This is the first blog post that I will mainly be talking about my family and I. If you have listened to my podcast, have read other blog posts, or are in my Facebook community you know the big picture of our financial journey but I'll be sharing the entirety of our story.
Basically we were in a lot of debt and couldn’t make choices we wanted to make, like having me home to raise our kids, because of it. Then one incident happened that shook the entire thing up and we began our journey to financial freedom. Now we own 4 rental properties and are on Dave Ramsey’s baby step 6 - which is the point where we are paying off our mortgage.
I know there are a lot of women and moms out there that long to stay home but logistically can’t see that happening financially. I know there are a lot of women out there that WANT to work - but childcare is just too much so you feel stuck. My desire was to transition home but the point is not to ultimately be a SAHM...it’s to open up this vault of choices that you didn’t have before. And maybe you have no desire to stay home BUT I want you at least have the option to if you wanted it or God forbid something happened and it was needed. IF this global pandemic has taught us anything - it’s to be ready for everything.
Because the issue is - you may not have the option to stay home because you need your income - but you also have no desire to stay home so it’s kind of a non-factor. Or at least a red flag doesn’t raise like it would to someone who desired, with their whole heart to be home. They are hyper-aware that they don’t have that choice. But here’s the thing. You don’t either. Just because you wouldn’t choose that option right now - doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have that option at all.
We got ourselves out of this trapped feeling of being forced to live this life we didn’t want to live because of the debt we had.
At the time this episode was released...we have our crap together. We have choices. I could work or not work. We can take vacations when and how we want, we can give so much more which is the best part - honestly. Having those options there allows us to create the life we want and I am so glad we did the hard thing of getting out of debt for a while so we could reap the benefits of this now.
So I am going to talk through our journey to financial freedom because I can’t speak for anyone else on how they did it. But I feel like there are some core anchors that would be in anyone’s story and I will point them out as I go through our story.
So I’ll tell you our journey into debt really quick because I think it’s important to see the progression and also so that you know we aren’t where we are now because we only ever had like 5K in debt and we paid that off. My first debt ever was student loans. I had a credit card before I went to college but I opened it to buy Justin John Mayer tickets when I was 17 or something and then paid it off and didn’t use it again. I went to college and the way we worked it out was that I paid for a quarter, my mom paid for a quarter and I got a student loan for a quarter. I think I came out of school with like $25000 maybe? Then I went back and started my masters and took about $8,000 out like an idiot. I didn’t need that much - but that was the max they would give me so I just took it but then I didn’t even finish my first semester of my masters because I had our first baby a week before the semester was over. So that’s cool. Justin had around $30,000 of loans after graduating from Miami but he got a job after he graduated that paid pretty good and he put every dime towards his loans and paid it off in a year. So that was a non-factor for us.
Once I got a job we decided to buy a house. I wanted a house that our grandkids would walk up the driveway at...I wanted our forever home..first. So we stretched ourselves to get there. But we did it. Then naturally...you have to furnish a house so hello credit cards for new couches and tables and whatever else. After that came the new cars. I had grown up driving cars from an auction (which are actually GREAT cars) but I wanted something new. I got a BRAND NEW, drove it off the lot with 7 miles on it...KIA Optima. So smart. Actually we got a great deal on it so it wasn’t as dumb of a decision as buying a new car typically would have been. Either way. Hello, 20 some K car payment. Up next was my husband. He got an Audi A6 - which was his DREAM car. He had been driving a burgundy wagon for a while so the upgrade was huge. I’ll post a pic in our community group of the two cars next to each other. That was a 30 something thousand cars used. Add on childcare expenses for 2 kids our lack of self-control when it came to eating out and all the other bills on top - we got in over our head quickly.
But the problem is 2 fold- it’s the seemingly slow fade...of raising incomes and then raising the bills. It’s the “we can afford the payment” belief that trumps any and all logic. Because there is truth in that. We COULD afford the payments.
We could afford the payments, we could still tithe, we had money in savings and our jobs were secure. So we weren’t in a situation where we upgraded to fake some kind of lifestyle and then we're falling behind on bills. We felt like we were in the sweet spot. We had upgraded to a few nice things that we worked hard for, and honestly spent a decent amount of our adult lives without and so we felt like we earned it.
Well, after having my first baby I started to have the itch to be a stay at home mom.
Honestly, I never thought that is something I wanted. Then we had our second and I started really desiring to stay home. As a teacher, childcare took up the majority of my income but I paid the insurance so my job was valuable outside of the income.
