Getting Back to the Basics: We were happier when we spent less money

Hello! Please enjoy this post from a blog friend. I enjoy hearing about how others are doing on their debt payoff journey and I believe it can help others stay motivated as well. Just over one year ago, my husband and I started on a journey. We had over $66,000 in debt from a 2nd mortgage, a…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: October 12, 2015

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Debt Payoff JourneyHello! Please enjoy this post from a blog friend. I enjoy hearing about how others are doing on their debt payoff journey and I believe it can help others stay motivated as well.

Just over one year ago, my husband and I started on a journey. We had over $66,000 in debt from a 2nd mortgage, a car loan, furniture purchase and student loans, not including our first mortgage.

While our interest rates were relatively low, ranging from .09% to 6.8%, we knew we did not want to carry all this debt for a long time. So, we set a goal: 3 years. Our plan was to pay off all our debt within 3 years or less, no matter what.

Planning to pay off our debt was only part of the solution, however. Changing our mindset and our spending habits was actually the first step in our journey. As our income increased over the years, we had increased our expenditures proportionately.

It was easy to justify buying a home, going on another vacation or upgrading to a new car as we got more promotions and salary increases. While I would consider my husband and I to be financially savvy individuals, we too admittedly started to fall into the spending trend many people find themselves in as income increases.

Unchecked, this can easily become a vicious cycle adding up to more and more debt.

Though my husband and I were very happy, we found that our increase in expenditures over the years caused an increase in stress and desire to pay off our debts as fast as possible. Just because we have started down a path did not mean we had to keep heading down it. Just like you can back track in the woods on a hike, you can realign your financial goals and get back to the basics. That’s exactly what we decided to do.


So, my husband and I sat down and did the math.

At our current rates of repayment and spending, it would be many, many years until we were debt free. It did not settle well with either of us. After a few hours of compiling statements, adding up balances and signing up for (great debt resource), we began creating our map out of the woods.

We came across so many different methods of debt reduction and elimination. There were the debt snowballs, avalanches and everything in between. There were methods that suggested cutting every unnecessary expense including cable, eating out, lattes and date nights. Some people resort to extreme couponing or taking on additional jobs.

Many methods suggested tracking every penny spent and allocating every dollar.

There was a lot of information and there was a lot to consider. We knew that finding a general model and just subscribing to it would not work for us. We had tried budgeting in the past and it was cumbersome. We tried not eating any meals out in the past and we failed within two weeks. There were a lot of things we were uncertain about, but one thing was sure: we knew we had to make our own plan and we had to create our own custom financial future.

So, we talked.

We argued a bit.

We talked some more.

What came from the discussions was amazing. Not only were we creating a plan toward our financial future, but we were planning our lives and establishing goals together. We decided on short term goals, 1-2 year goals and long-term retirement oriented goals. My husband is more of a spender and I am more of a saver. So we had to compromise and agree on what was the right decision for both of us. We were communicating and it felt good.


Our approach.

Ultimately, we agreed on a hybrid approach that was simple, but effective.

We established a savings plan that would get us to 6 months emergency expenses within a year. We would save 15% of our income toward retirement. After our basic monthly bills are paid, we would use the remainder of our income toward increasing our debt repayments (using the avalanche method) and we would hold off any other major debt purchases for the next three years. We focused on all debt other than our primary mortgage and we would track our progress via ReadyforZero.

We also made small adjustments in our daily lives and expenses.

We started taking lunch with us to work daily (saved us $30-40 a week) and limited eating out to 3-4 times a month (usually with a coupon or GroupOn now). We kept our television (we love tv shows), but switched to DirecTV during a $300 Costco gift card promotion and it lowered our monthly bill. We recently purchased life insurance to ensure financial stability should something happen to one of us.

We have found ways to enjoy our lives and being with each other without having to spend money. We have managed to lower our monthly expenses by 10% while increasing our debt repayments. In addition to lowering expenses, I started working for a local consultant for 10-15 hours a month (an extra $250) and my husband umpires baseball games during the summer (about $40 a game). As a result, we have thrown an extra $3,000 toward debt in the past year.


Our debt payoff progress.

We started our plan in early October 2014 and we are 12 months into it. We have paid off just over $22,000 in debt since we started and have $44,000 more to pay off. We have also saved up 5 months of living expenses in our emergency savings account and want to save until we get to 6 months expenses.

We are on track to pay off our debt within the next two years and possibly earlier, considering we are putting all bonuses and tax returns toward debt repayment. We now have our map and we are finding our way out of the woods.

