mitch and I sat down and set our budget as soon as we merged our bank accounts together. We live by the rule that it’s OUR money… we don’t separate it. What I make is Mitch’s and what Mitch makes is mine. It’s all OURS. We established that every single extra cent we made would go to student loans. The thing that made a BIG difference for us, is that we set our budget based on Mitch’s income alone. My income was considered extra, which we split in half. Half to savings and half to student loans. We also budgeted a certain amount of Mitch’s income that went to savings and student loans, so we had savings and student loans being paid from two sources. We also tithe… every single month, no matter what our income is. Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is completely true for us.

It’s a good thing we budgeted that way. Long story short, I did not renew my teaching contract for 2012. Also, my photography business was at a stand still. We were back down to one income (and stayed that way for over a year), but because of the way we had budgeted, savings and student loans were still being paid and our lifestyle didn’t change.

Take the 6 month grace period and SAVE. When you have students loans, the company who issued the note usually gives you a 6 month grace period. For 6 months after you graduate, you don’t have to pay anything. We took that grace period and SAVED. We saved every extra penny and slowly built our life. I had to be told SO many times that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m the kind of person who wants to nest, get every single thing we want for the house and put it all together in one day. Don’t do that. For the longest time, our couches were the only thing in our living room, we ate on a $10 card table from Target for months and said no to all the ‘big’ things we wanted. But now, 2.5 years into our marriage, we’ve built a cozy little home! Take your time to build your newlywed nest. It pays off in the long-run. Again, this may not work for you and you may want to get going right off the bat of those loans! Go for it! Saving for that 6 months was our personal decision.

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When we first moved in and 2 years later. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Seek wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 says, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” Present your financial situation to someone you trust who will give you wise, unbiased counsel, preferably someone who’s been married for a couple decades. I can’t tell you how many times we called Mitch’s parents. We also spoke with our financial advisor, Mike Randazzo, many times. We took their advice and applied it to our situation, which always led us down the right path.

As much as you want it, DO NOT buy the house! Again, I had to be told this so many times. You’re young, you’re newly married and you’re so in love. You want that perfect little house to begin your marriage with. Society says just buy the house. Don’t do it! Some people will tell you that renting is dumb because you’re throwing away money and you’ll never see it again. At least with a house, you’re paying towards something that’s yours. We chose not to go the house route. We rented, and at the middle of our price range. There was an apartment we found that I really, really liked but it was out of the budget, so we decided on something a little cheaper. In doing that, we’ve saved $7500 in rent alone. We also don’t pay for cable which has saved about $2500, among other things we’ve gone without and have saved on in the long-run.

Here’s our part of the story when it comes to buying a house, and where the importance of seeking wise counsel comes into play. In June of 2013, we got it in our heads that we were done with apartment living. We wanted a house. Period. We started looking, found one and I was ready to sign the contract right there. Mitch, on the other hand, felt uneasy and uncomfortable about it. Below is a picture of the house we were looking at.

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We crunched numbers, tried to justify it with all the pros we could. The neighborhood, the house itself, the location, etc. We knew money was coming from here, we could sell this, we could do this and that. No conclusion we came to made Mitch feel better about it. And really, if we had to sit there and try to justify a purchase like that, we shouldn’t do it in the first place. Looking back at it now, deep down I knew I felt uneasy too. I was letting the idea of having a house get in the way of the goal… get the debt paid off.

We prayed and prayed and prayed. Didn’t feel any peace. We were on the phone multiple times with Mitch’s parents. They said no. We got on the phone with Mike and told him what we were thinking about doing. We gave him numbers, he listened to everything we had to say and he gave his advice: Don’t do it. Of course, I was crushed. I wanted to move so bad! Then he said this: There will be other houses. When the time is right, we’ll find the perfect house. He also said this, which was really the turning point for us: You can buy this house, have a mortgage and all the responsibilities that come with owning a house, live dangerously because our savings account was so low, and still having a 5-figure debt. OR, you can take your down payment, apply it to student loans, have a healthy amount in savings, be debt free in 6 months, save for another 6 months, and then buy a house stress-free. That advice really resonated with us. The minute we got off the phone with him, we took the money we were going to use for a down payment and put it towards student loans. We felt more peace about that decision that took less than one minute, then we did with our entire house searching/almost buying experience. Pulling out of the house was the best financial decision we made.

Every. Extra. Cent. In 2013 my photography business really took off. I had interviewed multiple times for different teaching positions but was denied each time, meanwhile my wedding bookings were skyrocketing! I really felt like the doors were being closed for teaching and opened to photography. Praying every step of the way, I turned my focus away from getting a teaching job and onto photography. I’m now able to call myself a ‘full-time’ photographer, but the income from that is not included in our budget. Again, our budget is built from Mitch’s income alone.

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Making the FINAL PAYMENT!!!

Freedom. Now, 2 years of marriage later, we’ve paid off our $85,000 debt. We are officially debt free!! Did we sacrifice things we wanted, whether it be the coolest, newest gadgets, the fancy cars (we actually shopped for cars 3 different times in that 2 years, always saying no each time), the huge house, the pretty clothes, etc? Yes, we did. Was it worth it? Absolutely. From here, we will put the money that would have been put to student loans into an account where we will begin to save for a real down payment, and NOT take it from our savings account. And of course, we will be celebrating appropriately!