Then in 2015, the market was REALLY good to sell/buy a house and Justin and I got the itch to upgrade our house again. The “dream house” we bought didn’t have a very open floor plan, it wasn’t in a cul de sac and among other things...Justin had gotten a raise and we thought we might as well capitalize on the market to get into our ACTUAL dream house…..
We found a house that was about 100K MORE than the house we were currently in but it checked all the boxes. So we started the process. And we sold our home and the house we wanted accepted our offer. We were in the 10 day inspection period for both houses when Justin got a job offer from another company. The company he worked with at this time was a great job and he loved it but he was working nights and weekends and long days and the money was good but it wasn’t what we wanted for raising a family but it was what we knew. This employer reached out to him and basically the job seemed perfect. Monday through Friday 8-4. No more nights and no more weekends. We were like yessssss. But the pay was significantly less and we had just bought this new, very expensive house. Justin wasn’t able to take that job because we couldn’t afford him to take a pay cut with the new house we were under contract with. 2-3 days passed and I started feeling super tired and nauseous. Mind you, I had a 2 yo and a 6-month-old. That day I took a pregnancy test and it was positive.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table next to Justin and feeling SO overwhelmed.
Like we were bummed we weren’t able to say yes to this job opportunity for him and now on top of everything - we were gonna have to pay for 3 in daycare and I still couldn’t quit because I would FOR SURE need my job now. As I was sitting there...my phone rang and it was my realtor. I walked into the other room and said, “Hello” and she just said, “Steph, I’m so sorry to tell you this but the buyers for your home backed out because your floors aren’t real wood. I know it’s the smallest thing - I think they were just looking for a way to back out and this is how they are going to do it.” I literally started crying on the phone and told her that that news was the best thing that could have happened. My realtor is my childhood best friend's mom...so I told her about the baby and everything and I mean, you guys we dodged a freaking BULLET.
A month or so went by and we got settled back into our normal life where we felt comfortable and not stretched too thin. One day (and this day was the catalyst that changed everything), we got a letter in the mail from Africa Fire Mission which was a nonprofit we supported. They were asking for $3000 to ship a container to Africa. I remember it like it was yesterday. I looked at Justin and said. “I want to be able to do this. I want to be able to get this letter and have the ability to write a $3000 check to something we really believe in. I remember saying, “I mean 3000 is a chunk of change but when you put it in the perspective of us having almost $1000/month of car payments…..it’s not that much. I mean we make good money but for what? To drive nice cars that sit in parking lots most of the day or for a house that we are never in because we have to work all these crazy hours? We are paying a sitter a ton of money and I can’t be the ones to raise our kids….like what is going on?
That day everything changed.
Justin ended up taking that job that paid less but the hours were better so we could spend more time as a family. We sold Justin’s Audi (and took a loss on it btw) He took my Kia. I bought a minivan in cash with over 100K miles on it from my mother in law for $3000. Our car payments dropped from almost $1000 to about $300 a month.
I had our third baby (Graham Ryan) in March of 2016 and quit teaching to stay home.
After that we put our house, my first dream house, on the market. Only this time...we bought a house that was about 80K less than that house and 1000 square feet smaller. People made comments because we had just had our 3rd baby and we were downsizing everything. And I think it’s important to remember that we were still “comfortable” and able to pay all of our payments without downsizing. But we were so in debt we had no choices. We had to just keep grinding the exact way we were grinding...forever. We had no margin. And that was the issue.
So that August we moved into our smaller home with a significantly smaller mortgage. We only had 1 car payment and I went to TOWN on our debt snowball. Everything went to it. We paid down our credit card and started dumping payments to Justin’s KIA.
Justin got paid and within 24 hours we had no money. Why?
Because I was starting to tell every single dollar where to go.
We had our cash on hand for miscellaneous stuff and gas and groceries. We paid our bills and then EVERYTHING left over went to our snowball.
I went back to work for 2 years teaching online trying to see if I could have the best of both worlds. Long story short - it was not. It is not fun to work from home with now, 4 little babies - but I did it and basically we lived off of Justin’s income and my income went straight to paying anything and everything off, building our savings, back paying college funds that we wanted to have, and contributing towards retirement. Until we got to where we are now. Which is debt-free and paying down our mortgage, we have an awesome college fund for the boys, we are giving so much money right now happily and with open hands. It’s just a totally different life. We have bought 4 rental properties, Justin has since switched jobs after that company he worked for laid off a ton of employee’s and I quit teaching again and have started my own business. We have started fostering, I have helped others get organized and get out of debt. I mean it’s just an entirely different way to live.