Our hike and journey will be long and I am sure we will have moments where we get lost; after all, maps do not account for life circumstances. We may even need to re-create our map in the future. But one thing is for certain; my husband and I have learned how to help ourselves and how to find our way.

We have weathered a few storms and we are preparing to weather more. We are getting back to the basics of enjoying life and working toward financial independence.

Most of all, we have learned how to be happy while spending less.

Author bio: My name is Brittney and I live in the beautiful Rocky Mountain state of Colorado. My husband and I both work in education and have two loving, but stubborn, labrador retrievers. I started my personal finance blog, Life On a Discount, to not only motivate myself to stay on track with paying off $66,000 in debt (accrued through student, mortgage and car loans), but to also share with others how my husband and I stay motivated by still enjoying and living life through strategic discounts, one day at a time.

How are you doing with your debt payoff journey? 


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. It’s true. Everyone must develop the mentality of saving money. Other than savings, we should have a track on spending. If we evaluate our income and expenses then we can easily see that spending habits are horrible. Thanks for sharing the post.We Should also decide about our savings, whether it is should be used for paying debt or Investment for more income.

  2. Lindsay VanSomeren

    Great post! I just put on my big girl panties about six months ago and have made a lot of the same changes. One of the biggest ones for me was eating out for lunch and dinner. I am a Terrible cook (notice the capital T) and we’ve eaten a lot of stinkers sink I’ve been cooking our meals at home, but I am getting better!

    Lunch was difficult at first – leftovers didn’t seem too appealing to me, but after a couple months I was like, “Wow – look at all this money in my bank account!” And now I love leftover lunches. 🙂

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Thank you! Yes, changing our eating habits ended up saving us quite a bit of money and not being super difficult (once we start planning a little more).

    2. Haha nice! Eating at home more is something we are constantly working towards too.

  3. Darren Howarter

    Congratulations. We are thrilled to see people winning. Financial security is such a wonderful feeling. Thank you for sharing your story and educating others to find a better way of life.

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Thank you! We have a long way to go, but we are making progress!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story! I love reading stories from people in similar situations. We are on a similar debt payoff journey. It’s sounds like you guys are on track to meet your goals!

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Thanks! It’s great to know others are on a similar path and can share stories. Good luck on your journey!

  5. That’s a lot of debt to pay off in such a short time. The motivation has to be very high and sustained to do that, but it sounds like they really laid out a good path to keep it running to the end goal. Keep up the great work!

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      It has been fairly aggressive and we have had to be strategic. We have been fortunate to receive some bonuses over the years and have thrown extra income at our debt, in addition to a few side hustles.

  6. Natasha @ The Authentic Mama

    I love reading debt payoff stories. We are currently in the process of paying off our massive debt and it is difficult but we know it will be so much better when we are debt free!

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Good luck on your journey! It definitely difficult, but a worthy goal to work toward.

  7. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

    Thank you! It was definitely a learning and growing process. It forced us to have some tough conversations and reign in our emotions, but definitely worth it!

  8. Great job on getting a plan for your debt pay off.

    You will feel so relieved once you get there and by throwing bonuses and tax refunds you will probably get there sooner then later.

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      I agree, I am looking forward to feeling relieved. Though, in the moment, it isn’t immediately exciting to throw money at debt, we are trying to focus on the bigger picture.

  9. Your story is so encouraging because of its transparency of how y’all failed in some ways but didn’t give up. I also love that it shows the value of a healthy marriage where couples work “together” to solve problems and then it increases their bond even more.
    Thanks for giving us all a educational boost and the motivation to figure out how to improve our own financial lives.


    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Thank you for your kind response! It has definitely been a journey full of mistakes and lessons.

  10. Hi Brittany! It’s so true that you have to get into the mindset before making progress. You’ve achieved so much in this short amount of time, congrats to you and looking forward to following your journey more!

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Thank you! Yes, having the right mindset is really important.

  11. Paige

    Wow! My husband and I are in the exact same position. Between the two of us, we have $66k in debt. We got married in April 2015 and don’t want to spend another minute in debt. Starting in January, we’re switching to living on one income and I’m starting a part time job. We’re both incredibly fortunate to be making a decent amount of money, so all of my income is going towards debt repayment. We don’t have kids (yet), so this is the perfect time to get serious and get habituated to living below our means. If everything goes well, we’ll be debt free in about 18 months.

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      That will be a huge accomplishment and very ambitious to put your entire income toward debt! Very impressive. We have contemplated doing something similar, but haven’t done that yet.

  12. $22,000 in one year is a lot. Keep up the good work. My debt repayment is doing good. Next year I’m going hard on it.

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Good luck on your debt repayment journey Jason!