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Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one does now, so you can live like no one does later.” That’s the motto we’ve been chanting in our heads the past two years. Lately, it’s been ‘debt free by December’ and we’ve accomplished that! We’ll be buying a house and starting a family with zero debt. Of course we can’t pay for those things in full, but at least we won’t have tens of thousands of dollars in loans to add on to!

 

Your situation is probably completely different and what worked for us may not work for you… and that’s ok! We are not financial advisors and do not claim to know everything there is to know about paying off debt. We want to encourage, inspire and show you that YES, paying off your debt is 100% possible. You don’t have to resign yourself to being in debt your whole life! Make your plan, set your budget and FOLLOW IT!

If you have questions about your financial situation, give Dave Ramsey a call!

We give all the glory to God. Without Him and His relentless, abundant blessings, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Go Jesus!

 

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UPDATE! August 2014

The hunt for our first home continues! We’re continuing to save as much money as possible to use for a down payment. We’ve looked at many houses… a couple we totally loved! But the asking price was too high. We ran the numbers and did not want to be paying $2000 a month for a mortgage. We don’t want to be house poor. So we’ve said no and continued the search. We know that God will show us the house in His time.

UPDATE! November 2014

The hunt continues on! Mitch has been gone for work and it’s difficult to house hunt without your better half! We’ve been saving for about a year now for our down payment. While we could afford a larger, nicer house, we’ve decided to find something we can update to make our own. During our time in that house, we want to continue to save as much as we can and pay off the house. Within 4-5 years, combined with selling our house and our savings, we hope to build our DREAM HOME! We’ve already found the plans we want!

UPDATE! March 2015

WE HAVE FOUND OUR HOUSE!!!! We’ve put an offer on it, it’s been accepted and we close at the end of the month! WEEEE GOD IS SO GOOD!!

UPDATE! April 2015

WE ARE OFFICIALLY HOMEOWNERS!!!!! We will move in in June.

UPDATE! July 2015

The Lord is so good. We are expecting our first child in February! It’s amazing to go through this journey knowing those student loans are paid off! Our only debt is the house… which we’re working on!

UPDATE! April 2016

We’ve made a TON of updates to our new home. Each time, we plan, budget for it and pay in full. Also, our son is 3 months old! We’re working on paying off our mortgage like we did our student loan debt. Gold star for adulting!

  1. WOW this is SO INSPIRING! My own student loans scare me to DEATH but I also am patiently waiting for dave ramsey’s book to come in the mail (well the kit) so THANK YOU for this motivating + encouraging post! xo

  2. This is so inspiring!!!

  3. Wow! This is incredibly inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Kirsten says:

    Hello! I stumbled onto your post from a Facebook link. Congrats! That’s awesome!! My husband and I are hoping to get rid of our student loans soon! We also follow Dave Ramsey. We have been looking for a financial advisor! Does Mike Randazzo work in the central virginia area??
    Kirsten

  5. Cindy Sheldrake says:

    This is soooo great!!! What an inspiration! We need to catch up sometime.

  6. Katherine says:

    So incredibly inspiring! I’m sitting on a mound of student debt (just a bit more than yours) and when I think about it, it makes me sick to my stomach, I do NOT want to be paying these off for the next 20 years like so many people I know! Thanks for the mood-boost regarding these!

  7. heather says:

    From someone who is working through FPU and knows how hard it can be – congrats!!!!! Such a huge accomplishment!

  8. Janice Hinkley says:

    Awesome but how much do you make a year to be able to pay off that amount?

  9. Nate C says:

    I agree with Janice! This was really not helpful for people who do not have money in the first place. As someone coming right out of college, I am not making much money. Yeah you sticking to a budget helped you, but how much did it really save? 10,000 with rent and cable. That is nothing compared to the overall debt of 85,000 that you had. Your jobs must have been way more lucrative then most.

    Also, why would you save for the grace period, if you were just going to start paying it off later? You should have started paying it off, to prevent more interest accruing!

    • Megan says:

      Nate – Our annual income is not what’s important! It could have taken us 4 years to pay it off but we were financially blessed to do it in two. Choosing to save for the 6 month grace period was our personal decision. If you want to pay during that 6 months, go for it! And to us, $10,000 is a huge amount, even next to the number 85,000. We are simply sharing what worked for us… it may not work for everyone! :)

  10. Liz says:

    AWESOME!! I heard y’all on his station. My fiancé always tried to make me listen to it and I’m glad I finally did! Contrary to what many think (that most likely haven’t read the book or heard of these concepts) you don’t need a huge income to pay off a debt like that. I’ve heard families on there with 300K+ in debt and we have about 90,000 (college loans, cars, credit cards) and are recent college grads. We payed off a few of those in full recently and our estimated pay off date went from 2021 to 2019 once we did! Our combined income is that of a teacher at a low pay scale and he’s still working on his degree. It’s like they said- stick to the budget and save!!!