I wish I could sit and have a cup of coffee with you and walk you through the exacts of everything we did from day 1 because sometimes that road-map is super helpful and I’m actually working on something for you guys that will include that.
But for now, I think it’s important to understand a few things during this process.
- I worked for about 6 more years than I wanted to. I wanted to quit after I had Noah...but stayed at that school for 4 more years. I also had no desire to work online...but I knew if I could make an income - I knew 100% could go towards our debt, savings, and it would just catapult us to the next level quicker - So I just pushed what I wanted in the now aside because I knew how close we were. I wanted to work harder to feel that freedom sooner rather than work slow and steady and gain it 5 years later.
- I CONSUMED financial literacy stuff. I binged Dave Ramsey’s show on my commutes to and from work. I had his podcast in my ears as I did the dishes and laundry and I read his books and led Financial Peace University at our church.
- I told everyone. We are getting out of debt. People were aware. We still did things but a lot of it was a game night in. I started cooking more and we ate out less. We just said no to ourselves so much. We went on 1-2 week spending freezes to just jump a little bit ahead.
- I took complete charge of our money. Justin knew the plan and the goal and he just let me run with it. He worked, I gave him money, and that was that. This isn’t a deprivation or a time to be a princess or a prince (as Dave Ramsey says) and throw a fit. This is the time to humble yourself and make the hard choices to get back on your feet. Dave says, “Children do what feels good. Adults make a plan and stick with it.” So after however many years of being “Children” so to speak with our money….we decided to be adults - together.
Here’s what I want to leave you with.
I get a lot of women who say they want to stay home and then when I tell them how I did it...the conversation stops. Listen, this is your life. You can do the slow grind or you can do the “extreme” as we did. But we went to crazy-in-debt to have no debt, big savings, colleges funded for our kids, retirement stacked and our giving being our highest payment each month (even over our mortgage) in 2.5-3 years. So if you would ask me if I would do it again the way we did it...I would say 100x yes.
And here’s the thing. Our house is smaller and not as ‘nice’ as our other house but my kids run up and down these hallways just like they did in the other house. We all still snuggle up on the couch for a family movie night just like we did in the other house. Our older cars still get us to the places we need to get to just like our newer cars did. Our dog still plays in our backyard in this house just like she did at our old house. Our neighbors in this house are just as special and amazing as our old house.
We thought we were giving our family the best when we upgraded to nice things. When in reality we gave them stressed-out parents that worked all the time.
Now, it’s a different story.
Part of leaving a legacy you want to leave for your children is by doing the hard thing as an adult. Showing them that it’s okay to come to a screeching halt and pivot - even when that means we all sacrifice and have to say no to things we want for this SEASON.
There is no freedom like having financial freedom. Finances touch everything in your life. Outside of the freedom, we receive in Christ...the tangible and intangible freedom of owning your finances instead of the other way around is one of the very best things I’ve ever experienced in this life.
So, if you are where I was at, let me encourage you by saying that you are already enough right where you are. A lot of times we struggle with finances because of some experience we had in the past and it can be good or bad. So, give yourself some grace but also know that it’s time to come to a screeching halt and pivot.
That letter is what led us to stop in our tracks and with my mother and stepfathers guidance (because they had just gotten debt-free using Ramsey’s strategies) we were able to put one foot in front of the other and then start to pick up speed little by little until we were finally free.
Feel free to reach out to me via Facebook or IG and DM me if you have specific questions on how to start or how to get organized. I am not a financial advisor - but I’ve been through so much and I do have a lot of insight I would love to share with you. This entire week I will be posting about all things finances on my IG and Facebook so head there for encouragement. You are the hero of your own story girl. I’m just here to be a guide. I have also done some live training in the Facebook community group I have for podcast listeners. Head over there if you would like to watch it.
The link to all of these groups + book recommendations + a link to a free guide I made for you to get yourself organized before you even start the process of getting out of debt is in the show notes for this episode. I hope that my story encourages you that even if you are in way over your head that it doesn’t have to be decades before your life is different....it can be a couple of years depending on how much debt you are in and what route you are willing to take and how fast you are willing to get super focused and intentional.
Whatever path you choose I’m over here cheering you on sister and will continue to walk with you and help you find your grit while completely covering you in grace.