  13. Someone once told me that no couple does not have no hardships to get through together. This is a great example of light at the end of the tunnel – working towards to reducing debt and working together through the hard times. Thanks for sharing, Brittney!

  14. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

    Thanks Jen! I agree, every couple will have their struggles and how they get through it together is what is important.

  15. Gina

    Hearing about your journey makes me feel so motivated and calm. My husband and I have a large amount of debt coming due next month, it’s his student loans. While it’s not quite as high as your starting point, it’s up there. It’s the only debt we’re paying off at the moment, but we’re hoping to start saving more and purchase a house. Looking at your situation and how you have saved money makes me feel like I can crawl out of the hole as well. I just subscribed to your blog and will be following your journey while I map my own. Congrats on all you and your husband have accomplished so far and good luck on the rest!

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      Gina, thank you for subscribing to my blog! It is daunting at first to sit down and really look at debt and come to terms with it. But once you have a plan, start throwing money at it, and see the amount lower, it becomes inspiring. Best of luck in your debt pay off journey.

  16. Amy @ DebtGal

    I honestly thought you were describing me in parts of this post! I would love to have a more formal plan for debt repayment, but my husband is somewhat resistant – not to paying it off, but to having a plan. I’m going to keep at him in 2016, since my will power can waver when he’s not committed to it with me.

    1. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

      My husband is resistant to plans as well. Using Ready for Zero has helped a lot though because we can tinker with plan options and I can actually show him how much money we will save by increasing our repayment amounts with the scroll of my mouse. I am still the driver of the plan, but he has come a long way in supporting it and realizing the benefits down the road. I wish you the best in developing and pursuing your plan!

  17. Brittney@ Life On A Discount

    Thank you, I appreciate it!

  18. Ravinder Dande

    Hey Brittney ,

    Few days ago I read your some blogs for first time and loved enjoying your blog at the end i can’t stop my slef from subscribing the Great one.After then I’m hearing from You.I”m feeling so good that i came here for one new post which i did’t know it will inspire many readers and I’m one of them.Thanks for every thing you shared on Making sense of cent.As blogger I too want to reach same position as like you.So I’m Working for it ,reads many blog to learn more and then try to aplly what i’ve learnt from people like you.One more thing to say her is your are going good keep going forward .Thanks again 🙂

    1. Brittney @ Life On A Discount

      Thanks for reading my post and checking out my blog!

  19. Great story! My wife and I implemented a bit of a hybrid method, very similar to yours, as we paid down our student loans. I didn’t want to give up on the couple extra years of compounding time we could get on our investments so we put aside 10-15% and then used everything else towards our student loans. Glad to hear your system is working for you!

    1. Brittney @ Life On A Discount

      We are really liking the hybrid approach because Of the flexibility. We want to live a little, but also have our debt gone sooner rather than later.

  20. Great post, and it really is actionable with a plan. It’s just me as I’m not married, but I’m at the same place in a way – trying to start slow with saving money. Luckily I have a job that pays me “okay” in the sense that it is more than minimum wage, but I’m trying to side hustle a bit more these days.

    1. Brittney @ Life On A Discount

      Side hustles are a great way to build up savings or knock out debt. Good luck!

  21. Brittney @ Life On A Discount

    I agree, having an e-fund is important to prevent future debt. It’s possible to save and effectively pay off debt with a good strategy and commitment?

  22. That’a very inspirational story that people need to know, Brittney. I think everyone should have this simple perspective because having this is the trick to get out of debt easily. As a matter of fact, the simple the plan is and more side hustles to have, the better and the sooner to be debt free. Good luck and congrats.

  23. Jess

    Amazing! I love to hear stories like yours as it find it really inspiring. I have never had an issue with debt as I have always been a natural saver and budgeter (since I was a little girl) but I think it is great to see the other side because it proves that saving can be taught.
    My husband and I bought in a very expensive city in 2009 and because of that we went super frugal so we could afford a healthy downpayment. As a result, we really figured out that the things we like to do don`t have to cost us a lot of money. It was a great lesson, that I honestly didn`t expect.
    I wish you continued success!!

  24. Mary

    Great post. Thanks.

    It would be great if the header indicated in a bolder or more distinctive font that a post is written by a guest, and perhaps include the guest’s name up top. (You seem to do this sometimes.)

    When reading this post, I initially thought Michelle was the author and became VERY confused (because the content seemed to conflict with other posts about Michelle’s personal finances)!

    1. Hey Mary, sorry about that and the confusion. The first sentence does say that it’s a guest but I’ll keep your comment in mind for future posts 🙂