  11. Julia says:

    Great story, Megan! My fiance and I are in the financial planning phase now, facing $80,000 of debt. I just checked out David Ramsey’s website, but I’m a little overwhelmed at where to start. Which book, kit and/or class did you use to create your plan?

  12. I love your story! Mostly because it’s basically ours! My husband and I are both full time photographers and we recently made a move from Phoenix to Los Angeles and had to rebuild our business in a whole new place. We too have gone the Ramsey route, which meant sacrificing things we want while watching all our friends get them, and prying our fingers from the house dream (and yes, we too ALMOST bought!). It is so good to hear someone else confirm the idea that renting is sometimes the way to go! I’ve wanted to live in Southern California my entire life, but never would’ve dreamed it would actually happen! And had we bought that house, it wouldn’t have happened! Thank you for your encouraging story! We’re still working on solidifying our business in a new state and it’s been a really rough year, one that makes us question what we’re doing (both with finances and with our business) so it’s encouraging to hear your story and to be reminded that the sacrifices and hard work are worth it! Thank you so much for sharing! P.S. I have a blog meant to encourage those who are trying to lead extraordinary lives, so hopefully it can encourage you some too! http://rareexistence.com/

    • Megan says:

      Hi Breanna! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I love it! I’m so glad our story was encouraging for you. That’s all we wanted! I’ll definitely be checking out your website! And if you need help building your business in another state, shoot me an email and I’ll send you my SEO guy’s info. :)

  13. Kathy Deal says:

    What an awesome inspiration. My husband and I have started Dave Ramsey’s plan this past summer.

  14. JASMYN says:

    This truly touched my heart. I have been in the process of going to grad school full time, planning a wedding, and looking for a house…all of which is NOT going to help us SAVE MONEY! & Of course, (God is ALWAYS working) I stumbled upon this article from a friend via facebook and it was EVERYTHING that I needed to hear. SAVE SAVE SAVE! I have a little over $40,000 student loan debt and I have been really worried about how I am going to even begin paying off everything. Especially with the wedding coming up in 4 months! I have heard nothing but great things about Steve Ramsey’s courses so I plan on checking it out. My fiance & I will definitely take your advice! Thank you so very much. Keep sharing your story.
    Christ’s Joy,
    -Jasmyn

    • Megan says:

      Aww, Jasmyn! I’m so glad it did! When we were planning the wedding, I knew the student loans would be there after all the fun stuff was done. Just take those baby steps, make your budget and stick to it! Congratulations on your engagement! xoxo

  15. Michelle says:

    Kudos to you!! And for all you Nay Sayers dont look at the money it took to get debt free, look at the DISCIPLINE! If we are obedient God says He will supply all of our needs! He desires for us to live in freedom and to be blessed!!! Take the step of trusting Him and walk in obedience. Be an encourager, make each day a great day, work hard as unto the Lord and you will be blessed too!! Great job to the writer and her hubby! You not only got debt free you learned early in your marriage to work hard together….you’ve won a battle and now have a trust and faith that you can be Overcomers!!!

  16. A.M. says:

    Hi Megan! Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece with us! I wanted to ask you for your long distance relationship advice that you mentioned in the beginning of your post. What tips would you give someone who is embarking into a long distance relationship? It’s wonderful that you and your husband have such great understanding in your marriage, and I’m sure that you set the groundwork early in your relationship. Looking forward to hearing from you!

    • Megan says:

      Hi AM! As I wrote about above, we were together for his entire college career. Luckily, he was only 2 hours away but because of his crazy school schedule, our visits were few and far between. We agreed that we would talk on the phone every single day. And 98% of the time, we did! Communication and determination kept us together, not to mention constant prayer and keeping Christ in the middle of our relationship. We absolutely wanted to be together, and we did everything we could to make sure we had a strong relationship! Communicate and pray! I hope that helps a bit!

  17. Monica says:

    I loved reading your story! Congrats!

    I paid mine off about 2-3 years ago and it was the best feeling.

  18. Anna says:

    I’m trying very hard to feel inspired by your story, but I just can’t. I’m going to be about $85k in debt, and a teacher, but I won’t have a partner to help pay off these loans, and it feels impossible to do on a salary of under $40,000. I would have to literally spend EVERY penny on student debt for those two years and then some. Your two year story is not physically possible for one person, and it’s infuriating that in my searches for how to manages this it’s all teams and groups of people.

    • Megan says:

      Hi Anna! Don’t be discouraged! Everyone’s story is different. You could be the one to write the post about how to do it with one income and be an inspiration to others! It may not be 2 years… maybe it’s 4 or 5! But wow, that’s still a success! Don’t give up, love! You’ve got this!!

  19. Bianka says:

    This is such an amazing testimony! Thank you for sharing! My husband and I are in $140k of debt and we own a home, but we are contemplating on selling it and paying off half of the debt from the equity. We don’t want to sell our home, but we do want to get out of debt more. It looks like we will have to rent for a few years. Who knows, maybe God will bless us with an even better home once we are out of debt. We are in a similar position, where we are budgeting on my husband’s income alone. I want to start a side job as a photographer and possibly pay off more debt each week. How did you get your business set up as a photographer?

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